Quarterback

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 20 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

John Feinstein is among the most prolific sports book authors working these days (A Season on the Brink, A Short Walk Spoiled) and usually among the most reliable. Quarterback makes it into the red zone, but falls short of the goal line.

Feinstein’s main character choices are flawed. The idea of keying on a few major quarterbacks is good. However, followers of the NFL may well wish he had chosen more colorful ones who were active in 2017, the year the book covers.

Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, and Ryan Fitzpatrick are bright and articulate, but not lively enough to carry readers through all four quarters. A fan longs for an examination of the likes of Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, even Tom Brady.

More seriously, Feinstein’s one black quarterback is not an active player. He is Doug Williams, a former Super Bowl MVP and now a Redskins front office executive. Given that some of the most thrilling quarterbacks today are black — Dax Prescott, Deshaun Jackson, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson—why is not one of them included here?

To give Feinstein his due, his narrative is as smooth as a Tom Brady pass. He recounts Fitzpatrick’s unlikely journey from Harvard to professional football, Luck’s more likely journey from son of an NFL quarterback to first pick in the draft to a career at Indianapolis plagued by injuries, and Flacco’s steady progression from starter to Ravens Super Bowl champ.

Only one of his choices, Luck, was a starter midway through the 2018 season. That can’t be helped. And Feinstein makes his narrative interesting by showing in depth how they grind through their jobs both on the field, in the media, and at home with their families.

The quarterback, as everyone knows, is the most glamorous position but is also the most risky. A quarterback receives many accolades when a team wins, but suffers the most criticism when it loses.

Feinstein delivers this observation early as he shows Flacco accepting that burden. Before losing a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the player was asked about this. What if a loss is not your fault? “It’s always my fault,” Flacco replies. After the game, asked in the interview room to assess his play, Flacco says simply: “I sucked.”

Smith began 2017 leading his Chiefs to a 5–0 record. Nevertheless, he confides to Feinstein that Sunday night is the one night of the week he sleeps badly, win or lose. At home, once he and his wife put their three children to bed, he replays the game out loud: “We try to talk until we’re too tired to talk.” He then lies in bed to “replay every play that could have gone better.”

Luck, whose injuries often has limited his play, opens up even more to Feinstein.

As the 2018 season was about to begin, he was returning to the Colts after missing all of 2017 recovering from shoulder surgery. He was emotionally so torn up that season that he and his fiancée retreated to Holland for two months to avoid the glare of the spotlight.

Now, “I have to admit I still have a bit of fear about starting to throw a football,” said this man for whom throwing a football was his life. “It was hard for me to admit vulnerability,” he tells Feinstein. The previous season “I felt a lot of shame and a lot of guilt. . . . I lost confidence in myself, not just as a player but as a person.”                                                                                                                                                                        

Insights such as these make Feinstein’s book worthwhile. There is more here, too. He covers the expectation of big contracts and the reality of not much guaranteed dollars, the difference between white and black in first-round draft picks, the difficulty of moving one’s family often because of trades, and other issues.

For the diehard pro football fan interested in peeking behind the helmet, Quarterback makes absorbing reading.
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I've been watching NFL football since I was 5 years old.  I've been reading John Feinstein in the WashingtonPost and listening to his interviews on NPR since I was 20 or so.   So ... in the interest of full disclosure, I am the ideal reader for Quarterback and I expect that any other long-time US pro football fan would find it a superb read.  

Feinstein's purpose is to cover what it's like to be employed at the most high-profile position in the  NFL, whether you're a journeyman quarterback or a number one draft pick out of college.  To do so, he focuses on five NFL starting quarterbacks - Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, and Ryan Fitzpatrick - along with Doug Williams, currently Senior Vice President of Player Personnel for the NFL team based in Washington D.C.,  and Super Bowl XXII MVP as the starting quarterback for that same team, back in the day.

Feinstein skilfully weaves individual game stories - including at times extensive play-by-play details - with injuries, career trajectories, coaching changes, draft picks and rankings measured against career success, luck and he doesn't dodge race (the decades-long habit of execs to persuade talented black athletes playing quarterback successfully at the college level that they should shift to running back in the pros; Kaepernick's continued unemployment which makes no sports sense), either, although it's not a primary focus of Quarterback by any means.  He's a fine story-teller and his skill in shifting from one player to another and one season to another is demonstrated time and again.  In another author's hands, those same shifts could have been confusing and could also have lost readers devoted only to one or another of the five quarterbacks.  

