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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Holley’


I miss baseball. Covid-19 has us missing many things. Baseball is one for me, and it is getting likely there won’t be any this year.

So I decided to read Red Sox Rule: Terry Francona and Boston’s Rise to Dominance by Michael Holley while donating plasma.

In terms of his career with the Red Sox, this book centers on the 2007 season. Similar to his books Patriot Reign and War Room, Holley was embedded in the organization for a year. He picked a good one since the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

I thought this book would cover the 2004 season as part of that rise to dominance. I was sadly disappointed. It was still interesting and enjoyable, but I wanted more about the Idiots who broke the curse. There were so many good stories about those players, and obstacles to overcome. Where was the famous Thanksgiving dinner with the Schillings to get him to buy into the trade?

He begins in a preface about Boston, aka The Hub. Holley wants to put the setting in context. Boston is kind of unique. Until about 2004, the Sox ruled the town. It had been a long time since Bird and the Celtics ruled the roost. But the Patriots’ consistent prolonged success changed all that. Well, and the fans frustration with owner John Henry. While Kraft can do no wrong (or bounces back quickly), Henry can seemingly do no right. That passion for baseball wasn’t like the similar passion in St. Louis. It could break a team, a player and a manager. After the soul-crushing loss in 1986, manager John McNamara (who made more wrong moves than leaving Buckner in) said, “Why me? Why did this have to happen to me? I go to church every day. Why me?” Failure can reveal faulty theology too.

Holley does not tell the story in linear fashion. It is more thematic. So he sets the stage with the fateful night in 2003 when Grady Little sent Pedro back out after more than 100 pitches. I remember screaming at the TV because anyone who was paying any attention knew that Pedro’s ERA after 100 pitches shot up like a rocket. The inevitable happened as the lead evaporated, Little left a spent Pedro in the game, and the Yankees tied it. Holley has Francona watching the game disinterestedly. He was on the coaching staff for the A’s and thought they were the better team. But the Sox beat them anyway to advance to the ALCS against the Yankees.

Francona felt bad for Little. He’d been housemates with Grady for a few months back in 1992 and played with his brother in the minors so many years ago. Baseball is that way sometimes- you either know each other or a guy who knows the other in the small fraternity of professional baseball. He thought it was a bit crazy that Grady would be fired. And he never thought he’d spend nearly a decade there as the manager.

Holley then talks about the search that ended with Francona taking over the manager’s office in Boston, the last thing he expected. A few days after Little was fired he was in Georgetown with his son when Mike Barnicle came up to him like an Old Testament prophet “You’re going to be the next manager of the Boston Red Sox.” Francona, not knowing he was a Boston writer, thought he was crazy.

He had some interviews to attend. His meeting with the Orioles went south quickly. He met with Ken Williams of the White Sox, but the fact they met at the airport was not encouraging. He didn’t get that job either. Terry had talked with Bud Black who was rumored to be in the Red Sox crosshairs. They were old teammates and he encouraged Bud to pursue it. But a few hours later the Sox invited him to interview. He called Bud back, and Bud withdrew his name.

I wasn’t sure about Francona, from a fan perspective. The Philly years were not inspiring. Former Red Sox Glenn Hoffman was a sentimental favorite and I hadn’t really heard about Joe Maddon. Theo Epstein had been given the reins as the game’s youngest GM. This was his first major hire. He had clear ideas about what he wanted, and how to go about getting it. Old friend Mark Shapiro warned Terry not to BS Theo because he wouldn’t fall for it, and Theo could tie him in knots.

Theo had devised a series of tests to see how Francona thought. There was a 16 question multiple choice test. While they said there were no right answers, they didn’t tell him there was no wrong way to defend your answer. They spent 2 hours talking through that test. Then they were in front of a big screen so Francona could “manage” a game. The video started in the 7th inning. They wanted to see how he applied his baseball principles and thought in the thick of it.

Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer

This is when Holley shifts from the story to the mega-shift that took place in managing baseball. He uses Dick Williams who led the ’67 Impossible Dream team. He was no-nonsense. He’d even wrestled with players. He wasn’t alone in that mindset. But things began to shift. Entitlement began to settle in and change how managers approached players. Managing became more and more about relationships and managing the room, not just the game. Holley brings the Gerbil, I mean Don Zimmer, into this equation. You also had to be media savvy because guys like Glenn Ordway were on the air back in ’78 (he’s still on the radio).

In the next chapter he summarizes Francona’s childhood and career as a player. Terry came from a baseball family. His father Tito played for a number of years and teams. He was a teammate of Joe Torre in Atlanta. Terry always wanted to play baseball, and hanging out in clubhouses gave him a good head for the game. He had talent too. That talent took him to Tucson to play at the University of Arizona rather than accept the Cubs $19,000 offer. Like Tedy Bruschi years later, he’d meet his wife there. Terry still has a home in Tucson.

Francona’s story as a player only takes up one chapter. Terry was drafted 22nd in the first round by the Expos, one pick ahead of future boss Billy Beane. He’d sign for $100,000. It doesn’t end well. Knee injuries took a promising career and turned him into a struggling journeyman player.

There is a fast forward to the year of managing Michael Jordan. This was an important year for Francona. He learned about managing big personalities, powerful personalities. He learned about having a democratic spirit, and allowing the right players to manage the club house for you. There are some interesting stories about that time, including some pick up games.

“The key was to have players who could command the respect of their teammates, and to have a manager secure enough to accept input from those players.”

Holley talks about why Jordan played baseball, which is interesting in light of watching The Last Dance. Holley notes that Jordan was bored with basketball. You can see why when you see how grueling it was to win 3 championships and a gold medal in 3 years. It had become too routine, not enough of a challenge. He was tired of monotony. He was also looking for an escape from the non-stop hero worship. While he didn’t get a complete break from fame, he wasn’t in the spotlight for over a year.

Then we forward jump to 2006 and the Red Sox on-going duel with the Yankees. In the midst of the tiring battles between the teams, there was the personal relationship between the coaches that went back to Francona’s childhood. They played chess in these match ups and their strategy is revealed in some of the stories. But the main story was a sweep late in 2006, rather than a certain series in October 2004. 2006 saw the Red Sox begin well, and were on pace to win 100 games when the wheels fell off. Varitek got hurt at the trade deadline forcing them to trade of Javy Lopez, a guy who just didn’t fit. Then it was Wakefield who got hurt. Beckett seemed to struggle in even numbered seasons, and did. And then it got worse: Big Papi had palpitations, Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Manny was being Manny with a bad hammy, Schilling strained a muscle and Papelbon had a shoulder subluxation. They were a mess going into the series that would shape their off season.

Theo alluded to the development of rookies that would make a big impact in 2007: Pedroia and Ellsbury. But they also needed veteran help. The “competitive obsession” that led to the big moves before 2004 led to big moves before 2007 as well. So began the Dice-K story, the signing of J.D. Drew and whether or not Papelbon would remain a closer or shift to a starter after his injury. But here is also where Holley addresses how Varitek, Cora and Ortiz ran the club house. That was often a challenge with Manny. When frustrated with the man-child, he’d send Big Papi in to talk to him. Sometimes even Papi wanted to kill him.

In 2007 Terry implemented a change so when they played the scouted team, those scouts would be there to talk it through, not just send in reports. This helped him in game prep. When that was done it was time for communication: texting his kids, walking the room or beating Pedrioa in cribbage.

“…the sign-stealing ability of Rodriguez. Sometimes catcher Jason Varitek and Schilling would change their signs three times an at bat when facing Rodriguez. They didn’t begrudge him for it; they did the same thing. “Everybody tries,” Francona explained. “We try to steal third-base coaches’ signs. They try to get ours. That’s part of the game.””

This is very different from what the Astros did (and some other teams) in using their own center field cameras and algorithms to crack the signs. But you see the same mind set: everyone was looking for an advantage. It was gamesmanship at the core. But once tech was used, like with Apple Watches by the 2017 Red Sox, the line was crossed. But all of this was part of how they turned the tide against the Yankees in 2007.

