As John Feinstein writes in The Quarterback, no position in any sport is as important to a team’s success as this one. The quarterback relays the play in the huddle, reads the defense at the line of scrimmage to determine whether the play call should change, then has to execute the play after the snap. Without a strong QB, a team’s chances of a playoff run in the NFL are slim.
Feinstein has written about basketball, tennis, golf and baseball but this is only his second book about the NFL, following 2005’s Next Man Up. While that book chronicled a full season with the Baltimore Ravens, this time Feinstein tracks five QBs through the 2017 season. He follows Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, Kansas City’s Alex Smith, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s former QB, now senior vice president of player personnel, Doug Williams.
Though the 2017 season is the focus, Feinstein fills in each man’s background. Smith and Fitzpatrick were the first and last quarterbacks taken in their draft – the former first overall and the latter going in the seventh round. Smith went to the 49ers and struggled with coaching discontinuity, while Fitzpatrick bounced around a few teams, doing well but not well enough to stick. Flacco, meanwhile, switched colleges, moving to Delaware before being drafted by the Ravens and ending up as a Super Bowl MVP.
Luck grew up in Germany, where his dad – a former NFL QB himself – worked in NFL Europe. Finally, Doug Williams talks about his struggles as a black quarterback, his rise to a Super Bowl win and his subsequent front office career.
It’s a good mix of players. A younger QB would have been good, just as a contrast. The players Feinstein has chosen are all able to reflect on their experience and say something meaningful about it. Perhaps Feinstein thought a younger guy might not have had the perspective to add anything meaningful
It would also have been interesting to hear from an active black QB, since Williams’s experiences as a player are all 30-plus years in the past.
What links the players Feinstein has chosen is that they are all thoughtful and articulate. Luck is candid about his injury struggles and how they affected his mental state, for example, while Smith discusses the failure of his time at San Francisco with a sense of perspective.
All five are engaging subjects and it’s interesting to hear them discuss a season that is so fresh in the memory. As a Ravens fan, for example, I was surprised by how much Flacco added on how the 2017 season unfolded. He’s still diplomatic, of course, and doesn’t criticise his teammates but he goes into more detail than he typically does during interviews. The section on the 2018 NFL Draft, where Flacco watches the Ravens select his eventual replacement, Lamar Jackson, is especially interesting.
The book drags somewhat when Feinstein recounts games that don’t feature any of his five players. These are usually games that affected the season but Feinstein spends too much time detailing what happened in the game or what was said afterwards. All this information is readily available online for anyone who wants it and just feels superfluous here.
It will be interesting to see how this book ages. Will it come to be seen as a time capsule of an unremarkable season or will the insights the QBs provide be worth returning to in 10 or 20 years? It’s hard to say.
For now, though, there is plenty of interest – especially for casual fans who want a glimpse into what it’s like to play the highest profile role in the NFL.
Photo: Keith Allison