A passionate defense of college football, "a sport that often defies rational sense."
Sports on Earth writer Weinreb (The Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team, 2007) reviews the events and history of 10 significant games he believes have shaped college football and identifies issues that remain as hotly debated since the game's inception in the late 1800s. Since the beginning, college football's old guard railed against a changing, more progressive culture (Weinreb's profile of Ohio State's reactionary head coach Woody Hayes is especially edifying), such as the invention of the forward pass in 1895, the integration of Southern schools in the 1960s, and the dogged opposition to a playoff system to definitively crown a national champion, relying instead on "a perpetual argument" that both engaged and enraged fans for decades. (What Weinreb calls the sport's "ultimate irresolvability" will come to an end with the 2014 season, when the four-team playoff system will begin.) Even as far back as 1905, the sport's governing body questioned whether students should be paid. Weinreb's descriptions of the characters and plays in many games in the latter half of the century are engaging and often very funny, and his recollections of his beloved hometown Penn State Nittany Lions are sentimental without being mawkish. His style is cheeky and humorous throughout, though some of his references will go over the heads of readers who are not pop-culture savvy. These readers will be baffled by the author's calling an especially pompous and pious coach as "more Yeezus than Jesus" and exasperated when he describes the mascot of the cocksure Miami Hurricanes as resembling "a sleazed-out Howard the Duck after a night of Courvoisier."
Humor missteps aside, this is entertaining and enlightening for both rabid fans and newbies.