Dawgs, Gators, Vols, and the Crimson Tide mix it up in this lively, panoramic look at the 1999 Southeast Conference Football season.
Newsweek reporter (and Tennessee grad) Ernsberger organizes his story around four big games: Florida-Tennessee, Florida-Georgia, Auburn-Alabama, and (in the championship) Florida-Alabama. He conveys the great fun these contests hold for the fan: RVs, cookouts, drinking, and school rituals that make for an enjoyable weekend. Florida Gator fans, for example, were so loyal they drove through Hurricane Floyd to make the Tennessee game in Gainesville. Between games, Ernsberger portrays a variety of SEC figures. Steve Spurrier of Florida and Phillip Fulmer of Tennessee attempt to win another national championship. Vanderbilt’s Woody Widenhofer recruits across the country to keep up with the bigger state schools. Jerry DiNardo of LSU gets fired. Players—Shaun Alexander (a star at Alabama) and Ainsley Battles (a solid player at Vanderbilt)—balance football with good academic work. Joe Harrington, the Video Guy at Tennessee, supervises six cameramen and has a $25,000 budget just for videotape. Recruiting high-school stars is critical business, and Bobby Burton provides the latest news at his Web site (rivals.com): Albert “the House that Moves” Means is a Memphis high-school standout and has his choice of schools. (Lynn Lang, his coach, guides him, keeps an eye on his studies, and drives a new $30,000 vehicle soon after Means decides to go to Alabama.) Better editing would have improved Ernsberger’s account, and fans of Ole Miss, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Mississippi Sate will be angry at his neglect of their programs.
But, overall, this is a good blend of the excitement of big-game weekends and the Machiavellian world of recruiting, coaching, and managing alumni at large competitive universities.