From Booklist's Starred Review: "This is a book that transcends sports and captures the spirit and will of athletes."
The rousing stories of the often-overlooked players who give their blood, sweat, and tears in the hopes of seeing their dreams of playing professional football come true
Football fans may know all about the superstars of the NFL, but very few know anything at all about the players at the bottom of the rosters—the men just fighting for a spot on the team. Yet the struggles of these players represent what thousands have experienced, from the agony of being dropped to the practice squad to the elation of earning a starting job after years of toiling in anonymity.
In 53rd Man: Fighting to Make It in the NFL, John Vampatella shares stories from across the league of those men whose NFL journeys have taken numerous twists and turns, all in an effort to play the game they love at the highest level. The experiences of three men in particular—Geremy Davis, Matthew Slater, and Austin Carr—reveal behind-the-scenes details of what life is really like in the NFL, working day in and day out in the shadows of the superstars. Their stories uncover the anxiety and excitement of the draft, the challenge to get through camp and make an NFL team, and what it takes to survive and thrive in the league.
53rd Man is about football, but it’s also about much more than that. It’s about what it takes to succeed, how to overcome obstacles, how to deal with disappointment, how faith can shine a light in the dark and difficult times, and how to make a difference in the lives of others along the way.
John Vampatella is the Northeast Regional Director with Athletes in Action, part of the larger mission organization Cru that works with college and professional athletes and coaches. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and has broadcast college basketball and football on the radio. Vampatella is the author of The Immigrant, For Good Reason, and The Forgotten Game: Game 5, 2004 ALCS, Yankees at Red Sox.
Chapter 1: A Dream Come True
Chapter 2: Like Father, Like Son
Chapter 3: After Mr. Irrelevant
Chapter 4: An NFL Draft Prospect
Chapter 5: Camp
Chapter 6: From #bleedblue to Big Blue
Chapter 7: The Patriot Way
Chapter 8: The Road to New Orleans
Chapter 9: The Playbook
Chapter 10: Opening Night
Chapter 11: First Game Jitters
Chapter 12: Active!
Chapter 13: The Best Athlete You’ve Ever Known
Chapter 14: Injuries and Setbacks
Chapter 15: Hammies
Chapter 16: Learning the Ropes
Chapter 17: Minnesota Miracle
Chapter 18: 53rd Man Money
Chapter 19: Shaping the 53rd Man
Chapter 20: Serving
Chapter 21: Captain
Chapter 22: Platform
Chapter 23: Victories
Chapter 24: Done
Chapter 25: Giving Back
Chapter 26: Do Justice
Chapter 27: A Helping Hand
About the Author
Sports fans know the scene: a young athlete sitting at home, perhaps surrounded by supporters, watching the unfolding spectacle of the NFL Draft. He sees ebullient, often familiar faces on screen, anticipation building with each round, every phone ring. A call from one of the 32 NFL teams during the league's yearly three-day draft is the high point of many football players’ careers—but that call is merely the beginning. The superstar collegian becomes a lowly rookie who must attend mandatory workouts in the spring and then compete for a spot on a team's 53-man roster that summer. The dozens of "53rd men" profiled in this book hail from different locales and have varied backstories, with a shared goal: breaking through and becoming a playmaker. As author Vampatella (The Forgotten Game, 2021) writes, "NFL fans know the story of Peyton Manning, but they don’t know the stories of these men, whose journeys represent dedication, grit, determination, disappointment, elation, resilience, heartbreak, and joy." With heart, Vampatella tracks each man’s quest to find a home in the NFL and get a shot at football immortality. This is a book that transcends sports and captures the spirit and will of athletes.
Ever wondered what it's like to play pro football? Find out with the 53rd Man: Fighting to Make It in the NFL, a spectacular behind-the-scenes look at the most common and most commonly misunderstood careers in football. Learn from four players, including a three-time Super Bowl champion, and receiver who caught passes from Tom Brady and Drew Brees, how the path to NFL glory is paved with grit, anxiety and hardship. How fragile the line is between in and out, dreams and reality for even the greatest athletes in America's greatest game.
This book is for any person who might be afraid to dream, and dream big. These stories will inspire you to go after whatever big things are on your heart!
53rd Man invites us into the compelling behind-the-scenes drama that goes into making an NFL roster. I felt like I was reading episodes of Hard Knocks that were seasoned with inspiring stories of faith. For any football fan wondering what the daily grind looks like for those on the edge of the roster, this book demands your attention from the first page to the last. Vampatella puts you in the locker room, practice field, and the sideline of the game as these men compete with and against the best the NFL has to offer. Vampatella has given football fans a gift in the 53rd Man!
John Vampatella's 53rd Man: Fighting to Make It in the NFL is a terrific read for fans of all NFL teams. The interesting stories of Geremy Davis, Matthew Slater, Marcell Ateman, and Austin Carr include great behind-the-scenes details and conversations that diehard football fans like me absolutely love! This may be John's best work yet.
Vampatella takes us on an incredible journey through the lives of NFL players and the hard work and dedication they put in both in making it onto an NFL roster, as well as preparing for life after the game. You actually feel as though you're taking the journey with each player, and it's definitely a tough book to put down as you follow each of their stories.
53rd Man uncovers the reality and grit it takes to not only survive in the NFL but also make the most of the opportunities one is given. John Vampatella unpacks the beauty and power of these three athletes' stories—the unknowns, frustrations, missteps, and successes that marked their journey to compete and be successful in the NFL and within their lives. A great read for NFL fans and those who love the behind-the-scenes life and journey in sports.
No matter your football fluency or fervor, these are captivating stories of gifted athletes at the fringe of their dreams. It’s an authentic, humanizing look at the men we often mistakenly see only as a jersey number in a helmet on Sunday sidelines.
5/23/23, Sports Spectrum Magazine’s “Transformed by Jade McCarthy” Podcast: John Vampatella discusses the forthcoming book. Link: https://sportsspectrum.com/transformed/2023/05/25/podcast-john-vampatella-athletes-in-action-director/