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Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League

Review

Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League

It is probably a safe assumption that American males can name more NFL starting quarterbacks than Supreme Court justices. Football is our nation’s most popular sport, and the starting quarterbacks sprinkled among the 32 franchises are kings. Along with the head coach, they are the only players required to attend postgame press conferences. As John Feinstein, the contemporary chronicler of the American sporting scene, observes in QUARTERBACK, “There is no position in sports that is more glamorous, more lucrative, more visible, more high-risk than being a starting NFL quarterback.” In 32 cities, the quarterback carries the hopes and dreams of millions of fans and is the centerpiece for the media that covers every NFL team.

Feinstein is to the sporting world what Bob Woodward is to politics. He delves deeply into the subject he has selected for the books he writes, and his readers obtain vast and comprehensive insight into that topic. It might be professional golf, college basketball, baseball or, as in QUARTERBACK, the National Football League. His writing is comprehensive but unobtrusive. It is light and entertaining coverage, more like a conversation between two friends discussing the game over a burger and a beer. But his thoroughness cannot be denied. Examine the book’s index, and you will see the names of no less than 50 NFL quarterbacks. Many are discussed in detail, and there are dozens of other players, coaches and owners who fit smoothly into Feinstein’s narrative.

"[I]f you are looking for a book to give to a football fan this holiday season, QUARTERBACK should be your first draft choice. Unlike many first-round picks, it will not disappoint."

By the end of the book, readers have significant knowledge of what it means to be a quarterback in the NFL. It is far more than calling and executing plays. There is a mental and physical toll, in addition to political and business pressures weighing on the player. And the thousands of fans watching the game in person and on television are all too willing to voice their opinions with cheers or boos based on the final score.

QUARTERBACK focuses on five different quarterbacks who share one trait: none of them arrived in the NFL by similar routes. Andrew Luck and Alex Smith were both the first overall selection in their respective draft years, but Smith was a surprise pick, while Luck was a consensus choice. Joe Flacco was a late-round first choice and Ryan Fitzpatrick a very late-round pick. Fitzpatrick’s road to stardom could have been a separate book, even a novel. He attended Harvard and has the distinction of receiving the highest score on the NFL intelligence test administered to potential draftees. His career is a confluence of being in the right place when quarterbacks above him on the depth chart have been injured. He performs well for a few games and then reverts to journeyman form. This career path has earned him millions of dollars in salary and an almost legendary status. The fifth and final quarterback is no longer playing. Doug Williams was the first African-American quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory. He now serves in the front office of that team, the Washington Redskins; his job is to find them a new quarterback.

While these five men are the leading actors in Feinstein’s story, the countless other NFL figures appearing in supporting roles add important information to the book. Feinstein tells an enthralling story of an effort that is best characterized as all-encompassing, moving from the NFL draft room, to the locker room, practice field and game. It is a totally absorbing account.

Along the way, there are details relating to NFL history and the changing game. Credit is properly given to Bill Walsh and Don Coryell, two coaches who changed offensive philosophy and by their strategy made the quarterback a far more important part of the sport. And Feinstein does not shy away from tackling some much-talked-about issues involving the NFL. Concussion injuries and the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick are fully discussed in a balanced fashion.

Let me take this opportunity to suggest that if you are looking for a book to give to a football fan this holiday season, QUARTERBACK should be your first draft choice. Unlike many first-round picks, it will not disappoint.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on November 16, 2018

Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League
by John Feinstein

  • Publication Date: November 13, 2018
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385543034
  • ISBN-13: 9780385543033