John Feinstein knows his stuff.
For years, Feinstein has used sports as a framework to tell a story worth telling.
College basketball, the PGA Tour, the Army-Navy rivalry - he's taken what we see on the
outside and digs all the way in to show us what we've been missing. His stories regularly
transcend the games he focuses on.
His newest effort, Next Man Up - A Year Behind the Lines in Today's NFL, is
no different. Feinstein spent an entire year with the Baltimore Ravens organization,
getting unlimited access to the team from the beginning of the season until the end.
In absorbing, compelling detail, Feinstein shows us the ins and outs of an NFL franchise
- until now, maybe the most secretive of all professional sports entities.
Beginning with the Ravens owner and the team's coaches, Feinstein methodically works
his way through all of the personalities involved with the team, showing them as real
people instead of just names and faces we see on television and in newspapers. One of
the best examples is when he details backup lineman Ethan Brooks. From the outside, most
football observers saw an overachieving athlete hoping to find a role on the team. Feinstein,
however, reaches a little further and describes how three years earlier, Brooks lost his
wife to cancer and how that tragic loss has shaped Brooks' life and career. It is nuance
like that that gives Feinstein's books an extra layer of complexity and depth and Next
Man Up excels because of Feinstein's attention to those details.
Feinstein also elaborates on the daily pressures that owners, coaches and players face
in the NFL. By detailing each game and the lead-up to each contest, we feel like we are
standing on the practice field, in the locker room and on the sidelines as tough decision
after tough decision is made. Feinstein puts it all together in a smooth, engaging read.
Superbly written by a man who is a natural born storyteller, Next Man Up by
John Feinstein is a winner.