NEW YORK footballfans were joyous on New Year's Eve, 1956, the day after the Giants won the NFLchampionship, but you wouldn't have known it by reading The New York Times.News of the triumph was buried at the bottom of page 1. There was noticker-tape parade, and, as Jack Cavanaugh points out in Giants among Men, hislook at the franchise and the NFL in the late 1950s, by New Year's Day mostplayers had left for their hometowns and off-season jobs. Winning a title mightget you the occasional unpaid speaking engagement that summer, but it wasn't alife-changing event. "I never asked for anything or got anything,"defensive lineman Andy Robustelli tells Cavanaugh. "I just felt I washelping to build up the NFL."
That was then.Now an NFL champ parties for a week or more, then starts looking forghostwriters. The NFL's evolution from afterthought to cultural behemoth can betraced in this year's flood of Giants-related books, which are by turnsnostalgic, poignant, revealing, spiritual and, in the case of a certaingun-toting, sweatpants-wearing wideout, absurdly comical.
For publisherslooking for a marketing hook, 2008 was a dream. Dec. 28 is the 50th anniversaryof the Colts' epic win over the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, themoment the NFL first lodged itself in the national consciousness. No fewer thanthree long-planned histories of that pivotal afternoon and the surroundingera—Cavanaugh's, Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever (SI, April 28) and FrankGifford's The Glory Game—appeared this year.
New York's upsetSuper Bowl victory in February sparked an explosion of quickie Giants lit.Books were written by or about quarterback Eli Manning, coach Tom Coughlin andreceivers Plaxico Burress and David Tyree. Cumulatively, the tales of Giantsold and new form a history of the NFL.
The best of thecanon is The Best Game Ever; Bowden's well-reported and superbly written effortexpertly freshens well-worn stories and themes of the '58 classic. Giffordisn't the craftsman that Bowden is, but his account of the game—based oninterviews with every living participant—is the kind that only someone who washimself a participant could give. He still questions the Giants' strategyagainst the Colts that day and admits that he and his teammates were spentbefore the overtime period began. Readers will feel the nip and smell the smokein the air of that December day.
Coughlin grantsan inside look at the 2007 Giants' Super Bowl run in A Team to Believe In; herarely strays from stereotypical coach-speak, though it's a shock to see hismultiple references to a Green Day lyric as he describes his feelings the nightbefore the game. In The Making of a Quarterback, Ralph Vacchiano describesManning's quick rise from fan and media whipping boy to Super Bowl MVP. Thelow-key QB comes off as the rare modern player who might fit in with those '58Giants. The day after, Manning said his win "doesn't change my attitude....[I'm] still the same." It's hard to say that about Burress. In Giant: TheRoad to the Super Bowl, the receiver haughtily recounts a post--Super Bowlmeeting with Bill Clinton and muses on the life of a sports celebrity:"People just get moved when they met you.... I try to be as normal as Ipossibly can, but people put you way up here on a pedestal like you are noteven human." These books are a reminder of how the NFL has grown—and, insome cases, regressed.
The Brow Beat
When Haruki Murakami runs, he contemplates his next best seller, not his sorequads. The Japanese novelist and marathoner brilliantly meditates on writingand jogging in What I Talk about When I Talk about Running.
Jose Canseco didn't take steroids for riches and fame. He was keeping adeathbed promise to his mother to be a great ballplayer! Alas, Vindicated lacksin juicier revelations, so it's like the author's muscles: full of hot air.
HY PESKIN (GIFFORD)
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND Gifford (below) and Manning bookended the year.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI IMAGING: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (MANNING), ERICK W. RASCO (GIANTS BOOKS); TOM NICK COCOTOS (BOOK)
BILL MCCAY/WIREIMAGE.COM (CANSECO)