The Nebraska-Northwestern game on Saturday was a thriller. Except for the Huskers themselves, I don’t think anyone cared more about a Nebraska win than I. After all, I spent nearly ten years at Northwestern University Press and last year, hosted three of my former colleagues at Memorial Stadium, only to see the Wildcats beat us. This year, I opted to stay home rather than fly to Evanston for the game. I was certain we’d beat them—but boy was my resolve tested! Alas, the team came through for me.
Those of you who know our Press know we publish a wide range of sports history, from golf to running to hiking to professional and collegiate sports such as baseball, basketball, and football. In fact, we are becoming so well known for our sports books that we received a surprise visit from Orlando Magic senior VP Pat Williams yesterday. He was in town for a speech but wanted to stop by and meet the folks at UNP because he loves our books. We loved meeting him. Thanks, Pat!
Sadly, though, it doesn’t take someone who follows college or pro sports to know the troubles that have beset individuals and teams in a culture singularly dedicated to winning. In a book we published in 2010, Scoreboard, Baby, Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry go behind the scenes of the University of Washington’s 2000 football season to uncover a tale of corruption, complicity, and crime. Buzz Bissinger said it was “the most harrowing book I have ever read about college sports.” Of course, there are even more harrowing tales about college football these days—we read about them in the paper every day, it seems. But college football doesn’t have a monopoly on these tales.
In a new book UNP just published by Michael McKnight, we learn the heartbreaking story of Darryl Henley (Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL Cornerback Darryl Henley). Talk about harrowing—the sad story of a man who had it all, whose parents did everything right, sacrificing to make sure both their sons had a good education and the potential for a professional football career. But Darryl, in just the span of three short years, went from a promising NFL role model to federal inmate—where he is still incarcerated.
It’s the epitome of a cautionary tale. Both books should be required reading in all Division One sports programs.
Alas, all is not depressing in football, particularly football history. For an entertaining look at the first 50 years of pro football, take a look at Dan Daly’s The National Forgotten League. Dan takes a wonderful look at an era that has been neglected by historians. Find out about the two one-armed NFL players. Discover the awful secret carried around by Sid Luckman, the Bear’s Hall of Fame quarterback. These were also years of great innovation, such as the invention of the modern T Formation. If you are a diehard football fan, or even just curious about its beginnings, you’ll really enjoy this book.
I very much enjoy college and professional football. And I confess that I don’t like it when my teams lose. But reading about the darker sides of both has made me realize that, truly, winning isn’t everything. If we had lost to Northwestern—well, life would go on. Just not as happily.