Last month I reviewed NFL Confidential, a book that I felt promised so much and delivered so little. The review was really well received, so I promised to do more. Unfortunately work has prevented me from reading (or posting) as much as I would like, so I've only just finished my most recent read.
"I am meat, traded to the highest bidder: the only bidder. Fine, I'll be your meat. I'll be whatever you want me to be. Just give me a helmet."
If you don't know much about Nate Jackson, let me give you a brief overview of his career.
He was an undrafted wide receiver our of Menlo college in Atherton California in 2002. He spent time with San Francisco before landing in Denver and earning a roster spot at the tight end position. He flirted with the Cleveland Browns and Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL, before a serious hamstring injury forced him to retire in 2010. He finishes his career with 27 receptions for 240 yards and 2 TD's over 6 years actually playing for the Broncos.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked this book up. I knew of Nate Jackson of course, but I'd never paid that much attention. With due respect to Nate, when I was looking at opponent previews back in 2006, 2007 etc I rarely paid attention to a #2 or #3 tight end who played a handful of snaps and contributed rarely to the offence.
"Players grunt, coaches yell, and pads and helmets crack, creating a frightening symphony of future early-onset dementia."
However there is a certain eloquence to the way Nate describes his time in the NFL. He focuses on the pain killers and medication used to get a player from one game to another. He speaks openly about the use or marijuana in the game, for pain management more than anything. He covers a period of his life where he doubted his natural ability (post Denver) where he tried HGH to try and kickstart his fledgling career. All very interesting aspects of his life, but unlike most media outlets, I was neither shocked, surprised or obsessed with making it the focal point of this review.
He speaks about the internal politics of the league, of the team. Of his love for the way Mike Shanahan ran the football operations in Denver and how he hated and resented the way that former Jets coach Eric Mangini ran his ship in Cleveland. Highlighting how Mangini would single out players in team meetings to repeat mantras and catchphrases that he felt were motivating but really didn't land at all.
"I listen to the announcers and read the papers. The media narratives are sensational and simplistic, and when compared to what I know about the team, sound like drivel."
Through it all, it's the way the player is treated that is most surprising. Whether it be a lack of communication following him being cut from the team, or how he is treated medically following an injury. The process is not designed to have players back to 100%, the process is designed to have players back for the next game. You can't help but think that the short sightedness of it all shortened the career of Nate, and many players like him
"It's my agent, Ryan Tollner. âHello? âHi, Nate. Have you heard anything from the Broncos? âNo. âThey're releasing you today. No one called you? âNo. âWow. All right, we're going to find you another team."
Again, it's hard to feel too sorry for these athletes. They play a very violent game, and as a result there are dangers to their long-term health, which is why they are compensated so much. Even Nate, an undrafted player who plays sparingly gets more more than most Americans will ever dream of. Nate lives a life of money, women, alcohol, partying and drugs, and that was his choice.
Personally, I thought this was a very interesting read. He covers a lot of topics that fans will find interesting. He covers the influence of the media on the QB situation in Denver following the drafting of Jay Cutler to compete with Jake Plummer. He talks about different coaches and their styles, about different players and their styles. What life is like at the bottom of the roster and how uncertain the life of an NFL back-up is.
NFL is obviously a very intelligent, thoughtful and witty character, and that comes across in 256 entertaining pages.
Slow Getting Up is funny, it's real, it's dirty, but most importantly, it's honest.
A football dream is easy to spot. Turn on SportsCenter and they'll show you what it looks like. Tom Brady's life. Peyton Manning's life. Fairy tales. Storybooks. The football dream I had as a child unfolded much differently. But it has still unfolded. Every crease and every line, ever grunt and every pop, I'm playing the game I love. The grass is still green, the hits still hurt, and the ball in flight is still the most beautiful sight I know. I will chase it to the ends of the earth."
SLOW GETTING UP
A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile
By Nate Jackson
256 pages. Amazon $19.46
Publisher: Harper; Later Printing Used edition (September 17, 2013)