Thursday, September 3, 2009

Book Review: Our Boys

Some of my favorite books are those that follow one team or one conference throughout an entire season, chronicling the ups and downs and inner workings of a season - John Feinstein's "A Season on the Brink" about Bobby Knight and Indiana basketball is a perfect example. Perhaps even more enjoyable is a similar book, but about players and teams I have never heard of, and thus have no preconceived notions about - Feinsten's "The Last Amateurs" and "Fall River Dreams" by Bill Reynolds are great, great books.

I just finished another example of this type in "Our Boys" by Joe Drape, and I have to highly recommend it.  In it Drape covers a full season in the life of the Redmen of Smith Center, Kansas - a high school football team which has won 56 consecutive games, four straight state championships, and outscored their opponents by over 700 points last season, including having jumped to a 72-0 first quarter lead against one team.  However things are looking shaky.  The seniors who had won those four straight championships were gone, and a new group would have to step up. 

Drape does an excellent job of letting us know what things are like in the middle of the country, 90 miles from the nearest McDonald's.  Although the town is obsessed with the football team, they are obsessed about it more like a loving parent than a crazy pyschotic lunatic like that dude who sits next to us at Gopher basketball games.  You get the sense that the streak is nice, but not life or death, and the town seems to truly believe in itself as one big community.  Even the coach is laid back and normal, and the players even miss practice at times for choir concerts or to act in plays.  Two of the players already own their own cattle business.

This was an excellent read - I finished on a single flight from MSP to Philly.  One interesting thing is that I usually hate when a writer interjects themself into the story and makes it partially about them.  Drape actually moved to Smith Center to write this, mixing in with the town folk and becoming a part of the culture, and he manages to write about it without making i tfeel like it's about him - it's clear it's about the town first, the football team second.  Very cool stuff.  Highly recommended.

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