Players write all kinds of books. Most are memoirs or autobiographies. Some former players go on to analyse the way the NFL works, as Michael Oriard has done, or publish strategy guides, like Ron Jaworski. This list consists of a type of book I’ll call the ‘confessional’. A confession concerns things we’re not proud of having done – and that’s the case with these five. They all concern the dark side of football, its more brutal aspects and in some cases its criminal ones.

1Out of Their League (1970) by Dave Meggyesy

The best confessional by a long way. Dave Meggyesy played for the Cardinals for seven seasons in the 1960s. He was 29 when he retired and he immediately wrote this book, explaining all of the anger and discontent about football that had built up, not just through his pro career but in college too. He describes the brutality, the racism, the drug culture and the negative reaction to his increasing liberalism. He went on to work for the NFL Players Association.
[Full review]

2Slow Getting Up (2013) by Nate Jackson

Much like Out of Their League, this book is the story of a player whose relationship with the game is conflicted. Jackson spent six seasons with the Broncos, first as a wide receiver and later as a tight end. His honest account of what life is like for a player who isn’t one of the team stars is engaging and funny. The book ends with Jackson trying, despite a body that is letting him down, to start playing for the UFL – a good illustration of how conflicted Jackson is about the game.

3The Dark Side of the Game (1997) by Tim Green

Former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Tim Green is unusual among players-turned-authors in that he has written more than 30 books – most of them fiction. This one, however, is non-fiction and, as the title suggests, aims to expose football’s ‘dark side’. This is less of a memoir than the first two books. Though Green does draw on his experience, he’s much more systematic in explaining things like drugs, alcohol and concussions. There are also chapters on figures like Jerry Glanville and why pre-season games are a waste of time. Some of ‘The Dark Side…’ is actually pretty light. It’s an entertaining read.

4The View from the O-Line (2016) by Howard Mudd

This is a different kind of confessional. Mudd was an offensive lineman with the 49ers and Bears in the 1960s and coached with eight different NFL teams, including the Seahawks (twice) and the Super Bowl-winning Colts. This book is told in quotes – his and those of many of the players that he coached and attempts to lift the lid on a position group that is still not well understood by fans.

5NFL Confidential (2016) by Johnny Anonymous

Given that this book was written anonymously, you might expect it to be more revealing than it is. In reality, it’s less frank than Jackson’s book. It follows a season in the life of Johnny – widely rumoured to be former Charger and Eagle, David Molk – a backup offensive lineman who hates football and wants to make what easy money from it he can before quitting. Molk did indeed retire not long after this was written.

Photo: Keith Allison

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