The NFL is like watching a modern war: short periods of intense violence and excitement lunked together with a nearly endless stream of analysis, preparation and debate. Collision Low Crossers shows this, in fact, is the real NFL coaching experience.
Nicolas Dawidoff – who reveals in the book he was forcibly renamed Nick by the New York Jets coaches after a period of mute embarrassment when they were presented with the diminutive “Nicky” that the author had used since childhood – was granted an unprecedented level of access to the NFL team. Dawidoff, for all intents and purposes, was treated as a Jets coach for a season, and given free uniforms, an all-access pass and even ended up with a Jets blitz named in his honour.
“Nick” gravitated not surprisingly to the Jets renowned defence, stomping grounds of the magnetic but controversial Rex Ryan, and has painted an incredibly vivid and honest picture of the NFL life. An entire NFL coaching staff can and often does fit around a boardroom table, endlessly debating and struggling to make the microscopic improvements that actually do mean the difference between winning and losing, between championships and unemployment.
NFL coaching is shown as an endless volume of work, grappled with at high-speed and low sleep by rare men with a maniacal joy. The Jets coaches – the loveable but polarizing Ryan, the now Browns head coach Mike Pettine, the son-of-a-legend offensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer – seem obsessive-compulsive in their love of not only the game itself, but the process of preparing men to play. When the wife of Sutton, a defensive assistant, complained she was the one with blood pressure problems but he had the high-stress job, his reply was genuinely perplexed. The job is stressful? Demanding, he could admit, but he had never found it particularly stressful.
The level of detail in Collision Low Crossers amazing, but also strangely appropriate given the precision-oriented job of an NFL coach. Dawidoff acts as a skilled archivist, and picks out the key nuggets that give a feeling of a whole picture, such as the rut gouged into the meeting room wall by Ryan's chair over endless meetings, or the struggles that a typically low-paid coaching assistant has in making ends meet while trying to support an ailing father back home. The genuine passion players and coaches have for the game shines through, with the physical sacrifices of the players contrasted with the financial and personal sacrifices of the coaches. The constant pressure to perform at all times pervades each page, with each man, coach and player, always seeming aware of the real truth behind the Not For Long league.
The author is, at times, guilty of sentimentalism. The players and coaches are nearly unfailingly presented in a positive light, with Ryan played as a well-intentioned father figure with a genuine and distinct love for every man wearing green and white. Still, Dawidoff recounts starting a rare solitary lunch in the facility cafeteria and having Ryan himself make a bee-line across the room, visibly upset at Nick's potential loneliness, and entertaining the author with an hour Rex likely didn't have. The staff is clearly full of men who work hard so others may succeed, and if the author lapses into admiration, this seems genuine and appropriate.
The themes of effort, pain, genius and consequences flow through a thrilling account of men striving for perfection in an imperfect world and a very imperfect game. The eventual failings of Mark Sanchez are easily foreshadowed, jargon is either explained – the title refers to a defensive player hitting (or “collisioning”) any offensive player running across the front of the offensive line (a “low crosser”) – or avoided, and the insane drive of a Darrelle Revisis contrasted with the enigmatic flashes of a complex and apparently oft-misunderstood Antonio Cromartie. By any standard, Collision Low Crossers is an exceptional read, as much for football junkies as anyone who would enjoy a glimpse into a hard task being performed at an exceptional level.