Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book review: "That First Season" by John Eisenberg

"That First Season" is a well-told tale of the first year Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers. It will be an enjoyable read for any football fan.

Author John Eisenberg paces the story well, including well-chosen details while keeping the book moving forward. While there are a lot of characters in the book, I liked how Eisenberg introduces them gradually at appropriate points.

Lombardi is clearly the main character and "That First Season" shows him as a vastly more complex person than his image as a strict disciplinarian would suggest. Yes, he pushed the players hard and demanded hard work and commitment. But he also knew when to praise rather than punish, and how to negotiate with players to get their best effort.

"After Lombardi tore you down, he always came around later, flashed that grin, hit you on the shoulder, complimented you, and asked about your kids, and suddenly, instead of being angry, you just wanted to play better," Eisenberg writes.

There was no free agency in those days, so it's striking to see that Lombardi built a winning NFL team with largely the same players who had been on the one-win team a year earlier.

After Lombardi, quarterback Bart Starr is the book's next most prominent character, and it's amazing to see how he evolved from a quiet, unassuming bench warmer to a commanding leader on the field.

I wish the book had more pictures, especially of players off the field.

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