Best on books: Jets, Dr. J and WFAN

Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 11, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Nothing this side of Father's Day inspires publishers to release sports-related books quite like this time of year, when family members desperate for gift ideas need a male-skewing default option.

Here are three titles of local interest to consider on this Black Friday and beyond:

"Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football," by Nicholas Dawidoff, Little Brown and Company, 496 pages.

A way-behind-the-scenes look at the 2011 Jets, "Collision Low Crossers," has several things going against it.

First: That unfortunate, unmarketable title. Second: Many key characters, such as Mike Tannenbaum, Mike Pettine, Brian Schottenheimer, Darrelle Revis and Mark Sanchez, no longer are on the scene and feel like ancient history.

Third: Dawidoff has a vexatious predilection for using recondite cultural references and words. Does this guy have a promotional agreement with Dictionary.com?

Behold: lacuna, portcullis, pentimento, longueur, Finno-Ugric, sprezzatura, panegyric, recrudescent, fusilier, snood, enjambment, paregoric, whanging, basilisks, Passchendaele.

Even SAT test preparers never have heard of some of these words, although I do kind of like "snood." (On page 338, "Revis wore his hood tight as a snood.")

Still, for those with the patience to stick with it, this is an absorbing look into the lives of NFL coaches, fashioned with the help of a level of access astounding by 21st-century standards.

Dawidoff not only sits in on interviews with potential draft choices, he is invited to ask questions of them. He not only listens in on coaching decisions during a preseason game, he is invited to call plays.

In the process, he offers insights into personalities past and present, notably Ryan, who comes off as an amiable football savant prone to impetuousness, as when he infuriates the personnel department by drafting receiver Scotty McKnight because McKnight is Sanchez's pal.

There is more where that came from, such as a debate over whether to draft Muhammad Wilkerson, the riddle that is the talented but flawed Antonio Cromartie, Revis' greatness and Sanchez's many limitations, on and off the field.

But this is not a book designed to generate 2013 headlines or even to chronicle the particulars of what became a maddening, mediocre Jets season.

It is about the coaching life and why it is not for everyone, including at times Jeff Weeks, an old friend of Ryan's whom he fired from the staff after the 2011 season - and who now is back.

On page 126, Ryan chides Weeks for inattention during a long meeting, about which Dawidoff writes: "In moments like these, I always thought of Ryan as football's Samuel Johnson, the ursine dean of Augustan London who routinely clawed at his old student David Garrick but permitted nobody else the privilege."

Got that?

"Dr. J, The Autobiography," by Julius Erving with Karl Taro Greenfeld, Harper, 448 pages

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Julius Erving sums up all that is to come in "Dr. J," in the well-crafted preface, promising the story of "an American life, fully lived," that includes glory, tragedy and self-inflicted problems for which he asks forgiveness.

And what a ride it has been from a kid of modest means out of Hempstead and Roosevelt who grows up to cross paths with an eclectic 20th-century who's who, from Bill Cosby to Arthur Ashe to Miles Davis to Jonathan Winters.

Written entirely in present tense, which takes getting used to but mostly works, the book bogs down when it recalls particulars of long-ago games but otherwise moves briskly, especially in recounting his early years.

Most poignantly, Erving's working-class roots end up serving him well in life, while fame and fortune are a mixed blessing for his children.

Erving covers it all here, notably a weakness for the company of women, including the intimate details of how he came to father future tennis star Alexandra Stevenson with sportswriter Samantha Stevenson.

Along the way Erving loses his parents, brother, sister and a son, made even more painful by his unending need to surround himself with order and neatness.

"There is only the order and structure that I can create, can will into existence, by keeping my room tidy and my clothes neatly folded, and also by finding a basketball court and imposing my will upon that," he writes.

Speaking of hoops, there is plenty of rich detail here, from an early dunk over long jumper Bob Beamon to playing in the Rucker League to tales of the old ABA to epic one-on-one battles with Pete Maravich during a brief interlude as an Atlanta Hawk.

"Pete Maravich is the most skilled basketball player I've ever seen," Erving writes.

Some of us would say the same about the author.

"Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog, & Doris from Rego Park: The Groundbreaking History of WFAN," by Tim Sullivan, Triumph, 256 pages.

Tim Sullivan interviews all the relevant parties in "The Groundbreaking History of WFAN," from Don Imus to Mike Francesa and Chris Russo to assorted founders, executives, midday hosts and update men.

But readers will be disappointed if they expect the sort of tell-all -- or at least tell-us-stuff-we-didn't-know -- insight that usually sells books of this sort.

Instead, this is an unabashed love letter to the station, filled mostly with long quotes from employees past and present and so relentlessly positive that by the end I was left with one thought: I want Sullivan to write my biography!

There are highlights, notably stories from Howie Rose and Ian Eagle about their paths to FANdom, but mostly this is like a Monday call-in show after a weekend on which every local team has won: Happy, but flat.

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