A friend, knowing both interest in football and my vocational pursuit (as a teacher of Physics), gave me this book and has been a delightful addition to my life this summer.
I was surprised at all the connections that the book had. The author teaches Physics, has a Ph.D. in atomic physics and went to high school in New England where he played high school football. The exclusive and renowned private high school they attended was not far from where I grew up. One of his high school team mates was Bill Belichick wrote the forward to the book for his old high school team mate. Bill Belichick, after a number of transitions, went on to coach the New England Patriots professional football team with huge success. This is a team I rooted for as a child (not far from where I lived as a child) and remain a fan of to this day. Author Timothy Gay became a professor of Physics at the University of Nebraska and has taught courses focused on the Physics involved with football. Next door to be lives a rabid Nebraska fan that has taken trips with his children to attend Nebraska games many hours away from our present home in Alabama. Alabama, itself, is a well known hotbed of interest in the sport. So all these connections made the book that much more interesting.
The "Foreward" written by Bill Belichick is eloquent and focused. One could hardly expect that a football coach could write with an awareness and eloquence about Physics even if some of the finer points may be subtle to the non physicist. He writes:
"As the father of physics, Isaac Newton changed our understanding of the world. His laboratory at Cambridge was a model of scholarly isolation and his dedication to his work was complete." (pg vii)
So in those two sentences he ties a legacy of greatness in physics to the dedication and focus of the the person who is great in that field. This is the common lesson given by countless multitudes of coaches and it relates even to accomplishments in science. That is the job of a coach. To inspire effort, focus and dedication. It also happens that Newton was a gifted intellect well ahead of his peers. Anyone who has read his works (as I have) readily recognizes genius.
It also helps if the player, or learner, is interested in the field of physics prior to learning it. The job of inspiring is easier if the learner desires to converse with the text and the discipline being learned. So that is what this book attempts to do. Use the culturally elevated entertainment of football to illustrate concepts in Physics. After reading this book it is apparent that I may need to surrender to using cultural entertainment, like football, to illustrate typical physics scenarios.
In addition I appreciate the author pointing out the more one understands about anything the more one appreciates and enjoys viewing the event. Understanding the physics, even if one does not understand the football. Like knowing about the history or mathematics of art.
The author does not shy away from simple mathematics. Dr. Gay calculates forces and recognizes the third law that always acts between two players.
He also takes on the most difficult of ideas with a multitude of examples from real games. "Newton's third law says that whenever two objects collide, no matter what their individual masses, no matter how fast they are going, they always exert the same amount of force on each other." pg 32
The text also relates change in energy to work. And calculates the changes in energy and the product of force and time. Dr. Gay runs through examples and relates to a number of situations where the energy of the player is key to the outcome of an event..
Some of the ideas I have used in my classes (especially two dimensional motion of the well thrown or punted football). Some advanced topics are also addressed though the author always avoids raising the level of the math beyond adding, multiplying or dividing!
In "Blocking and Tackling" and "The Pit" he uses straight forward kinematics and dynamics and actually does some of the simple math as examples. Nothing is more important than those topics in the text!
In "The West Coast Offense Explained" he has particular expertise having played on the West Coast in college (Cal-Tech) getting his Physics degree. Here he uses simple geometry and kinematics to clearly explain how the offense works.
"Football in Flight", "Passing" and "Kicking" discusses the modeling and projection path of the football during the game in different situations. The geometry is elegant, the math intricate and the result is a fuller understanding of what the "air game" is all about. Timing is key and he explains this well.
Now the most newly informative section for me was the "Waves in the Stadium" which is the last chapter in the book. Impressive! Oscillations, sound and decibels and energy all come down to have an impact on the fan experience and the game! This is a rich section but, given that he is an atomic physicist, I am not surprised that he did not push it further (as he could have).