A Great Sports Memoir in "Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile", by Nate Jackson - Book Review

This is a true football story. Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile is the memoir of a veteran player. I picked this book up after recently seeing the tail end of an interview with author Nate Jackson, and the commentator mentioned the book. I’m a football fan, but as an east-coaster, I’ve never heard of Nate Jackson, tight end for the Denver Broncos for six years, and with the San Francisco 49ers before that. So as we welcome in a new season, I thought I’d give it a shot, expecting little.  I got a lot.

It was a nice surprise that Jackson can write (without a ghost writer). Throughout his career, he took to writing as an outlet. After his NFL career ended, he enrolled in writing classes and pens football-oriented articles for Deadspin and other publications. Lucky for us, out of his articles emerged his memoir and a book deal.

Jackson works chronologically, taking us through his career - going from college to pro athlete, the change from the 49ers to the Broncos, then his struggle to stay in the game. We learn about partying escapades, the brotherhood on a team, and the injuries - oh, the injuries - and how each player is simply an entertainment commodity.

Throughout, Jackson stirred a mix of emotions - concern, sadness, excitement for the new season, and amusement. Early in his career, he tells of traveling to Japan with the 49ers to play the Washington Redskins. 

The Redskins are staying at our hotel. So are their cheerleaders. I spot one in the lobby who shoots an arrow through my heart. We fall in love immediately. She chooses not to acknowledge it, though, and so I give her the space she needs. I’m still waiting.

I learned a few things from Jackson about the innards of a sport so many of us love to watch. And coming from the south…well, if you are too, you know what I mean. Here are some of the memorable ones: 

  • Each team has a unique language that goes far beyond what I had imagined. Players must learn this dialect and learn it quickly if they’re going to make it. Each time someone moves to a new team, they have to study to get smart on the program if they are going to have a chance at survival. An early exchange between Jackson and one of his Broncos coaches while watching game film:
 Nate, who are you supposed to block on this play?
Depends on the coverage.
What coverage are they in here?
Yes, but it’s a Three Cloud: we call that Four.
I thought Four was quarters.
Some places it is, but we call it Cover Eight. You should know that by now.

I haven’t given these guys enough credit.

  • I learned that each player on a team is like a brother to the next - really. You theorize, but until I read this, that’s all I can do - guess. This point is driven home hard in the unfortunate shooting death of Darrent Williams after a losing game day. We hear about the mourning, and how Williams’ mother addresses the team, telling “a group of one hundred grown men, frightened men, that everything is okay”. And how much players can second guess themselves, like when Jake Plummer suggests if the game had gone differently, if they had won, perhaps Williams would still be alive. It gave me chills.
  • I learned two versions of a guys trip to Vegas. The first, the “random dude” style; the other with the panache of an NFL player. Well, you can imagine, but to read it is to laugh out loud.
  • Most significantly, I learned more about how the NFL treats its players as commodities. As entertainment, money-making machines. And because of this, a player’s health suffers greatly. Players realize the risks of such a violent sport and join it in large part because of that violent expression. However, player care does not accompany what they are asked to do. The “quickest way to recovery” is often the mantra of a training and coaching staff, when what they’re doing it helping only for the short-term, while masking the long-term effects. Jackson pointedly addresses this and is very public about his experiences, along with his use of drugs (legal and illegal) to alleviate pain - just to keep playing.

Jackson is funny, egotistical, and self-deprecating - all great qualities in making his story so absorbing.  Whether his stories are of the failings of the NFL, his great achievements, or wildly embarrassing, he spills it all. His telling is hilarious and authentic, and I fall in love with him just a little.

Nate, if you’re reading this, did you really battle a mountain lion? Well played, Nate. Well played.

Published: 2013*
Publisher: Harper Perennial 

Vickie’s rating: 4 1/2 stars   

* Originally published in 2013, a paper back edition was published in 2014 with an additional chapter.