As the Houston Texans prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens this week, I think back upon the best book about life in the NFL I have ever read. It is entitled Next Man Up and is written by John Feinstein.
Released in 2005, Next Man Up is Feinstein's account of the 2004 season he spent with the Baltimore Ravens. Not just from their point of view but from his own as well. He was in the draft room, on the practices, in coaches' meetings, attended team-related religious services and stood on the sidelines during their games.
He relates the story of Art Modell leaving Cleveland and yet still being forced to sell the franchise. He introduces the reader to Steve Bisciotti, the anti-Jerry Jones of NFL ownership. The reader learns how Deion Sanders became a Raven, about the bad blood between Kordell Stewart and Bill Cowher, and why ex-Redskin players love Daniel Snyder while ex-Redskin coaches are likely not to send the Redskin's owner a Christmas card.
The story is told of Ethan Brooks' heartbreak, Ray Lewis' spiritual awakening and Brian Billick's walk to the stadium on game day. Media members, fans and referees all become memorable characters in this book as the realities of a profession so demanding of achieving victory is perfectly illustrated by the way the Ravens' season ends 9-7 without a playoff berth.
Recommended reading for the serious fan of the NFL. Even if you hate the Ravens, you'll learn from their 2004 season that life in the NFL is like life nowhere else.