(Associated Press)

Holley then jumps us to the trade deadline that season on a ride that took Theo and Terry to a boiler room to have a private conversation with Jonathan Papelbon. This is about the ill-fated trade for Greg Gagne whose stats were nearly identical to Papelbon’s. But they wanted to shore up the bullpen, particularly since Papelbon had the injury in 2006. They were taking no chances but didn’t want to mess with his head. It ended up messing with Gagne’s though. He became very hittable, and frustrating to Sox fans around the world who feared he’d sink their chances.

So, here we are in the middle of the 2007 season and Holley returns to 1988. Why 1988 you say? He mom, Birdie, was diagnosed with cancer. Here battle would last until his first year managing in the minors, 1992. After her death, Holley recounts his moves around the league as a coach until the fall of 2002 when a series of medical problems nearly killed Terry.

Then he brings us back to the stretch run in 2007 as the lead shrank and the fans’ ire grew. Not only was Pedroia a new member of the Sox-Yanks rivalry, so was hard throwing Joba Chamberlin. And he went head hunting. But Clay Buchholz emerged with a no-hitter. Pennant race tensions also hit during a series in Baltimore when a frustrated Cabrera hit Pedrioa prompting a clearing of the benches. Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez lost his cool in the fray. Francona had a word with Oriole’s star Miguel Tejada.

“Miggy,” Francona said, calling Tejada by his nickname. “That was bullshit.”

“I know,” the shortstop said.

“Miggy, we’ve got Josh Beckett pitching on Sunday, and he throws real hard.”

“I know,” he repeated.

Old school baseball rules. On Sunday, while winning his 18th game of the season, Beckett hit Hernandez.

But at one point, the Red Sox lead was down to 1 1/2 games. Gagne had been horrible. Lugo and Drew were struggling at the plate all season. Talk radio was full of criticism for the team, the GM and Terry Francona. It seemed to take far too long but the Sox clinched a playoff spot and then the division. Now it was time to see who’d they play: Indians or Angels? They would play future Red Sox John Lackey and the Angels. They would beat them soundly, actually.

I remember spending the weekend in 2007 in Treasure Island near St. Pete. I was doing pulpit supply and they let us stay at a vacation home on the water. I spent the evenings listening to or watching the series against the Indians. Francona was betting on his team’s experience to be the deciding factor. It likely was as the Red Sox came from behind to defeat them before sweeping the previously red hot Rockies.

The afterward covers, very briefly, the 2008 season which saw Manny force his way out of town and a depleted Red Sox team barely lose a 7 game ALCS against the Rays. Oh, that hurt.

So, in some ways this is a strange book. It wasn’t what I’d hoped. I thought it would cover more of his career with the Red Sox. It jumped around with the time line like a Quinten Tarantino movie. But it was still a fun, informative read. It is worth adding to any Red Sox or baseball fan’s collection. Francona was a man who provided a transition in how the game was managed. He maintained relationships and honored the game on his way to success. I’m not sure what his pastor/piano tuner grandfather would say about his language, but he still displayed plenty of character.

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My mom, who had Alzheimer’s, died after a stroke earlier this year. It was not a shock that she suffered a stroke.

I’ve had friends who had strokes which have changed their lives to varying degrees. Some have been far more severe than others.

But when a professional athlete suffers a stroke it seems surreal. If I recall correctly, J.R. Richard’s career as a top pitcher for the Astros was derailed by a stroke. When Tedy Bruschi had a stroke shortly after winning a third Super Bowl I was shocked. He was a fan favorite on the Patriots’ defense that helped them to those first three championships.

His story is found in the book, written with Michael Holley, Never Give Up: My Stroke, My Recovery & My Return to the NFL. The subtitle just about says it all. The focus is on those three things.

He gives a little back of his background before the stroke, but the great bulk of the book is about the stroke and the next few years of his life.

Tedy grew up in California, familiar with hardship due to poverty and divorced parents. This shaped him. He kept his goals in mind, and financial security was one of those goals. He negotiated most of his own contracts, so it wasn’t about maximizing income (because he also wanted to win) but rather in terms of living within his means and minimizing debt so he could pay it off quickly.

