Bloody Sundays: Inside the Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL

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Award-winning sportswriter Mike Freeman goes beyond day-to-day newspaper journalism and ESPN highlights to take us deep inside the game and reveal the NFL in ways that will surprise the most avid football fans. He travels to the sidelines and into the locker rooms to interview hundreds of players and coaches on their expertise. Breaking the game down to its essential elements — coaching, offense, and defense — Freeman profiles in depth three of today's football elite: Jon Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay ...

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Bloody Sundays: Inside the Rough and Tumble World of the NFL

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Award-winning sportswriter Mike Freeman goes beyond day-to-day newspaper journalism and ESPN highlights to take us deep inside the game and reveal the NFL in ways that will surprise the most avid football fans. He travels to the sidelines and into the locker rooms to interview hundreds of players and coaches on their expertise. Breaking the game down to its essential elements — coaching, offense, and defense — Freeman profiles in depth three of today's football elite: Jon Gruden, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Michael Strahan, defensive end for the New York Giants; and Emmitt Smith, the legendary running back.

Bloody Sundays goes behind the scenes of the "secret society" of gay players who play in fear of their lives and careers, studies how the violence of the game ravages the bodies of players, and takes us into the owners' offices to look at the darker side of the sport.

Part tribute, part exposé, Bloody Sundays is a vivid portrait of professional football that "gives you so much to think about that you might find yourself switching off a game to read" (New York Times Book Review).

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Editorial Reviews

“A must-read for fans.”
“A must-read for fans.”
The New York Times
Although pro football can make a legitimate claim to be our national sport, it seems to lose its hold on fans when the television set is switched off; there are more incisive books about golf than pro football. In Bloody Sundays, Mike Freeman, a sports reporter for The Times, gives you so much to think about that you might find yourself switching off a game to read. He describes a football factory owned by Wilson in Ada, Ohio, population 5,582 (where N.F.L. balls ''are handmade by people named Peggy, Charlie and Aunt Maudie''), provides a revealing portrait of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coach, Jon Gruden, and includes a startling interview with an unnamed gay player who claims that 5 percent to 10 percent of N.F.L. players are homosexual. — Allen Barra
Publishers Weekly
Using a structure similar to George Will's Men at Work, Freeman dedicates sections of his new book to coaches, players and executives, employing their stories as jumping off points to discuss the inner working of the NFL. Employing his insider connections and investigative journalism skills, Freeman, who covers football for the New York Times, doesn't shy away from the critical issues facing the league, such as a financial system that can leave players with little money and tenuous job security or the high-profile domestic abuse cases that have become all too common among the league's players in recent years. He explores not only the health risks to players who use their bodies as battering rams but also the health issues facing workaholic NFL coaches. Given America's obsession with celebrities' personal lives, the book's most stunning revelation comes from Steven Thompson (an alias), a gay NFL player who claims there are currently "100 to 200 gay and bisexual" players in the league. Freeman reports on all these issues with passion and compassion, almost always giving thoughtful consideration to both sides of the story while also suggesting viable solutions to the league's problems. Freeman's only fumble is his "99 Reasons Why Football Is Better Than Baseball," an indication that ubiquitous list journalism has made the jump from magazines to books. Still, Freeman's courage to tackle the sport's biggest issues and his insider's expertise make this a must read for football fanatics coast to coast. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Freeman, who writes about professional football for the New York Times, modeled this book on George Will's best-selling baseball title Men at Work. Will focused on the craft of the manager, pitcher, hitter, and fielder; Freeman's football counterparts are the coach, offense, defense, and the team. Within these chapters, he focuses primarily on one example of each (John Gruden on coaching, Emmitt Smith on offense, Michael Strahan on defense, and the Eagles front office) to explore the difficulties of the profession. These chapters make for interesting reading and hang together nicely. An additional chapter on an anonymous active gay player is fascinating as a profile but does not fit as well into the scope of the book. A final section on Freeman's picks for the greatest players of all time and what he would do if he were the football czar are less successful and don't really fit in at all. The main sections of the book are very strong and hang together well, though, so this title is recommended for any library with a contemporary sports collection.-John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060739317
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/26/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 803,798
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Mike Freeman is an NFL Insider for Before that, he was an NFL writer, investigative reporter, and columnist for the New York Times; a columnist for the Florida Times-Union; and a sports reporter, features writer, and investigative writer for the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Dallas Morning News. He lives in New Jersey.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Condoleezza's Story
1 The Coach: Jon Gruden: Coach Chucky 1
2 Offense: Emmitt Smith: Lone Star 67
3 Defense: Michael Strahan: Independence Days 95
4 The Outsider: Steven Thompson: Secret Society 137
5 The Team 159
A Philadelphia Story ... and the Worst Damn Franchise in Football 161
B Spy Games 179
C The Wonderlic 191
6 The League: An Antiviolence Plan 197
7 The Game 227
A The Greatest 229
B The 40 Commandments of Czar Freeman 273
C 99 Reasons Why Football Is Better Than Baseball 283
Afterword: End Zone 295
Answers to Wonderlic Personnel Test Questions 299
Acknowledgments 301
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First Chapter

Bloody Sundays
Inside the Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL

Chapter One

John Gruden

Coach Chucky

3:11 A.M.

