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Pigskin passion

Rich Eisen hands over his press pass
December 11, 2007 6:17:22 PM
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Eisen has a dream job, and he’ll be the first to tell you so in Total Access: A Journey to the Center of the NFL Universe. His casual demeanor, balanced with a sharp attention to detail, makes for the ideal personality to share these behind-the-scenes stories without coming off like a privileged prick.
 
NFL Films overseer Steve Sabol sums up Eisen best in his foreword, referring to the Total Access host as “polished with an easy grace.” Sabol nails it when expressing how Eisen “managed to bring gravitas to the launch of an entire network without losing the glibness that makes watching him like hanging out with an old friend.”
 
Much of the book reads in the same fashion. Eisen’s intention in Total Access is to “put a press pass on the neck of the reader,” yet he admits early on that the tome isn’t the most hardcore football book: “I’m not breaking down the Cover-2 defense or teaching how to defend 4-wide receiver sets here.” Leave that to Ron Jaworski. But gridiron diehards can also appreciate Eisen’s exuberance for his new job as NFL Network’s patriarch and mascot as host of the flagship Total Access program.
 
Total Access kicks off with a chapter devoted to the Super Bowl, known to broadcast insiders as “The Convention.” One of many hilarious moments with Eisen on the set features George Bush Sr. When asked on-air who was the best player he ever met, Bush chose Roger Staubach and offered some classic Bush family cliché-butchering: “Roger’s the one that I feel is way up there, like on Cloud Ten.” At that moment one can easily envision Eisen thanking the heavens for taking his gig. 
 
Total Access: A Journey to the Center of the NFL Universe | By Rich Eisen | Thomas Dunne | 336 pages | $25
The chapter devoted to the NFL scouting combine is infinitely more entertaining than the actual million-dollar meat market coverage, where three-tenths of a second can make or break a kid’s chance at a ridiculously lucrative pro career. Samples of the infamous Wonderlic test are reprinted, and who could forget Titans QB Vince Young, who scored an astonishingly low score of 6; founder Charlie Wonderlic is quoted pointing out that “a score of 10 is considered literacy.” Ouch. Equally hilarious (in both print and on the show) is Eisen recalling his annual running of the 40-yard dash in a suit and “lace-up Zegna Crocs”; he pulled up lame grabbing his hamstring last year. Moments later Eisen is seen on a trainer’s table getting work with the caption, “Eisen questionable — hamstring.” And there are great off-the-cuff quotes from players speaking and preaching life lessons at the Rookie Symposium, with priceless financial advice courtesy of D’Angelo Hall: “Tax man like a pimp, yo. He gonna get his, and like a crackhead, he gonna come back for more.”
 
A scattered chapter titled “Things that need to be in this book” doesn’t live up to billing, including 12 pages devoted to players’ superstitions (e.g., Reggie Wayne eats soup before game day, Gary Baxter needs Lay’s potato chips, etc.) and Eisen divulging that his buddy Deion Sanders owns 2000 suits. Eisen also offers his take on the odd corporate tale of Al Michaels being “traded” by Disney-owned ESPN to NBC in exchange for acquiring broadcast rights for the Ryder Cup and an old Disney character named Oswald the Rabbit, the precursor to Mickey Mouse. Summed up eloquently by the author: “Al Michael’s desire to work for a peacock got a rabbit back in the Mouse House.”
 
Eisen is genuine when discussing the risk of abandoning his rock-star status, garnered after spending seven years in ESPN’s Sportscenter anchor chair, which he left for the NFL Network to further bolster the most successfully marketed sport in American history — professional football (he concedes early on that baseball is his first love). And Eisen reminds the reader that there is “no such thing as an ‘off-season’ anymore.” The male soap opera that is pro football now plays out on a daily (hell, hourly) basis year-round: “The honing of the pigskin conduct is so constant, this book is already outdated,” Eisen humbly denotes in the afterword.
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