Hit the quarterback. Hit the mook. This tale of crime and penalty focuses on a local antihero who did plenty of both.
Kelly, a member of the conference-winning Saint Don Bosco Technical High School team of 1974, tells two stories. The first is a fairly ordinary football memoir: the team owes it all to God and coach, and it’s made up of stock types such as “the guy who always talked the talk because he knew he could back up every word” and the boy who, “easy to talk to…is quiet, intelligent, and dependable.” In this case, the coach, Jack Clyde Dempsey, was an upstanding fellow who had an unusually sophisticated way of reading the field and the stances of the opposing players: “The offensive lineman knows when the ball is being hiked,” he says. “You don’t. Picking up on these clues helps you to neutralize his advantage.” Pop Warner or pro, a player can learn a thing or two from Kelly’s pages when Dempsey talks. There are fine turns in this aspect of the book, as Kelly reveals the scarifying effect of his mother’s suicide and the grit required of a kid growing up motherless and Catholic on the edge of a very bad neighborhood. Less successful is the second story, built on the revelation, mired in mounds of cliché, that Dempsey later moved on to being a hit man for hire, eventually a fugitive and a fixture on the FBI wanted list. There’s not much drama in what ought to be a tense, frightening situation, and the best words here again belong to the now coked-up yet eminently reasonable Dempsey and not the author: “If I hurt someone right away, then we’ll never get our money,” he explains. “But if I’m coming to visit someone three, four times, and they haven’t made a payment, well…things might get a little rough.”
Well-intended but best read by 60-something fans of Boston ball.