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"Belichick" by Ian O'Connor

"Belichick" by Ian O'Connor (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

"Belichick" by Ian O'Connor, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 512 pages, $28

Bill Belichick hardly is a warm and fuzzy guy, and many fans suffer from the overdose of watching the New England Patriots in the spotlight all the time. So some might be tempted to take a pass on reading 450-plus pages on the Patriots coach. That would be a mistake. Ian O'Connor's biography ranks among the best in regards to the NFL. Not surprisingly, Belichick didn't grant any access to O'Connor. That didn't stop the author, as he conducted more than 350 interviews for the book. The end result is a comprehensive profile that manages to dig deep under Belichick's famous hoodie. O'Connor documents how he rose through the ranks as a young coach who got people's attention. There is a fascinating section about Belichick's long and complicated relationship with Bill Parcells; Belichick served as an assistant coach for him with the Giants and Jets. O'Connor then details the mechanisms behind Belichick's run of success with the Patriots and the controversies that have diminished some of its luster. O'Connor shows how his legendary partnership with star quarterback Tom Brady also is complex. Beyond that, the many inside stories from former players and associates seek to humanize a man who gives up so little of himself to the public. This is an important biography, as O'Connor provides a greater understanding of arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time.

"The League" by John Eisenberg, Basic, 416 pages, $30

The multibillion-dollar NFL had an incredibly humble beginning. John Eisenberg tells the fascinating account of how five owners, including the Bears' George Halas, cut through their disputes and differences to work together to form the foundations of the league. They faced long odds in building the sport during the 1920s and '30s when college, not pro, football reigned supreme. Pro teams initially played to small crowds and had trouble paying their bills. The Great Depression made the challenge even tougher. Yet Eisenberg shows how Halas, along with Art Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bert Bell (Philadelphia Eagles), Tim Mara (New York Giants) and George Preston Marshall (Washington Redskins) had the vision to push the new NFL firmly into America's sports landscape. They did it with unprecedented cooperation that often wasn't in an individual team's best interests. A transformative move occurred when they instituted the first NFL draft of college players in 1936. It allowed weaker teams to achieve greater parity, making for more competitive and appealing games for fans. Virginia McCaskey, Halas' daughter, remembers her mother asking Halas why decisions were being made that could hurt the Bears. "His response was what happens on the field was different from the business of the league," McCaskey said, according to "The League." Eisenberg does a good job of showing how these five unique and colorful characters hardly were perfect - Marshall didn't integrate his team until 1961 - yet despite their flaws, they ultimately built the most popular sports league in the United States.

"The Story of Baseball in 100 Photographs," introduction by Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated, 224 pages, $30

Sports Illustrated set the standard for sports photo journalism. The magazine's latest volume of baseball photos is no exception to its record of producing outstanding collections. This book features several iconic photos of game action, such as Willie Mays' tremendous over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. More candid and intimate portraits of the game's greats are mixed in. One captures Ted Williams at age 67 discussing hitting during a dinner with Wade Boggs and Don Mattingly, the young stars of the 1980s. Seated at a table with a napkin stuffed in his shirt, an intense Williams displays his left-handed swing as if he still was playing. What a great baseball moment. For Chicago fans, there is a 1955 shot of a 24-year old Ernie Banks taking batting practice. The picture captures the strength of Banks' wrists, which ultimately generated 512 homers. There also is a great shot of Steve Bartman reaching for a foul ball in the last instant when he was just an anonymous fan, and a panoramic perspective of the final out of the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series. Take time to study each individual photo; they reveal so much about the players and the game. This is a terrific holiday book for a baseball fan.

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