Tackling big ideas

Football and Philosophy:Going DeepEdited by Michael W. Austin, with a forward by Joe Posnanski. University Press of Kentucky.240 pp. $35.

Football season is just around the corner. All of us armchair quarterbacks and tailgaters would do all right to arm ourselves with a different kind of playbook this year. Whether nestled between stacks of hot dogs and a cooler in a stadium parking lot or competing for space with the chips and folded sports section in our favorite recliner, Football and Philosophy: Going Deep runs past double coverage to touch on just about every aspect of a sport that crushes all others in mass American appeal.

But, this is not a book that focuses on the X's and O's of the game. As part of the Philosophy of Popular Culture series of books published by the University Press of Kentucky, Football and Philosophy seeks to clarify philosophical themes inherent in the game. It might not tell you the difference between a nickel defense and a dime defense, but it will increase your armament of retorts the next time some over-puffed windbag next to you at the bar suggests that players should be allowed to take steroids in the professional game.

In fact, just about every debatable topic in football today is fair game in these pages. Want to find out the effect that the NFL's salary cap has on the competitiveness of the game? Read Daniel Collins-Cavanaugh's Does the Salary Cap Make the NFL a Fairer League? For an in-depth discussion of the merits of instant replay, read Joshua Smith's essay, Upon Further Review. Slightly irked over the prima donna behavior of certain wide receivers? Then go directly to M. Andrew Holowchak's They Don't Pay Nobody to Be Humble!

Then there are the essays that go outside the stadium to discuss how modern American society is influenced by, and influences, the modern game. In Heroes of the Coliseum, Heather Reid goes back to ancient Rome to draw comparisons between how the Roman public treated their gladiators and how we treat the modern footballer today. In Is the Gridiron Holy Ground?, Mark Hamilton details how game day has replaced many of the traditions and rituals associated with Christian religion.

As football fans, we know we enjoy the game, but have we ever considered why? Whatever camp you fall in, Scott F. Parker's essay, The Beauty of Football, clarifies the aesthetics of the game and why some who couldn't care less about what takes place on the gridiron will never ”get it.“

American football is the most aggressive form of competitive team sport enjoyed by millions of Americans. It is a sport that takes an enormous amount of discipline along with a large appetite for winning. Perhaps no one associated with the game is more synonymous with winning than the great Packers coach Vince Lombardi. Raymond Belliotti takes us on a tour of the psycho-history of the coach in Vince Lombardi and the Philosophy of Winning. Belliotti explains how the Roman Catholic Church and Lombardi's Italian-American background shaped his thoughts on life and competition.

Obviously, Football and Philosophy will appeal to fans of the game; however, in the way that it approaches the sport, this book should interest non-fans as well. With most essays written by philosophy professors who also enjoy being students of the game, Football and Philosophy is both serious and playful in its treatment.