When the alarm clock sounds, Cindy Gruden usually gives her husband, Jon, the turbulent and talented Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, a shove out of bed, which serves as a sort of kick start to his 20-hour day. "Go win me some football games," she tells him.

Jon Gruden is the best coach in football, and to be him is to be part brain, part unrepentant workaholic, and part sleep-deprived maniac. Indeed, such a delicious description of Gruden might apply to all NFL head coaches. "You have to be certifiable to do what we do," New York Giants coach Jim Fassel once said. If that's so, then Gruden should have been committed a long time ago. To be him is to stumble into the office at 4:00 in the morning, or 4:30 on the days he sleeps in, which means Gruden has become so familiar with seeing a sunrise that he could paint one blindfolded. He has also become best friends with winning. Because, when it comes to Gruden, that is what you get. You get the best and the brightest. You get a blue-collar guy with the work ethic of a coal miner and Marine fighting grunt all wrapped up in one. You get a man who off the field possesses a strong sense of right and wrong, but also one who will cut your heart out to get a win once the games begin. And don't ask Gruden about war in Iraq. Don't ask him about the stock market. You'll be greeted by a stare and glance at his watch. Gotta go. Got players to coach. Don't care much about the outside world, man. He's got to go win some football games. Gruden thinks Eminem is a piece of candy. "Jon is dedicated, single-minded," Cindy says.

There is no coach in professional sports like the NFL coach. They are an obsessive lot, consumed by the job, and Gruden embodies the NFL leader -- relentless, hyper-analytical, and media-savvy, able to leap the press in a single bound. Media smarts is a skill becoming increasingly vital in modern football. Since head coaches are like CEOs, they must be able to grapple with the power of television and the saturated media coverage teams now receive. Handsome, distinguished mugs like those of Jets coach Herman Edwards or Jon Gruden are something owners are looking for almost as much as coaching ability. "If a guy's good-looking, that's a plus," says one owner. "The head coach's face is going to be on television or on the cover of newspapers almost every day."

The pressure to look good, to look young, to look fit, is palpable. It is the burden New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis felt last year when he decided to have gastric bypass surgery in June to, in his words, lose significant weight because he did not think owners and general managers would hire a fat man -- at the time Weis weighed about 330 pounds. The surgery went so terribly wrong that Weis suffered from massive internal bleeding and almost lost his life. At one point his wife, Maura, had a priest read him his last rites. Weis recovered but now suffers nerve damage in his legs, and ironically, by having the operation, Weis admitted to the rest of the league that he had a weakness -- in his case, food -- and admitting flaws in the macho football world can ruin a coaching career. He told Sports Illustrated: "I think I'm ready to be a head coach. If what's happened to me is a deterrent to that, well, that'll be a shame. Owners should want to hire the best coaches, and whether you're fat, thin, black, or white shouldn't matter." But all of those things do matter to some.

The primary job of an NFL coach is to lead, and like many good generals, an NFL coach keeps a roster of often short-tempered and moody players with the attention spans of pimpled teens focused and inspired, pushing them through dreadful pain and frightening collisions, by using a variety of tactics, from gentle ego stroking to taking a player's soul and slicing it apart like a tomato. Coaches scream, cajole, trick, caress, and lie to get a player to function at his best. Some coaches do this while not only managing a frenetic, brutal game for three hours at least once a week but also while co-running the draft, making key free agent signings, and keeping the one eye that hasn't dozed off on the salary cap or a defensive lineman's girth. The responsibilities of a head coach in other sports pale in comparison to those of an NFL coach, especially beginning last decade, when football became a year-round sport. Ask an NFL coach what his job is, and to the man, he will give a good chuckle, like he was just told a great punch line. "No coach in this league has just one job," says Edwards. It's more like three. First, in this age of rabid football free agency, head coaches must transform teams that have seasonal, dramatic turnover into cohesive units. Second, a coach must devise winning schemes, while also countering the tactics of the coach on the opposite sideline, something Gruden excels at, as does New England's Belichick, Mike Shanahan of Denver, and Mike Martz of St. Louis, whose Rams playbook includes a mind-numbing 120 different offensive formations. Third, head coaches have to motivate players who have heard it all before and are playing in an age when one contract could set them up for life and thus lessen their motivation to heed the coach's words or play the game with the required ruthlessness.

Bloody Sundays
Inside the Rough-and-Tumble World of the NFL
. Copyright © by Mike Freeman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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