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When A. Bart Giamatti was, too briefly, Commissioner of Baseball, he asked Yale physics professor Robert Adair to write something explaining how the game of baseball was affected by the laws of physics. The resulting book, The Physics of Baseball, brought much comfort to grown men who'd been traumatized in their youths by teachers and other adults who insisted that curve balls didn't actually curve, that it was all just an optical illusion. It is the nature of baseball, where the defense controls the ball and where its flight determines so much of the action, that there were many similarly vexing topics for him to address and the book became a classic.

Timothy Gay, a professor of physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a former football player at Caltech, here takes a similar look at the game of football and how it is affected by physics. He writes with obvious love of both the game and the science and the book is lively and informative. However, it seems, at least to this reader, that simply because of the very different nature of football the subjects that he has to explore are somewhat less compelling than those Mr. Adair dealt with. Mr. Gay deftly handles the discussion of torque and mass and acceleration and whatnot when a linebacker rams into a ballcarrier or two linemen collide, but the fact of big guys knocking each other around just doesn't intrigue as much as the age old mystery of the "rising" fastball. It seems no surprise that two of the very best sections of the book are on the flight characteristics of the football and on that most reviled aspect of the game, kicking. In the latter he does clear up one of the conspiracy theories that's lingered around the game for years, whether filling balls with helium was the secret of Ray Guy's success.

All in all it's a very fine book limited only by the game it describes. Inquisitive football fans will love it.


Grade: (B+)


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Sports (General)
Timothy Gay Links:

    -FACULTY PAGE: Timothy J. Gay, Professor (Department of Physics and Astronomy, CMRA)
    -BIO: Timothy Gay (Boeing)
    -EXCERPT: from Football Physics--How Helmets Work
    -BOOK SITE: Football Physics: The Science of the Game by Timothy Gay, Ph. D. (Written Voices)
    -ARTICLE: of Pigskin physics and the Immaculate Reception: New book takes a look at the science of the game, and tackles the mystery of the Immaculate Reception (Byron Spice, 10/04/04, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -ARTICLE: Running Backs Know Laws Of Physics Apply (ANDY STAPLES, 10/02/04, Tampa Bay Tribune)

Book-related and General Links: