As I write this, it's in the high seventies outside, unseasonably cool, but still August. When I pulled up to my parents' house today my father was outside in the driveway, standing behind his minivan with a small TV that had been mine in college, hooked up to a complex harness of wires that led into the back of the car. Channels were beginning to come in, fuzzily, as he futzed with a remote.
This television hookup is the last item left on our Patriots tailgating checklist - we already have a vehicle with cargo space (van), table, grills (2), canvas folding chairs (4), card table, and (as of last year) a tent. After this, the next step is an RV, which keeps my mother praying the TV concept will keep on needing improvement for a while.
So while it's clear football is coming, behind my dad in the garden as he fiddled with the TV was a bumper crop of tomatoes, just ripening. On the TV as it faded in and out, the Sox were slogging through a dog-day game against the Chicago South-siders, the only sporting entertainment besides NASCAR available on this Sunday afternoon. To say it doesn't yet feel like football season would be an understatement.
I cannot tell a lie - though I have been paying attention to the big stories of the preseason so far, including the somewhat discouraging Game 1 and even more discouraging loss of Tank Williams to the IR, I missed actually watching the game this week.
Even if it's not as easy to get into the upcoming season while the sun still sets after 8 pm and all the leaves are still green, though, summer is a great time for reading, at a picnic, on the beach, or just surfing the 'Net from the couch. And while I haven't yet gotten into the gridiron nitty-gritty for another year, there's plenty out there to keep a Pats fan occupied at least until preseason games see starters play during the second half.
Below the jump, some recommended reading for Pats fans.
Bloody Sundays by Mike Freeman - An inside look at the NFL, from a behind-the-scenes profile of Jon Gruden to an explanation of the Wonderlic test, Bloody Sundays doesn't shy away from some of the trickier aspects of football and football culture, including chapters dedicated to domestic violence and a portrait of a closeted gay player. Written with clarity, subtlety and humor, an offbeat look at the curiosities of pro football that will be enjoyable for fans of any team.
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis - The author of Moneyball turns his acumen to football, focusing on the experiences of a top prospect, offensive lineman Michael Oher, during high school and college. Oher isn't the typical college football recruit, having been homeless and functionally illiterate on the West Side of Memphis, Tenn. until being admitted to a private high school on a football scholarship and adopted by a wealthy family. Amid the book's exploration of the cutthroat industry that is NCAA player development lies a deeper story about class and race in America. Moneyball put otherwise obscure minor-leaguers like Kevin Youkilis on the MLB map; Oher is currently finishing out his senior year at Ole Miss and remains ranked among the country's best college linemen.
Patriot Reign by Michael Holley - If you're a Boston sports fan, anything with Michael Holley on the spine is something I'd recommend. His reporting and writing are both superb, making his books quick and informative reads. Patriot Reign focuses on the system of player development Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli used to build the Patriots' championship teams. Holley was given amazing access to the team, from the draft war room to the locker room after playoff victories, and gives fans a glimpse at behind-the-scenes details they otherwise don't get - scenes like Tom Brady's first meeting with Robert Kraft, during which the gangly young quarterback carried a pizza and made an eerie prediction, or an interview with one of the team's scouts who has a picture of Tom Brady right next to a picture of a failed prospect on his desk to keep him focused. It's the furthest backstage the Belichick regime will probably ever allow the layperson, so if you haven't yet treated yourself to this book, I recommend it.
The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam - Bill Belichick comes off less an inscrutable mystery, in this biography by the late David Halberstam, and more the understandable product of a blue-collar upbringing and formative years among the recruits at military academies. Belichick's work ethic and relationship with his father, Steve, are emphasized. My favorite vignette from this book features a young Belichick designing plays in a notebook that was supposed to have been dedicated to French homework.
Moving the Chains by Charles P. Pierce - Pierce is among my favorite sportswriters already; I've enjoyed his work in Sports Illustrated already, especially a cover piece in 2003 profiling Manny Ramirez. Pierce's biography of Tom Brady explores the QB as a public persona rather than focusing on his technical exploits under center, but it's a worthy subject, given Brady's unique position at the intersection between marketing, politics, fashion, and competition this decade.
Never Give Up by Tedy Bruschi with Michael Holley - For Patriots fans, Tedy Bruschi is already the embodiment of everything they appreciate about their team - intensity and integrity. Though cheesily titled, Bruschi's autobiography is surprisingly candid about his recovery from a stroke and return to the playing field three years ago, including the impact of his struggle on his marriage. I remember vividly how concerned I was for Tedy at the time, and how much of a loss his absence was to the team - this book fills in the other side of that narrative. You might be surprised to see what Bruschi says about how the outpouring of support from New England fans influenced his recovery.
Articles / Websites
"Just Throw the Damn Ball, Tom Brady", by Tom Chiarella for Esquire Magazine - An off-beat potrait of Brady, and in reference to a man at the center of his own media cottage industry, that's a rare thing. Not entirely flattering, and seemingly born at least in part out of the writer's frustration at not getting Brady to reveal some juicy inner demon during his interview, but touches on that feeling you get from Brady, that you don't know the half of what actually goes on with him behind closed doors.
"Oh, the Humanity!" by Aaron Kaplowitz for Boston.com - The bizarre tale of a Giants fan who's such a sore winner, he journeys to the slums of Nicaragua to purchase, from its destitute owner, a Patriots World Championship hat printed up in anticipation of last year's Super Bowl, then donated to charity. (You know. A charity that gives clothes to needy people in poor countries.) Giants fan considers $5 asking price for the hat a coup.
32 Teams in 32 Days: New England at ColdHardFootballFacts.com - A look back at the '07 campaign and a few predictions for 2008-2009.
Reiss's Pieces - This one should go without saying, but in case you don't check in regularly with Boston.com's vast upgrade over Ron Borges, you should.
The National Football Post - Football still doesn't get the kind of literary writing or in-depth statistical analysis baseball does, but little by little, that's changing, and this site is a good example of some of the new football media that's out there.
There. That oughtta keep you occupied at least until next Sunday's exhibition against Tampa Bay.
Just in case it's not, though, you can always join in the speculation about who's going to replace the disgraced Jon Thomase as the Herald's Patriots beat writer...