There are lots of different ways to approach the history of the NFL. There have been meticulously researched history books, lavishly illustrated coffee table books, and oral histories. Some titles approach the sport through the lens of strategy, or race, or the media. The Occasionally Accurate Annals of Football is a humorous take on football history, though it isn’t the first: that honour probably belongs to Dan Daly and Bob O’Donnell’s The Pro Football Chronicle.
Still, The Pro Football Chronicle is over 30 years old and we’ve packed-in a lot of history since then. That gives Occasionally Accurate the opportunity to incorporate jokes about Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Odell Beckham Jr, and plenty of other more recent stars.
The book is arranged in a broadly chronological order but makes frequent detours into the rules, uniforms, tailgating, mascots, or whatever else takes the fancy of the writers. One, analytics-based section, assigns a dollar value to each point scored in a range of sports and then uses it to estimate the value of players.
Authors Patrick and Cohen are helped out by a string of comedians and TV writers with credits on The Simpsons, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, and numerous other famous shows. The regular changes of writer and shifts in focus make it a book that’s easy to dip into. If you aren’t enjoying one section, just skip ahead a page or two and things will have headed in a new direction.
Dan Patrick is a sportscaster who has worked for ESPN, NBC and Sports Illustrated. He has authored or co-authored several books and has hosted The Dan Patrick Show for many years. Joel H Cohen is a screenwriter and producer who has written for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. He is the author of How to Lose a Marathon.
Reviewing humour is even more subjective than reviewing writing. I can often find something to admire in an author’s research, for example, even if I their writing style a bit dry. A joke either lands or it doesn’t. For me, few of the jokes in this book landed.
Part of the problem is that the book shifts between sometimes telling you the history of the NFL with added jokes and other times offering entirely made-up comedy scenarios. In the first instance, the jokes can feel pretty forced: “Franchises included the Decatur Staleys (named after their owner, A. E. Staley), the Dayton Triangles (presumably their owner was a wealthy triangle, heir to the isosceles fortune)…”
The made-up stuff varies in quality, too. The bit about the ‘House of DuPuy’ – the NFL’s “costume designer” – is pretty funny but drags the joke over three pages. Mixed into all this are some genuine stories about the history of the game, the teams and a few great players and coaches. The result is a book that doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose.
I guess if there’s any over-riding purpose then it’s to get a laugh. If the gags work for you, then this will be a fun read, with some trivia thrown in. If they don’t then, well, at least it’s short.
Shane Richmond, Pigskin Books
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Photo: Stephen Luke