The first great sports book I read was The Bronx Zoo, pitcher Sparky Lyle's tales of the Yankees teams of the mid-70s. I was in sixth grade at the time and pretty naive about the world. As a young sports fan, I knew only what I saw on the television or read in the sports pages.
The Bronx Zoo took me inside the locker room and let me see what happened behind the scenes. Gene Michael had a bullfrog placed in his protective cup, Yogi Berra was given Icy Hot to use as toothpaste, and there were more than a few drinking stories. In short, it sounded like heaven on Earth.
Since then I've read my share of sports books. While on vacation recently I had a chance to read Tom McAllister's book, Bury Me in My Jersey. This was a fresh look at the world of sports. Instead of finding out what goes on behind the scenes from the athletes perspective I got to find out what it was like for Tom to grow up a Philadelphia Eagles fan. The book deals with much more than sports, as you might imagine. It focuses on Tom's time in high school, college, and post-graduation.
Father's Day is coming up soon and that ties in to a key part of the book. Tom writes a lot about his father. Unfortunately, one of the reasons this relationship was a focal point of the book is due to the fact that his father died from cancer and Tom decided to examine that situation.
While the subject matter can be heavy at times, that's not always the case. The book is overall a fun read. Tom tells some great stories about his family, friends, and what it was like to grow up as a sports junkie. I very much identified with that aspect of the book.
Reading about Tom and his family as football fans made me jealous. I grew up with my mom and sister, watching football games alone or maybe with a friend. I couldn't imagine the environment Tom had. His family had rituals that they developed over the years. He tells stories of where to sit, what to say, and what to do on gameday. I'd love to have had that kind of atmosphere while growing up.
Tom doesn't pull any punches in the book. He talks about his family in an open and honest way. He's not trying to make them out to be the Nelsons, Cleavers, or Bradys. He's honest about some of the issues that he and his family members have, which made me love them all the more. Honestly, I found myself wondering a few times whether any of his tales got him in trouble with anyone. Tom wasn't ripping people, but gave honest accounts of everyone, including himself. Good. Nothing is worse than thinking that there is a family where everything is truly hunky-dory. I've known dysfunction all my life. I think we all have. That's just reality.
One of the main characters in the book is Philadelphia itself. Tom gives you a feel for the city. You learn what it means to be from a particular area and what it means to go to a particular school. Most importantly, Tom is able to give you an idea what it means to be a Philadelphian, whether good, bad, or just plain odd. One thing I can guarantee is that you'll want to go get a cheesesteak (or two) as you read the book.
Part of the self-examination that Tom does involves whether he's too much of a fan. This is something I've grappled with myself. Is it reasonable to have your moods determined by the actions of a sports team? Of course not. Still, that's what we do. Tom lived and died with the Philadelphia Eagles. Like me, Tom has gotten better with time. I'm not sure if age mellows you out and gives you perspective or if you simply start to run out of steam as your team suffers crushing loss after crushing loss.
Tom talks about his issues as an over-the-top Eagles fan. He had a couple of times when he really got out of hand. The good news is that he now can see how stupid this behavior was. He regrets what he said and did. Hopefully young sports fans will learn from this. Being passionate and aggressive is good. Being unruly, violent, and offensive is bad. Just because you don't get into trouble doesn't mean you won't regret your actions someday.
You don't need to be an Eagles fan to enjoy Bury Me in My Jersey. Heck, I'm not even sure you need to be a football fan. You'll like many of the people in the book, especially Tom's father and LauraBeth (Tom's girlfriend turned fiancé turned wife). I think people around addicted sports fans like Tom and me would enjoy the book and gain some sense of understanding in why we are the way we are.
It also never hurts to get the perspective of someone who lost a parent earlier than expected. Tom has to live with his regrets. Those of us with both parents still driving us crazy need to appreciate how good we have it.