The NFL's only perfect season - Issue 8
Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season
This week’s review is of Seventeen and Oh, an upcoming book from Marshall Jon Fisher, author of the excellent A Terrible Splendor among other books. It’s a love letter the iconic 1972 Miami Dolphins and a really enjoyable read. It comes out in July so pre-order it now and savor it in the build up to the new NFL season.
Watching the first games of the new USFL at the weekend, I found myself thinking about those players who live on the margins of major sports. Players eager for one more chance to make it or one more opportunity to shine as a professional. In that vein, my older book review is The Point After by Sean Conley, a kicker who made it to NFL pre-season games before injuries took too much a toll. It captures something very real about life, ambition, family and the expectations we place on ourselves
New Book Review - 🏈'Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972, and the NFL's Only Perfect Season' by Marshall Jon Fisher (2022)
No sport tells its history better than the NFL. The variety and quality of films produced by NFL Films and other filmmakers can suck in even the most recent convert to the sport. America's Game and similar documentaries help to turn great players and teams into legends. Soccer by comparison has never managed quite the same feat with, for example, World Cup films often failing to capture the broader context of the teams and the tournaments.
In a sport of carefully crafted legends, no team stands out more in the mythology of the game than the only team to go an entire season undefeated - the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Going undefeated in any sport for an entire league season is the kind of rare achievement that garners nicknames like 'The Invincibles'. While NFL seasons might be shorter than most, the sheer brutality and physicality of the game, together with the embrace of salary caps, drafts and other anti-free market measures explains why only one team has achieved this feat in the Super Bowl era.
Fifty years on from that historic season, Marshall Jon Fisher has recounted the story of the season, the players, the coach, the city and the country. Fisher was a kid growing up in Miami, a Dolphins fan and present at a number of the games. The book is brilliantly crafted around each of the 17 games with the spotlight zooming in and out on various players and staff as the narrative progresses. The story is very much set in its time and place with the changing face of a rapidly growing Miami and the slow building political turmoil of elections, conventions and Watergate simmering in the background throughout the story. The tensions, drama, turmoil and energy of the time and place pour out of every page.
The team themselves were no ordinary team and not just in their achievements. The Dolphins had only been founded in 1966 and had prior to Don Shula's arrival in 1970 had never won more than 5 games in a season. Perhaps more than any subsequent Super Bowl winners, the players were a team of misfit pieces, players who often hadn't lived up to potential elsewhere or whose potential was never apparent until they became Dolphins. Despite a batch of future Hall of Famers, the relative lack of ‘stars’ was epitomized by the nickname "The No-Name Defense" applied to half of the team. Fisher is careful to slightly pierce the myth of the ragtag nature of the team pointing to the ability and star status of players like wide receiver Paul Warfield.
Central to the narrative is, of course, coach Don Shula, at the time a young genius of a coach who had reached, but lost two Super Bowls by the time the 1971- 1972 season came around. Shula is depicted as a man clearly comfortable in his ability to build and lead a football team and determined to learn from mistakes in previous Super Bowls.
All sports history struggles with the challenge of creating a connection with the reader (through some drama or tension) when the sporting results are usually well known. This challenge is even greater when the outcome of the sporting event is in the book title! Fisher overcomes this by brilliantly recreating the mindset of the players and fans as the story progresses. The book also includes a poignant look at the price the players would ultimately pay for the knocks, injuries and concussions suffered during their careers - one far too many professional footballers have and will continue to play.
Seventeen and Oh is a very enjoyable, entertaining read - sports writing at its very finest. Highly recommend it for any NFL fan. After reading you should definitely watch the America's game episode on the 1972 Dolphins here.
17 and OH will be published on 12 July by ABRAMS Press.
New Sports Books - What’s out recently or coming out soon?
Keep an eye out for these sports books out recently or coming out over the next week:
🥍 We Showed Baltimore: The Lacrosse Revolution of the 1970s and Richie Moran’s Big Red by Christian Swezey
⚽ Hero in the Shadows: The Life of Don Howe, English Football's Greatest Coach by David Tossell
⚽ Glorious Reinvention: The Rebirth of Ajax Amsterdam by Karan Tejwan
⚽ A New Formation: How Black Footballer's Shaped the Modern Game by Calum Jacobs.
A not so new sports book review - ‘The Point After’ How One Resilient Kicker Learned there was More to Life than the NFL’ by Sean Conley
Sean Conley is a former professional football kicker who was signed by three different NFL teams. Due to injuries, mostly from overtraining, he never made it past a few NFL pre-season games and a season in NFL Europe.
The fact he made it to NFL training camps at all is quite remarkable given he never played American football in high school and after two years of college he had an appalling record for his Division III college team (he describes himself as statistically the worst place kicker in the country that season!)
The Point After is Conley’s account of his kicking career and coming to terms with retiring from the game without having scaled the heights he believed were possible. It is a story of resilience, determination, ambition, love, heartbreak and ultimately the realisation of what truly matters.
As well as detailing the trials and tribulations of life as a collegiate and professional football player, Conley also touches on his relationships, particularly with his wife and his late father. You get a very real sense of Conley as a person in a way which many memoirs fail to achieve.
The book has an honesty and an authenticity which lift it from being a routine sports memoir into a memorable, poignant and entertaining read. The fact that it’s not ghostwritten contributes to this genuineness. It’s also clear that Conley is a talented writer and the book has been superbly edited as the narrative flows easily and consistently.
The Point After captures something very real about life, ambition, family and the expectations we place on ourselves. While it has fascinating insights into life at the lower rung of professional sport, the real strength of the book is how relatable Conley’s emotional journey is.
Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts, opinions, any improvements I can make etc. Catch me on Twitter. More books next week!
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