The Pro Style (Prentice Hall, 1976)
Out of Print – available secondhand
The NFL did a great job of publishing its own books during the 1970s. When I published my Top Five Coffee Table books, three were NFL productions. One of them was this, The Pro Style, written by Tom Bennett, who was than managing editor of NFL Properties’ Creative services Division.
Pitched as a “pro football strategy book for the fan”, it aimed to reveal how the NFL game was really played. It absolutely delivers on its promise. The first section is a fairly standard history of the development of the NFL, covering some of the great teams and star players, and that’s followed by a chapter profiling twelve of the greatest coaches – including the often overlooked Clark Shaughnessy.
There are some interesting stories along the way, such as the profile of referee Norm Schachter, who officiated in ‘The Ice Bowl’ in 1967 and in Super Bowl X, among other notable games. Schachter literally wrote the NFL rulebook and compiled questions to test officials every year.
Bennett also considers the increasing influence of technology on the NFL, such as how photocopying makes it easier to duplicate playbooks for every player and how computers are gradually becoming the norm for scouting prospective players and future opponents. “No teams own computers; they’re too expensive,” Bennett writes. Adding: “The Dallas Cowboys, however, are the majority owner of a computer operated by the Quadra scouting combine in Palo Alto, California.”
But it’s the final section that sets the book apart. At a time when fans would never have seen all-22 film, Bennett uses photos taken from high up to illustrate everything from basic formations to pass protection and points of attack. Concepts like ‘scraping’ linebackers are demonstrated, along with various kinds of pass coverage.
In the appendix that follows, the “Diagram History of Football” provides a clear visual guide to how NFL strategy has evolved. Entire books have been written about this but Bennett’s sequence of diagrams remains the best five-minute primer I’ve ever seen. Among other things it shows how, as Bennett writes, “the history of defense is the step-by-step decline in the number of players on the line”.
In addition to the images that illustrate concepts, there are plenty of excellent photos, as one would expect from the NFL’s books of the period. The book has plenty of great action photos and, fitting the overall concept, a good selection of behind-the-scenes photos, too, such as shots from the coaches’ booth and the training room.
It’s not hard to find strategy primers for football fans these days. Film breakdowns are all over social media everyday, after all. But The Pro Style still delivers its lessons with clarity and visual flair that makes it a worthwhile addition to any fan’s bookshelf.