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Some colorful NFL commentary

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By Rob Witwer

The great New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell has an unfailing ability to find interesting things to write about. In his recent collection of essays titled “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures,” he explains what makes some topics so interesting. “Curiosity about the interior life of other people’s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses,” he writes.

We are relational beings, and we’re interested in how others live their lives.

Ever since I had the good fortune of being at Mile High Stadium for John Elway’s first comeback game in 1983 (the Broncos beat the Baltimore Colts 21-19 after trailing 19-0 heading into the fourth quarter), I’ve been an NFL fan. The world of professional football has enough drama and spectacle to keep fans engaged even during the off season — even the NFL draft rivals other sports’ championship games in terms of fan interest.

And so I sometimes wonder — what’s it really like to live in that world?

There’s no professional sport on the planet more popular than American football, and with good reason. Most of the teams in the league were nurtured not by large corporations but by families. The result was an entity that existed for long-term success rather than short-term gain.

But as the NFL heads into the 2010 season, much of that cumulative success is in doubt. Labor unrest between owners (many of whom are now second-generation owners who replaced the league’s founders) and players threatens a major conflict that, in the worst-case scenario, would cancel the 2011 season.

That’s where Brian Billick’s book “More than a Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL” comes in. Billick coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2000, and he knows what he’s talking about. This is the first book I’ve read that gives a good glimpse into the interior lives of the people behind the scenes of the world’s most popular sport.

Billick breaks down the game from all angles — from the front office to the practice field, from the training rooms to the NFL headquarters in Manhattan. Throughout, he conveys a three-dimensional sense of the complex organism of the NFL. 

Like any institution, even the robust NFL has its weaknesses — and labor unrest is the biggest. Billick explains the whys and wherefores of this sticky situation, ultimately concluding that it isn’t in anyone’s interest to have a prolonged work stoppage. As a mere fan, I couldn’t agree more.

Whatever happens, it’s bound to be compelling. And if you have any interest in what may be going on behind the scenes, “More than a Game” is a great place to start.

Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).”