Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Whatever It Takes (2013)

By Daniel Kelly

This is a strange book. It even came to my attention in a strange way.

The author sent an e-copy to my boss, who passed it along to me. The subtitle, as you can see in the picture, is "The true story of a fan making it into the NFL."

That's true, in part. Daniel Kelly did indeed get hired by the New York Jets as a pro scout, and stayed with the team for four seasons. But "Whatever It Takes" has a much wider approach than that.

Kelly grew up in Minnesota Vikings country as a rapid Washington Redskins fan. His room was a shrine to the Redskins, he collected autographs of players and coaches, etc. He only played one year of high school football and dropped out of community college, but he always had the football bug. Kelly decided to dedicate himself to finding a job in pro football. Somewhat amazingly, he got one in 1998 - a $21,000 year scouting post with the Jets. It sounds like Kelly did a lot of grunt work, as he took people to the airport and updated files on injuries and player transactions. However, he was working in the same building as then-coach Bill Parcells and then-defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, so he was living his dream.

The dream essentially lasted only two years, when he was demoted to part-time status and told to work out of his apartment. From there Kelly had some family problems, and he devotes most of the second half of the book to them. In short, Kelly didn't have the opportunity to spend too much time observing a pro football organization, so he doesn't have many insights on the famous people in the organization at the time. That's what a book like this needs to be successful, at least to a sports audience.

Kelly also quite obviously made some key mistakes along the way with the Jets. Scott Pioli was his boss, and Kelly admits he didn't do everything he was told to do. That's not the way for someone on the bottom rung to climb out. I received a comment after this review was first published that said the book was inspiring because it shows anything is possible. To me, a lesson of the book is - if you get your chance to live your dream, do what you have to do not to blow it.

In addition, Kelly never gave up his love of the Redskins. Rule number one of employment: When you take a paycheck, you give back absolute loyalty.

The book also has one of the oddest endings I've encountered. After coming to the end of the long story about his family and his tenure with the Jets, he winds up the text with "The next four months turned out to be the most incredible four months of my life. I had gone out to New York to live my dream, but I was leaving with something far greater." What the heck happened?!? We're left without a clue about the dramatic four months and the rest of his life, except that in the author biography it mentions he's living in Arizona. A little closure would have been nice, especially about a story that essentially ended 12 years ago.

This, I assume, is something of a "vanity" project, published in an effort to get his story out on paper and out of his system. Kelly is someone who grew up with a father who probably was an alcoholic, and he took some actions (Kelly, not his father) that don't make him too likable at times. Still, Kelly had some tough luck and bad breaks along the way, so it's relatively easy to root for him.

"Whatever It Takes" isn't really of much value as a football book, even though it's marketed that way, for those who come here looking for such reading material. Still, Kelly's life certainly has had enough dramatics to hold your interest if you like a little football mixed with a real-life story.

Two stars

Learn more about this book.

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