The complete title of this book is “Bigger Than The Game – Bo, Boz, The Punky QB, And How The ‘80s Created The Modern Athlete”. It was written by Michael Weinreb, and was published in August 2010.
I must say, the biggest reason I picked up this book, was because there’s a photo of the Punky QB on the cover, and, being a lifelong Bears fan, I was curious.
There is a testimonial for this book on the back cover. It is accurate. Here it is:
- “There was a time when sports were mostly legend; today, they’re mostly marketing opportunities. Michael Weinreb has figured out when that evolution happened and how that transformation worked. Deeply researched and kinetically narrative, “Bigger Than The Game” is technically about the year 1986, but it’s actually about the jarring recognition of a new reality we can’t escape.” Chuck Klosterman
Let me add that although most of the action takes place in the middle 1980s, the preambles began earlier, and the ramifications continue to this day.
The inside front jacket cover tells us: “A mesmerizing look at the era when athletes became superstars, mavericks replaced heroes, and sports moved to the forefront of American culture.”
The inside back jacket cover states: “…’Bigger Than The Game’ recounts how excess, media, and the lust for fame changed American sports forever.”
Author Michael Weinreb has been a regular contributor to “The New York Times”, “Newsday”, and ESPN.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
The title and the photos on the front cover of the book suggest that “Bigger Than The Game” is about Bo Jackson, Brian Bosworth & Jim McMahon. While those three constitute a large part of the narrative, Michael Jordan, Len Bias, Ronald Reagan, Barry Switzer, Mike Ditka, the 1985 Bears & The Super Bowl Shuffle, Chris Berman & ESPN, Jimmy Johnson and the Miami Hurricanes, Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions, Nike, and others also are presented.
In a discussion about the use of drugs by athletes, the following observation is included:
- “’Early in use, all of the positive things about cocaine are true,’ one researcher told The New York Times. ‘As use continues, all the negative things become true’.”
Wow! That description applies to a lot of things.
I learned quite a bit about Jim McMahon’s background, including: where he came from; why he went to BYU; how he enjoyed life among the Mormons; the 1985 Super Bowl Bears; and the Super Bowl Shuffle. On the subject of McMahon’s recruitment to Brigham Young University, Jim’s father is quoted as telling a lead BYU recruiter: “My son’s going to school to play football. I don’t want him to take all those religion classes.”
In discussing the phenomenon of the Super Bowl itself, the author observes that “…the game was becoming less about the game and more about the show surrounding the game”.
Weinreb researched the origins of the Nike Company’s affiliations with athletes, and states that Nike was: “…on the verge of becoming a ‘brand’, of discovering that the real work, as author Naomi Klein wrote, ‘lay not in manufacturing but in marketing’.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “Let us tell those who fought that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war that our government is afraid to let them win.”
- “The American ideal is not just winning; it’s going as far as you can go…”
- “This was a new breed of college football team, an NFL developmental squad disguised as amateurs.”
- “McMahon doesn’t watch much football anymore. He finds the precision and repetition and the careful and conservative marketing of the modern quarterback to be dull and robotic; even the controversies seem contrived, the celebrations lifelessly choreographed.”
- “…he merely responded by saying that he’d never had to use the word ‘job’ in his entire post-NFL career.”
I enjoyed reading “Bigger Than The Game”. It’s apparent that I knew very little about the perfect storm involving athletes, sports & marketing which exploded in the 1980s. There is enough background information here to hold the interest of any sports fan.