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Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL

Narrated by: Kevin F Spalding
Length: 12 hrs and 48 mins
Categories: Sports, Football
4.5 out of 5 stars (24 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In their seven years together, quarterback Johnny Unitas and coach Don Shula, kings of the fabled Baltimore Colts of the 1960s, created one of the most successful franchises in sports. Unitas and Shula had a higher winning percentage than Lombardi's Packers, but together they never won the championship. Baltimore lost the big game to the Browns in 1964 and to Joe Namath and the Jets in Super Bowl III both in stunning upsets. The Colts near misses in the Shula era were among the most confounding losses any sports franchise ever suffered. Rarely had a team in any league performed so well, over such an extended period, only to come up empty.

The two men had a complex relationship stretching back to their time as young teammates competing for their professional lives. Their personal conflict mirrored their tumultuous times. As they elevated the brutal game of football, the world around them clashed about Vietnam, civil rights, and sex. Collision of Wills looks at the complicated relationship between Don Shula, the league's winningest coach of all time, and his star player Johnny Unitas, and how their secret animosity fueled the Colts in an era when their losses were as memorable as their victories.

The book is published by University of Nebraska Press. The audiobook will be published by University Press Audiobooks.

©2018 Jack Gilden (P)2018 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"With passion for the subject, extensive reporting, and sharp analysis, Jack Gilden brings to life Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, their team, their era, and their city." (John Eisenberg, former Baltimore Sun sports columnist)

"A revealing look behind the scenes of one of the game's most idolized players, and one of its most triumphant coaches..." (Michael Olesker, Baltimore Jewish Living) 

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting even as a non-football fan

3.5 / 5

To allow you to know where I am coming from: I am not a big fan of American Football. I've never played it. I know the basics of the game and some history, but probably would get half the rules wrong if you asked me about them. But I like history, I like sports history and I really enjoy reading books that take me places I don't know much about (like Moneyball or NBA histories I have previously read).

With that in mind, Collision of Wills is interesting, but not amazing. It tells the story of Johnny Unitas and Don Shula. Unitas, as I came to learn, is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and paired with Shula as coach they formed a formidable team. The two of them did not seem to get along, and htis book is about how they achieved so much while working against each other

While story of Unitas and Shula is told, Collision of Wills uses them as a vehicle to tell a wider story as well - that of the changing NFL. The 60s was a tumultuous time for the NFL, with it merging with the rival American Football League and the creation of the Super Bowl, as well as many other changes in the period. Unitas and Shula were not instigators of that change but were often caught up in it. For example, despite his prestige Unitas missed out on the big money that came with the competition between the AFL and the NFL, due to agreements were they wouldn't pinch existing players. Thus while new players came in with big contracts Unitas didn't get that. It was a changing of the guard and he was part of the old style. There were places where Unitas did drive the change too, with the move to the quarterback being a important, but more protected, piece on the field.

I learnt a lot about the game and the changes to it. But I also feel like I miss a lot of the import because i do not know the game well. Some things mentioned within the book meant little to me. maybe the change from the old way was huge, but I don't know the old from the new and why it is, and the book is written more for an audience who understand the game. It is not written explaining something that fans would consider basic, but went over my head. So by not being the target audience I think I have missed some of this books value.

There are some strange diversions within the book. Very interesting but strange. It goes off on tangents to talk about boxing and organised crimes, or to talk about Vietnam and the reporters and politics related to it. These are interesting tangents, but don't feel like the fit with the overall book. These, plus some other meandering parts could have been cut or edited to streamline the book into a tighter package. It did feel like it dragged in placed and was a bit of a long 12 hours.

Narration by Kevin F Spalding is good. Well paced, clear, easy to follow and engaging for the entire book. There isn't a whole lot in here to allow for variation - few, if any quotes - so Spalding doesn't get a change to flex his narration chops. But it's a solid performance form him.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this review voluntarily.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Performance wonderful-Book meanders

"Collision of Wills" does almost everything except what the title offers. Enjoyable and informative, narrated in subperb fashion, yet lacking in a structure that would have allowed more direct delivery of the author's ideas.

Mr. Gilden has created a story that covers a transitional time in the NFL, but the tale is told indirectly. The great collision of the title between Johnny Unitas and Don Shula is about playing time, tactics, and ego, but is not really shown as being part of the rise of the modern National Football League. THis is unfortunate, because there was much to be made of the diametrically opposing philosophies of football between Shula and Unitas-especially as the NFL since the 1980's has consistently moved more toward a pass first league (the Unitas preference) under the influence of the West Coast offense v. Shula's run first traditional approach.

