Sports Illustrated staffer Anderson (The All Americans, 2004, etc.) chronicles a 1912 game that proved a turning point not just for college football, but for the sport as a whole.
Before Jim Thorpe had his Olympic medals taken away, before Dwight Eisenhower became president and before Glenn “Pop” Warner became synonymous with Little League football, all three men tore up the gridiron with a reckless abandon that reflected their single-minded, Type-A personalities. On November 9, 1912, the threesome came together on the field. Eisenhower was a linebacker for the Army football wrecking crew; Warner coached Carlisle Indian School’s gritty squad, including star halfback Thorpe, fresh from his triumph at the summer Olympics in Stockholm. Army was a national powerhouse, and few gave Carlisle’s team of Native Americans a chance to even keep the score close. But Warner’s troops more than held their own in this battle of styles and cultures, galvanized by their coach’s pre-game speech: “it was the fathers and grandfathers of these Army players who…killed your fathers and grandfathers…who destroyed your way of life.” Anderson’s reportage is balanced, according equal import and respect to Native Americans and military men. The three protagonists’ backstories get more or less equal time; Thorpe’s early life was by far the most fascinating, so he merits a few more pages. This evenhandedness makes the book extra-involving, since readers can simply enjoy the game without taking sides. Whether or not it was “football’s greatest battle” (many would nominate the 1982 AFC divisional playoff between Miami and San Diego), Anderson proves that this 1912 clash certainly deserves a full-length book.
Gripping, inspiring coverage of three powerful forces’ unforgettable convergence: the sports version of The Perfect Storm.