Blood, Sweat & Chalk: How the Geniuses of Football Created America's Favorite Game
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Blood, Sweat & Chalk: How the Geniuses of Football Created America's Favorite Game

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  283 ratings  ·  46 reviews
The modern game of football is filled with plays and formations with names like the Counter Trey, the Wildcat, the Zone Blitz and the Cover Two. They have become part of the sport's vernacular, and yet for many fans they remain just names, often confusing ones. To rectify that, Tim Layden has drilled deep into the core of the game to reveal not only how these chalkboard X'...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 3rd 2010 by Time, Incorporated Home Entertainment
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Paul Schulzetenberg
Depressingly content-free. Too much time was spent on the history of the coaches who developed these systems, and not enough on the actual principles of the system. The coaching hierarchy is mildly interesting, but the reason I wanted to read this book was not to learn about coaching, but to enrich my understanding of strategic principles of football.

As an engaged football fan, I knew most of the limited playbook strategy discussion that was present, and even had a passing familiarity with a gre...more
Jan 09, 2011 Ben rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Football fans
A look at the evolution of the football playbook. Layden looks at different coaches, and the innovations they created, borrow, stole. While the focus is primarily on the offensive side of the ball, he does spend some time looking some innovations on the defensive side.

I had two criticisms of the book--the first is that the organization seems a bit odd--it starts chronologically, but then jumps back and forth a bit. I suspect that's a limitation because so many of the innovations occurred concurr...more
Paul Frandano
Tim Layden gets some things a little wrong and piles up name after name after name in bewildering mounds, but mostly gets things right in characterizing the nuances of football innovation. Unusually, he doesn't slight high school and small college innovators who brought us the 3-3-5 defense (adapted against the spread), hosts of single-wing (Wildcat) type attacks, spread offense, the veer-wishbone-triple option, zone blocking schemes (which Leyden doens't really do a particularly good job explai...more
Josh Liller
A really good book about predominate offenses and defenses in football history written in a good magazine style. It's a good, fast, educational read and I definitely recommend it to any football fan. I loved the easter egg dust cover: there's a diagram on the inside of the dust cover showing how all the famous coaches are connected to each other.

I do have a few criticisms. The author several times refers to someone by their last name only after having not referred to them recently in the current...more
Really enjoyed this book. It gives brief "technical" overviews of the path breaking formations, but the more interesting part to me is the history about how and why each formation emerged. As a long-time football fan, I also enjoyed hearing players' and coaches' names that I hadn't thought about in a while. Learning more about the coaching culture was interesting. Everybody seems to copy everybody else ("NFL is a copy cat league"), but coaches seem to sharing willingly. At one point the book quo...more
Brian O'mahony
It's a history lesson and a lesson in x's and o's.

It takes playbook trends and maps them out in a timeline of their history and origins. As a younger coach, I enjoyed learning where some of these ideas came from and the reasoning behind them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to any fan and every coach.
I'm not much of a football fan anymore, but even so, this book put me in the mood to watch some games, because whether you're a student of the game or just a casual fan, this book will teach you something you never knew. Like Pop Warner, Great-Grandfather of modern football, coached Jim Thorpe in my hometown of Carlisle, PA....

Nice to have something other than"Car Shows" to be known for...
Apr 07, 2011 Eric rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Football lovers.
An interesting look at the development of the modern football formation, from the Wing-T of the past to the current spread. It's heavier on the offense than on the defense, and the chronology is a bit dubious, but overall it provides an interesting primer on why teams line up the way they do. Coaches steal from one another all the time, as the book points out, and I thought it was fascinating the way one tweak here or there turned a "3-years-and..." offense into the run-and-shoot. Not a book of...more
Mark Polino
Book Review: Blood Sweat and Chalk - The key to Blood, Sweat and Chalk is that Tim Layden is a terrific storyteller. In his book, Tim explores the origins of various football plays and formations. If you've ever wondered about the Tampa Two or the Wishbone Tim shows not just what they are but where they came from and how they've evolved. Blood Sweat and Chalk goes behind the plays to make heroes out of desperate coaches with undersized teams who were forced to innovate. In the process it also pr...more
Aug 23, 2010 Paul rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Paul by:
For a casual-to-serious American football fan, this book gets into the nitty-gritty of some of the offensive and defensive formations that have changed the way the game was played. When I started the book, I thought I knew football pretty well, but I didn't understand the difference between a 46 defense and a Cover 2. (And I had no idea what an A-11 was.)

