"Next Man Up" by John Feinstein (2006)
"It was midway through the second quarter and the Browns were driving. Referee Jeff Triplette called a false start on Browns center Jim Bundren and tossed a penalty flag in his direction. Back then, referees were instructed to throw penalty flags in the direction of the offender. Penalty flags are weighted at one end by a tiny beanbag so they don't float in the wind but rather stay put once they land on the field. Somehow, Triplette threw the flag right at [Orlando] Brown. Instead of landing near Bundren, it went through Brown's face mask and smacked him in the right eye. Brown screamed in pain because the weighted part of the flag had scratched his cornea. Enraged, he charged at Triplette and knocked him over before he was pulled away. He was ejected from the game, which was a moot point since he couldn't see out of his right eye anyway. To add insult to injury, the league suspended him for the final game of the season, meaning he lost a week's pay while wondering if he would be able to play again."
John Feinstein is a sports writer living in Maryland. He contributes to a number of publications, and he's also written books about golf, basketball, and baseball.
The cover of the book promises "a year behind the lines in today's NFL," but I didn't find Next Man Up to be that, exactly. It's more of an in-depth look at the 2004 Ravens, with very little to say about other teams, or the general progression of that season. The Patriots, who won the Superbowl that year, are only mentioned in the context of one game. A lot of the NFC teams, such as the Seahawks, the Cardinals, the Panthers, and the Saints, aren't even mentioned.
So no, it's not the league-wide look at football you were probably hoping for. Instead, it focuses on the Ravens to the exclusion of nearly every other team, which I suppose is a given considering that the author's method of writing the book was to follow the Ravens around for a season. My biggest complaint is that the book jacket goes out of its way to disguise this fact, in the hope that fans of other franchises will buy it. I'm sure I'm not the first person to take exception at the marketing ploy, and I doubt that it's won the author any new fans.
And then there is the attention to detail. Don't get me wrong, detail can be a fine thing, but choosing the right details is what separates good authors from bad authors. Next Man Up features such an onslaught of detail that reading it felt like preparation for some kind of super obscure quiz on the 2004 Ravens. Even most football fanatics would be put off by the endless parade of names, dates, and pre-game speeches that make up this book. Honestly, who cares about the guy who played one down in a game against the Jets 12 years ago? Who cares about the job worries of an assistant defensive coordinator from the same time? There was a greater football narrative to be told in this book, and instead of doing so, Next Man Up gets lost in an abyss of trivia.
Granted, I don't read a lot of books on football. I watch every game the Seahawks and Steelers play, but I'm not big on reading about the game. Just the same, I feel certain that there are better football books out there, and even fans of the Ravens will probably be disappointed by Next Man Up.