Slow Getting Up (HarperCollins, 2013)
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An undrafted free agent in 2002, tight end Nate Jackson found himself picked up by the San Francisco 49ers and so began the career of a player in the lower reaches of the roster, one of those guys who seems to stick around without ever really breaking through.
This book tells the story of Jackson’s career at “the bottom of the pile”. It’s an honest and often funny look at the reality of professional football for a large number of players. The average NFL career lasts just under four years and those guys don’t earn life-changing amounts. Most often they leave frustrated and with a long list of injuries.
Injury is a common theme in Jackson’s book. A recurrence of a shoulder injury ended his first season with the 49ers and he was cut. The Niners picked him up for a second season but immediately traded him to Denver, where he spent six seasons and had a stint in NFL Europe with the Rhein Fire. Along the way he’s repeatedly banged up, patched up and sent back out to take more punishment.
Jackson’s concerns throughout are not surprising for a man in his 20s. He goes to strip clubs, watches porn in hotel rooms, enjoys locker room banter and longs to keep playing the game. He writes about all of this with a likeable and engaging wit. Though little of what happens is remarkable, that’s kind of the point – this is a picture of the NFL as a job.
When it comes to on-field action, Jackson continues in the same vein, giving little insights about what it means to learn to be professional. Here he is describing pre-snap motion:
“I rock back onto my feet lazily, trying to lull my man-to-man defender to sleep as I pass. Then I pivot and come back, equally lazily. The point is to make him think I’m doing a return motion and ending up in the same spot I started so I can block a front-side run play. So don’t look him in the eye. Make him think you aren’t doing shit. Make him think you’re blocking. Make him think you’re bored. So much of offensive football is lying with your body, getting your defender to think you are going somewhere you aren’t.”
Jackson ends up catching a touchdown on the play – one of his two career TDs.
When Mike Shanahan was fired as Broncos head coach after the 2008 season, Jackson wasn’t long in following him out of the door. He wasn’t in the plans of new head coach Josh McDaniels. Jackson attempted to keep his career going, first with the Cleveland Browns and then the UFL’s Las Vegas Locomotives, but without success. He retired in 2010 and turned his hand to writing.
Slow Getting Up is not the typical player memoir. There are no Super Bowl trips or Pro Bowls to be found here. It’s a portrait of the game from a seldom-seen perspective and all the more interesting because of it.
Photo: Craig Hawkins