It always helps to have a scapegoat. Harland (Swede) Svare was quick to pounce on one last January, when he got canned as general manager of the San Diego Chargers. His firing, he claimed, was the result of "unfounded, malicious and distorted facts" in a forthcoming book by Arnold J. Mandell, M.D.
Unfortunately, Svare will have to be more specific if he is to be persuasive. If Mandell's The Nightmare Season (Random House, $7.95) is in many respects unsatisfactory, its portrait of Svare is likely to strike most readers as sympathetic and even admiring.
Mandell is a psychiatrist who spent the 1973 season with the Chargers as shrink-in-residence. Svare was then the head coach, and Mandell says the front office thought a psychiatrist might help him motivate the players—especially the "troublesome or dissatisfied defensive stars" for whom the Chargers had traded.
There is little in the book to suggest that Mandell helped much; the team won only one of its first eight games, and Svare was sacked in midseason. Mandell suggests that a more fiery coach might have been more effective than the low-keyed Svare, but it's clear that he admires Svare for precisely that quality. He is portrayed as a sensitive, introspective man torn between a love for "beauty and quiet" on the one hand and "the excitement of power games" on the other. If Svare feels his standing in pro football was hurt by such a portrait, that doesn't say much for pro football.
June 13, 1976
Beyond its depiction of Svare, The Nightmare Season is of interest only for Mandell's thoughtful discussion of drug use in sports. The Chargers had serious drug problems when Mandell joined them, and he attempted to ameliorate the situation by getting players off street drugs and onto prescriptions. For his trouble, Mandell says, he was barred from the NFL; but he makes a plausible argument that it is wiser to deal with the problem openly, keeping it under medical control, than to sweep it under the rug with heavily publicized disciplinary action.
Otherwise, the book has little to recommend it. There is some steamy and wholly gratuitous sex. A good deal of time is spent attempting to justify Mandell's role, or non-role, as team adviser. And the writing, by and large, is awful. Had Svare attacked the book on literary grounds, he would have been more convincing.