PICTURES AND WORDS TO SAVOR MANY OF THIS HOLIDAY SEASON'S SPORTS VOLUMES ARE ACTUALLY WORTH READING

December 23, 1996

The discriminating shopper in search of readable sports
books--admittedly, a rare commodity--will be pleased to learn
that they are out there in abundance and variety this holiday
season.

For lovers of football there are a number of volumes worth gift
wrapping. Robert W. Peterson's Pigskin--The Early Years of Pro
Football (Oxford University Press, $25) might well top the list.
Peterson, author of Only the Ball Was White, a memorable history
of the Negro baseball leagues, now turns to the gridiron,
tracing the sometimes rocky course of play-for-pay football from
its beginnings in the late 1880s to the 1958 championship game
between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants--"The Best
Game Ever Played"--which made the NFL all the rage. This
popularity was long in coming. After its founding in 1920, the
10-team league was for decades a second-class citizen in the
sports world.

In an entirely different sort of book, All Madden--Hey, I'm
Talking Pro Football (Harper Collins, $22), John Madden picks up
the game pretty much where Peterson leaves off. With his
co-author, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, Madden
recalls his coaching years with the Oakland Raiders in the 1960s
and '70s and regales us with stories from his current career as
a television commentator. Along his merry way he profiles some
of his favorite players and tosses in philosophical tidbits,
chief among which is his theory that players who enjoy
themselves will trounce the sourpusses every time. Fun is
obviously a big part of Madden's life. "I never feel like I'm
really working," he writes. "I'm just having a good time doing
what I did as a kid." His book, too, is fun.

A much more lavish gridiron volume is Football
America--Celebrating Our National Passion (Turner Publishing
Co., Inc., $39.95), with text by Phil Barber and Ray Didinger,
both of the NFL. This book does not confine itself to the NFL
but depicts every aspect of the game from sandlot ball to high
school to the pros.

From the title one might assume that Catch (MacMurray & Beck,
$28), by Nick Hartshorn, is about baseball or fishing. Actually,
it's about conversation. Hartshorn, who writes for the Daily
Sentinel of Grand Junction, Colo., traveled around the country
and played catch with total strangers to learn more about the
American way of life. After three months and 12,000 miles, he
had recorded 30 ballplaying conversations. Only two of his
talkers, broadcaster Bob Costas and filmmaker Spike Lee, qualify
as celebrities. Costas, Hartshorn discovered, throws a good
split-finger fastball. Lee, on the other hand, was so wild that
Hartshorn spent much of his precious talk time chasing after the
ball.

For basketball fans there is Going Bigtime: The Spectacular Rise
of UMASS Basketball (Summerset Press, $23.95), by Marty Dobrow,
who engagingly recounts hoop tribulations and triumphs at the
University of Massachusetts. Dobrow's focal point is the
turbulent season of 1995-96, in which the Minutemen reached the
Final Four with the player of the year, junior Marcus Camby, and
the coach of the year, John Calipari, only to lose both
prematurely to the NBA.

If hockey is your sport, there are no fewer than four
coffee-table books of interest: Full spectrum: A Complete
History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club (Triumph Books,
$39.95), by veteran sportswriter and columnist Jay Greenberg;
Legends of Hockey--The Official Book of the Hockey Hall of Fame
(Triumph Books, $40), with a foreword by Bobby Hull; A Day in
the Life of the National Hockey League (Collins Publishers,
$35), by many contributing writers and photographers; and The
Coolest Guys on Ice (Turner Publishing, Inc., $19.95), by Jeff
Z. Klein and Karl-Eric Reif.

For lovers of outdoor sports there are Chris Bonington,
Mountaineer (Sierra Club Books, $30), a memoir by the veteran
British climber, and Flashes in the River (Willow Creek Press,
$35), a gorgeous tribute to the art of fly-fishing by
watercolorist Arthur Shilstone and essayist Ed Gray.

With shopping time running out, any one of these books is sure
to prove a winner.

B/W PHOTO: HOCKEY HALL OF FAME/LEGENDS OF HOCKEY/OPUS PICTURES, INC. In "Legends of Hockey," you might have difficulty recognizing young Gordie Howe (top, third from right). [Gordie Howe as a boy with members of his hockey team]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)