The book ranges far and wide in its stories, serving almost as a social history of the NFL. Here is where you see the evolution of the League in the lives and attitudes of its players. The book includes interesting and lengthy stories about the players and personalities in the game, but without offering a framework to show them as part of the NFL evolution. Sometimes the stories seem to be told just so they could be told. Examples-Joe Don Mooney's court troubles adn the death of Brian Piccolo just rise up out of nowhere. The stories are fascinating, and a book comprised of only these stories as set pieces would be worth getting...as is this book. This reviewer would have preferred more structure so you could see where the author wanted things to be going.

Mr. Gilden also seems to have a grudge against Vince Lombardi, the man who guided the Packers to 5 NFL/world championship titles from 1961-1968. He makes it a point to criticize Lombardi for not having a long or successful coaching tree, for being rough on his players, for creating the great Packer teams out of personnel acquired before he got to Green Bay. Gilden even colors outside the factual lines in his anti-Lombardi commentary. Example: Gilden says Lombardy had never been offered a head coaching job prior to getting to Green Bay. In fact, Lombardi was offered the Philadelphia Eagles position after the 1957 season but declined. He also constantly harps on how Shula had a better regular season record than Lombardi during those Colt years...ah, but those pesky playoff problems.

Of course, the irony here is the criticism of Lombardi doing well with players already at Green Bay can also be leveled at Shula at both Baltimore and at Miami (esp Miami). At neither team did he build the personnel, but came over and took over teams already loaded with talent.

In a small aside, Gilden also keeps up the sports reporting practice of subtly dissing Joe Gibbs, the former Redskins HOF coach. Gilden goes through a list of coaches that Shula matched wits with over his career...and omits Gibbs, who won more Super Bowls than Shula and whose Redskins beat Shula's Dolphins in the 1982 Super Bowl. Its a small nit to pick, but one that this Redskin fan cannot help but point out.

I got this book as part of my introduction into Audible and the world of narrated books...and if all narrations are as good as this one then I am in for a happy future in Audible-land. Kevin Spalding does a wonderful job with his inflection and pacing. There were no times when I could not understand him, and no need to rewind and relisten to items 'missed". Mr. Spalding's eloction is crisp and clear. His phrasing was appropriate as needed, and clearly he sought to simply tell the story as the author wrote it. Kudos to Mr. Spalding for a wonderful job!

If you like sports, or the NFL, or even American history-I highly recommend this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Robert
  • Euharlee, GA, United States
  • 09-27-19

Inaccurate

I grew up and was a big football fan in this era. The author went off on a lot of tangents. Spent a entire chapter on presidential politics and another on Johnny Cash. The book is mostly a historical reference on the Colts and about 15% on the relationship between Shula and Unitas. The author erroneously said Johnny Cash had been in prison ( he wasn’t) and Bob Griese had a broken ankle in 1972 not an injured knee. The reader mispronounced several names of players. It’s a wonder he didn’t call John Unitas John Uneetus. Go into this knowing it’s not just about Shula and Unitas’ relationship as coach and player.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Mary
  • TACOMA, WA, US
  • 02-15-19

Great Football History Piece

This is a great listen for fans of football prior to the 'no touch era' that we are currently in. The book covered the history that helped forge the league into what it is today. Fans of Vince Lombardi and Joe Namath will truly enjoy this listen.

I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Mathew
  • American Fork, Utah United States
  • 01-18-19

Book title might better be, "A rambling trip"

I really wanted to like this book. I was born during the era which should be covered within this book and being a life-long Dolphin fan (until the whole knee protest be the richest 1% of Americans) I was very interested in Unitas and Shula, etc.

The author, however, takes us on a circuitous path through a variety of social and political correctness tangents. Most have little to do with the actual "subject" of the book. I have quit twice and I am still trying to slog through the rice paddies of the authors ramblings. Sigh.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • al
  • USA
  • 01-05-19

When Football Was Football

If you were around to enjoy football during the 50's-70's, before the game was massacred by "do not touch" rules, you will love the book. I was provided this audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator in exchange for an unbiased review via Audiobook Blast

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Spectacular Football History Book

This is a must listen to book for anyone who was a fan of Johnny Unitas, Don Shula or the Baltimore Colts or even anyone who happens to be a sports historian. I will admit that I was never much of a Johnny Unitas, Don Shula or even a Baltimore Colts fan and I am certainly not a sports historian. But being the Joe Namath and Jets fan and Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers fan that I was, I can truly relate to and appreciate this book.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Collision of Wills Hits Home

Great story that touched many fronts; sports icons, turbulent times and social insights.

Learned more than I wanted about both. Great connection with the history of the time. Thoroughly enjoyed the Kevin Spaulding’s easy listening and melodic style.

Good listen for older audiences only.