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ISLAND CUP by James Sullivan


Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry

by James Sullivan

Pub Date: July 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60819-527-5
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Friday Night Lights, Northeast division.

Casual sports fans know that in the South, high school football is a religion. However, few may know about a small pocket in the Northeast where the level of teenage football fanaticism is just as high. Even fewer would guess that pocket is centered on two of the most seemingly civilized areas in all of New England, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. For almost 50 years, the Martha's Vineyard High School Vineyarders and the Nantucket High School Whalers have done battle for the Island Cup, the prize given to the winner of their annual gridiron clash. Sullivan (Seven Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin, 2010) discovered that the passion of the players, fans and local media are about this rivalry, and he does an adequate job bringing that story to the page. As in his previous outings, the author is an engaging, detailed storyteller, giving us intimate glimpses into the lives of the players, coaches and locals, and making the intensity of the Whaler-Vineyarder rivalry palpable. He moves back and forth in time, without ever losing control of the material. However, due to the nature of the story, the narrative is a patchwork quilt, and the lack of a singular arc makes it come across as a series of interconnected essays. While this is a more-than-competent, readable book, it's not quite sporty enough for serious football fans and not quite rich enough for hardcore history buffs.

With its soap-operatic storyline, Friday Night Lights transcended geography, but this less linear, more episodic book likely won't resonate far beyond New England.