He talks briefly about his time at the University of Arizona but mostly because that is where he met his wife, Heidi, who played volleyball there. His in-laws still live here in Tucson. We learn he was a party boy as well until he realized he could be that and a dad at the same time. Tedy no longer drinks as a result. He briefly discusses his Catholic faith.

Where he centers in are the events leading up to the stroke, including his time with Tom Brady at the Pro Bowl after winning that Super Bowl. He and Tom set a goal of 3 Super Bowl victories in a row. After that game Tom went of vacation while Tedy flew home: a flight they think may have contributed to his stroke.

The immediate results of the stroke were devastating emotionally. His vision was impaired as well as his body weakened. There was a chance he’d never play football again, and he thought he never would. He initially retired. He wasn’t sure he’d recover physically, and whether the hole in his heart that caused it could be repaired so he could play.

You get a glimpse into the role relationships play with Tedy. Some were teammates like Tom, Vrabel, Rodney and Fauria. At times his relationship with Bob Kraft was affected due to the business of the game. Tedy was frustrated by the official statements and that is understandable. He paints a picture of the other side of Belichick, the side we don’t see. There is a human being in there who cared about Tedy and provided some wisdom in the midst of the stroke confusion.

It was the new relationships that mattered in his recovery, and subsequent return to football. There was a battery of doctors that became essential, and the physical therapist who pushed him and respected his privacy by not telling people she was working with Tedy. Some of the doctors were brought in by Bob Kraft to help Tedy and his wife make wise decisions about whether to return.

This was a difficult decision. They each had to deal with their own fears, but he was ready to reconsider his future before she was. There was a lengthy period of tension and distance which was unusual for them, as she resisted his push. She needed her husband, not a football player. Tedy is pretty honest about something most people would want to downplay.

One of the unexpected relationships was with Trisha Meili. She was the victim of the rape and beating in Central Park that was attributed to the Central Park five (she wrote I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility). Hearing her speak about her recovery, and loss, was inspiring to him and Heidi. He also began to realize all he’d still have if he never had football again.

In terms of football, the focus is on his first two seasons after the stroke. I really wish they would have updated the book to include the near-perfect season. This is my one complaint. But you get a glimpse of how he understands who to play the game: communication, teamwork and ferocity.

I found this to be an interesting story about perseverance, overcoming fears as well as physical limitations. While he is honest about his past, he doesn’t glorify his drinking to excess. It does capture his competitive nature well. Michael Holley, as usual, does a good job capturing the voice of the man while making it interesting and readable.

This is brief because it is a book I read while donating plasma. This means I can’t underline anything. As a result I’m working on memory and impressions.

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My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

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For most of my life the New England Patriots just weren’t very good. They somehow managed to get to two Superbowls but I never expected them to win either of those games.  They showed promise in the late 70’s but Oakland and a few horrible calls took care of that.

For the last fifteen years they have been most successful team, making the playoffs every year but two, six Superbowl appearances and 4 Superbowl victories.

Some people want to “blame” it all on cheating, but that is too easy. In the book Patriot Reign, Michael Holley looks at how this franchise that only frustrated its fans became one that frustrated the rest of the league. He wanted to do a book on Bill Belichick, but at his request it also became about the other coaches, players and the owners who built a champion.

After their first Superbowl victory, Holley decided to write the book and took a year shadowing the team. He sat in meetings and was given pretty much unlimited access (they also did not edit the material). He was disappointed when they failed to defend their title, but the returned to championship form the next year. This was a great “plot” twist and added more material as he could examine how Belichick “rebuilt” the Patriots.

Holley begins his account with Belichick. He offers you the side you don’t see. He doesn’t make him out to be a saint, but simply another side. He does have a sense of humor. He considers press conferences as part of the game plan and prepares for them- what he will and will not say.

“Let’s put it this way: when you’re the head coach, you’re the head coach twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No matter what happens, it’s on your watch and, to a degree, it’s your problem.”

