War Without Death; a book review

Monday, September 17, 2007

Few divisions in all of sports are as storied as the National Football League's NFC East Division. The Dallas Cowboys. The New York (football) Giants. The Washington Redskins. The Philadelphia Eagles. Together they own a quarter of the NFL's Super Bowl championships (ten) and have been the team of many legendary football players. The competition in the division is highly regarded as the toughest not only in the NFL, but in all of sports. Mark Maske took the opportunity to chronicle a year in the life of the NFC East in the book, War Without Death.

War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East is exactly what the title says it is. The storyline of the 2006 calendar year for the NFC East is divided into three sections. And instead of giving you just the game recaps from the NFL season, the reader is put right in the thick of things from the coach's office, to the owner's box, to the draft rooms, and the player's homes. You start off right in Oakland at the end of the 2005 NFL season, where the New York Giants had clinched the 2005 NFC East division in January. Stories of the legendary Mara family, owners of the Giants, are told and signify how special things were in the organization, as well as documenting the emotions of the Cowboys, Redskins, and Eagles.

Maske tells the story more from the angle of the owners of the clubs than anyone else. Dan Snyder comes off as a rich man who is looking for his next buck. Jerry Jones comes off as a man wanting his Cowboys to be "America's Team". John Mara comes off as a man who wants to respect the history of the Giants and NFL, as well as wanting to ensure the Giants mean something in the league. And Jeffery Lurie comes off as the owner who wants to be successful but wants to do it smartly, rather than being the over spender. Each personality is represented just as they appear to be in real life.

The three sections of the book are "The Planning", "The Build Up", and "The Payoff". Each section progresses through the year starting with the end of the 2005 season. In the first section the reader learns what each club is thinking coming off the end of the 2005 NFL season, coaching changes, free agents, and looking forward to the draft. "The Build Up" is all about the second half of the off season as the reader learns how the draft unfolds, the legacies of the owners and general managers that are defined by free agency and drafts, and the wonderful world of training camps.
"The Payoff" takes the reader through the up and down 2006 season, all of the division lead changes, the national exposure games, and the eventual playoff match-ups.

There are so many plot lines that are followed through out the entire book. One to pay attention too is the story of Adam Archuleta, a free agent who decided to sign with the Redskins for more money as opposed to going to Chicago, where he could play in a system that better suited him and was close to his old home. Archuleta tells Maske just how feels as he makes the decision and how his feelings turn bitter as the season unfolds. By the end you want to feel sorry for Archuleta, but at the same time you may feel like saying "Told ya so!"

Among the other story lines that are detailed more accurately and without bias is the Terrell Owens sage, which moved form Philadelphia to Dallas. Owens' image issues, coach Parcels battles, and overdose episode are discussed, as well as his road from Philadelphia to Dallas. Also detailed throughout the book is what happens above the club level.

A owners' meetings are discussed in an important year for the NFL. A new collective bargaining agreement was put in place, as was a new commissioner. Stadium deals are passed, coaches are scrutinized, and players are revived and dismantled.

Every topic thinkable is covered in War Without Death. I bought it a while ago and finally finished it over the weekend. If you are a football fan, especially of either of the NFC East teams, this is a must read when you get a chance. You will undoubtedly come away with a higher appreciation for the inner workings of the NFL and its teams, owners, general managers, coaches, and players.

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