Saturday, 21 September 2013

Book Review: Slow Getting Up by Nate Jackson

Slow Getting Up on Amazon

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There is a good amount of well-written football books. There are also many football books penned by current and former players. Unfortunately, there has generally been little overlap between the two. NFL memoirs are often cash-outs after particularly improbable seasons or impending bankruptcy or financially-ruinous divorces. The player's voice is generally diluted by a co-author who invariably has a penchant for lame cliches and generic athlete platitudes. Thankfully, Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson's reflections on his eight years on the fringes of the NFL, features quality prose and brings a fresh and insightful perspective to a rather stale format. It is one of the most entertaining football books released in the past few years and is a worthwhile read for football fans interested in learning more about the trials and tribulations facing professional football players.

After beginning with a 2008 hamstring injury that ultimately spelled the end of Jackson's career (physical maladies and the arduous rehabilitation associated with them will be a common theme throughout the piece) Slow Getting Up chronicles Jackson's improbable journey from Division III star at Menlo College to making an NFL roster and sticking around and contributing in the league for several years. Each chapter generally covers a season and the book moves at a fast clip and reads like a series of fleshed-out blog posts. He devotes early passages to outlining the draft process and his attempts to stick with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Jackson is eventually traded to the Broncos during training camp in 2003 and he initially manages to stick on the practice squad before spending a few years as a backup tight end and special teamer with Denver. The author's relatively long tenure allows him to mine a considerable amount of anecdotal gems from his playing career, such as playing for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe, losing to the Steelers in the 2005 AFC Championship Game, enduring a surreal training camp with Eric Mangini's Cleveland Browns in 2009, and trying to catch on with the cash-strapped Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL.

Slow Getting Up is one of the few player memoirs to really focus on an athlete treading the tenuous line between the practice squad and special teams and a career outside of the NFL. Understandably, most publishers are not really enamored with putting out books by authors with only 2 more NFL touchdowns than their general audience. Because Jackson is not able to describe what it feels like to catch a game winning touchdown in the Super Bowl or catch 100 passes in a season, much of Slow Getting Up touches upon activities outside the games. Jackson details life on an average NFL road trip, playing on the scout team, the incredibly frustrating process of rehabilitating from injuries, and extravagant nights of clubbing. That being said, Jackson does go into some depth about the game when he discusses his larger roles on special teams, where he played on kickoff, kick off return, and punt units for the Broncos. Some of his gridiron observations are also insightful, such as how coaches like Gary Kubiak, who spent his entire career as John Elway's backup, is more concerned with concepts than those with more NFL game experience. 

I feel that football players are generally held to lower standards as writers (which makes sense given many of them are pretty poor in the literary department) but Jackson's prose is legitimately enjoyable to read compared to any writer. His writing is peppered with pop culture references and witty turns of phrase. Sometimes his humor can come off as sophomoric and overly scatological, but Slow Getting Up is mostly a pleasure to read. His tone is sarcastic, self-deprecating, and irreverent and it is refreshing to hear a former player be so candid. Jackson even admits to a brief fling with HGH while attempting to recover from an injury. It is hard to think of a better guide (among former NFL players) through Mangini's surreal militaristic training camp, where players watch film cutups of warmups in meetings and are constantly quizzed on team mantras, than the snarky and incredulous Jackson.

Jackson also is able to vividly describe much of his NFL life. This is probably due to the fact that he has essentially been writing this work for several years. Jackson started a journal for the Broncos' website when he played for the Rhein Fire in 2004 and maintained his column for three years. Additionally, Jackson was able to consult with Wall Street Journal writer Stefan Fatsis while the latter attended Broncos' training camp to write A Few Seconds of Panic (a 2000s version of Paper Lion that is worth seeking out for football fans or anyone curious as to the depths of Todd Sauerbrun's craziness). There is a surprising amount of dialogue in Slow Getting Up and while I am guessing most/all of it is based on Jackson's recollections it still demonstrates the robustness of his memories. Jackson also is not bitter about much and does not really have a bone to pick with anyone and he is generally objective and fair-minded. There are no chapters lamenting the physical beatings he endured, rants against the teams that released him, or chastising agents or fans that wronged him. Some may find his portrayals of Adam Schefter (who used to beat a beat writer for the Broncos) and Eric Mangini a bit unfair but who is honestly going to defend those guys? Jackson's riffs on their insufferable personalities were some of the highlights of the book for me.

In Sum
Most NFL memoirs devote at least some pages to describing players' general weekly routines during training camp and the regular season. What separates Slow Getting Up from the pack is Jackson's perspective and insight into such matters. I understand the comparisons to Ball Four, but Slow Getting Up really struck me as the football cousin of Mark Titus' Don't Put Me in Coach. Both books seem geared towards the Grantland-reading demographic who will catch the Radiohead references and appreciate the anecdotes about players and coaches from years past. I don't think it will be added to the literary pantheon of the best football books ever (not that Jackson ever intended that) but Slow Getting Up is a fast-paced, entertaining and enlightening look at life in the NFL that I thoroughly enjoyed.



Mangini's Mess

MMQB Excerpt


  1. I think you described Jackson's tone in the book perfectly. You could absolutely tell it was his voice, which I loved when I was reading. I agree it's probably not a "best book ever" contender, but it was an entertaining read nonetheless.

  2. Thanks for the comment, and I definitely agree. It was nice to hear an athlete show so much candor and also write something with a little more depth than the generic athlete platitudes that are so common in the "books by players" genre.