Sunday books: Rick Telander’s unique look at football

Rick Telander lives nearby. So instead of dropping the book and video in the mail, he decided to run them over to the house.

We chatted for a few minutes about various things. Then he pointed at his knees.

“Hey look,” Telander said. “First time my legs have been straight in 40 years.”

Telander recently had both knees replaced. His news badges from years of athletic pounding had their roots back to his football days.

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote about his high school, college and very brief pro career in Like a Rose. The book, initially published in 2004, was re-released with a new introduction this fall to coincide with NFL Films doing the video version of Telander’s story.

Here’s the link. If you watch the video, you’ll notice Telander’s legs aren’t straight. It was done pre-operation.

The book and NFL Film piece recount Telander’s days as a high school quarterback in Peoria, Ill.; an All-Big Ten defensive back for Northwestern; and his experience at the Kansas City Chiefs training camp in 1971. It lasted only a few weeks as coach Hank Stram helped send Telander into sportswriting.

A quick and interesting read at 160 pages, Telander provides a unique look to a game that consumes its players and fans. He writes in his opening paragraph:

Football is the oddest, meanest, sweetest game. It is a conflict at its roots and at its surface. It pulls a sane person in two directions–anger and joy. At times, players literally fight one another, and at times they are bound together in a dance. Baseball, it has been said, is America’s pastime; football is its passion. Give me passion.

There’s plenty of passion in the book, as Telander tells his story. It includes passages about him as a father being conflicted over whether his son should play the game he loves.

As America dives into football mania this week, Telander’s book is a terrific reminder that there is much more to the game than the players who will be on the field next Sunday.





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