Review by Budd Bailey
It’s two of the best words in football: “go long.”
It means that the wide receiver should take off down the field as fast as possible. Maybe, if the conditions are right, the quarterback will try to throw him a pass that results in a big gainer and/or a touchdown.
The phrase also can be used in journalism, although the meaning is obviously different. Many writers don’t get the chance to really air out a story, thanks to time and space limitations.
And if there’s one thing Tyler Dunne can do when it comes to a story – particularly one about football – it’s “go long.” That’s coming from someone who used to edit his work at The Buffalo News for a living. When one of his stories arrived for editing, it usually was going to be something worth reading. No wonder Tyler’s newsletter if called “Go Long!” He wrote the best story that I’ve seen on the Bills’ 13-second meltdown against the Chiefs in the playoffs last season.
Take a writer like that, and naturally some sort of book is in order. Dunne has gotten around to that now, a new publication called “The Blood and Guts.” It’s as good as you’d expect.
Tight ends occupy a unique place in the football universe. In order to be a true success, they really have to master two separate skills. A good tight end needs to have the speed to be an effective receiver when needed. In other words, he has to be faster than an NFL linebacker. On the other hand, they have to be able to block opposing players when needed. So a tight end must be ready to bump up against defensive linemen. A sprint on one play, a collision on the next.
Tight ends aren’t particularly well paid, perhaps sometimes they can be a bit anonymous. Offensive coordinators probably would rather see the ball go to wide receivers, since that’s their specialty, so the tight ends usually don’t put up the big numbers. As for the blocking, well, few people have been rewarded with fame for that skill.
Luckily, the modern tight end only came along about 60 to 65 years ago. Therefore, it’s relatively easy to talk to the best in the business at the position over the years. Most of them are still with us.
The list of subjects starts with Mike Ditka. He’s better known now than he was during his playing days, thanks to coaching, TV work, and commercials. Let me assure you that he was a bull on cleats. It was difficult to figure out how anyone tackled the guy. Tight ends like that Ditka take a lot of punishment, and their shelf life particularly in the good old days wasn’t too long. But Iron Mike was a definite trailblazer.
Dunne also has chapters on John Mackey, Jackie Smith, Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow, Shannon Sharpe, Ben Coates, Mark Bruener, Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, Dallas Clark, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and George Kittle. That might not be the definite list of great tight ends – Bills fans might be ready to Travis Kelce of Kansas City on there at this point – but it’s a great starting point.
What’s more, almost of all of the guys have interesting background stories to tell. Dunne does his homework here, getting the players to open up as well talking to some of the important people in their lives. He even cleared something up for me along the way. The story making the rounds about Rob Gronkowski’s transfer to a Pittsburgh-area high school usually was associated with a search for better competition. Instead, it turns out that Rob headed to Pennsylvania because his parents had just gotten divorced and he wanted to live with his father. So noted.
If there’s a drawback to the way the subject is approached, it’s probably that the aspects of the game concerning contact and violence feel a bit overdone. I don’t want to discount that element of the game in football’s popularity growth over the years. But Tyler seems to enjoy a good hit more than I do. In the introduction he writes, “No sport captivates America like football because football is the most primitive form of competition in human existence.” I’d probably argue that boxing and ultimate fighting might have a slight edge there. It’s OK; we can agree to disagree on this one.
The players profiled in the book probably would agree with Dunne in this matter. Some came into football the hard way, and many enjoy the demands of the position. The key is that they all have a story to tell, and Dunne tells it well.
Most football fans who have more than a passing interest in the game should find “The Blood and Guts” worth their time. Let’s hope there are more such attempts to “go long” in Dunne’s future.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)