For Football Fans Between Weekends

Each year, as the football season kicks off, a new squad of gridiron books charges into the bookstores. Some of the best of these rookies this fall include two books about the reigning Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, a year-by-year look at a pivotal decade in pro-football history, and a fond remembrance of a college football dynasty.

TURNING THE THING AROUND: PULLING AMERICA'S TEAM OUT OF THE DUMPS - AND MYSELF OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE, by Jimmy Johnson as told to Ed Hinton (Hyperion, 285 pp., $22.95). After being one of the most successful, and disliked, college coaches in the country at the University of Miami, Jimmy Johnson went to work for his former teammate at the University of Arkansas, Jerry Jones, the new owner of the proud-but-faded Dallas Cowboys.

In four years the two ``JJs'' turned a 3-13, last-place team into a Super Bowl winner. For Johnson, it meant the ultimate success: He is the only football coach who has won both the unofficial collegiate championship and the NFL title.

Casual fans who disliked the ``renegade'' image Johnson condoned at Miami may not have their minds changed by this book. Even Johnson doesn't claim to be a ``nice guy;'' he'd simply like to convince us that he's not a ``bad guy.'' He's the first to say he's a gloating winner and a bad loser.

What Johnson claims is his coaching secret may surprise some readers: He spends 90 percent of his time on ``positive reinforcement'' of his players and assistant coaches, affirming what they're doing right.


THE EDGE, by Skip Bayless (Simon & Schuster, 320 pp., $23). Veteran Dallas-based sportswriter Skip Bayless followed the Cowboys through their championship season last year. Through winning the trust of a number of assistant coaches and players he gained an inside view of a young team on the rise. He provides insight into the complex relationship between owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson: Jones, the oil developer, able to live with uncertainty; Johnson, the ``control freak,'' whose unruffled coiffure symbolizes his obsession with discipline and perfection.

Bayless lists 27 reasons why the Cowboys had a championship season. Among them: Rookie kicker Lin Elliot never had to make a field goal under pressure; the team faced three rookie quarterbacks, three backups, and two second-year quarterbacks with very little game experience; no key players were injured; and, most telling, Johnson did not quit and Jones did not fire him.

WHEN THE GRASS WAS REAL: UNITAS, BROWN, LOMBARDI, SAYERS, BUTKUS, NAMATH, AND ALL THE REST: THE BEST TEN YEARS OF PRO FOOTBALL, by Bob Carroll (Simon & Schuster, 302 pp., $27.50). Football historian Bob Carroll argues that the 1960s were the best decade in the history of pro football.

``There was a `rightness' in the [Green Bay] Packer dynasty just as there is a `rightness' in a Beethoven symphony,'' he says. ``There was an eternal truth in the [New York] Jets' Super Bowl III victory just as there is an eternal truth in David's victory over Goliath. And there was beauty in a [Johnny] Unitas pass just as we find beauty in Degas's dancers.''

The unforgettable 1959 championship game, matching the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts in an overtime thriller, brought millions of fans to their television sets and created a thirst for more teams and more games that innovators such as wealthy businessman Lamar Hunt set out to quench. The fledgling American Football League, surviving a rocky start in 1960, was integrated into the NFL by 1970, greatly expanding the reach of pro football into cities in the West and South.

But more important than financial success, Carroll says, were the memorable stars and games themselves. Interviews with players and coaches of the period are likely to interest readers from the Baby-Boom generation on up, jogging memories of classic showdowns like Oakland vs. Kansas City, of ``Broadway Joe'' Namath, and of the two New York Giants assistant coaches who went on to be coaching legends: Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.

NOTRE DAME'S GREATEST COACHES: ROCKNE, LEAHY, PARSEGHIAN, HOLTZ, by Moose Krause and Stephen Singular (Pocket Books, 249 pp., $22). This sympathetic memoir stands in sharp contrast to ``Under the Tarnished Dome,'' a purported expose of the Notre Dame football program making waves right now (and perhaps inspiring the Fighting Irish to upset Michigan last weekend). The late Moose Krause, formerly Notre Dame's longtime athletic director, has produced a tribute to four great Notre Dame coaches.

The legend of Knute Rockne has become so entwined with the man that it's helpful to hear from Krause and others who actually knew him. An undervalued skill of ``the Rock,'' Krause says, was as a public relations expert. Rockne arranged a schedule that had his team traveling coast-to-coast, playing the best opponents in the land in front of big crowds and national media. The team became a symbol of the promise of America to millions of ``subway alumni,'' first-generation Americans who could identify with the team's working-class image and Roman Catholic ties.

Krause defines the ``Notre Dame man'' not necessarily by his religion (many of the most famous players and coaches, including Rockne, have not been Catholic) but as always dedicated to an ethic of hard work, sportsmanship, and excellence.

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