I came to this book late last year courtesy of a radio interview with the author which I heard one day online from CBC Radio 1 in Canada. Indeed, I was so impressed with the author's story of his experiences as a player in the National Football League (NFL) --- first with the San Francisco 49ers and then with the Denver Broncos, where he played for the majority of his career --- that I eagerly bought the book. Though I am a sports fan and have followed the NFL in varying degrees for years, I am NOT a football fan. (Baseball is my love.) But I do have a certain fascination with the lives of athletes within the context of the sport which they have been able to make their life's vocation.
Despite a good, solid college football career, Jackson was not a shoo-in for a slot in an NFL team when he was invited to try out with the 49ers. The 49ers was a team he had followed and loved since childhood [Jackson grew up in California], when it was one of the premier NFL franchises, boasting of 2 stellar quarterbacks (Joe Montana and then Steve Young), Ronnie Lott, and Jerry Rice. During one of the try-outs, Jackson was spotted by former coach Bill Walsh (under whose tenure the 49ers won 3 Super Bowl championships), who was impressed with his performance and encouraged him to persevere. That Jackson did and thus began his 6-year NFL career. (The average stint for an NFL player, given the rigors and demands of the sport, is 3 years.)
Reading the book was for me a vicarious (eye-opening) journey into the everyday life of a professional NFL football player, not only during the regular season, but also in the off- and pre-season periods. I was particularly struck by the following observation Jackson made as his time with the Broncos began to draw to a close:
"An NFL football team is not built to depend on one man. It is built to rely on one system. The men are temporary. The plan is permanent. The scouting department brings in the talent, and once they're in that front door, they become cogs in a machine. Jake [the starting quarterback for the Broncos] has never been benched in his life. Confronting the reality of the machine is something he hasn't had to do until now. Franchise quarterbacks are the last bastion of sentimental aw-shucks football fairy tales. Former quarterbacks and quarterback coaches wear suits on television and tell football fans why the quarterback is all that really matters. But someday the quarterback will be thrown out with the trash. Eventually the lie reveals itself to everyone."
I enjoyed the journey and my respect for pro athletes has been deepened tremendously. Thank you, Nate Jackson.