The Dark Side of the Game (Warner, 1996)
Out of print – available secondhand
A first-round draft pick in 1986, Tim Green played eight seasons for the Atlanta Falcons as a pass rusher, collecting 24 sacks in his 99 games. He started writing in 1993 and has written 35 books to date. Most of those are sports-related fiction or thrillers for children.
The Dark Side of the Game is an exception. As the title suggests, it’s a look at life inside the NFL that promises an honest look at aspects of the game that insiders seldom discuss.
While the subject matter of The Dark Side… is similar to Dave Meggyesy’s Out of Their League, Green seldom manages to write as insightfully or scathingly as Meggyesy. While Meggyesy sounded thoroughly sick of football by the time he wrote his book, Green clearly still loves the game.
Green covers issues like painkillers, media relations and life after football. These, and other ‘dark’ topics covered in the book, are probably more familiar to a knowledgeable fan today than they would have been 20 years ago, mostly because of the flood of online coverage and recent scandals highlighting issues like concussion, race and social justice.
Certainly it’s unlikely to be news to today’s fan that players think training camp is boring, pre-season is a waste of time or that there are often tensions between offense and defense.
On some subjects, Green often seems to pull his punches, wanting to point in the direction of scandal without writing anything that could upset anyone. His chapter on gambling, for example, is mostly about one of his novels, which involves the mob fixing games. His examples of real-life gambling only go as far as witnessing “players lose five thousand dollars in poker on a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, then win back ten thousand rolling dice on the way home.”
Green is most interesting when he is open about his personal experience, rather than talking in general terms. His chapter on racism is affecting because he explains how “an unenlightened white player” might find it distasteful that black players appear to “flaunt” their wealth. However, he quotes a black teammate who explained that he has to dress expensively or people in shops and elsewhere assume he’s a criminal. “That doesn’t happen to you,” the player says, “because you’re white.”
There’s also an amusing section about reading books in the NFL. Green, a keen reader, liked to keep himself calm before games by reading. However, to do that he had to hide in the equipment room. He writes:
“I knew, however, in fact, I was told, that reading a book in the locker room, dressed in my full NFL uniform, only minutes before kickoff on a Sunday afternoon, was unacceptable.”
The Dark Side of the Game has more than 60 chapters, each of which is just a few pages long, which makes for a disjointed read. There’s seldom any thematic continuity between chapters, so Green’s thoughts on ‘Playoff Blues’ are followed by ‘Eating in the NFL’, which leads into ‘Could Your Son Be An NFL Player?’. It’s a good book to dip in and out of but less satisfying to read for long stretches.
Fans of football in the late 1980s and early 1990s will find the book particularly enjoyable. There are chapters on big names of the era including Deion Sanders, Steve Young and Jerry Glanville. For everyone else, this is entertaining enough but inessential.
Photo: Pete Sheffield