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.