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Punt, pass and READ

Kick around these football books

By Ron Berthel

Associated Press

Now that football season is under way, fans with a passion for pigskin have a problem: how to get their football fix in those four long days between "Monday Night Football" and the first college game on Saturday?

For them, the cure for "NFL" -- "No Football to Look at" -- could be found in any of these latest additions to the library of football books.

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Initially, there's "T.O." (Simon &; Schuster) by Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens, who tells his side of the story that put him on the back pages of the tabloids during the 2005 season.

At the time, he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, who suspended him for the rest of the season for various infractions, including a locker room tussle with teammate Donovan McNabb. Readers go behind the scenes with Owens as he explains his actions and why he thinks his suspension was unfair.

For one season, 1943, there were pro football's "Steagles." "Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles -- 'The Steagles' -- Saved Pro Football During World War II" (Da Capo Press) by Matthew Algeo claims to be the first book to tell the story of the Steagles, a team composed of players from both the Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers that was created due to a player shortage during World War II.

Most of the Steagles' players were deemed unfit for military service due to hearing loss, impaired vision, stomach ulcers or other ailment, but the team did have a few active servicemen granted leave for the games. Algeo sets his story of the team's surprisingly successful season against the backdrop of the American home front during wartime.

1966 was also a memorable season for University of Alabama football, as recapped in "The Missing Ring: How Bear Bryant and the 1966 Alabama Crimson Tide Were Denied College Football's Most Elusive Prize" (Thomas Dunne) by Keith Dunnavant.

Alabama has a storied history in college football: 12 national championships, 25 conference titles, 34 national top-10 finishes and 53 bowl appearances. The team entered the 1966 season with a chance to become the first to win three consecutive national championships. Dunnavant explains how the Crimson Tide, despite pulling off the nation's only undefeated and untied season, failed to win its third championship.

Tom Callahan, sports columnist for The Washington Post, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the pro debut of football great Johnny Unitas with his biography: "Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas" (Crown).

Unitas achieved fame -- and election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- for his exploits on the field wearing No. 19 for the Baltimore Colts. Callahan tells how the young Unitas was released by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers before the 1955 season only to catch on with the Colts the following year. By the time he hung up his helmet, Unitas had led the Colts to three championships, including the 1971 Super Bowl, won two MVP awards, and set a still-standing record of 47 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

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In "Sports Illustrated: Great Football Writing (1954-2006)" (Sports Illustrated Books), Rob Fleder, executive editor of Sports Illustrated magazine, has collected 45 essays and articles from the magazine's 50 years. Among the writers contributing to the collection are George Plimpton, Dan Jenkins, John O'Hara, Jack Kerouac, Roy Blount Jr. and David Halberstam.

The first piece is Myron Cope's oral history of the pro game's infancy featuring the recollections of Red Grange, Art Rooney, Sammy Baugh, "Bulldog" Turner and others. Other stories relive memorable games and profile noteworthy players and coaches, including O.J. Simpson, John Elway and coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan. One of the pieces provides a second-by-second account of a play on the field as experienced by quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers.

Vince Papale tells the story of his unlikely pro football career in "Invincible: My Journey From Fan to NFL Team Captain" (Hyperion). In 1976, Papale was a 30-year-old substitute teacher, part-time bartender and lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan. When the team conducted an open tryout, Papale showed up -- and wowed 'em by running the 40-yard dash in only 4.5 seconds. He was given a contract on the spot and eventually earned his way onto the team roster. He became the NFL's oldest rookie -- other than kickers -- and spent four seasons with the Eagles.

"Runnin' With the Big Dogs" (Morrow) is Mike Shropshire's "True, Unvarnished Story of the Texas-Oklahoma Football Wars," the centurylong rivalry between the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Texas Longhorns.

The teams meet each fall in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in a game that often helps decide the winner of the Big 12 Conference. Moreover, the game is the centerpiece -- or excuse, if you will -- for the fans' raucously celebrated weekend, beginning with Friday night's "Riot Night in Dallas."

Shropshire follows the exploits of the fans and players, on and off the field, profiles 10 great players and recaps 10 great games throughout the history of the rivalry.

The teams will meet for the 101st time on Oct. 7.

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