There will be many books marking the NFL’s 100th season over the next few months but this is the big one, the NFL’s official tome, the one that gets the special logo and the fancy gold football on the cover. That gold football appears inside the front and back covers too, in the hands of a host of NFL legends, from Jerry Rice and Ed Reed to Patrick Mahomes and Odell Beckham Junior. The star power continues with the introduction, written by Peyton Manning.
However, the difficulty with a centennial coffee table book is that the obvious route, a decade-by-decade review, has been done many times, for example in Dan Daly and Bob O’Donnell’s Pro Football Chronicle (1990), the NFL’s own The NFL Century (1999) and The Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Book (2012).
Fleder and co have followed suit – there probably wasn’t much alternative. Each decade has an introduction by Michael MacCambridge, and these are as eloquent and precise as you would expect. Then there’s a spread of facts and figures, with some lively and fresh graphics.
After that the standard formula gets a shake-up. Rather than commission more modern essays for each decade, Fleder uses some of the best football writing already published. NFL 100 includes excerpts from classics such as When the Grass Was Real (1993) by Bob Carroll, Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty (1973) and The Education of a Coach (2005) by David Halberstam.
Well-read football fans will nod approvingly each time a favourite comes up, while newcomers will be introduced to some books that, hopefully, they will want to read in full. Edwin Pope, Paul Zimmerman and Rick Telander appear frequently, but Fleder often quotes beat writers for a take on a particular star player, which brings in some less familiar names. The juxtaposition of voices and styles adds a real momentum to the book. Some quotes are long and in-depth, others just a line or two.
Of course, what really sells a coffee table book is the photography and that’s where this book excels. The photos are reproduced brilliantly and often chosen for their quality, rather than their significance. For example, a large photo of the Chargers’ Keenan Allen catching a touchdown doesn’t come from a meaningful game but it’s in the book because it’s a striking action photo. Likewise the shot, taken from ground level right behind Tom Brady, that shows the Patriots’ blockers setting up to block for their QB.
There are plenty of familiar photos, too. Long-time fans will recogise Vince Lombardi getting a ride of the field on Jerry Kramer’s shoulder, for example, and Dwight Clark stretching up to haul in ‘The Catch’ in Walter Iooss Jr’s famous shot. There’s no harm in seeing those old friends again, particularly in a book of this nature.
NFL 100 is aimed at a broad swathe of football fans, of all ages, and it manages to offer something for all of them. Those who have read lots of NFL history will not find much here that they don’t know but they will find it presented in a delightful way. It’s a real pleasure to read.