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Review: Tim Layden's 'Blood, Sweat and Chalk'

Inside the minds of football giants.

The sport of football can be viewed on two levels.  One is a very simple, plebeian viewpoint.  You give the ball to the running back, he goes as far as he can.  You let the quarterback try and find the wide receiver open down the field.  Keep doing this in succession until you hit 4th down or score a touchdown.  I imagine the masses that have caused football to overtake baseball as America's most beloved sport see things this way.  Its a simple game to the point where you can follow it on a once a week basis. 

Then there are the men profiled - and the men who are likely the audience for - Sports Illustrated scribe Tim Layden's book, Blood, Sweat and Chalk - The Ultimate Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today's Game, the type of man who looks at the game like a science.  Everything is to be solved like an equation.  Its a bunch of geniuses (though Layden refuses to call them universally by this moniker) trying to out-think each other.  Its almost like the arms race during the Cold War, or better yet, the space race.  These guys want to go to the moon.

The book is part a football fan's history, part background on the things that makes football like a war.  Chapters devoted to the Wildcat or the Run and Shoot, and chapters dedicated to each and every important system, plus each and every important coach of the past many decades of football greatness.  Its a staggering amount of information for even the most diehard of football diehards - that guy who watches NFL Network reruns of pre-season games - will need a couple of reads to fully absorb. 

Layden's book, with a coach's perfectionist eye for detail, is for the hardcore NFL/college football fan, which is just about the only "diehard" fans you can sell a book to these days and still sell a ton of copies.  The NFL diehard is likely the world's biggest cult, because it's the ultimate 'second guess' event.  Everyone on earth has their take on why Coughlin should've gone for it on fourth down or Ryan should've thrown on 3rd & 5.  Hopefully, the men Layden profiled will put a lot of them in their place.  This stuff's hard. 

VERDICT: While it may be only for diehards on its surface, the book stands as a great football beginners tool.  The map/diagram of football coaching history is absolutely inspired, and it may just help any young coach looking to get himself started.  You could certainly do worse.  In the end, it shows what we already knew: football is a simple game on the surface, but even a small scratch at the surface reveals its fantastic complexity.  This book is your football must-read for fall.  Grade: A-