Opposing football teams are compared frequently to warriors representing residents of different urbanized swaths of planet earth.
The difference between football and war, of course, is that no one is supposed to get killed in the gridiron clashes Although football is a violent game in which death and tragic injuries sometimes happen, those are exceptions to the rule.
In his captivating new book War Without Death, Mark Maske, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, emphasizes that the violence of football makes it “an engrossing metaphor for war.” He points out that the game is about ground acquisition, aerial attack, covert intelligence and physical peril.
“Most people cringe, and rightfully so, when players liken themselves in locker room interviews to soldiers heading off to war. It is insensitive and self-important. But really they are onto something,” writes Maske.
So much for the players’ part of this war simulation. They may be the soldiers in these deathless wars, but the real focus in this book is upon the politicians, the generals, the strategists and bureaucrats—that is, the owners, the management, the union leaders, coaches, scouts and the agents who make professional football happen.
War Without Death is overwhelmingly a book about the business of football. It is not, however, one of those “sports as a metaphor for business or leadership” books. It offers no how-to-do-its for translating football smarts to business smarts. In fact, what some of the owners are shown doing might seem to some readers as decidedly dumb from a purely business point of view:
“Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys owner) likes to say that no one got into NFL ownership for the money, and there are a thousand other ways for wealthy people to get better returns on such hefty investments,” writes Maske.
Jones, a self-made multimillionaire, made his megabucks in other businesses, including the oil industry, before he bought the Cowboys. He now devotes himself to making the team both a winning and a profitable enterprise.
Jones is as passionate about the team and about winning the National Football League’s gridiron wars as Daniel Snyder, the owner of the archrival Redskins, is about his about his storied NFL franchise. Like Jones, Snyder is a self-made multimillionaire who invests millions of his fortune in seeking to advance the fortunes of his team.
Maske spotlights Jones, Snyder, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and New York Giants owner John Mara in this comprehensive look into business games that are played among the movers and shakers of the mega-business that is the NFL.
Although Maske concentrates on the teams of the National Football Conference Eastern Division—the Cowboys, the Redskins, the Giants and the Eagles—all the teams come into play. That is particularly true in his fascinating account of the warfare among the owners and the conflict between the owners and the NFL Players Union over a new revenue sharing agreement prior to the start of the 2006 season.
War Without Death takes the form of a journal chronicling the machinations of Jones, Snyder, Lurie, Mara, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, players’ union chief Gene Upshaw and their supporting entourages between January 1, 2006, and March 27, 2007.
Maske presents a fly-on-wall overview of what goes into the bidding wars for free agents, preparations for the draft, the Byzantine wheeling and dealing that occurs during the draft and manipulating the salary cap. He offers clear examples of how the salary cap works in layman’s language and how owners get around it to pay the soldiers they want to put on the field.
The concluding sections of Maske’s year in the life of the NFL East offer recapitulations of last season’s key games and provide succinct accounts of on and off the field exploits of players and coaches. Maske injects new insights into those familiar stories.
There is much to delight any fan of NFL football in War Without Death. But NFL fans who are also businesspersons will find it a particularly enriching read, especially those situated in Dallas; Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York and their environs.