Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday Gift Picks 2013: The System

See here's what happened. I was traveling and then caught a nasty cold when a four year-old painted my nails (he blew on them to help them dry and I'm pretty sure he had Ebola), and Gianna, well, she forgets we have a blog unless I'm naggy. So we ignored you for a month. Quit whining. You think you have it bad? Zorro is throwing fits every night. He bit my boob. Not kidding. On a related note, I'm writing a BDSM erotica book called Fifty Shades of Grey Cat. It's about a woman who is desperately lonely and the cat who abuses her every night. I swear it's fiction. (It's not fiction.)

Anyway, it's that time of year when one must set aside private book hoarding in favor of book buying for loved ones. This is why I try to keep my loved one list to the bare minimum. I hate sharing. Unrelatedly, I'm also watching Pitch Perfect for the fifth time in two weeks right now. I very well could start calling people "aca-bitches" at any moment. Moving on.

My first pick for holiday giving this year is The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. This is the book for every college football fan on your list. More than that, though, it's a book for any sports fan, period. I am not particularly a football fan (though I keep up with the Longhorns because one is obligated to do so when living in Austin), but I played sports and watch baseball and basketball. The language of athletic competition transcends the sport. But really, The System is an in-depth look at college football, from the coaches to the athletic directors to the donors to the players to the scandals to the games.

Coach Mike Leach
Authors Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian have done their homework, and this is one of the best sports books written in years and the best written book about football. What is it like to be coach Mike Leach, a law school grad who turned his back on a legal career to pursue his love of football? How did Leach take Texas Tech to the top of the AP Polls, and what happened with the Adam James scandal that cost him that job, and how has Leach turned around the struggling Washington State program? Fun fact: when Leach was hired at Washington State, the college had to upgrade their payroll software because it couldn't process a salary as large as Leach's.

Ziggy Ansah
How did Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah go from life as a teenager in Ghana to a walk-on at Brigham Young University who'd never played a day of football in his life to the top draft pick by the Detroit Lions in last
year's NFL draft? How did Alabama steal Coach Nick Saban from the Miami Dolphins? How corrupt is the recruiting game? (Very.) How did Oklahoma State convince T. Boone Pickens to give $165 million dollars to their athletic program, and how did that money rocket OSU to the top of the polls?

One of my favorite chapters in this book focuses on the College GameDay show that airs on ESPN every Saturday morning. I have a cousin who has worked in television sports journalism for a decade, and I knew that she worked crazy hours and had to negotiate the constant challenges of live sports broadcasting. Anything can happen, and that's why we love sports. Can you imagine working that Alabama/Auburn game on Saturday?? That was insane! So here are these guys on College GameDay, and every single week they up their game, creating a perfect sports show that covers everything that a football fan needs to know in preparation for the Saturday games. I know people who watch the show every week. I heard from three of them last week regarding Kirk Herbstreit's haircut. The System gives a great glimpse inside an iconic program.

Yes, there are scandals and hard topics covered in The System. Donors overstep boundaries, players commit terrible crimes, injuries end athletic careers, coaches are megalomaniacal assholes. Benedict and Keteyian don't hide the ugliness that plagues college football, but they are also fans of the sport. This desire for honest reporting mixed with an appreciation for the game makes The System completely engrossing reading from start to finish. I have no idea why this book isn't the bestselling book in the country right now.

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