My review of If These Walls Could Talk; Stories from the Chicago Bears Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box, with Otis Wilson and Chet Coppock.
There are some books that you pick up and just simply can’t put down because the narrative is so compelling, you will sacrifice sleep, food, and water to know what happens. There are some books that you have to put down after each chapter because the beauty of the prose needs time to sit on your tongue like good bourbon on an autumn evening. Otis Wilson’s new book – co-written with Chet Coppock, does not fall into either category as the narrative is too short and disjointed to allow any rhythm for the reader to enjoy a great reading experience. What this book does is capture a lot of unfiltered opinions from a charismatic, all-time Bears player on everything from why Mike Ditka was a terrible coach to the coaching decisions that wasted the talents of Devin Hester to commentary on everyone’s favorite punching bag, Jay Cutler.
I would describe my experience reading this book akin to listening to your uncle talk about anything and everything after a couple of those aforementioned bourbon’s at the holidays – if your uncle happens to be a former world class athlete on the most dominant defense to ever play the game. Wilson and his “takes” are the centerpiece of the book, with sprinkled testimony from the likes of Steve McMichael and Dennis McKinnon, with the overarching narrative from Coppock. Some passages are fascinating – like his bond with Buddy Ryan and his true feelings about the skill and tenacity of some of his teammates (spoiler alert: he’s got some issues with Mike Singletary). Other passages play hopscotch with the line between confident and cocky and can get a little old to hear what could’ve happened if only X.
Wilson has lived a charmed life to match his million dollar smile. He has played basketball with President Obama and Michael Jordan and held his own with both. Wilson and the cast of characters involved all believe many of the Chicago Bears players from the 1985 team deserve to be enshrined in Canton or would be there with only a good break or two to go their way. The best case is laid out for Steve McMichael, but Wilson gives ink to Jay Hilgenberg and Jim Covert too. All three deserve induction in my opinion, but writers get fatigued and may feel they have moved on from that moment in time – particularly with just the one ring. Again, if only…
I found myself having arguments with Wilson on some of his takes on the recent past or current events, but I was more than willing to buy into his analysis of his era of football. Specifically, I was incredibly frustrated by the Jay Cutler chapter. I wouldn’t consider myself a Cutler apologist, but I do think some of the narrative around him was utter nonsense and was disappointed to read Wilson parrot media hot takes. (For specifics, you’ll have to buy the book or get it from your local library.)
I think Coppock’s goal in presenting the book the way he did was that he felt Otis Wilson was standalone quotable and didn’t want to water down his takes. Building compelling narrative is difficult work, but I think it his narrative decision short changes the impact of Wilson’s words. Wilson tends to meander through topics, weaving out of his lane in his commentary in a way that feels unfocused. Coppock could have mitigated that by building a book around the quotable Wilson, not just teeing up unfiltered diatribes. Coppock’s love and admiration of Wilson shine through the whole book – and I think that’s what makes this book an entertaining read but nothing approaching a literary achievement. If the goal of the book was to help fans gain a greater appreciation of Wilson by showing his unabashed character, Coppock may have ended up letting him down by letting him stand on his own. Coppock needed to be the defensive end to set the edge, not the cheerleader on the sidelines.
In the end, my recommendation is to buy the book and take it for what it’s worth – a showcase of one of the most underappreciated members of the best defense in Chicago Bears and NFL history. Dig into the stories with Wilson and see if you agree with him or find yourself shaking your head at certain passages like I did. Either way, most if not all of the topics in the book will interest even casual Bears fans or fans of the NFL at large.