The intertwining stories of a Southern football coaching legend, a star quarterback (who would craft his own legend) and the volatile civil rights movement in the early 1960s.
Roberts (History/Purdue Univ.; A Team for America: The Army–Navy Game that Rallied a Nation, 2012, etc.) teams with Krzemienski (History/Ball State Univ.), who has consulted for HBO sports documentaries and who hails from Beaver Falls, Pa., Namath’s hometown. The authors begin with Namath’s arrival in Tuscaloosa, where he would attend the University of Alabama. The school was not his first choice, but his SAT scores were below the requirements at Maryland, Notre Dame and others. The authors then catch us up to speed on Paul “Bear” Bryant’s life and career, the cultural history of football in the South and the steel-manufacturing life along the Beaver River (near where it dumps into the Ohio). Roberts and Krzemienski then proceed in steady chronology, pausing continually to rehearse the history of the civil rights movement. All the major moments are here (unusual in a sports book): the integration of the Southern universities, the Freedom Riders, the murder of James Meredith, the crusaders for segregation (Gov. George Wallace, Bull Connor), the pathetic pace of integration in Southern college sports. When the Crimson Tide ended the 1964 season ranked No. 1 in the nation, they did so without fielding any black players or playing any teams with any black players. Conventional sportswriting is here, too: accounts of games, individual plays, Namath’s knee injury, his draft and signing with the New York Jets. The authors sometimes leap over the line separating reporting from celebrating, offering continual paeans to Bryant’s character and to Namath’s abilities.
A generally appealing blend of eager sportswriting and sober cultural history.