20 Great Football Reads Even Non-Fans Will Love

By Carrie Mcbride, Blog Editor
January 30, 2020
Football player about to make a drop kick

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 414691

Don't know a blitz from a bump-and-run? Only vaguely know that the red and gold team is playing…the other red and gold team? Feigning interest in football only to get in on the snacks? If you're feeling left out of the Super Bowl hoopla, can we recommend shuffling off (snacks in hand, of course) to a quiet corner with a book? Perhaps even a book about football. For you, we're not recommending a book on gameplay or strategy, but there are many fascinating reads—biographies, mysteries, novels,  and more—related to the world of football and the people in it that are just plain good reads for anyone. Here are some of our picks:

Non-Fiction

book cover

Newton's Football: The Science Behind America's Game by Allen St. John

In the bestselling tradition of Freakonomics and Scorecasting comes a clever and accessible look at the fascinating links between physics and football. How is the West Coast Offense like quantum mechanics? How does the shape of the football invoke chaos theory? What lessons did Vince Lombardi glean from the brain of Sir Isaac Newton and the beautiful mind of John Nash? Should the NFL ban helmets? Why, in defiance of mathematics, does a coach almost never go for it on fourth down? The answers to these and dozens of other physics questions determine the outcome of every football game played in America, and—perhaps—the future of the nation's most popular sport.

Friday Night Lights book cover

Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger

Chronicles a football season in Odessa, Texas, a depressed all-American town that lives and dies with the fortunes of its high school football team.

Never Ran book cover

Never Ran, Never Will by Albert Samaha

Never Ran, Never Will tells the story of the working-class, mostly black neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn; its proud youth football team, the Mo Better Jaguars; and the young boys who are often at the center of both. Oomz, Gio, Hart, and their charismatic, vulnerable friends, come together on a dusty football field. All around them their community is threatened by violence, poverty, and the specter of losing their homes to gentrification. Their passionate, unpaid coaches teach hard lessons about surviving American life with little help from the outside world, cultivating in their players the perseverance and courage to make it.

 

book cover

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

Follows one young man from his impoverished childhood with a crack-addicted mother, through his discovery of the sport of football, to his rise to become one of the most successful, highly-paid players in the NFL.

 

The Game book cover

The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 by George Howe Colt

Tells the story of an unforgettable group of young athletes who battled in the legendary Harvard-Yale football game of 1968 amidst the sweeping currents of one of the most transformative years in American history.

Paper Lion book cover

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback by George Plimpton

With his characteristic wit, Plimpton recounts his experiences in talking his way into training camp with the Detroit Lions, practicing with the team, and taking snaps behind center. His breezy style captures the pressures and tensions rookies confront, the hijinks that pervade when sixty high-strung guys live together in close quarters, and a host of football rites and rituals.

 

Lost Champions book cover

Lost Champions: Four Men, Two Teams, and the Breaking of Pro Football's Color Line by Gretchen Atwood

Many know the story of Jackie Robinson integrating major league baseball in 1947. But few know that the NFL integrated a year earlier, when Kenny Washington stepped on the field for the Los Angeles Rams. He wasn't the only one. Four men broke pro football's color line in 1946. Lost Champions traces this history from the early 1930s—when NFL owners first instituted a ban on black players—through pro football's re-integration, to the 1950 NFL Championship Game, which pitted the Rams and Browns against each other in a showdown of the most prolific and advanced offenses pro football had ever seen.

Biography

book cover

Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football by John Urschel

The former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens reveals the passion for mathematics that inspired his double life as an athlete and scholar, sharing insights into how his bifurcated insights impacted pivotal events.

No Excuses book cover

No Excuses: Growing Up Deaf and Achieving My Super Bowl Dreams by Derrick Coleman Jr. 

Trailblazing Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman Jr.—the first deaf athlete to play offense in the NFL—tells his inspirational journey of persevering through every obstacle, remaining dedicated to the hard work and a no-excuses attitude that ultimately earned him a Super Bowl victory. 

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable book cover

 Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett is a Super Bowl Champion, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, a fearless activist, a feminist, a grassroots philanthropist, an organizer, and a change maker. He's also one of the most scathingly humorous athletes on the planet, and he wants to make you uncomfortable. Bennett adds his unmistakable voice to discussions of racism and police violence, Black athletes and their relationship to powerful institutions like the NCAA and the NFL, the role of protest in history, and the responsibilities of athletes as role models to speak out against injustice. Following in the footsteps of activist-athletes from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick, Bennett demonstrates his outspoken leadership both on and off the field.

