Jerry Izenberg follows the 1989 New York Giants for one week as they prepare for a crunch game against the Eagles.
There have been several books where a writer goes behind the scenes with a team for a season, but in No Medals For Trying Jerry Izenberg finds another level of detail, dedicating an entire book to just one week of the season. The book opens with the 1989 New York Giants returning from San Francisco and a loss in a Monday night game to the 49ers. They now have a short week to prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles at home.
The Giants are banged-up. Quarterback Phil Simms is injured and defensive star – and future Hall of Famer – Lawrence Taylor is on crutches after injuring his leg in the 49ers game. The Eagles, who beat the Giants earlier in the season, have now won eight and lost four, putting them a game behind the 9-4 Giants in the race for the NFC East title. A second win for the Eagles would put them level but on top of the division by virtue of having beaten the Giants twice.
Izenberg watches in meeting rooms as coaches scheme and players are briefed, lurks in the training room as the battered stars are treated and takes us onto the field of freezing, wind-swept Giants stadium as the two teams square off. Looming large throughout is legendary head coach Bill Parcells, shouldering the pressure that comes with trying to keep his team’s season on track.
The Giants’ staff at the time also included a host of names who will be familiar to today’s fans. There’s Bill Belichick of course, who will go on to win more Super Bowls as a head coach than anyone else; Tom Coughlin, who will win two as head coach of the Giants, beating Belichick; and Romeo Crennel, who will become head coach of two other teams (the Browns and Chiefs) but will only add to his Giants Super Bowl rings as an assistant – winning three as Belichick’s defensive coordinator.
Having 250 pages to devote to just one week in the life of a football team means that Izenberg can go into unusual detail on the preparations that go into just one game. His closeness to the Giants means that he’s able give use background on the figures he’s discussing, as well as shadow them through the week. An exceptional book.
Jerry Izenberg began working at The Newark Star-Ledger in 1951 while still at university and returned after serving in the Korean War. He was one of only two newspaper journalists to cover the first 53 Super Bowls. He missed his first, Super Bowl LIV because of decreasing mobility. He has written more than a dozen books, about a range of sports. His football books include No Medals for Trying, Rozelle – a biography of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, and Championship: The Complete NFL Title Story.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” (Al) Groh offers in consolation, “those ‘Niner championship years will be over when that guy (Montana) hangs his crown up.”
“Suddenly, the sound of Parcells’ voice cuts across the field in anger. ‘What the hell is going on here? Please, can somebody tell me what the hell is going on out here? You’ve got twelve men out there!” he shrieks at the defensive coaches. “Can anybody count over there?
“What is going on is that Lawrence Taylor has slipped off his bike and sneaked into the defensive alignment. Nobody has noticed it. Now people are bumping into each other and the coaches are trying to figure out what has happened.
“‘Get him out of there,’ Parcells screams. ‘Lawrence are you crazy?’
“Nobody dares even considering an answer to that one.”
This is an essential read for anyone who enjoys behind-the-scenes team stories. Writers that cover a team for a season can’t devote this much space to just one week, which means we seldom get this much detail on the hard work that goes into preparing for every NFL game. Books that focus on a single game, on the other hand, are usually about a classic matchup – one thing that makes this book so interesting is that it’s just a book about an ordinary regular season game. It was just week 13; they lost but it didn’t even affect the outcome of the Giants’ season, in the end. It’s the very ordinariness that makes this book so engaging.
It helps, too, that this is a team between two Super Bowl titles. They won three years earlier and they would end the following season with another Super Bowl title. So there are plenty of well-known names – coaches and players – to follow here. Izenberg does a great job of packing-in lots of detail. The week flies by, much as it probably does for the players and coaches who are in the thick of it. Recommended.
Shane Richmond, Pigskin Books
“I grew up a Giants fan, so that’s a big book for me. Again, it just talked about things that you don’t know. The behind-scenes details in that book about Bill Parcells and about that team, were really very eye-opening.”
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Photo: Bari D