Monday, May 5, 2014

Review of "Tom Landry and Bill Walsh"

My favorite era of professional football was during the 1970's and 1980s, and I am very grateful for John Lawson III for providing me a book about two legendary coaches from that era.  Here is my review of "Tom Landry and Bill Walsh."  


Tom Landry and Bill Walsh: How two coaching legends took championship football from the Packer Sweep to Brady vs. Manning” by John Lawson III

Football, professional, coach, Cowboys, 49ers

January 18, 2014

359 pages

4 1/2 of 5 stars (excellent)

Professional football is a game that has undergone many changes in the last few decades and two legendary coaches, Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, were responsible for several of those changes.  Fans of the game will know about the West Coast Offense, the 4-3 defense and the shotgun formation.  Landry and Walsh were ahead of their time bringing those innovations (or in the case of the shotgun, re-introducing) into their game plans.   John Lawson III takes a look at the two men by following through their successes and failures as football coaches and also gives a history of lesson by illustrating what the game was like during the 1970’s and 1980’s when Landry and then Walsh were the kings of the NFL.

This book doesn’t just focus on the two Hall of Fame coaches.  There are plenty of anecdotes about players from that era who helped shape the game as it was at that time.  Of course there are stories about great Dallas and San Francisco players, but other great players from that time are included as well, such as Franco Harris and other players from the Pittsburgh Steelers.   Lawson also does a terrific job of illustrating when there were shifts in the landscape of the league and one of Landry’s or Walsh’s innovations were given the ultimate compliment in the NFL – other teams copied them.

There are two games that Lawson used to do this which were excellent illustrations of this concept.  The first one was on December 28, 1975 when Dallas beat the Minnesota Vikings with a long pass that became known as the “Hail Mary” and is now commonly used for a last second pass.   On a personal note, as a lifetime Vikings fan, that game is a bad memory for me, but it was correct for Lawson to use this one on the journey Landry took to become an innovator to use his personnel to the best of their ability.

The second game is the NFC Championship game in January 1982 in which the 49ers defeated the Cowboys 28-27 with the play that will be forever known as “The Catch” when Dwight Clark leaped for a Joe Montana pass in the end zone in the last minute.   Something I really liked about this chapter is that Lawson debunked a myth that this game was when the torch of greatness was passed from Landry and the Cowboys to Walsh and the 49ers.  He explains this during this chapter and others as well with extensive research and well-written accounts of games, teams and seasons during this era.

I did feel that even though Lawson didn’t expressly write this, he seemed biased toward Walsh being a little better than Landry overall as a coach and an innovator.  This isn’t to say that he wrote a lot of critical items about Landry (if anything, he was more critical of the Cowboys organization as a whole) and he didn’t write about Walsh in overly glowing praise, but in the end, I felt that there was a bias toward Walsh shown.  Not that this is bad about the book – it just took me by surprise near the end as it was very balanced up to that point. 

Overall, I felt this was an excellent book that any football fan who enjoyed that era of the NFL will want to read.  The four-and-a-half star rating is moved to five for Amazon and Goodreads where half-stars are not counted.

I wish to thank Mr. Lawson for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I skim?

Pace of the book: 
Very good. The back and forth between the sagas of Landry and Walsh are well placed and keeps the reader moving through the book and therefore keeps both coaches fresh in his or her mind.

Do I recommend? 
Pro football fans will love this book, especially those who followed the game in the 1970’s and 1980s.

Book Format Read:
e-book (Kindle)

Buying Links:

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your review of this wonderful book, and I agree with your assessment that the book is a little biased towards Walsh, but I think his argument as to why is wrong.

    In the book he highlighted the fact that Landry's teams couldn't beat the bigger/stronger teams, and cited the games vs. the Packers and Steelers. He then says that Walsh's teams could handle the stronger teams, citing defeating New York in 1981, and Chicago in 1988. This was why, he said, that Walsh was a little better.

    My argument is that Walsh's 49ers never faced teams that were as good as Lombardi's Packers or Knoll's Steelers. These were teams of the ages and it took everything those teams had to knock off the Cowboys. Dallas lost two NFL Championship games to Green Bay, 34-27 in 1966, and 21-17 in 1967. Dallas also lost two Super Bowls to the team of the 70's, Pittsburgh, by 21-17 in Super Bowl X, and 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII.

    Conversely, the 1981 New York Giants were hardly a power house of a team, going just 9-7 that season. The 1988 Bears, while better than the '81 Giants, were impotent on offense to say the least. Neither of these two teams could be compared to the '66 Packers or '78 Steelers.

    In fact, Walsh's clubs had some trouble against stronger teams, in particular the aforementioned Giants. In 1985, they lost to a (better than '81) Giants squad in the playoffs, 17-3. In 1986 it got worse as New York handed them a 49-3 drubbing before the Giants won their first Super Bowl.

    Don't get me wrong, I think Bill Walsh was terrific, and the book is a solid piece of work in going over the two coaches. My point is just that you can't compare the 70's Steelers who Dallas lost to twice to teams that San Francisco beat (twice vs. the Bengals; once vs. Miami). It's not a fair comparison.