Book Review – Football Wife: Coming of Age with the NFL as Mrs. Karl Kassulke

Football Wife: Coming of Age with the NFL as Mrs. Karl Kassulke
By Jan Thatcher Adams
Franklin Green Publishing
Copyright 2011
269 pages

Rating – 7.5/10

Summary – Football Wife is a readable, true story about the rise and fall of a celebrity couple’s marriage. Though the book suffers from many of the problems that plague autobiographies, it is difficult to put down.

Review – Way back in 1962, an over-achieving Drake University freshman, Jan Thatcher, participated in a “Powderpuff” football game. As luck would have it, she caught the eye of Karl Kassulke, a Drake football star who would play in the pros for the Minnesota Vikings. By summer 1963, Thatcher and Kassulke had begun a tumultuous marriage.

The story that unfolds in Football Wife is both the story of the Kassulkes’ marriage and of America during the 1960s and early-1970s. For Adams, there were many triumphs as she became a mother twice, graduated from medical school, and hobnobbed with the beautiful people of the NFL and of Minneapolis-St. Paul. At the same time, her life was deeply troubled as her marriage deteriorated due to drug abuse, infidelity, and other problems.

Though not the typical “tell all,” Football Wife has plenty of juicy material to keep the pages turning. Adams discusses the 1960s jock culture and how it encouraged Karl’s worst side. One scene details how Adams contracted gonorrhea from Karl, after he had engaged in an affair. The gonorrhea eventually left Adams sterile and unable to have sex without severe pain. (Potential readers should know that Adams spares them no details when it comes to her many medical problems).

Karl Kassulke's 1971 Topps football card

Lately, the problem of concussions and other injuries among NFL players has received much attention. Adams discusses the many injuries Karl suffered, including a time when he played several games with a broken leg. Though she offers nothing definitive on the impact of Karl’s many concussions, she does recount a time in 1971 when he could not remember a trip to the zoo one day after the visit.

Based on the reviews posted on Amazon.com, Karl’s family’s is extremely unhappy with the book. It is not difficult to see why they are upset. Though Adams is ambivalent about Karl, she is very negative about his family – especially his father, Otto. If I were a member of Karl’s family, I wouldn’t like Football Wife, either. Having said that, I don’t think that it’s a deliberate “hatchet job.” As with all autobiographies, this is one person’s version of the truth.

Better editing could have improved Football Wife. Football fans will be disappointed in the many errors in Adam’s account. Here are a few that I noticed:

1)   (Page 85) She writes that, in 1964, Carl Eller was the first of the famed “Purple People Eater” defensive linemen to join the Vikings. In fact, it was Jim Marshall in 1961.

2)   (Page 120) Adams states that in “December 1965” the Vikings were embroiled in turmoil that resulted in Coach Norm Van Brocklin’s resignation and quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s trade to the New York Giants. Those events actually occurred a year later (following the 1966 season).

3)   (Page 135) The text notes that when Adams’ son was working on his master’s degree at USC, the Trojans’ head football coach was Karl’s old teammate, Joe Kapp. Kapp was the head coach at Berkeley, not USC.

In 1973, Jane and Karl divorced and Karl suffered devastating injuries in a motorcycle accident that ended his NFL career. For these post-1973 events, Adams ties her life story – and those of her sons – together in a few short pages. Though logical – given that the marriage to Karl is the center of the book – the quick finish gives the ending a rushed, unsatisfying quality.

For all of my quibbles, I like this book. This story of “a life less ordinary” holds the reader throughout its 270 pages.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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