Marty Schottenheimer grew up in a coal town outside Pittsburgh with one stop light. He, his grandparents, aunt, uncle and three siblings crowded into one house.
A talented football player, he chose the University of Pittsburgh because it had a good dental school. He played pro ball with Jack Kemp, fished with Joe Namath.
It was a good life, and he looks back on it in “Martyball” (Sports Publishing, $24.95), written with Jeffrey Flanagan.
Schottenheimer made his mark as a coach, leading the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, a team that hadn’t had a playoff win in almost two decades. Under his leadership, the Chiefs went to the playoffs seven times and recorded two 13-3 seasons. In all, he won 200 regular season games, sixth-best in NFL history.
The value of this book isn’t in the retelling of game stories or coaching exploits but in the discussion of values. And in fact the entire price of the book can be redeemed in one paragraph, 12 pages from the end, which is Marty’s meditation on coaching:
“Some of the losses were self-inflicted, some were bad bounces or bad breaks. It wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes it’s not about you. Sometimes it is more important that the other guy gets that win. That’s the big scheme of things.”
Learn that lesson and you master the title of the last chapter: “Winning the Big One.”
Victor Cruz helped the New York Giants win the big one, last year’s Super Bowl. He caught four passes in the championship game, including one for the first touchdown.
Growing up in his grandparents’ third-floor walk-up apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, Cruz played the flute, tried tae kwon do, got in a few fights, gave football a try and learned to dance the salsa. Now, with Peter Schrager, he’s produced an autobiography.
“Out of the Blue” (Celebra, $26.95) is written to the soundtrack of the salsa. A Giants assistant coach once asked him to do something to mark National Hispanic Heritage Month. So when he scored a touchdown against the Eagles he remembered what his grandmother taught him: “Step, step, step. Move your arms. Shake your hips.”
One of his chapters is called “Living the Dream” and there’s something to that in this life. As a young man, Cruz idolized Charles Woodson, who won a Heisman trophy at Michigan. A year after Woodson was named NFL defensive player of the year he was covering Victor Cruz -- and Cruz was making catches.
Last season Cruz had 82 receptions for 1,536 yards, a Giants record. But he was no longer playing for himself.
“I was playing for the 13-year-old kid at School 21 who thinks there’s no other option than the streets,” he writes. “I was playing for the boy at the park who has to decide between a game of pickup hoops and an aluminum can of beer. I was playing for all my old classmates who were just never given the chance. I was playing for Paterson.”
Joe Nick Patoski opens “The Dallas Cowboys” (Little, Brown, $29.99) by arguing that everything’s bigger in Texas. That may explain why his history of America’s Team runs to more than 800 pages.
For fans and detractors alike, Patoski offers the origins of the team; its place in the geography of Dallas (“a city with no reason to exist”); the huge, colorful crowds at the Cotton Bowl, then Texas Stadium and, finally Cowboys Stadium (“a showcase of technological wonders” and “an energy hog”); and of course the cheerleaders and the parade of great characters such as Clint Murchison Jr., Tom Landry, Tex Schramm, Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells.
There’s something about the Cowboys that defines Dallas, just as there’s something about Dallas that defines the Cowboys. “The swagger had never left,” Patoski writes of the Cowboys, “even if their record no longer justified the confident arrogance that defined Dallas the team and Dallas the people.”
The story of America’s Team may be a uniquely American story, but foes and fans alike will agree that Patoski is right when he says the Cowboys “could have flourished only in the fertile backland prairie of North Central Texas.”
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Greg Evans on movies.