A wryly spun tale of waning warriors.

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JUST KICK IT

TALES OF AN UNDERDOG, OVER-AGE, OUT-OF-PLACE SEMI-PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER

Amusing and poignant journal of the author’s first-ever season in organized football—at age 39.

The adventure began in 2004, when St. Amant, a Division III soccer player back in college, got talked into a season tryout as a kicker with the Boston Panthers in the semi-pro Eastern Football League. The lily-white, five-foot-eight, 160-pound author found himself on a chewed-up high-school football field mingling with a bunch of African-American men, most of them a lot younger and a few of them nearly 200 pounds heavier. St. Amant hailed from Beacon Hill, one of Boston’s posh addresses; his teammates were from tough, predominantly black towns like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan. Hoping to become the team’s first regular kicker (lacking one, the coach preferred two-point tries after every touchdown), the author was initially regarded almost as a mascot. Despite never having kicked a football in his life—and few balls of any kind since college—he gradually caught on, but head coach Pittman maintained a wary skepticism, forgoing field-goal tries for fourth-down Hail Mary plays as the Panthers went 2-2 early in the season. St. Amant’s candid portraits of his teammates, some of whom become his drinking buddies, lend insight into the life of the typical semi-pro player: a guy who might have made it in college and maybe even had a shot at the NFL, but who never got the breaks; battered and aging, he just can’t give up the game. The Panthers often beat themselves with careless play and needless penalties, but as St. Amant developed his leg, things improved and the team gelled. The Panthers made the playoffs, then blew the big one. But “the worst defeat of all,” declares the author, would have been living so close to his African-American peers and never meeting or playing with them.

A wryly spun tale of waning warriors.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8675-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

THE SWEET SEASON

A SPORTSWRITER REDISCOVERS FOOTBALL, FAMILY, AND A BIT OF FAITH AT MINNESOTA’S ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE

Sports and human interest intertwine as a man rediscovers the pureness of amateur sports as well as the joys of family life.

Journalist Murphy spends a much-needed sabbatical from his stint at Sports Illustrated by taking his family to rural Collegeville, Minnesota, in order to interact with the coach and players at St. John’s, a small Benedictine college, which happens to have the best record in college football history. Through 2000, the Johnnies have won the conference title 23 times, advanced to the national playoffs 16 times, advanced to the title game 4 times, and have won it 3 times—thanks mainly to its head coach, John Gagliardi, the NCAA’s winningest active coach (second on the all-time list to the retired Eddie Robinson) and a regional celebrity. Gagliardi is a friendly and sometimes elusive, Yoda-like coach who insists that his quarterbacks call their own plays and who hides a strategist’s mind behind an unassuming style. But besides Gagliardi, and talented players such as Tom Linnemann, it is the atmosphere of the school itself that Murphy credits with the success of the Johnnies. At first experiencing some culture shock, Murphy and his family settle into life at this place where the Benedictine monks set the reflective tone and unhurried pace. And while Murphy gets involved with the team, he also reconnects with his wife, Laura, and his two young children. With appealing humor, Murphy recounts how he acquires newfound respect for what his wife goes through on a daily basis and how, in turn, Laura sees in her husband “more of the guy she fell in love with.” The epilogue gives a brief synopsis of the 2000–01 year, when the Johnnies lost to Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl.

More than just a game book of college football, The Sweet Season at the innocent appeal of sports in everyday life.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-019547-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.

SUMMER OF '68

THE SEASON THAT CHANGED BASEBALL--AND AMERICA--FOREVER

During one of the most tumultuous years in our history, a remarkable baseball season unfolded.

In 1968, most baseball players had to work a second job to make ends meet. There were no wild-card teams or division winners. That year the Detroit Tigers became only the third club in history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the powerful St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. Showcasing this looming match-up, Wendel (Writing/Johns Hopkins Univ.; High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time, 2010, etc.) foreshortens the season by focusing on the stories of individual Tigers Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe and, especially, pitchers Denny McLain, who won an astonishing 31 games, and Mickey Lolich, the Series MVP. The author also looks at Cardinal stars Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda and especially pitcher Bob Gibson, among the game’s all-time greatest. He charts the thrilling Series game by game. More intriguing, though, is the season’s unique backdrop: the “Year of the Pitcher” in baseball and the national turmoil surrounding the sports world. In addition to McLain and Gibson’s heroics (both won the Cy Young and MVP awards), the season saw five no-hitters (including a perfect game by Catfish Hunter), a consecutive game strikeout record by Luis Tiant and an unprecedented scoreless innings streak by Don Drysdale. Meanwhile, the country was falling apart. Urban riots and massive antiwar demonstrations helped persuade LBJ not to run again. By the time the Chicago Democratic Convention exploded in the streets, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had already been assassinated. Wendel touches briefly on how the year agitated other sports, but he focuses on the baseball story and the athletes accustomed to ignoring the outside world. They found that impossible to do in the chaotic year of ’68.

An appealing mix of baseball and cultural history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-82018-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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