I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I’ve never been to a published author’s book reading and signing before now. After literally decades of writing and editing, the opportunity came up, one that I couldn’t honestly resist even if I wanted to. ESPN correspondent and sports talk radio host Sal Paolantonio (whom I will hereafter refer to solely as “Sal”) and longtime local sports writer for the Burlington County Times Reuben Frank were promoting the publication of their first book together, “The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches, & Moments in NFL History”. Luckily, I saw the notice for the event that same morning in the paper for which Frank writes.
I called up one of my best friends, a woman who’s my age, highly intelligent, and holds a Doctorate in Education; she also happens to be, like myself, an avid sports nut. (Her oldest daughter graduated from Alabama, which has led to many a pleasant Saturday afternoon watching the Crimson Tide roll over their opponents.) When I asked if she wanted to go with me, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation on her part: she, too, was a virgin in the arena of book readings.
Two ‘babes’ (and I use that term loosely) in the woods that we were, we decided to head over to Borders at 6:30 PM that night. I’d read and heard about book signings and readings where folks stood in line for hours for a chance to have their book signed and meet the author. Sal and Reuben were scheduled to begin at 7:00 P.M., so we were hoping and praying for at least seats in the audience.
As chance would have it, not only did we get front row seats by 6:45, we were among the first half dozen people to show up. Some people had a copy of the book in their laps; giving up any last shred of dignity as to how one ‘acts’ at a book signing, I asked the nearby clerk what to do. Where WERE the books, anyway? Could we take one from the stack on the table? I took one; my friend took four (she has a pretty big family!). We didn’t have to wait much longer (maybe ten minutes) before Sal himself showed up.
In person, Sal is extremely attractive, well-groomed and personable. He looked quite tanned and fit, dressed in a light blue shirt opened at the neck, chinos and loafers. He chatted with the audience (who at this point numbered maybe a dozen), and sat down with us to autograph copies of the book. He took the time to ask not only to whom the book should be addressed, but also which was that person’s favorite team. (In the case of my friend, she was buying a copy for her son in law, a native of New Orleans and a big Saints fan). About ten minutes later, Reuben Frank also appeared. I’d seen his photo attached to his columns in the daily paper for which he writes. To be blunt, he barely resemebled that photo.
In person, he looked a good deal older than the man in the picture. He also looked a bit on the disheveled side as well. While Sal was dressed in a pressed shirt and slacks, Reuben was definitely going for the rumpled look. He had the distinct air of a person who was happy to be there after what might have been a really long day at the office. Frank also made himself available to sign books before the reading started. He generally wrote on the back or opposite page to which Sal had previously written, and made a point to ask something personal about the book’s recipient as well.
In all, both men spent about a half hour signing copies of their books. Sal seemed to be the go-to guy in the event. He made a smooth transition to the folding table where copies of his book were stacked. Leaning against the table (a position that Reuben shortly followed), he spoke openly about the reasons behind the book’s conception: while a lot of football fans deal in Monday morning quarterbacking, he and Reuben had decided to actually do hard, statistical research on stats, trends and assorted data to come up with their own list of most overrated and underrated in the NFL. The book itself took a little over two years to complete.
A little bit of biographical background on both men is due here. Sal has been an ESPN national correspondent since 1995. He covers the NFL for Sports Center and the Sunday NFL Countdown, as well as appearing in trailers for regular season football games during the season. Since 1985, Sal had worked as both a political commentator and sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, winning several awards along the way. He was quite proud to note that he and his family had just recently moved to Moorestown, New Jersey, current home to Donovan McNabb, Jevon Kearse, myself and my friend, and former home to Terrell Owens. (His house is still on the market after having left the Eagles over two years ago. Anybody got a cool $3,000,000 to spend?) This is not Sal’s first book; he authored “Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man In Big City America”, while an employee of the Inquirer.
Reuben Franks also earned numerous national, local and state awards for his writing (including first place in the Associated Press Sports Writers competition). He’s been employed by the Burlington County Times, a daily newspaper in southern New Jersey, since 1988. His assignments have included covering the NFL for the paper as well as hosting channel 610 WIP-AM, Philadelphia’s best-known sports talk radio show.
Opening up the floor to questions from the audience (which at its most was fifty people), most of the queries revolved around the future of the Philadelphia Eagles. (Sal is a native of South Philadelphia.) Among other things, he noted that if you look at McNabb’s actual quarterback stats, his rating has never been nearly as high or productive as one might think. In all likelihood, especially following McNabb’s ACL season-ending accident in late 2006, he’ll never get to wear a Hall of Fame jacket. On the other hand, Randall Cunningham was one of the Eagles’ most gifted and productive quarterbacks. (Cunningham now ministers to a fairly large Christian congregation in northern Burlington County, New Jersey). One of the more interesting notes were his comments about Joe Namath. According to both Sal and Reuben, Namath had terrible stats as a quarterback, by anyone’s standards. The thing that set him apart from other, more talented quarterbacks of his generation was his personality. Commercials starring Namath trying on women’s pantyhose made his name a household word back in the day, and even today. Sal told of an occasion when Namath was holding court in Atlantic City at a casino lounge. Surrounded by women, hangers-on and far too many drinks, Namath was having a roaringly good time, when through the doors walked – Frank Sinatra! As the entire lounge grew silent, Sinatra walked over to Namath’s table – and Joe, trying to stand up and shake hands with Ol’ Blue Eyes, knocked over the table, spilling drinks all over the Chairman of the Board. After a full moment’s worth of deafening silence, Sinatra just laughed and said “Hey, Joe, I just wanted to congratulate you on yesterday’s game”. According to the authors, even Elvis Presley himself held Namath in God-like esteem. When he walked into one of Elvis’ concerts, the entire room – including and especially the King himself – went silent, with a bow in his direction from Elvis. To make his point about several of the Eagles’ old players in particular, he read a total of nearly five pages from his book.
I have no idea how many people normally turn out for a book signing, and whether the numbers are lower – or higher – for a sports-centered book than a work of fiction. Personally, I loved the idea of the intimacy of a smallish group; both authors were able to look audience members in the eye(s) as they spoke, and people seemed to feel more free to ask questions. I’d say that about half of the people there were men, which came as a bit of a surprise to me; I would have thought that more men would come out. The book is new, it’s data driven, it has really interesting hard facts on a lot of players, teams, coaches and ‘big moments’ in the NFL. The women in the audience for the most part did seem to have a very genuine interest in football, limited only, perhaps, by their unwavering devotion to the Eagles.
This book signing and reading was awesome! It was great to see the authors up close and personal, and to hear two different yet agreed-upon points of view. Sal, whose public persona seems to be growing throughout the ESPN outlets, is pictured on the front cover. As for the book itself, I’ve found what I’ve been able to read really interesting, combined as it is with a lot of great (and sometimes decades-old) black and white photographs. As soon as I’ve finished it, I’d like to review it as well. But just to throw out a couple of teasers to you: who were the Columbus Panhandlers? Is Warren Moon overrated or under-appreciated for his career? Who’s the most overrated quarterback of all time, and is he still playing? And what was the most underrated moment in modern NFL history? Why, it’s the creation of the first down in 1882, of course!