Thursday, August 19, 2010

Read: Layden's "Blood, Sweat and Chalk"

Day 3 of the annual Summer Reading Series, featuring the best books of the summer for your vacation/beach/commuter/seasonal reading interests...

Today: "Blood, Sweat and Chalk" by Tim Layden

Sometimes, I will read a book and, very quickly, recognize its essential value to fans. Sometimes, I label this "If You Read Just One Book About This, Read This One." That's how I felt about Jeff MacGregor's "Sunday Money."

With some sports, like football or baseball or basketball, there are simply too many great books to say that a single book is definitive. But a book can certainly join the select group of must-reads.

That's how I felt about Tim Layden's "Blood, Sweat and Chalk," the first book I have seen that goes deep into the core Xs-and-Os strategies of football, the fundamental formations and innovations that have defined the game's evolution.

Chapters are relatively short: Each play is described in detail, but equally interesting put into context -- its strategic etymology, its backstory. Layden traces innovation to its roots or, alternatively, profiles the coaches who popularized it. The short chapters are to the book's credit -- it means Layden could work more plays in to the book.

Here is why I put the book among my essential football books: I learned a ton about a subject any good fan SHOULD know but is rarely educated on, whether from the TV broadcast, from books or from magazine articles -- key formations, what they are and where they came from. For whatever reason, TV analysts don't dive nearly enough into the Xs and Os. Layden helps fill the gap.

I feel smarter as a football fan -- more knowledgeable -- for having read the book. This isn't dissimilar from the feeling I got first reading Chris Brown's ground-breaking "Smart Football" blog, which took the sports blogosphere by storm last fall. (Brown remains a must-follow Twitter account, particularly on Saturdays while football games are on.)

Fans are better off when we understand the games more thoroughly -- columnist platitudes are fine, but "I never played the game" only goes so far. Shoring up your understanding of the single-wing or the spread or the wishbone or the zone blitz or the Air Raid will make watching football more enjoyable.

"Blood, Sweat and Chalk" -- part-history, part-chalktalk -- is as accessible as it is entertaining. It is a book I had been looking forward to since I first heard about it a year ago, and it is a worthwhile read to get you prepared for football season.

Coming tomorrow: Looking Ahead to This Fall's Book Releases

-- D.S.

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