By the Cold, Hard Football Facts staff
Hey, we've all been there. You want to learn more about the brutally beautiful game of football, but you're still trying to cope with that pesky second-grade reading level problem that rears its ugly head every time you try to fill out a job application at Wal-Mart.
Here's the solution: Take the money you won after that industrial accident – you know, the one that left you so hideously disfigured – and use it to hire an English-speaking Geisha girl. When you send her out for beer and smokes, have her make a pitstop at the bookstore. (Yes, it's an entire store devoted to books.) Once she gets back, she can read to you in between sponge baths. You'll not only be clean, you'll be well-informed, too.
With all your problems solved, here is our Cold, Hard Football Facts guide to what the illiterate football fan is having read to him this offseason.
"Big Play: Barra on Football" by Allen Barra (Brassey's Inc., 2004)
Overview: Before there were the Cold, Hard Football Facts, there was Allen Barra and his "By the Numbers" column in the Village Voice and Wall Street Journal. He's probably the most gifted, fact-filled football columnist in the country, and his articles routinely challenge conventional gridiron wisdom with an avalanche of data to support his claims. (Think of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, minus the drunken redneck shtick.) "Big Play" is a collection of Barra columns from over the years, representing some of the most compelling football arguments you'll find anywhere. "Bart Starr vs. Johnny Unitas – A Distant Replay" is typical of the columns found in the book. In it, Barra proves that Starr, not Unitas, was the greatest quarterback of the 1960s. The arguments – along with Barra's compelling data – openly refute what is considered an axiom in many football circles, that Unitas was the greatest QB of his generation. With any luck, Barra will be sharing his wisdom in a Cold, Hard Football Facts column this season.
Troll synopsis: Entertaining, energetic and fact-filled football analysis.
Harbor Freight Tools Catalog 476 B Summer 2006
Overview: This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of literature for those with industrial-grade tailgate needs. Whether you're searching for a stainless-steel meat saw grinder with sliding table ($299.99) to carve up that lucky piece of road kill, or a two-car portable canopy ($249.99), Harbor Freight Tools is there for you. We're eyeing the cast-iron three-burner stove ($31.99) and a portable welding torch ($89.99) so that we can attach the stove to the tailgate of the PIGSKN Ford pick-up.
Troll synopsis: A tailgater's wet dream.
2006 NFL Record & Fact Book (National Football League, 2006)
Overview: The average person might find this fact-filled tome of official NFL data dry and boring. To the football-loving trolls here on Planet Pigskin, it's more titillating than a Jenna Jameson porn-a-thon. Did you know that Denver has the best record in football over the past 10 seasons (106-54, .663)? Or that Washington's Joe Gibbs has the highest winning percentage of any active coach (140-76, .648)? You would if you read this book from cover to cover. Fortunately for you, that's what we do here each offseason. The 2006 NFL Record & Fact Book inspires dozens of Cold, Hard Football Facts stories each year and has been a fact-filled fire extinguisher that has suppressed many a heated debate inside the fire-trap walls of the cardboard-box world headquarters.
Troll synopsis: Required reading.
"Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing" (Third Edition) by Rytek Kutas (The Sausage Maker, 1987)
Overview: Anyone can go to the store and buy meat. It takes a transcendent tailgate performer to make everything from scratch. Rytek Kutas makes it easy to achieve this status. In fact, when the Cold, Hard Football Facts 225 Club tailgate team comes across a recipe that calls for bacon or sausage, there's a good chance we're going to use our own homemade versions rather than something store-bought, flavorless and filled with preservatives. This book often serves as our guide. It has easy-to-follow recipes by a second-generation sausage maker for everything from our smoky venison breakfast sausage to homemade kielbasa. He even tells you how to preserve fish and other meat, or how to build a small smokehouse – an essential construct in the life of any tailgate champion. (See also the SausageMaker Website and catalog.)
Troll synopsis: A classic tome for the paranoid survivalist or hardcore tailgater.
"This Was Football" by W.W. "Pudge" Heffelfinger with John McCallum (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1954)
Overview: If we were to put just one pet peeve out of its misery, we'd get a police escort to the veterinarian's office for a trailer full of football fans who think the game was invented by John Elway back at Stanford in 1982. The truth is that the tradition of football has been around since Atlanta was still a smoldering Civil War ash heap. The tradition of ex-players bitching about the quality of the contemporary game has been with us at least since this book was published in 1954. "Our workouts stressed live tackling, man against man in the open field," says Heffelfinger, who was the nation's greatest football player when he starred for Yale in the 1890s. "There was none of this pawing and tagging you see so frequently today."