Quarterback is not a 5-star book, but 4 because it should have been trimmed by 50 - 75 pages.  This is Feinstein's 40th book and the respect the publisher and his editor have for him and his consistent book sales show up in the slight bloat that emerges in the last third of the book.  I wasn't once tempted to abandon it - it's far too good for that - but I did start checking how many pages were left as I crossed the 300 page threshhold, and I suspect that this one fact explains the unfairly low average ratings on GoodReads.   This book is strong, but solely for those devoted to its topic, the NFL, and if the devoted start skimming some of the descriptions of individual plays and games late in its pages, they shouldn't feel any guilt. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for sharing a free e-copy.
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The NFL is America’s sport. Football is as close to monocultural as it gets these days; even in a world with nigh-unlimited options available for our entertainment, a lot of us choose football. It is shared culture and it is BIG business.

These teams, these billion-dollar entities – their on-field well-being is placed in the hands of a single man. What kind of person is capable of being all things to all (or at least most) people, in the pocket and in the studio? What kind of person is capable of being a quarterback?

That’s what author John Feinstein wants to tell us in his new book “Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League.” He takes a deep dive into the realities of the position – what it means to play at an NFL level, of course, but also what goes into dealing with the pressures of being THE guy, the one who gets credit for the wins, yes, but also takes the blame for the losses.

To do that, he profiles five men who understand precisely what it means to be the QB; four still-active players – Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick – and the retired Doug Williams. Given tremendous access, Feinstein walks us through the world of the NFL starting quarterback, the journey that leads to being one of the chosen 32.

These are guys who run the gamut of the QB experience. You have a pair of number-one picks – Smith and Luck – whose careers took very different paths, and then you’ve got someone like Ryan Fitzpatrick, a late-round draftee out of Harvard who has survived and occasionally thrived in the league. You’ve got players like Flacco and Williams who can talk about what it means as a QB to take your team to the pinnacle, a Super Bowl victory. The highs of big wins, the lows of injury and ineffectiveness – it’s all there.

There’s an on-field perspective here that you don’t often get from the written word. Through these conversations, Feinstein has found a way to capture what it FEELS like – what it’s like to be standing in the huddle, to take the snap, to throw passes and take hits, to lead your team to a last-minute victory. It’s a view of the game from their perspective; engagingly capturing that perspective is one of Feinstein’s greatest talents.

But the life of the NFL starting quarterback is far more than what happens on the field. We’re also given the chance to follow these men through what happens after the game. We see the responsibilities they carry with regards to the media – the locker room interviews, the press conferences, all of it. They are the public face of success or failure; they’re the ones who must humbly acknowledge the wins and stoically accept blame for the losses.

And then there’s the even bleaker side. The assorted health crises caused by the game’s violence – substance abuse and CTE. The reality of racism and the NFL’s newly-acquired politically-charged nature. Reckoning with the very real long-term consequences of playing this game.

It’s tough to say who comes off as the star of the books – all five men have their moments. Each story is different, which is to say that there’s no one correct way to become an NFL quarterback. All you have to do is avoid all the wrong ones and there you’ll be. Whether we’re learning about Luck’s struggle with an injured shoulder or the ramifications of Fitzpatrick’s journeyman team-swapping, about Smith getting booted from the driver’s seat just as his 49ers were on the verge of a Super Bowl championship (the same one ultimately won by Flacco and his Ravens) or Williams becoming the first African-American QB to win it all, the journeys undertaken by each of these men are worth exploring. Particularly when they’re rendered with this degree of compelling clarity.

“Quarterback” is as good a behind-the-scenes sports book as you’re likely to find. Feinstein has always been a masterful sports storyteller; what he’s spun together here holds up alongside his best. It’s a captivating deep dive, with the participants choosing to be a good deal more forthcoming than you might expect. There’s a great deal of honesty throughout this book that is refreshing; the nature of the job is such that you have to remain guarded with what you say and to whom. It’s clear that some trust was earned, which in turn leads to genuine depth.

