leifer golden ageIn narrowing down a long selection of American football books for this post, I noticed my own preferences for the college game peppered throughout my working list.

As I whittled down further, it was clear that I couldn’t overcome this “bias.”

The National Football League by far is the biggest sports entertainment spectacle in the United States. College football has its own passionate masses, especially where I live in the Deep South.

I didn’t want to cut any of the 15 books I settled on, so I’ve decided to expand from the 10-book limit found in other posts in this series.

There were so many more that I could have included here, but there had to be line drawn somewhere.

As in the other “notable” posts for 2015, the following books are arranged alphabetically, according to the author’s last name.

EndzoneCover“Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football,” by John U. Bacon (St. Martin’s Press)

The author was completing this follow-up (excerpt) to “Three and Out,” his chronicle of the brief Michigan coaching tenure of Rich Rodriguez, when the Wolverines hired favorite son Jim Harbaugh to revive the program. Reviews: M Live | M Go Blog

“The Art of Smart Football,” by Chris Brown (SCBB Press)

For readers wanting deep analysis of football strategy, this book is a must. The author is a former Grantland contributor and this volume features strategic evolutions, including the defensive schemes of Nick Saban and Pete Carroll, and Tom Brady and the Patriots’ no-huddle offense.  Reviews: Waiting for Next Year

“Saban: The Making of the Coach,” by Monte Burke (Simon & Schuster)

The most successful coach in college football is an elusive personality, and he likes it that way. The author interviewed hundreds of people to produce a revealing (and unauthorized) portrait of how Saban rose from a modest upbringing in West Virginia to overseeing the Alabama dynasty, after many stops along the way. Reviews/Interviews: Birmingham News | Men’s Journal | Dallas Morning News

“Fun City: John LIndsay, Joe Namath and How Sports Saved New York in the 1960s,” by Sean Deveney (Sports Publishing)Fun City

A portrait of a town and iconic sports and political figures during a grim time. The title comes from a quote by Lindsay when a transit strike began shortly after his re-election as mayor. Most of the narrative is devoted to the Jets’ stirring Super Bowl win with Namath. Review: New York Times 

“Montana: The Biography of Football’s Joe Cool,” by Keith Dunnavant (Thomas Dunne)

The San Francisco 49ers quarterbacking icon made winning look easy, but Dunnavant writes that Montana’s young life was anything but. Battles with his father and high school coach in western Pennsylvania helped shape a football legend. Reviews/Interviews: WAMC | The Writer’s Journey |

“When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl,” by Harvey Frommer (Taylor Trade Publishing)

The first Super Bowl had none of the hype nor the full house that have followed since, but the game played on Jan. 15, 1967, is one of the most significant in the history of professional football. Frommer’s is a largely oral history of the first championship since the NFL-AFL merger. The foreword was written by Frank Gifford, who died right before the start of the 2015 season. Reviews: Sports Book Guy | The Epoch Times

“Billion Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football,” by Gilbert M. Gaul (Viking)

An investigative reporter’s account of the rapid increase of money in college athletics, where elite coaches earn seven figures and schools and conferences generate hundreds of millions of dollars in television revenues from the labor of unpaid athletes. Not a new subject, but some eye-popping numbers and “business” practices are revealed. Reviews/Interviews: NYTWash PostVice Sports 

Stagg vs. Yost“Stagg vs. Yost: The Birth of Cutthroat Football,” by John Kryk (Rowan & Littlefield)

How a famous University of Chicago coach (Amos Alonzo Stagg) pulled out all the stops to reverse his team’s fortunes against a dominating rival at Michigan (Fielding Yost). If you think college football today is awash in greed, corruption, and a win-at-all-costs ethos, this book is a useful reminder that those things are nearly as old as the sport itself. Reviews: M Go Blog | Library Journal | Author Website

“Concussion,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas (Random House Trade)

The book is based on the author’s 2009 GQ story about Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered brain trauma in the late Steelers’ center Mike Webster and found himself in the middle of a growing controversy involving concussions and the NFL. The book is the basis for the movie with the same name, released on Christmas 2015, and starring Will Smith and Alec Baldwin. Reviews/Interviews: SF Chronicle | CBS “This Morning” | Hollywood Reporter

Leifer: The Golden Age of American Football,” by Neil Leifer (Taschen)

The renown former Sports Illustrated photographer has collected nearly 300 pages’ worth of some the finest images ever taken of professional football, including Alan Ameche’s famous end zone dive to win the 1958 NFL title for the Baltimore Colts. Interview: Deadspin

“Brady vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL,” by Gary Myers (Crown Archetype)

Now in the twilight of their careers, two of the NFL’s most heralded contemporary quarterbacks are portrayed as friendly rivals with deeply contrasting styles and personalities. Myers captures the essence of two future Hall of Famers with good storytelling and insight. Reviews/Interviews: Brandon Steiner | Fox Sports | Mass LiveTribal Diane Roberts

“Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” by Diane Roberts (Harper)

The author, an English professor at Florida State and who previously taught at Alabama, admits to being a fan of the Seminoles. But she’s conflicted by the money, violence, transgressions of athletes off the field and the compromising of academic standards. Reviews/Interviews: NPR | Southeast Review | AJC

“Cheating is Encouraged: A Hard-Nosed History of the 1970s Raiders,” by Mike Siana and Kristine Setting Clark (Sports Publishing)

A former member of the Raiders’ halycon years weaves tales of the team’s “outlaw football” and its infamous (and winning) reputation. Siani doesn’t hold back in confessing how much the players took owner Al Davis’ “Just Win, Baby” mantra to heart. Interviews: Stockton Record

“The Last Season: A Father, a Son and a Lifetime of College Football,” by Stuart Stevens (Knopf)

The author, a Republican political strategist, recalls one final campaign of Ole Miss football he enjoyed with his father in 2013. A portrait of familial bonding through football, race in the South and confronting the inevitability of old age. Reviews/Interviews: Boston Globe | Bloomberg | Saturday Down South

Seau Book Trotter“Junior Seau: The Life and Death of a Football Icon,” by Jim Trotter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

When the late San Diego Chargers linebacker was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, his daughter wasn’t allowed to speak on his behalf. She’s been critical of the league for its handling of concussion-related matters after her father took his own life in 2012. Excerpts/Reviews/Interviews: Yahoo! SportsS.D. Union-TribuneSI Audibles Podcast 


Sports Biblio notable sports books for 2015: