Ron Jaworski was an NFL quarterback for more than 15 years. He spent the bulk of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles and took them to their first Super Bowl. These days he is an analyst on Monday Night Football.
In this book, Jaworski looks at seven NFL games that he believes represent important moments in the tactical development of the sport. He gives the background to the coaches and players involved and then examines the film of the game to explain how the tactical innovation in question played out.The tactical to-and-fro of an NFL game is what makes the sport so absorbing for me and Jaworski captures it perfectly here. There is a narrative to an NFL game that isn't always apparent, even to seasoned observers, and this book does an excellent job of making those narratives clear.
Jaworski explains, for example, that coaches don't always pick plays because they expect to score with them, or even gain a lot of yards. He writes:
"An offense will run plays that you know aren't going to pick up much yardage, but you have to run them to set up another play for down the road. You run certain plays to see how the defense reacts. You show certain fomations to help a quarterback understand how defenders will line up against that formation."
It's here that Jaworski's experience as a quarterback becomes relevant. He has been on the field and played the game at the highest level. When he tells you what it's like to try to read a defense or to attempt to avoid a pass rush, you can trust that he knows what he's talking about.
Using a specific game to explain a tactical innovation is slightly forced because in almost every case the tactics under consideration did not suddenly appear, fully-formed, in one game. They were developed over a series of games - or even over years. However, the advantage of this approach is that makes very clear how the tactics work in practice.
Jaworski's play-by-play is frequently riveting. At times, he manages to create the excitement of watching the game itself. The only downside was that I wanted to watch the tape while I read his analysis. This can be done with enhanced ebooks and it's to be hoped that publishers will try to sort out the licensing deals to make that possible in future.
There are also lots of brilliant anecdotes in amid the description. Jaworski explains how Sid Gillman consulted a maths professor to work out geometrically where each receiver should be on the field so that the ball would be in the air for the same amount of time, whichever one the quarterback passed to.
There are some wonderful quotes too. Here's Jim Otto, the Oakland Raiders center:
"At the end of one run, Joe Greene cussed me out, then kicked me square in the testicles - and I've never forgotten that. I didn't think that was very nice."
Some of the tactical developments that Jaworski covers here were so significant that they changed the type of players that teams looked for. In some cases, they even resulted in rule changes by the league, because a new idea tipped the balance of the game too far towards the offense or defense.
Though Jaworski has two co-writers on this book, the writing and editing are often poor. There are exclamation marks all over the place, for example, which is irritating. And it's repetitive: occasionally you'll read a sentence that repeats, almost a word-for-word, one from a few pages earlier.
Though it would be nice to have better prose, that isn't the selling point of a book like this. It's all about the expertise and Jaworski has buckets of it. This is a book that will deepen your understanding of the game. An essential for every fan.