Feinstein, author of the bestselling A Good Walk Spoiled (1995), again delivers the goods, this time chronicling the 1995 season of the West Point and Annapolis football teams, culminating in their annual game.
Once a contest that factored heavily in deciding the national college football championship, the annual Army-Navy showdown has gradually been relegated to something approaching sideshow status. Still, to Cadets and Midshipmen alike, no other event during the year means as much as the chance to wrest honor from their rival academy. Feinstein sets the scene by recounting how rigid military discipline and withering academic standards combine to make football at West Point and Annapolis unlike football at any other division I schools. As one former coach says, "At every other school in America, the hardest part of any football player's day is football practice. At the military academies, the easiest part of a football player's day is football practice.'' Going into the 1995 season, Army and Navy seemed to be headed in opposite directions. Rocked by a series of academic scandals and other tragedies, Navy's morale was low. The West Point team, by contrast, seemed to be brimming with optimism and spirit. During the course of the season, however, both teams played with enough grit and skill to restore some luster to their somewhat tarnished football reputations. Both pulled off a few upsets; both won most of the games they were supposed to win; both lost close games to their mutual pigskin rival, Notre Dame. For Navy, however, the season's real goal was to break Army's recent stranglehold on the series. Army also had a lot at stake: namely, the chance for the team's seniors to be the first Cadet class since 1948 to go 4-0 against Navy.
The game, a narrow one-point victory for Army, provided a stunning climax to the season. It also supplies a stirring ending for this exceptional book.