A TV newsman looks back on his years as a struggling college football player in a tale equal parts perspiration and inspiration.
Stewart recounts his trials and occasional triumphs, sometimes on the field but more often on the sidelines, at Northwestern University, a school better known for journalists than jocks. The book chronicles the bruising emotional and physical pain an athlete can endure while trying but mostly failing to become great. For Stewart, a walk-on—a player not deemed worthy of scouting or a scholarship—it’s four years of “torment and torture.” He survives agonizing injuries, grueling workouts, nasty tongue-lashings from coaches who sometimes can’t even remember his name, “toxic fumes of body odor” in the locker room and occasional hazing by teammates who like to throw cups of urine around in the showers. A teetotaling Lutheran from suburban Omaha, Stewart has to adapt to players who drink, smoke pot, take steroids and fix games. Meanwhile, desperate coaches use any means necessary—from motivational speakers to painting the locker room pink—to turn around the perennially losing team whose fans chant “We are the worst!” Somehow, it all works out; by Stewart’s junior year, he and the team go all the way to the Rose Bowl, even though he’s a benchwarmer for much of the game and the season. He sometimes comes off as a prattling pundit of positivism—“One of our best practices ever!”—but there’s reason for it. He starts his college career as a fifth-string safety, and after four years of “pain, soreness, and fatigue,” he finishes on the second string. Yet he summons a stoic acceptance of his lot: “I realized I would never be as good as I wanted to be.” In a way, the message may be curiously appropriate for our dismal times. Even so, Stewart can’t give up without an optimistic parting shot: “Set high goals because even if you fall short, you’ll still go farther than you ever imagined.”
Engrossing as a cautionary tale for would-be football players and as an inside look at the rough-and-tumble world of college football.