 

 

The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of all Time book cover

Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of all Time by Ian O'Connor

Bill Belichick is perhaps the most fascinating figure in the NFL; the infamously dour face of one of the winningest franchises in sports. In this revelatory and robust biography, readers will come to understand and see Belichick's full life in football, from watching college games as a kid with his father, a Naval Academy scout, to orchestrating two Super Bowl winning game plans as defensive coordinator for the Giants, to his dramatic leap to New England, where he has made history.

Rise book cover

Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept by Daniel Rodriguez

The unforgettable story of a young soldier who survived one of the bloodiest battles in Afghanistan and lived to pursue his dream of playing Division I college football. At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Daniel Rodriguez was an unlikely recruit for the gridiron. But on the battlefield, under the daily rain of sniper fire, he made a promise to his best friend. “When I get out of this shithole, I’m going to play college football.” Against all odds, Daniel returned home — broken, but still alive. By some mix of grit, determination, and the power of the Internet, he earned a spot on the Clemson University football team.

 

The Mannings book cover

The Mannings: The Fall and Rise of a Football Family by Lars Anderson

Growing up, the three Manning brothers dream of playing side by side on the gridiron at Ole Miss. But with Cooper forced to the bench before his prime, Peyton must fight to win glory for them both. Meanwhile, Eli is challenged by his college coach to stop trailing in the footsteps of others and forge his own path. With Archie’s achievements looming over them, the brothers begin the climb to football history. From the Manning family backyard to the bright lights of Super Bowl 50, The Mannings is an epic, inspiring saga of a family of tenacious competitors who have transfixed a nation.

Fiction

When the Men Were Gone book cover

When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

When most of the men in her community depart to serve in World War II, Tylene Wilson navigates opposition from the press, her neighbors, rivals, referees, and players to become Texas' first female high school coach.

Hangman's Game book cover

Hangman's Game by Bill Syken

After losing his starting position as a college quarterback to a shoulder injury, Nick Gallow has remade himself as a punter. Now in his fifth year in the pros with the Philadelphia Sentinels, Nick spends most of his time on the sidelines. He no longer makes winning plays, and when the team visits a hospital, the sick kids would rather talk to the players they've actually heard of. But Nick is unexpectedly thrust back into the spotlight when he witnesses the murder of the new all-star draft pick on the eve of the team's summer minicamp.

Lost Empress book cover

Lost Empress by Sergio de la Pava

Shocked when her brother inherits their father's NFL team in spite of her pivotal role in building the family dynasty, Nina takes over a small indoor football franchise, but her ambition is challenged by a criminal mastermind preparing to commit an audacious act.

End Zone book cover

End Zone by Don DeLillo

At Logos College in West Texas, huge young men, vacuum-packed into shoulder pads and shiny helmets, play football with intense passion. During an uncharacteristic winning season, the perplexed and distracted running back Gary Harkness has periodic fits of nuclear glee; he is fueled and shielded by his fear of and fascination with nuclear conflict. Among oddly afflicted and recognizable players, the terminologies of football and nuclear war--the language of end zones--become interchangeable, and their meaning deteriorates as the collegiate year runs its course. 

The Total Package book cover

The Total Package by Stephane Evanovich

Star quarterback Tyson Palmer has it all: a million-dollar arm, a winning season and the promise of a Superbowl ring. But more importantly, football’s biggest star is the ultimate comeback kid. After an addiction to painkillers nearly derailed his career, Tyson got sober and went from zero to hero in the eyes of the public. But one person remains unconvinced: Dani Carr, a sports commentator with high ratings and following of her own. Dani can’t forgive Tyson’s transgressions or forget a single passionate night with him back in college. Can a sports journalist trying to claw her way to the top and a quarterback who knows all about rock bottom make it to the Super Bowl without destroying each other? 

Home Field book cover

Home Fieldby Hannah Gerson

As the high school football coach in his small, rural Maryland town, Dean is a hero who reorganized the athletic program and brought the state championship to the community. When he married Nicole, the beloved town sweetheart, he seemed to have it all—until his troubled wife committed suicide. Now, everything Dean thought he knew is thrown off kilter as Nicole’s death forces him to re-evaluate all of his relationships, including those with his team and his three children.

Cheap Shot book cover

 Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot: A Spenser Novel by Ace Atkins

Kinjo Heywood is one of the New England Patriots’ marquee players—a hard-nosed linebacker who’s earned his standing as one of the toughest guys in the league. He may be worth millions but his connection to a nightclub shooting two years before is still putting a dangerous spin on his life, and his career. When Heywood’s nine-year-old son, Akira, is kidnapped, and a winding trail through Boston’s underworld begins, Spenser puts together his own all-star team of toughs. It will take both Hawk and Spenser’s protégé, Zebulon Sixkill, to watch Spenser’s back. Because Heywood’s next unpredictable move puts everyone in jeopardy as the clock winds down on Akira’s future.

 

 

 

 

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.