Heffelfinger is one of the giants of the game, even though you've probably never heard of him. He played for coach Walter Camp, "the father of American football," and is considered the first professional football player. This book, written just before his death in 1854 at age 86, reads like a romp through the early history of the game. The most fascinating aspects of the book are the threads of similarity that exist between Heffelfinger's canvas-jacket days of the 19th century and the modern game of today. Football, we find, has always been a brutal and violent test of manhood. Says Heffelfinger: "You've got to play football for all there's in it or somebody who hits you harder will send you off on a stretcher."
Troll synopsis: A fascinating romp through history. This is a rare, out-of-print book, so if you have a copy or know where we can find one, tell us.
"The Tailgater's Cookbook" by David Joachim (Broadway Books, 2005)
Overview: Joachim has built something of a cottage industry for himself teaching men to expand their cooking skills. He's best known as the author of "A Man, A Can, A Plan" and "A Man, A Can, A Grill." (He did not write "A Man, A Can, A Tailgate Plan," which we wrote about a couple weeks ago.) The Tailgater's Cookbook is his effort to tackle the football parking lot scene. Besides the obligatory recipes – most are quite simple and tasty – Joachim chimes in with all kinds of interesting tidbits. He looks at the history of tailgating and, like others, traces it back to the Civil War, when spectators would hold elaborate picnics as they watched early battles unfold on fields in front of them. He offers all-important deep-frying safety tips and even discusses great tailgate trivia, such as the development of Scoville Units, the system used to measure the heat of peppers and hot sauces.
Troll synopsis: A handy-dandy tailgate guide.
"The Physics of Football" by Timothy Gay, Ph.D (with foreword by Bill Belichick) (Harper, 2005)
Overview: You know the University of Nebraska is a hardcore football school when it boasts a physics professor who gives lectures and pens tomes about pigskin. "The Physics of Football" looks at the science behind the game and how a command of basic scientific principles can expand your appreciation of football. Gay uses Pittsburgh's famous "Immaculate Reception" to segue into basic physics terminology and Newtonian theory. He looks at the spiral of a football to explain the principle of torque. He discusses field-surface science and its impact on the human body. He outlines the effects that temperature and humidity have on the ability of a ball to carry. He even proves that kickers who play for sea-level teams such as the Giants, Patriots and Ravens (among others) do, in fact, kick the ball much farther when playing Denver. Essentially, writes Gay, every action (and reaction) on a football field is easy to explain when you understand the basics of physics. If that shit is too deep for you and your Geisha girl, he even has pictures. A high-speed stroboscopic photo of a kicker's foot connecting with the ball shows the shocking deformity the football suffers for a microsecond before being launched into the air.
Troll synopsis: Heavy reading for the hardcore and scientifically inclined football fan. Automotive Accessories & Performance Parts Summer 2006 Catalog
Overview: Remember when you were a little kid and used to flip through the toy section of the Sears catalog in anticipation of Christmas? Well, now that we're big boys with big toys, the RealTruck catalog gives us the same tingly feeling in our football-loving loins. When you're looking to trick out your shiny tailgate rig for the upcoming season,'s catalog is the one-stop shop you need.
Troll synopsis: Tailgate gadgets for the progressive, truck-driving tailgater
"Sports Illustrated: The Football Book" edited by Rob Fleder (Time Inc./Sports Illustrated Books, 2005)
Overview: If you prize pictures over words, pick up a copy of "The Football Book." This glossy, coffee-table football tome is filled with spectacular photos from the pages of Sports Illustrated, along with pictures of football memorabilia spanning the history of the game. You can stare into the angry eyes of Jim Brown as he slices through the Philadelphia defense, or watch Bart Starr bark out commands as we waits to take a snap from Hall of Fame center Jim Ringo. The snippets of football history are awesome, ranging from the defensive call sheet used by the N.Y. Giants in Super Bowl XXXVII to a photo essay of the evolution of shoulder pads. The entire package is tied together with famous SI articles, including classics such as "Zero of the Lions" by the late George Plimpton.
Troll synopsis: Beautiful images of the brutally beautiful game.
"The Last Coach: A Life of Paul 'Bear' Bryant" by Allen Barra (W.W. Norton & Co., 2005)
Overview: Ask Allen Barra who the best coach in college football history is, and he'll simply point you to the back of his seminal work on the life of the legendary Alabama coach. There, you'll find an appendix full of Bear Bryant data, including his record against other Hall of Fame coaches: 85-42-6 (.669). When facing Clemson's Frank Howard, Penn State's Joe Paterno, Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson and Ohio State's Woody Hayes, Bryant was a perfect 12-0. "The Last Coach" is much more than a compendium of data, it's a comprehensive story about a six-time NCAA national champion and an homage by an Alabama native to one of the central figures in 20th-century southern culture.
Troll synopsis: A must-read for fans of the college game.