Lots of former pro football players “writing” autobiographies celebrate the game they played. If they acknowledge that they’ve been damaged by football, they write off that damage as the price of doing the business they loved.
John Hannah’s autobiography is different. To begin with, he’s up front about the fact that he didn’t write it. “I talked it,” he told me. “Tom Hale wrote it.”
Beyond that, though Hannah’s career was glorious enough that he’s been called the NFL’s best offensive lineman, he didn’t produce “Offensive Conduct’’ to celebrate himself or his game. His purpose was to acknowledge that the drive he felt to become a great football player “detracted from every other meaningful relationship” and contributed to the breakup of his marriage and estrangement from his children.
Hannah traces his path from two-time All-American at Bear Bryant’s Alabama through his 1973-1985 glory years with the Patriots, his successful career in finance, and his less successful run as a coach.
Despite his achievements, he characterizes himself as “an imposter” and maintains that he didn’t learn how to become a caring, loving adult until long after he’d put football behind him, at which time he re-examined his faith and was able to repair the relationships he’d been unable to sustain at the point in his life when he believed that he could not love himself or be loved by anyone else if he wasn’t the world’s greatest offensive lineman.
Local fans may be especially interested in Hannah’s characterization of the Sullivan family, owners of the Patriots throughout the hall-of-famer’s career, as devious and dishonest.
The author of seven previous books, Tufts professor Jonathan Wilson pegs his life story, including a rocky childhood, to his love for soccer, which helped him endure and flourish.
Early in “Kick and Run,’’ Wilson expresses his nostalgia for a childhood spent in London’s Gladstone Park. Of the days when his Gladstone Rangers hosted teams of boys from other parts of the city, Wilson writes: “No parents or coaches were involved at all. It was surpassingly great.”
The author would come to appreciate those days anew after he’d had some experience coaching youth soccer teams in Newton, where mothers who’d never been acquainted with soccer until their sons began playing it would come to games equipped with line-up changes. When Wilson would politely ignore their instructions, they would gather in tight groups to plot his ouster as coach.
One of his more surprising observations has to do the with the game as played in Italy. “I have suspected for a long time that deep down, Italians hate soccer,” he writes. “They pretend to love it, but actually they hate it.” Anybody who’s ever watched Italy pack the back and play not to lose rather than to win will understand.
The darker portions of “Kick and Run’’ involve the prejudice Wilson suffered because he is Jewish. For that reason and a variety of others, some of them self-inflicted (one of them the sometimes difficult behavior of his mother), Wilson’s childhood was challenging, except when it was almost unbearable.
As a youngster, he was not a successful student. This would have been too bad, except that failure to excel academically led to his brief employment as a laborer, and without that wrinkle in his life, he’d never have had occasion to write these two sentences about a construction site in Holborn peopled by a mad collection of immigrants: “The building site was a place of rare antics and low comedy. People would drop heavy items from high floors, yell ‘watch out’ at the last moment and then laugh extravagantly.’’
That Wilson survived that experience and went on to write “Kick and Run’’ is a development for which readers can be grateful, whether or not they are fans of soccer.
A “Home Run For Bunny’’ is a wise and beautiful book based on a true story. It’s meant for children, but no adult will be disappointed with it.
Bunny Taliaferro was the lone black player on an American Legion baseball team that won the New England Championship in 1934. That achievement earned the team the opportunity to travel to the Eastern Regionals in Gastonia, N.C.
But it was 1934. It would be 13 years before Jackie Robinson would join the Brooklyn Dodgers. The manager of the team from New England was told that if he did not cut Bunny from the roster, the team would be disqualified from the tournament.
Richard Andersen’s story of how Taliaferro’s teammates handled the situation and how the people of Springfield responded to them when they returned home is nothing less than life-affirming.
KICK AND RUN:
Memoir With Soccer Ball
By Jonathan Wilson,
Bloomsbury, 274 pp., paperback, $15.99
A HOME RUN FOR BUNNY
By Richard Andersen
Illustrated by Gerald Purnell
Illumination Arts, 32 pp., $16.95
From WBUR, Bill Littlefield hosts NPR’s “Only A Game.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.