A fun, frenetic memoir of one of the more volatile college gridiron campaigns in recent memory.

Attention college-football fanatics: If you couldn’t find your way to either the Golden Dome in South Bend or the Swamp in Gainesville last season, never fear, Austin Murphy (How Tough Could It Be?: The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad, 2004, etc.) is here.

College football always has its share of soap-operatic story lines, but the 2006-07 season was about as gripping as it gets. It had enigmatic Coach Urban Meyer overseeing the University of Florida juggernaut, Notre Dame quarterback/golden boy Brady Quinn going through a roller-coaster senior year and the University of Southern California Trojans trying to pick up the pieces in their first post–Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart season. For these college football powers, the year had a compelling natural arc, making their parallel journeys a natural subject for a book-length memoir from an intrepid, fly-on-the-wall reporter. Enter Murphy. Once referred to by Dallas Cowboys behemoth Nate Newton as “that preppy motherf***** from Sports Illustrated,” Murphy wears his love for the sport on his sleeve (or, in this case, on the page). Rather than merely cover the season, he takes a put-the-author-into-the-story tack, a tricky approach that succeeds thanks primarily to his unabashed enthusiasm, unpretentiousness and insider access. Nothing is taken too seriously, which is exactly the way it should be; after all, it’s just a bunch of kids playing ball. The prose is loose, the reportage at times flat-out comedic—think Frank Deford meets Nick Bakay. Murphy also makes the wise choice to periodically step away from college football, reporting on Terrell Owens’s suicide attempt, professional golfers and his fellow journalists. All of which is why you don’t have to be a Trojan, or a Gator, or a Buckeye or even a college football aficionado to appreciate this book—you just have to be a sports fan.

A fun, frenetic memoir of one of the more volatile college gridiron campaigns in recent memory.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-137577-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007



A new convert to the game of football, Oppenheimer (Private Demons, 1988) decided to observe, record, and analyze the daily activity of her son's 1988 Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School team. Like the team's season, the results are mixed. Toby, senior offensive lineman in only his second year, didn't like the idea: ``What seventeen-year-old wants his mother hanging around a locker room?'' The BCC Barons and head coach Pete White, meanwhile, felt there was reason for optimism despite going 5-5 in 1987, their best record in years. ``Win 8 in '88 and go to state!'' was the battle cry. The talent at this ethnically diverse, affluent suburban school included a 300-lb. center, a 5'-6'' Korean linebacker, a swift Jamaican running back, and an assortment of blacks, Asians, and white kids more inclined toward soccer. It wasn't always a comfortable mix. As Oppenheimer follows their progress, she scrutinizes their attitudes toward one another and the coaches, toward winning and losing, their sex lives, and their use of drugs and alcohol. Fighting off her own anxieties—``Zen and the art of football parenting''—about her son, she rarely inserts herself in the picture but allows the boys to speak in their own, often inarticulate, tiresome way: But I'm, like, okay, so I go, and he goes.... There's a disappointing opening game; a racist coach (``black kids...were more arrogant, tougher, meaner''); a bitter, injury-rife, one-point loss to rival Einstein; the boys' cockiness following the homecoming victory; and, finally, the season-ending trouncing at the hands of ``mammoth, untouchable, abandon-all-hope'' Gaithersburg. The annual banquet, despite the 4-6 record, would toast individual achievements and look toward next year. At times self-conscious and shrill (the locker room, ``a place for the ancient rites of grabass'') and at other times perceptive, but Oppenheimer never quite puts it all together. Rather like missing the point after.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-68754-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991



An engaging journey through, as poet Merrill puts it, ``the enchanted lands of soccer.'' When, in 1990, the US team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, Merrill (an avid amateur soccer player) followed the team through preliminary games stateside and then to Italy for the month-long tournament. The Americans were 500-1 underdogs, given little chance to do more than make a brave showing, especially with Bob Gansler at the helm, a coach so conservative and defense-oriented that his own players had sworn to scrap his game plan. In the opening game, Merrill says, Czechoslovakia ``outclassed'' the US in ``skill, speed, strength, tactics, and creativity,'' but in the second game—largely through the play of New Jersey goalie Tony Meola—the Americans scored a moral victory against heavily favored Italy, to whom they lost by only one goal. The third game, though, against Austria, was an ugly loss marred by ineptness and fighting. As Merrill progresses through the World Cup play (finally won by West Germany in a brutal match against defending champion Argentina, signaling the imminent downfall of superstar player Diego Maradona, whose drug and prostitution connections would bring him to disgrace and banishment), he offers lovely and knowing passages on the art, architecture, and ambience of Italy's cities and provides deep historical background and understanding of the game of soccer itself. Of particular interest are his insights into why ``the world's most popular game'' has never caught on in sports-mad America. The rarity of goals, Merrill contends, has ``doomed'' soccer in a country ``hooked on instant gratification'': Americans want to see lots of scoring but, ``like poetry and jazz, soccer is a subtle art, a game of nuance.'' An intelligent and literate work that could broaden American interest in soccer in time for our 1994 hosting—for the first time ever—of the World Cup.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2771-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1993

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