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Book Review: "The Game Plan" by Bill Polian

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Former Colts' general manager Bill Polian tells stories about building championship-caliber teams in the NFL and what it takes to be a GM in the league in his book, "The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team."

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Ezra Shaw

The Colts are on their bye week, so let's take some time to review a book written by a prominent former Colt.  Of course, this book is "The Game Plan" by former Colts general manager Bill Polian, and as the subtitle suggests, it's about "the art of building a winning football team."

The Game Plan

The cover of "The Game Plan" (photo provided by the publisher)

There's a lot in the book that even the casual football fan would enjoy.  Regardless of your opinion on some of the moves the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame contributor finalist made, one thing you can't deny is his wealth of football knowledge and experience.  He offers a unique view into some of the things that go on within an organization, giving stories about contract negotiations, draft decisions, trades, and everything in between.  What about the role a general manager plays?  There's plenty you can gather on that as well.  Polian also gives his list of traits that he looks for in head coaching candidates, which is terrific, and also explains the way certain things work.  For example, Polian explains why running a 3-4 defense is usually more expensive than running a 4-3 defense.  As many Colts fans complain about the percentage of the salary cap invested in the defense (something that is sure to change as the team begins to re-sign offensive guys), that bit of information can help the picture become clearer as to why that is.

More than just a "how-to" or guide book, however, "The Game Plan" gives a behind-the-scenes look into the construction of Polian's Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, and Indianapolis Colts teams.  He devotes a large percentage of the book to talking about his Bills days, but for Colts fans this book is also required reading.  There's the tidbit of Polian, then the Bills GM, working with Colts general manager Jim Irsay on the trade that wound up being a three team trade that sent Eric Dickerson to Indianapolis.  And speaking of Irsay, Polian had good things to say about him, as he talked about Irsay's football knowledge that is rare among owners.  Polian said that Irsay would get things quickly that took a while to explain to other owners.  Irsay knows how the football side of things works.

There's the story about how Irsay orchestrated the "trade" for Polian from the Panthers.  There are extensive details about the scouting process the Colts went through when evaluating both Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf before the 1998 draft, and as he continued telling the story it became more and more apparent that a tough decision at the time played out right before their eyes as they continually were more impressed with Peyton.  The story also includes a great Tom Moore one-liner that Polian recalls - the GM had spent extensive time studying one of a number of criticisms of Peyton coming out of college, his arm strength.  One day he came into a meeting with Tom Moore (the team's offensive coordinator) and Bruce Arians (the quarterback coach) and Polian said that, after his scouting, he felt like the Manning's ceiling when it came to his arm strength was about 60 yards.  In typical Tom Moore fashion, Polian recalls the offensive coordinator saying, "Well, then, Bill, we'll be sure not to throw any passes over 59 yards" (238).

In one of the later meetings with Peyton before the draft, Polian recalls the quarterback getting ready to leave and telling him, "if you draft me, I promise we will win a championship.  And if you don't, I promise I will come back and kick your ass" (242).  The Colts drafted Peyton Manning, and the rest is history.

There's the story about the Colts trading Marshall Faulk and drafting Edgerrin James - a move that at the time was highly criticized but that worked out in the long run, along with a great tidbit about Jim Irsay and Bill Polian, sitting in separate booths at a preseason game in 1999, met eyes after a nice Edge run and Irsay gave a thumbs up to the pick.  There's the story about how the Colts came to sign and eventually start Jeff Saturday, as well as how well the center worked with Manning.  There's the story about firing Jim Mora and then hiring Tony Dungy.  There's the story about drafting Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.  And there's the fun story about Bill Polian's love for a safety named Bob Sanders.  Polian recalls sayings from his son Chris about how, "if my father had to give up one of his sons for Bob, one of us would be gone" (261).  Or people joking in the war room about how if the Colts didn't get Sanders, Polian might "blow the roof off the building" or "have a heart attack" (264).  Ultimately, we all know that the Colts drafted Sanders and that he was a great player when healthy, but it's a fun story from Polian about how much he liked him throughout the scouting process.

There's reflection from Polian on so many players who helped the Colts to the winningest decade in pro football history and the accomplishments they reached, and also Polian sharing on a couple of particularly tough losses (including the 2005 playoff loss to the Steelers, the 2003 playoff loss to the Patriots, and the undefeated season that wasn't in 2009).  And, of course, there's quite a bit of space devoted to the 2011 season, offering a behind-the-scenes look at everything that was going on with Peyton Manning.

For the casual football fan, this is a book that is sure to increase your knowledge of the sport and the inner-workings of an NFL franchise from a man who is considered by many to be the greatest general manager in league history.  He built three teams and achieved a great number of accomplishments, both as a team and personally.  The books is filled with stories about what it's like inside the front office of a football team and entertaining throughout.  For Indianapolis Colts fans, it's a trip down memory lane.  There's a lot in it about both the beginning and the end of the Peyton Manning era, and then everything in between.  There's actually not much reflection on the Super Bowl win itself but rather on the players and decisions that led to the championship.

I'd recommend the book to anyone looking for an entertaining and interesting read on what NFL football is really like.  On what building a championship-level team takes.  On what one of the game's greatest executives learned in his years as GM.  And for Colts fans, it's a trip down memory lane that is sure to prove worth it.  It was a good book that I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from and is one that I definitely suggest reading.

For more on "The Game Plan" by Bill Polian or to purchase a copy, head here.