In Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football, author Nicholas Dawidoff presents an insider’s view of the New York Jets’ 2011 season. Dawidoff joined Bill Littlefield.
Highlights from Bill’s Conversation with Nicholas Dawidoff
BL: Let’s get right to the most Plimpton-esque moment from the book. Four weeks into the season, injuries had so diminished the number of practice players that the Jets asked you to step in. How’d that go?
ND: What basically, my project entailed was, in effect, living with the [Jets’] defensive coaching staff, and that’s just because they work all the time. And the way a play works is that first a play is taught and then they go out onto the field and walk through it. But NFL players are so big and so fast that even when they are walking through things they would ask me to step in and I couldn’t walk through fast enough. So very quickly they just kicked me out of the huddle. They said, ‘Nick we love you. Get out of here.’ Most people who know me call Nicky, but in football I was always “Nick” because Nick hits harder than Nicky.
BL: Tell us what the book’s title — Collision Low Crossers — means.
ND: “Collision cow crossers” is a defensive term, and it refers to the fact that once receivers leave the line of scrimmage, they are fair game for a defensive player to hit for within five yards of the line of scrimmage. But more broadly, I just liked that there’s always someone out there waiting to ruin your life in football, and that’s what I think the term also suggests.
BL: We spoke with Rex Ryan, the head coach of the Jets, a couple of years ago on Only A Game. He was entertaining and engaging. In the book, you refer mention Ryan’s “great inclusive sympathy” and his “artistic temperament.” Tell us how those characteristics inform his work.
ND: Among the players they adore him. Unlike many football coaches he really cares about their physical condition and their physical future. And sometimes when players are hurt and they want to play, he won’t let them play and he’ll say, ‘You’re not a piece of meat to me. I’m not letting you out there.’
And he’s sort of a master of a very brief form of interaction. You’re responsible for close to a hundred people, and as you bump into them over the course of your day, Rex Ryan was the sort of person who even in that very slender window of time — it was really wonderful how he could express his enthusiasm and curiosity about other people in such a way that he could learn meaningful things about people.
Bill’s Thoughts on Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL FootballCollision Low Crossers presents an exceptionally detailed description of how the coaches of an NFL team prepare for and survive a season that turns out to be a disappointment. In 2010 the Jets had been almost good enough to win everything. In 2011 they dropped to 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs. In the aftermath of the season, a number of the coaches with whom Dawidoff had become close got fired and found work elsewhere in the league.
The book will especially delight football fans with an appetite for the minutia of the game. It is full of intriguing, creatively chronicled little moments, such as when Dawidoff notes the delight with which an assistant coach named Mark Carrier regards two especially large players: “Gazing at Ravens linemen like Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg, Carrier was like a small boy taking in earthmoving equipment.”