Review: Adam Gopnik's "The Unbeautiful Game"
In the article, Joe Namath makes an appearance at a Texans vs. Jets game and the New York reporters flock around Broadway Joe, ignoring the game (it is the Texans vs. the Jets) being played in front of them, and try and crow-bar a controversial statement out of the guy known by many youngsters as a drunk person wanting to kiss sideline reporter Suzy Kolber. Sounding like an old-timer in a rundown tavern talking about the glory days of yesteryear, Gopnik uses Namath as a metaphor for when football was fun. "There's no laughter now," he laments, and cites recent tomes about Brian Billick and Tom Brady (with Bill Belichick playing a role) as examples of the loss of hilarity. C'mon, Billick, Belichick and Brady are great and everything but they are the three musketeers of dull. (Even Charles P. Pierce, one of the best sports writers out there, couldn't make Brady exciting, Gopnik concedes.) There are still interesting players on the field and off, the authors of the books cited just didn't pick them or didn't get good access, and didn't pull off the excellence, and originality, of a Paper Lion or a Semi-Tough. Gopnik quotes John Feinstein regarding the "here-today, gone-tomorrow" culture in the NFL, which is true, but that's nothing new: it has been the same thing for ninety years. Joe Namath's swinging era was a blip in the history of the NFL (and the country), certainly entertaining but not the norm. Moreover, football might be athletically "unbeautiful" when played by the heady and gutsy and AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year Chad Pennington, who is the opposite of flashy, and Eli Manning, wonderfully described by Gopnik as "the Giants' talented, inconsistent quarterback [who has] an unfortunate wide-eyed, golly-gee look for all occasions, like Opie, on the old Andy Griffith show, if he were to see Floyd the barber in Halloween mask." But what about Eli's brother Peyton? Or team-mate Tiki Barber? Or, LaDanian Tomlinson? (See Lee Jenkins' New York Times article on LT's family background...Reg. Req'd) Or, Reggie Bush? Or, fun-loving Brett Favre? Hardly "unbeautiful" players.