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Review: ‘Slow Getting Up’ by Nate Jackson

Review: ‘Slow Getting Up’ by Nate Jackson post image

If you’ve been paying attention to my recent “Currently” posts, you know that one of my favorite things about fall is football season. I really only got into football in the last few years. As a kid, I used to hate sitting through Sunday afternoon Vikings games. But it’s something my family, in particular my dad, loves, and watching games together is something we’ve bonded over.

Part of my growing understanding of the game is finding books that get inside the huddle, so to speak, and address the economics and social impact of the game on owners, players and fans. Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson is a look at the NFL from what could be considered an “average” player’s perspective:

This is not a celebrity tell-all of professional sports. Slow Getting Up is a survivor’s real-time account of playing six seasons (twice as long as the average NFL career) for the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos. As an unsigned free agent who rose through the practice squad to the starting lineup, Nate Jackson is the talented embodiment of the everyday freak athlete in professional football, one of thousands whose names go unmentioned in the daily press. Through his story recounted here — from scouting combines to preseason cuts to byzantine film studies to glorious touchdown catches — even knowledgeable football fans will glean a new, starkly humanized understanding of the daily rigors and unceasing violence of quotidian life in the NFL. Slow Getting Up is a look at the real lives of America’s best twenty-year-old athletes putting their bodies and minds through hell.

Commentators and news organizations spend a lot of time profiling and featuring and praising the franchise players on a team, but an NFL team is a lot more than the star quarterback. In this book, Jackson represents all of those unnamed players, the guys who have to play through the preseason to just make the team and who can be let go or traded with nearly no notice. These are the majority of the players in the league, and their experience is important. Jackson is an entertaining and honest spokesperson, even if I don’t think he’d consider himself a spokesperson, as such.

This is certainly not a book to read if you enjoy the unvarnished, tv-produced story that most sports journalism and game commentary puts on the game. Life in the NFL for most players is simultaneously brutal, boring and brief. Few get the chance at stardom, and in the league’s pursuit of good entertainment, you get a bunch of young men who are overpaid without enough to do during the off season. Jackson doesn’t give a particularly flattering view of that side of football.

But he also captures the pure joy that he and other players have getting the chance to keep playing the game they love into early adulthood. There’s something amazing about the fact that some little boys get to grow up into young men that get to spend every week in pursuit of the thing they love most. Jackson captures the exhilaration of getting the call to play, of starting the first game, of catching the first touchdown. There’s something really wonderful about those fleeting moments that sports fans will understand and appreciate.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It’s a quick read, but well written and extremely entertaining. Jackson certainly strips some of the glossy finish off the whole football thing, but I think knowing what goes on behind-the-scenes makes success and failure on the field mean more.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Care September 17, 2013, 9:17 am

    I love football, too and I love the human interest stories that they do present occasionally on ESPN. But yea, I don’t have much sympathy for the guys who claim poor me, I’m not famous and married to a supermodel and only worked 3 years in the league. Let them take advantage of that free college education they supposedly are offered. Oh yea, that. They choose to be seduced by riches and put their bodies through that crazy ride, imo. They have learned a ton about discipline and team work; put that to work on the next goals of their life rather than bemoan how short their careers are in the sport.

    • Kim September 18, 2013, 7:35 pm

      I like the human interest pieces too. They’re fluffy, but I always think they’re interesting.

      If you don’t like all of those behaviors, then I think you’ll like Nate Jackson. He’s bright and young and does make some questionable decision, but doesn’t bemoan or look back on his time with regret. I think he’s got a healthy perspective on it.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) September 17, 2013, 9:48 am

    I’m a big football fan so this sounds like a must read for me.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey September 17, 2013, 9:37 pm

    I don’t love watching football, but I love to hear about careers that I don’t know anything about, so I think I still might enjoy reading this one 🙂

    • Kim September 18, 2013, 7:33 pm

      Yeah, I think you might! It definitely gives a good look at what an “average” player in the league might experience.

  • Interesting. I am watching Hard Knocks with my roommate this summer, which deals with at least some similar things, and I’m loving it — it’s fascinating and heartbreaking to see the players at lower levels fighting for their jobs.

    • Kim October 1, 2013, 6:19 pm

      The non-star players are the people you never hear about, but since they’re so much of the league I think their stories are important.

  • Jennifer September 21, 2013, 8:10 am

    I KNOW I would like this book. I’m a football junkie 😉

    Goooo Packers!

  • Matt September 22, 2013, 2:38 pm

    Great review. I also really appreciated Jackson’s candor and the perspective he provided as a player who never really achieved much publicity or stardom in the league. It was also nice to read a player memoir with actually quality writing, something that is generally lacking in the genre.

    Some recommendations if you are interested in more books discussing the social/economic/physical impacts of football:

    Bringing the Heat by Mark Bowden. A fly-on-the-wall account of a season with the Philadelphia Eagles written by one of their former beat writers (who would later write works like Black Hawk Down and is a very gifted writer). It is similar to Next Man Up by John Feinstein and I actually liked it more.

    Three and Out by John Bacon. A more recent behind-the-scenes account of a season with the Michigan Wolverines. In addition to detailing practices, workouts, and games, Bacon also devotes a good amount of pages to the economics of big-time athletics and the politics that head coaches must navigate to remain in good standing. Bacon had a ton of access and it makes for some compelling reading.

    America’s Game by Michael McCambridge. Its a pretty dense read, especially as far as sports books go, but you will be hard-pressed to find a better or more comprehensive history of the NFL and how it grew into the economic juggernaut it is today.

    Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger. I know you mentioned it in the Narrative Nonfiction Football article linked below this review. If you haven’t read it yet it is definitely worth your time.

    • Kim October 1, 2013, 6:20 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations. I have read FNL, but the rest are all news to me. Although you mention America’s Game is dense, that sounds basically perfect for the kinds of information I’m always craving.

      • Matt October 2, 2013, 6:46 pm

        America’s Game is a really worthwhile read if you have any interest in learning about the history of the league. It is incredibly comprehensive and very well researched. The book really shines when it describes the competition between the AFL and NFL in the sixties that ultimately culminated in the merger but its pretty strong and engaging throughout.

        • Kim October 6, 2013, 9:17 pm

          Awesome. I just ordered a copy that I hope I can dig into when it arrives.