Any fan of the NFL and/or the intricacies of football really should check this book out; it’s smart without being pretentious and informative without being dry. If you have any interest in what it means to be a quarterback, then you need to read “Quarterback.”
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I grew up in a house that loves football. Some of my favorite fall memories growing up were watching the Baltimore Colts on Sundays with my family. I wasn't lucky enough to see the great Johnny Unitas play, he was before my time, so I listened to my Grandfather, Dad and Mom relive the games of yesteryear. They told me of their favorite Unitas to Berry catches and of all the victory stories. It always started with "the greatest quarterback to have ever played" stole another victory for the Baltimore Colts.
In my house, Johnny Unitas, the quarterback, was revered. After that fateful night when the Mayflower moving fans took my team away, The Baltimore Colts, ceased to exist. Football games were different as we now watched the games and instead on one team, we watched players and found some favorites to cheer for. Now the stories revolved around great players like Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, John Elway, and Peyton Manning. 
The quarterback is one of those people that can single-handily change the game sometimes with just one play or the brilliant two minute drive down the field that the greats make look so effortless. Also, what football fan hasn't daydreamed of throwing that perfect spiral 50 yards into the end zone for that Superbowl winning touchdown catch like the famous Montana to Clark or getting to hoist the Lombardi trophy in a sea of confetti like Tom Brady has done 5 times now.
I was excited to read John Feinstein's new book, Quarterback, with a subject that I love and a chance to get an inside look of the men who have that job. He takes an in depth look into the hallowed position and what it means to be part of the exclusive club of 32.
Feinstein profiles five starting quarterbacks in the NFL; Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick and retired great Doug Williams. He gives the reader insight into not only their day to day lives but their journey to the NFL. The author tackles the business side of the NFL and reminds us that ultimately the NFL is a business and life isn't always fair even to men at the top of their profession.
Spending time with each, we get to see the highs and lows of a quarterbacks life. We learn that just like in all of our lives, it's not always the big moments that mean the most because ultimately all 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL are human beings first. 
If you love sports, especially football, then this book is a must read. If you aren't a lover of sports, "Quarterback", is an interesting look into the mindset of individuals that are at the top of their profession. "When it's all said and done, that-more than anything-is what quarterbacks have to do. They all go down. It's the ones who get up who achieve greatness."
I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley. #Netgalley #Quarterback
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John Feinstein has hit the magic number of 40 when it comes to books. Even if you consider that some of them were for children, and thus required a little less effort, that's a lot of books.

The number could inspire a discussion about what sport he does best. My guess is that his two biggest loves - and thus his best efforts - are college basketball and golf. Feinstein got off to a flying start in the book business in the late 1980s with "A Season on the Brink." He spent a season with the legendary and fascinating Bobby Knight at Indiana. From there he has bounced around a bit in terms of sports, with stories about pro basketball, major and minor league baseball, and college football to his credit. With that sort of range, it's easy to conclude that Feinstein merely is in search of good stories from people who can tell them well - and consistently finds them.

"Quarterback" represents a relatively rare jump into pro football for Feinstein. He did spent a year with the NFL with "Next Man Up," which (as I recall) spent most of his time with the Baltimore Ravens. But this is more general, and it's still a pretty solid effort, as usual.

The NFL is, at its base, all about quarterbacks - the most important position in any team sports. If you don't have a good one, well, you can wave goodbye to a good chance at becoming a champion team. Yes, there are exceptions, but not many. An injury to a starter usually dooms a team to mediocrity or worse. The quarterbacks receive most of the publicity; casual fans who don't know more than one name on the Green Bay Packers can identify Aaron Rodgers easily.

Feinstein picked out five quarterbacks to follow during the course of the 2017 season. Alex Smith, a former No. 1 overall draft choice, was hoping to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl in what figured to be his final year in Kansas City. Andrew Luck of the Colts  was hoping to put an injury-filled year behind him in 2017. Joe Flacco had become the face of the Ravens' franchise, even though he wasn't at the very top tier of players at the position. Ryan Fitzpatrick came out of Harvard merely looking for a chance to land on an NFL roster, and has thrown for more than 25,000 yards and earned more money than almost all of his college classmates. He had bounced from team to team before finally landing in Tampa last season. The final choice is an odd one - Doug Williams is a retired quarterback. He had his big moment when he passed the Redskins to a Super Bowl title; now he's trying to help Washington do that again in the team's front office. 

The first part of the book is devoted to the back stories of the quarterbacks involved, and it's quite good. Feinstein always has been good about paying attention to detail, and it's on display here. All five players have stories to tell about their days in the game. Luck, for example, was a golden boy as a No. 1 pick out of Stanford, while Flacco came out of Delaware and Fitzpatrick was a seventh-round draft choice. They all have some things in common. The five of them realize that the quarterback gets too much of the credit when things go well for the team, and too much of the blame when things go badly. Oh, right - quarterbacks are usually in pain, even when they aren't injured.

The second portion of the book is devoted to the 2017 season. While the four playing QBs and the Redskins' quarterback situation receive the most attention, the whole league's season comes under scrutiny. That season is relatively fresh in some memories now, but others might think the story line jumps around too much and tries to cover a little too much territory. 

