A fascinating event in the history of football, told in a humdrum style.

READ REVIEW

NOTRE DAME AND THE GAME THAT CHANGED FOOTBALL

HOW JESSE HARPER MADE THE FORWARD PASS A WEAPON AND KNUTE ROCKNE A LEGEND

How the Fighting Irish used their 1913 game against favored Army to become a national football power.

Debut author Maggio begins his history by describing the origins of Notre Dame University and of football in America. The sport began as an activity more similar to soccer than to rugby, with prohibitions against using anything but the feet or head to advance the ball. As it evolved into a more violent contact game, its popularity rose—and so did the controversy surrounding it. In the early years, players did not wear padding or helmets, they could not tackle below the waist and the forward pass was not used as a means of advancing the ball. As a result, the sport became notorious for terrible, sometimes fatal injuries. From 1880 to 1905, more than 325 deaths were reported in college football, a figure that prompted the intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt, himself an admirer of the game. To curb fatalities and injuries, new rules were instituted, including the legalization of the forward pass. The use of this new offensive weapon as a winning strategy came in 1913. Coached by legend Jesse Harper and led by star Knute Rockne, Notre Dame defeated the heavily favored Army team 35-13. This victory revolutionized how football was played and elevated Notre Dame to the college football elite, proving Harper was both a brilliant innovator and a dynamic coach. Unfortunately, Maggio completes his recounting of the historic 1913 game before the text’s midpoint. The remaining pages describe the mostly successful seasons that followed under Harper, Rockne’s ascendance as coach and Harper’s eventual return after Rockne’s death. They often read like an extended box score and are anticlimactic in the extreme.

A fascinating event in the history of football, told in a humdrum style.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-78672-014-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national...

THE UNDEFEATED

THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS AND THE GREATEST WINNING STREAK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

A rousing look at the colorful coach and players who achieved an amazing 47-game winning streak for the Oklahoma Sooners.

In order to have present-day readers understand the true significance of the Sooners, Texas journalist Dent (The Junction Boys, 1999) gives helpful background information about the state where “Big Oil was a dream. But football was a religion.” Oklahomans, still suffering from effects of the Great Depression, also had to contend with the popular perception (perpetuated by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath) of destitution and dispossession. In an attempt to fight the stereotypic Okie image, the University of Oklahoma decided to answer with a winning football team. And win they did. With coach Bud Wilkinson at the helm, from the second game of the 1948 season to the eighth game of the 1957 season, the Sooners compiled a staggering 94–4–2 record. They had winning streaks of 31 games and the fabled 47, which ended painfully at the hands of archrival Notre Dame. Dent avoids the potentially dry, statistical tone and instead provides atmosphere with snappy dialogue and by fleshing out the team, foibles and all. Wilkinson (dubbed “The Great White Father”) believed in a strong team of 22 “lean, fast, hard-boned country boys,” including a good group of second stringers. Besides their play on the field, the team, including the coach, played hard off of it, with women and drinking figuring prominently. Some players stand out, particularly quarterback Jimmy Harris, 1952 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels, Gomer Jones, and the first black player, Prentice Gautt, whose personal struggles to be accepted by his teammates and his treatment under the Jim Crow laws provide some of the more poignant moments here. An epilogue reveals how many of the key people of those teams led, and still lead, productive, successful lives.

Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national news. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26656-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

THAT FIRST SEASON

HOW VINCE LOMBARDI TOOK THE WORST TEAM IN THE NFL AND SET IT ON THE PATH TO GLORY

The exciting chronicle of Vince Lombardi’s pivotal first season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Eisenberg (The Great Match Race: When North Met South in America’s First Sports Spectacle, 2006, etc.) looks back at 1959, a year that witnessed one of the more momentous turnarounds in NFL history. In his first season as a head coach, Lombardi took the one of the worst football teams ever and led it to its first winning season in more than a decade. Having sunk to 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean the year before, the 1959 Packers were expected to win no more than three or four games, but Lombardi righted the ship, steering them to a 7-5 record that year and initiating their run to six championships during his nine-year tenure as head coach. How the stout, brash Brooklyn native was able to transform a directionless assemblage of players into a gridiron behemoth is as much the subject of Eisenberg’s exhaustively researched account as his thrilling description of each game. Relying on period articles and interviews with key players from the Lombardi dynasty, the author convincingly shows that the coach’s fierce work ethic, militaristic-style training camps, perfectionist tendencies, belief in fitness and ability to instill confidence in his players were as central to the team’s metamorphosis as his brilliance as a game-play strategist. Though his “sarcastic, critical” coaching style didn’t always endear him to the players, when they saw the results of his simple, run-centered offense and powerful zone defense, he soon won their trust.

A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-618-90499-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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