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  • Budd Bailey

Book Review: The Football 100

Review by Budd Bailey

It was easy to see this book coming from, well, somewhere. 

Joe Posnanski wrote a book on "The Baseball 100" last year, as he "sort of" ranked the top 100 players in the sport's history. The "sort of" part of the book centers on the fact that he didn't take the rankings that seriously. If there was a particular number that applied to a certain player and was roughly around where he should be ranked (i.e. Joe DiMaggio, No. 56), then that number was assigned to him. That book worked really well because of Posnanski's dedication to finding out facts about all of the players that weren't common knowledge, and presenting them in an entertaining way. He succeeded in those goals beautifully.

And then ... well, with the success of that book, it was natural to assume that other sports might receive the same treatment. The Athletic's staff went to work on it, and the result is "The Football 100" - a massive project that will help fill that empty spot on the bookcase with its 656 pages. 

The stories start with Fran Tarkenton at No. 100, and run through No. 1 (no spoilers here, although you probably can guess the top four in some order rather easily). There are some similarities in the profiles as we march through the greatest in football history. The stories are all about the same size. Some of their statistics are presented when available, including Pro Bowl appearances, all-league and all-decade teams, etc. 

All of the stories have some backing support information and stories and quotes from the player himself or other people that usually show the greatness of that player in some way. Most of these athletes are beyond criticism, at least on the football field. Otherwise, they wouldn't be here. There are no real complaints to be found in each of the profiles. They serve the purpose well enough. 

However, something odd happens along the way after a few dozen of these articles. Since a few different people contributed to the book, the stories by nature have to be self-contained. In other words, there's no connection between the players profiled. They stand alone. 

For example, Merlin Olsen, Bob Lilly and Alan Page are grouped together in the top 100, and all are deserving of superlatives. Was there any reason why one was ranked a little better than the other? There must have been one, but all three greats receive nominations as great players. Along those lines, Jim Parker, Bruce Matthews and Larry Allen also have a literary blanket thrown over them. 

In my neighborhood, O.J. Simpson is the chapter that probably will receive the most attention. He was ranked No. 52, which struck me as a little low. For five years Simpson was as good as any running back in football history, and was the league's brightest star. Personally, I'd put him above Gale Sayers, Eric Dickerson and Bronko Nagurski, which would put him in the low 30s. Admittedly, Simpson's life after football has taken some terrible turns. Tim Graham's worthwhile profile addresses Simpson's full lifetime legacy, but it's tough to know where Simpson might have been ranked in, say, 1993. 

It would have been interesting to have some pages devoted to the ranking process in some detail here. Failing that, I'd listen to a podcast with the authors discussing their thinking at certain points of the discussion. 

If you are looking for a well-researched review of football's all-time greats, then "The Football 100" will do the job nicely enough. But the lack of fun and flow along the way might drag down your enthusiasm level after a while.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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