Now I know, and I was really entertained as I read this book. Layden has clearly done some exhaustive research, and the insights that many of t...more
This was probably the most enjoyable technical football book possible. It's not a playbook and does a good job focusing on the people who developed a lot of the tactics and ideas behind the buzzwords you hear when football is covered. Chris Brown at took issue with some of the explanations being incomplete and play diagrams being slightly off, but as someone who just wanted a deeper understand of the concepts and not to install any of these systems with the football teams I don...more
Learning a lot more about the game of football for the hardcore fan.
Jan 23, 2012 K. rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: football freaks
Recommended to K. by: sports radio
I completely enjoyed this book. This was a gift, but I knew of the book and couldn't wait to read it. I like the historical aspects of the game, coaches, players, formations, etc. Yes, there are more complex reads about football, but this book does a great job of blending so many valuable pieces of information. This is for the fan who likes to do more than watch where the ball goes on the field. If you want to know why those plays work, who invented the option, passing tree, and West coast--then...more
Meh, it was less a breakdown and description of plays than it was a history of how they developed. Im really interested in learning more about how offensive plays and defensive schemes work so i understand more of what I am watching, but i honestly couldnt care less about learning how they were invented by some assistant coach at University of Cinci in 1954 and how they percolated up to the modern day.

Not a bad book just not the kind of book I was hoping for
Fantastic overview of certain schemes (both offensive and defensive) as well as certain plays that have been significant in the development of the game of football. It goes as far back as the single-wing and covers up through the experimental and controversial A-11 offense. I was hoping for something a bit more technical, but but it's a fantastic historical overview with a little bit of x's and o's thrown in.
Michael Teague
Anyone who loves the game of football should read this book. Layden does are remarkable job detailing the evolution of football at all levels from Pop Warner to the NFL. Although I have played football in high school, officiated football now, and watch football almost every day from August to February, I still learned a lot from this book. Highly recommended.
Dec 30, 2011 Chris rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
For those interested in a better understanding of common offensive and defensive sets on how they came to be this is a great book. I could have done w/about 50 percent fewer names (the historical detail is dizzying) but I still recommend. The most fascinating chapters to me we're near the end: the no-huddle, air raid, & A11 offenses.
This is the best book on the sport I have ever read. If you really love the sport and want to be able to speak intelligently about what you are seeing and what you think is going to happen next, then read this book. I will be re-reading this at least once prior to each season. I would call it revelatory in some ways.
S2 Mc
I enjoyed the first half of the book - thereafter the formula for each chapter seemed to become staid, with more name dropping than interesting stories. Or, perhaps I have just drifted from interest in the prima donnas of the NFL over the past 3 decades, and was therefore not drawn into the later developments.
I loved this book. It was a very good read including names I've known as a football fan since I was a kid. It very much pulls the covers back on how different developed over the course of football history and who the key people were that made it happen. Very enlightening stuff!
This was great information. Layden takes us through most of the major football innovations, both on offense and defense, taking us through the usually humble beginnings and on through to their wider acceptance and implementation. Very fun and quite helpful in understanding the game.
If you enjoy American Football then you'll want to read this book. Each chapter stands on its own so you can read parts of it when you have a spare few moments. I've always wondered what ever happened to the Bear's 46 defense? Now I know. Good read for football fans.
Scot Marvin
The birth of the single wing, the development of the option, and the origins of Buddy Ryan's 46 defense; they're all here in this nifty book that teaches about football by focusing on the history of seminal offense and defense schemes. A great and enlightening read.
Mike Milovick
Awesome book. Gives reader glimpses of key offensive and defensive schemes that have changed the game. Great for a coach looking to add creativity to an existing program - or for a coach looking to match his player's attritbutes to an appropriate scheme.
Matt Scalici
Really excellent anecdotal history of the key strategic developments in the history of football that puts as big an emphasis on the why as it does on the how. Really great for both the hardcore fan and the football layperson looking to learn more.
Excellent book by Tim Layden. Great chapter on BYU football's contribution to the passing game. Helped me see how the evolution of many football offenses fit together. I learned a lot and enjoyed the journey. I highly recommend it!
David Agranoff
I read this book to get excited for the coming football season. This book is really well written, fantastic stories that tell the history and development of the game of modern NFL football. For serious Football nerds.
Denison University was mentioned as innovators of football several times throughout the book that gave them 4 stars. Good primer on the biggest innovations in high school, college and the nfl in the last 50 years.
Definitely some good info about a few basic football formations and plays, which is what I was looking for. I was less interested in the backgrounds of all the coaches, but it was a worthwhile read.
Excellent. Leydon makes the case for credible chess and evolution analogies by following Pop Warner's initial attack formation through changes of necessity and imagination to modern times.
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