The man who might have been king of the Green Bay Packers gets his due in a football novel that also has elements of a memoir.
This book fictionalizes the story of Tom Hearden, who was almost hired by the Green Bay Packers instead of Vince Lombardi. Framing the novel is an account of Janson Mancheski’s (Mask of Bone, 2013, etc.) return to his childhood home to interview his father, Alvin, the co-author of this novel, who knew Hearden as a coach and mentor. This device does little for the book other than to help to explain the provenance of the story. The pace of the novel picks up, however, as it moves into Hearden’s childhood. Moving to Green Bay with his family, he encounters football for the first time, and his father tells him: “There’s a game that will never catch fire. There’s no strategy—not like there is with baseball.” But Hearden has found the first love of his life. In these early years, he forms relationships with future celebrities, including Packers founder Curly Lambeau. But this isn’t just a story about football; it’s a story about love in many forms. The book offers a nuanced profile of Hearden’s life, a big part of which was his wife, Marion. Tracing their romance from high school onward, the narrative lovingly renders the shy, awkward Hearden and the lovely, sassy Marion, the good woman behind a good man. Hearden’s sometimes-rocky relationship with his father is also grounded in realistic details. His father’s lack of appreciation for football puts the two at odds as he doesn’t believe his son will make a good living off of it. The book artfully draws its characters out of history, restoring life and blood to them. Hearden takes a job with the Green Bay Packers as an assistant coach in 1929 and later marries and has children. Then—just when his dream job, head coach of the Packers, opens up and he seems in line for it—tragedy strikes. But this is not a story about the caprices of fate but of the ways we choose to live our lives to the fullest, always striving for our dreams. As Marion says of her husband: “He was never boastful or self-serving; he chose, instead, to live his life in a humble and honorable way.”
A rich mix of history, football and characters casts its subject as an incredible man who could have been a legend.