Winning: A Book Review

Gary Brackett’s story is well known around Indianapolis, but the story you know is only part of an incredible journey from the streets of the projects to football fields of the NFL.

I recently spoke with Gary about his book, and after reading it, felt it was imperative to share my thoughts. The book itself is breezy, yet powerful. It is written very much in Brackett’s voice, and there is no co-writer listed. It feels very much like Brackett sitting down and telling you his story. He frames the narrative around Super Bowl week 2006, inter-cutting his path to become a champion in football with the journey he took to the NFL. I was familiar with much of Brackett’s story, but still found myself openly weeping at several passages before I even came to the most well-known parts of his story.  The book is a quick read, and a powerful one. No one who picks it up will regret a moment spent with it.

The aesthetic and inspirational value aside, the book challenged my thoughts on football as well.

1. After reading Brackett’s account, I was impressed with the value of coaches as managers and teachers of people. This was something I had always emphasized with Jim Caldwell, but believe even more strongly now. How a coach manages the game is infinitely less important than how he manages, inspiries, and controls his locker room. There’s a reason why Jim Caldwell, who is an inferior in-game coach, almost kept his job. Brackett recounted the various ways his coaches helped or hurt his progress through his career. None of it had anything to do with calling the right blitz or taking a key timeout. It’s impossible to hear him talk about Tony Dungy without realizing how special Dungy is.  Never confuse what matters most with coaches. It matters that Jim Caldwell never lost the Colts locker-room last year.

2. This was a special era in Indianapolis, and there is going to be a mourning period now that it’s over. The way the Colts organization operated for the past 10 years was amazing. It was loaded with amazing people doing amazing things. I loathe those who view the last decade as a failure or an underachievement because a few bounces went the wrong way in the playoffs. This was a team that was easy to embrace and support, and they won a lot of ball games. I miss them all already. I think the biggest mistake the new regime can and has made is to try and ‘wipe the slate clean’. There’s been no sense of building on the past. I believe that will come back to bite them eventually. I can’t prove it, but I do worry about it.

3. The book is worth the buy just for the scene about Brackett’s pro-day and the Colts’ scouting of him. It provided a lot of insight into how teams function.

4. Brackett’s honesty about his mistakes, including a DUI in college was powerful. It certainly challenges any notions you have about the police blotter and young men. Young men do dumb things. That is almost universally true. How they handle their mistakes says much more about them than the fact that they made a mistake.

5. This may also seem obvious, but fans forget that football players are real flesh and blood people and outside events strongly influence performance. After reading about all that Brackett went through, it’s easy to see why and how his play and development were affected by the events of his life, both good and bad. Madden has made fans smarter about the Xs and Os of the game, but painfully unrealistic about how difficult it is to manage real men and real life on a real team.

I strongly endorse “Winning”. It’s a powerful read that should appeal both to football fans and non-football fans. It was an inspiring and encouraging read, and my week was brighter for having read it.