Be prepared for a little analysis along the way too. Feinstein usually has felt free to express his own personal viewpoints along the way. For example, here he has a few opinions about Donald Trump's remarks about players who knelt during the National Anthem, which caused quite a stir. Feinstein wasn't happy about it. If you don't like a dash of politics mixed with your sports, then don't say you weren't warned. But it shouldn't bother most readers.

There isn't much controversy about what's said in here by the quarterbacks involved. The subjects, though, are generally insightful and interesting people. It's nice to spend a few hours with them all. "Quarterback" isn't Feinstein's best book - and I've read all of the ones for adults - but it's another worthwhile effort.
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No position or player in any sport is considered as responsible for his team’s success or failure as the quarterback for a National Football League (NFL) team. His every move and every action taken by a team regarding its quarterbacks is scrutinized, analyzed and debated in the media.  These men, especially those who are the starting quarterbacks for each team, are heard in numerous interviews and press conferences every day. The lives lived by NFL quarterbacks, from stars to journeymen, are chronicled in this book by award-winning sportswriter John Feinstein. 

Five quarterbacks – four currently playing and one retired quarterback who currently works in the front office of the Washington Redskins – are profiled and each of them has a different story.  Alex Smith entered the league as the #1 pick in the draft by the San Francisco 49ers and has had both great moments and low points.  He is currently starting for the Washington Redskins after enjoying his best seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was signed by Doug Williams, the former Redskins quarterback who became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, leading Washington to victory in Super Bowl XXII.  Williams is included in the book not so much because of his current job with Washington, but to illustrate what it was like during his playing career to be a black quarterback.  At that time, many black quarterbacks were considered to not possess every skill needed to excel at the position. 

The other three quarterbacks all have other interesting stories of their own. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been primarily a back-up but because of the “Fitzpatrick jinx” that seems to affect the starter for every team that signs Fitzpatrick, he gets his chances to start and he performs well enough that he has enjoyed a sixteen year career in the NFL – not bad for a kid from Harvard.  Joe Flacco tasted early success when he led the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XLVII and while he and the Ravens haven’t been able to match that season, they have been perennial playoff contenders and his story, more than any other, illustrates how the quarterback will get an inordinate amount of credit when the team does well and blame when the team doesn’t perform well.  The last quarterback featured in the book, Andrew Luck, has had injury problems that has forced him to miss most of the last two seasons and his story is as much one of perseverance in order to get back into the game as well as that illustrated by Smith and Flacco of the ups and downs of actually playing the game.

There is plenty of discussion about the position as a whole in the league as well, with names from Aaron Rodgers to Johnny Manziel to Colin Kaepernick getting mentioned. The insight provided to the reader in the locker room, on the field, in the draft “war room” and the front office when it comes to the quarterback position is excellent, which is typical for a book by Feinstein. He also isn’t afraid to share his opinions on topics such as Kaepernick’s protests, the response by politicians and the plight of black quarterbacks yesterday and today. This may turn some readers off, but it does reflect the opinion of the author and is relevant to the subject of the book, so it doesn’t detract from the main topic.  The book is not a quick read as it will require concentration to absorb all the information presented.  This is a different style than other books by this author that I have read but this too is fine given this topic and the message presented.

Fans of Feinstein and the NFL will enjoy this book on quarterbacks who have had various amounts of success and stardom in their careers.  It is recommended for these readers. 

I wish to thank Doubleday Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Were you fascinated by the 2017 NFL season?  Are you obsessed with quarterbacks?  Tired of hearing about Tom Brady?  If you answered yes to all of those questions then this book may be for you.  In the preface to this book John Feinstein sets himself the task of analyzing the psychological mindsets of four quarterbacks in the NFL: Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  The problem is, he doesn't appear to go very deep.  The quotes and interviews don't really seem to go beyond the type of "detailed" reporting you'd get from a Sports Illustrated cover story.  And even this is minimal as the vast majority of the book is a literal rehashing of the 2017 season for each of the teams these quarterbacks play for.  Feinstein is a fine writer with a sports page, workman like style, but it appears he may not have had the time or resources to get the detailed information the preface of the book leads one to believe you'll get.  Alex Smith provides the best insights into the realities of always being under scrutiny and Andrew Luck is surprisingly open about his psychological vulnerabilities during his shoulder injury - but it still never feels to go much beyond the cliched, opaque post-game interviews you get every week.  If you're an NFL obsessive and/or deeply interested in at least one of these quarterbacks then this book is worth a read.  But, if you're interested in the deep nuances of sports psychology or leadership, then you might want to skip this.  I was really hopeful going into this book - and I still hope Feinstein gets the time and resources to actually meet the expectations set out in the preface.
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