ARUN RATH, HOST:
"Collision Low Crossers" is a new book from author Nicholas Dawidoff about the New York Jets' 2011 season. He spent an entire year with the team, and the result is a perspective rarely seen from America's favorite sport. He spent a football Sunday in a bar with NPR's Mike Pesca talking about the Jets and how this book came to be.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Molly Pitcher's Ale House, Upper East Side of Manhattan. Most of the fans sipping their Bloody Marys and scarfing down brunch burritos are New York Jets fans. As such, they bemoan the dropped passes, they praise the big hits, they focus their attention when the quarterback connects with a receiver. Nicholas Dawidoff knows that fans glimpse but a sliver.
NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF: One of the things I most liked about it was that the public and I - as a member of the public - are watching something that on some small level we understand what the results are. But what's really happening, it's all process, and we have no idea of the process.
PESCA: So we settle in as the game is about to start. As I begin to interview him, I say: Listen, if this is a blowout, by no means do you have to stay. Dawidoff says: Oh, I would never miss a minute. The game is about to kick off.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Buffalo has won the toss. They've deferred to the second half. Rex Ryan, his fifth year as the head coach of the Jets.
PESCA: It was Rex Ryan who first interested Dawidoff, a casual football fan. Ryan was brash, funny, loud and huge. Dawidoff would soon come to see him as the most inspirational person he'd ever met. But it wasn't necessarily football that Dawidoff, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, was drawn to. He writes stories about outsiders who joined established institutions and come to affect the culture. Country stars, the topic of one of Dawidoff's books, fall into that category. So do CIA agents, who Dawidoff compares to football people in that they're resigned to living in a world thought to be understood by outsiders but which is actually obscured.
And that's how Dawidoff saw his role here, to demystify. The players may be mountainous, but they've seldom been fleshed out. And the coaches, especially the assistants, well, they're the guys who fans blame for losses. They're hidden behind visors and headphones speaking in a type of cant. Dawidoff came to see them differently.
DAWIDOFF: They're NFL coaches for a reason. They are seriously motivating, nurturing, intelligent, kindhearted, dedicated people. I mean...
PESCA: One day, Rex Ryan approach Dawidoff and asked him a question. Ryan knew that Dawidoff's father was a distant troubled figure who battled mental illness. You're expecting a child. Does being a dad worry you, given your own history, the coach wanted to know. What's that like? Dawidoff was touched.
DAWIDOFF: You know, a lot of people in my life who know all about my childhood, they've never asked me anything about this. And it was just completely natural for Rex to ask about it. And that might seem like a very personal line of (unintelligible) for somebody who doesn't know you that well, but Rex is completely used to talking to people on the most intimate terms. People reciprocate at that level of comfort, and they become closer to him and they'll do more for him.
PESCA: Soon, our talk turned to Mike Pettine, the Bills' defensive coordinator, whose team was having its way with the Jets. He was interrupted as a Jets defenseman made a big play.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTBALL GAME)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Dump off. Jackson is caught from behind. It's Sheldon Richardson. He's in the running.
DAWIDOFF: What a beautiful and seductive thing to - oh, that's a beautiful play. This guy Richardson is going to be a sensational NFL player.
PESCA: That was one of the few highlights for the Jets. Though Dawidoff has as different a take on loss as he does on the other gladiatorial narratives we've been fed about football, a main reason for football's popularity, he says, is that the sport actually doesn't usually have a happy ending.
The coaches and players certainly yearn to win. But they know, or at least they intuit, that loss is more revealing. To reveal was Dawidoff's purpose and his accomplishment with this book. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.