Calling the Signals

Published January 1, 2007

Commentary Magazine

Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas
by Tom Callahan, Crown. 292 pp. $24.95

The National Football League (NFL) is the most successful professional sports operation in history, a money-making machine that seems never to sleep. But is the game as sound as the balance sheet, or has the corporate and bureaucratic ethos that keeps the NFL purring in profitability trickled down to the playing field, with unhappy results?

Consider an offhand comment by Al Saunders, a Washington Redskins coach, in late August. The Redskins had just lost their third straight pre-season contest with another torpid performance by Mark Brunell, the team’s multi-million-dollar-per-year quarterback. Saunders, however, who pulls down a healthy $2 million per annum himself, was unworried: “The good news is that in our system, we’re not asking Mark to win the game for us. . . . We’re asking him to manage the game . . . not to try to do too much and [to] let the offense work for him.”

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