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Book Review: “The Code: Football’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Honor” by Ross Bernstein

The Code

We all watch football every Sunday, and for the most part, it is the same old thing. We all know there are two sides to every story: what we see and what we don’t see. There’s just got to be more to football than the four quarters of action we watch every week, right?

The answer is yes, and you will learn about it by reading The Code: Football’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Honor by Ross Bernstein. This is in fact the third book in a series of titles that deal with the unwritten rules of the major sports. Author Ross Bernstein has written “The Code” for hockey and baseball as well.

The subject matter of the book deals with what we don’t see, and a little more insight on what we do see every week on and off the field. The topics covered in the book include: stealing signs, how to deal with referees, talking about teammates to the media, retaliation on the field, steroids, playing hurt, and so much more.

The book is in a way, eye-opening, but no to such a great extent that it is a revelation worthy of biblical proportions. As a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the stuff that only the pro’s dealt with on a week-to-week basis. As a result, I can honestly say that I won’t watch another game the same way because I can now notice little things that I never even thought about before.

On the other hand, the book is not an earth-shattering report about the professional lives of pro football players. Granted, the common football fan will be rewarded with new insights when they read the book, but it is not something that will make headlines like steroid scandals or the wild, adulterous lives of pro athletes.

Throughout each chapter, former pros and coaches will add their own opinions on the unwritten rules of football. Numerous examples and stories are in the book and it is great to read first person accounts of the events in question.

Even though that is a great part of the book, it is also the book’s biggest downfall. If I could describe the book in one word, it would be “repetitive”. Each chapter is a different aspect of “the code” and you get an explanation of it by the author, and then numerous examples from former athletes and coaches. A whole chapter is usually just stories from former players, and it can get boring because the format of each chapter is the same.

One aspect of this format that is also a letdown is that most of the players interviewed for the book have been retired for 15+ years. There are less than a handful of current players who share their opinions, and we end up with stories from players and coaches who were playing in the 50’s and 60’s. Joe Theismann and Bill Romanowski also pollute the book in almost every chapter with their opinions.

One thing you need to know about reading the book is that the author, Ross Bernstein is a huge Vikings fan, as he was born and raised in Minnesota. So you should be prepared to read a lot of examples of “the code” from former Vikings players and coaches, as well as Bernstein reminiscing about a ton of old Vikings games.

A nice aspect for the New England fans is the discussion on “Spygate” in the book. It is in the chapter about sign stealing and espionage. Don’t worry, it only lasts for five pages. Basically, the book says that we were still wrong to cheat. Sorry, there is no loophole in “the code” that makes it alright. Damn!

In Conclusion

Ross Bernstein takes football fans behind the scenes and into a new world in his book. Just having new insight on the numerous aspects of the game will make the common NFL fan happy with all the new information they acquire from reading this. The book is only 242 pages, so a casual reader/football fan will have no trouble getting through it.

The repetitive format of the book may leave some bored to death, but the subject matter alone is intriguing enough to overcome the book’s shortcomings.

Not my highest recommendation, but still worthy of a look.

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7 comments for “Book Review: “The Code: Football’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Honor” by Ross Bernstein”

  1. Book Review: “The Code: Football’s Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Honor” by Ross Ber…

    Posted by Sports of Boston | November 23, 2009, 7:24 am
  2. Book Review: “The Code: Football's Unwritten Rules and Its Ignore …: Sports of Boston. Boston sports blog..

    Posted by shaun nelson | November 23, 2009, 8:08 am
  3. Yes we were wrong to cheat, Mr. Bernstein. But it’s no different if you cheat and get away with it (like the 20+ other teams doing it)…

    Posted by KC | November 23, 2009, 6:12 pm
  4. No, New England is the only team to ever cheat in the history of professional sports. Don’t you watch ESPN?

    Posted by Pete | November 23, 2009, 6:33 pm
  5. I’ve started to learn the finer details of football from a great book my husband gave me called “A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football” by author Mark Oristano. I think the book you review above would help me with the “unwritten” rules of the game. I’ll put it on my Christmas list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Posted by Betty | November 27, 2009, 7:32 pm
  6. No problem Betty. I hope you enjoy reading it.

    Posted by Pete | November 28, 2009, 2:27 pm
  7. The issue is that very few people understand culture in simple and practical terms, and people cannot manage what they do not understand. The issue is further complicated when we acknowledge that subcultures or unwritten rules, can exist within a culture.

    Posted by Sports Star Pro Mary | July 27, 2010, 3:31 am

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