Bob Ryan

Football fans, eat this up

‘Jaws’ sank his teeth into project

Through exhaustive research, Ron Jaworski believes he has come up with seven games that changed the course of the NFL. Through exhaustive research, Ron Jaworski believes he has come up with seven games that changed the course of the NFL. (File/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 10, 2010

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Does anyone in television look like he’s having more fun than Ron Jaworski?

The man looooves football, and he loves sharing his knowledge with the public. When Jaws is breaking down tape, the man is in another dimension.

Now he has taken his love and knowledge of the game one step further. In conjunction with senior NFL Films producers Greg Cosell and David Plaut, Jaws has presented, as he calls it, “The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays’’ in a new book, “The Games That Changed The Game.’’

As you may or may not know, Jaws spends much of his time in the vaults of NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., where he pores over fresh game tapes to prepare for “Monday Night Football’’ and his assorted other duties at ESPN. And for the last three years he has spent more time there than usual, doing research for a book he and his collaborators believe explains exactly how the NFL has matured into the highly intricate chess match — make that violent chess match — it has become as it has concurrently entrenched itself as a TV ratings monster and America’s clear game of choice.

The thesis is that there have been specific coaches with outsized influence on how the game is played today. The vehicle is to spotlight seven games between 1964 and 2002 that illustrate the particular genius, if you will, of those coaches and how their pet theories and practices have shaped the NFL into its current form.

It begins with Chargers coach Sid Gillman’s “Vertical Stretch’’ destruction of the Boston Patriots in the 1963 AFL Championship game. It ends with what Jaws refers to as Bill Belichick’s “Bull’s-Eye Game Plan’’ in Super Bowl XXXVI, when he challenged conventional football wisdom by concentrating his entire defensive game plan on stopping a rival player who was not the quarterback.

And whereas a layman author might concentrate strictly on head coaches, three of Jaworski’s anointed coaches were assistants. As further proof that Jaws thinks for himself, one of the games cited was a losing effort.

Early on, Jaws lays out the three criteria for inclusion on this list:

■The coaches introduced schemes that were surprising and innovative at the time.

■The coaches used the scheme to dominate a highly regarded opponent.

■The innovation had long-term and leaguewide impact.

I would be willing to bet that a majority of Jaworski’s core audience on ESPN has only a vague idea of who he is, and why his opinions are so worthy of our attention. He doesn’t have, oh, I dunno, a football face, and he sure looks professorial with those horn-rimmed glasses. But the facts are that Ron Jaworski was an NFL quarterback for 15 seasons, that he was good enough to have a nickname (“The Polish Rifle’’), that he took the Eagles to the Super Bowl, and that he was the league’s Player of the Year in 1980.

Being a quarterback matters. No player studies more film (as it’s still called, Jaws informs us) than a QB, and it can be argued that no human being not actually in the employ of the NFL watches more film than Jaworski, and not just basic footage provided by television, but the more all-encompassing film, the high-overhead team films known in the trade as the “All-22,’’ in which the viewer gets to see all 22 players on the field in every play.

Jaws states that this is a book seen through a QB’s eyes, and that means a QB’s view of both offense and defense. So we learn about offense as espoused by Gillman, Don Coryell, and Bill Walsh, the first two big proponents of big arms and the last man the patron of shorter, well-timed patterns. We also learn about defense by studying the tactics of Bud Carson, Buddy Ryan, Dick LeBeau, and our own Coach Bill.

Belichick’s decision to eliminate Marshall Faulk from the Super Bowl against the Rams was, as Jaws says, “the best-conceived game plan I had ever seen.’’ He goes on to say, “In 35 years as a player and analyst, I had never seen a defense focus so much energy on disrupting the actions of a single player.’’

The player in question was not QB Kurt Warner, but all-purpose running back Marshall Faulk, whom, to put it plainly, the Patriots hit as often as possible on every single play.

There’s a lot more to this book than Jaws breaking down plays, although there’s plenty of that. He also conducted interviews with more than 60 players, coaches, and key personnel to give us personality sketches of the principals and to flesh out the whys and wherefores of the games in question.

I’m calling out football fans with this one. Football may be America’s favorite sport, but when it comes to literature, baseball has lapped the field. Baseball fans have proven to be far more interested in really learning about the intricacies of their chosen sport than have football fans.

Jaws and his colleagues are filling a real void here, and they are the perfect people to do it. They have done all the homework, spending thousands of hours looking at the “All-22s’’ of not just these seven games (there had to be a huge list to start with), but countless other games over the years.

If a football fan claims to be truly interested in what goes on out there beyond an occasional big hit, then this book is a must.

This is Ron Jaworski’s football manifesto.

“The project took about three years,’’ he said. “But I can truthfully say I’ve been working on it for 17 or 18.’’

He works. But we win.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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