Belichick’s development as a coach took time. In 1989 when he interviewed for the position as Arizona’s head coach he didn’t quite understand all that it took. He learned from his mistakes in Cleveland, and what kind of owner he wanted to work for if he got the chance again. That is why he picked New England over the Jets (and to get out from Parcells shadow). During his time there under Parcells he would talk with Kraft about any number of subjects (something Parcells didn’t do with Kraft). He knew the man he was, and Kraft knew the man he was. He almost offered the job to Bill instead of Carroll when Parcells left. He faxed the request to talk with Belichick to Parcells before Carroll even had his press conference after his last game as head coach. They have successfully collaborated ever since.

Holley then moved into the reconstruction of the Patriots, including the drafting of Tom Brady. The Patriots were a mess: over the cap, filled with fiefdoms in the locker room and offices. They were like the Red Sox under prior owners. The players were spoiled and didn’t know it.

“Rehbein described him as a winner, a leader with a good attitude. The quarterbacks coach told Belichick that if a decision had to be made between the two, he would give the edge to Brady. Belichick had studied the tapes and felt the same way.”

That first draft was key. But since Holley wasn’t hanging out with them then, he focuses on one player. They were looking for a back up for Drew Bledsoe. Bill and Ernie Adams had listed the characteristics of what they considered the perfect quarterback. They had narrowed the search down to two prospects; Tim Rattay and Tom Brady. So Belichick dispatched his QB coach to work them both out. During the 6th round the draft they saw that Brady’s name was still there. “Brady shouldn’t be there. He’s too good.” They didn’t think Brady would be a starter, much less a superstar when they pulled the trigger on pick number 199. Brady fit the characteristics they listed months earlier.

Soon it was a repeat of his years in Cleveland. The established and (sort of) loved starter was being surpassed by the understudy. In Cleveland it was part of  Belichick’s undoing. In New England circumstances forced his hand so that people weren’t enraged. Bledsoe had the big arm, and big contract, but he was making costly errors- something Bill can’t stand.

“Under Belichick, all Patriot jobs could be classified as temporary. They were earned and held by performance, not status or longevity. Belichick didn’t go out of his way to antagonize stars, nor did he do anything special to accommodate them.”

While externally it was an “easy” transition. The fans were not clamoring for Bledsoe because the team just kept winning. Internally it was a different story as Bledsoe was not a happy camper. Since Rehbein had died the previous summer, Bill was serving as the QB coach. Those were often tense meetings.

“I never want to be on that crawl at the bottom of the screen: ‘Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrested…’ I never want to look like an ass who let down my family, my teammates, and my organization.”

As an aside, the above quote is part of why I don’t believe Brady would cheat, or ask anyone else to cheat. A fierce, driven competitor to be sure, but one who is also driven by honor. Cheating would make him look like an ass, and that just isn’t an acceptable outcome for him.

Holley takes us to the Superbowl against the Rams. He discusses how the coaching staff dissected their offense. They saw how deception functioned in the offense. Belichick identified their 5 passing concepts, and that Faulk was the most important player out there- no Warner. He boiled it down to applicable concepts for the players. In the midst of this Holley briefly discusses the mysterious Ernie Adams, with whom Belichick went to college.

After the victory against the Rams, Holley became a frequent sight in the complex. As a result, he begins to write about how they evaluate the team, players, free agents and draft picks. This is the real strength of the book. Particularly after the 2002-3 season. In some ways they were drunk on success, thinking they could just turn it on again but they couldn’t because they were too old and too slow. They needed to reload one year after winning it all.

“The essence of Belichick is that he is a problem solver.”

In all of this there are small sections on players like Vinatieri and Fauria, and key figures like Pioli. He talks about the Lawyer Milloy situation which led to the silent feud with Tom Jackson.

All in all this is a very interesting read. You can learn, not only about the Patriots, but football through the anecdotes. You find overall commitments to process that work more often than they don’t. I enjoy learning how people approach their work. That is what make the recent Parcells biography so interesting. I am eager to read Holley’s 2012 follow up, War Room, as a result.

This isn’t a book for children. Unless you are Tony Dungy, football culture is quite colorful and crass. As a result there are more than a few curse words, and slang for sexual acts. This is unfortunate. While it adds to the realism, I wouldn’t want to give it to my son for quite some time.

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