Customer Reviews: The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Championship Team
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on January 2, 2000
I heard about this book on sports radio in NY. Mike Francessa claimed it was one of the best books he had read and I second that remark. I am not a avid reader of books but finished this one in 2 days. If you are a sports enthusiast don't miss this epic story of the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant. How one man created a championship program by running his new team into the ground, seeing who wished to remain standing with him on the sidelines of Texas A&M. The book shows how the strength of a coach and the courage of just a few players can overcome all odds. Jim Dent takes you to Junction, Texas and to the campus of A&M with these brave players. This book will not disappoint and it will open your eyes to what the true meaning of competition and rivalries are all about. There are so many inspiring stories that it will leave you with a lasting impression on what hard work can do for not only a team, but individuals who give their all for that team! From now on I'm rooting for the Aggies!
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on May 7, 2012
The story of the Junction boys, Bear Bryant's first team at Texas A&M, is Texas legend, almost mythology by now. It's a compelling story but one not done justice here. The author, Jim Dent, is addicted to cliche and writes like the sports guy at a small-town newspaper.

But worse than the prose is the overall shallowness of the book. Dent, so intent on furthering the legend, never asks any of the questions a normal person, much less a professional journalist, would ask. Bear Bryant was, famously, iconically, obsessed with character and discipline and toughness and staying power. That is, he was obsessed with his players having those attributes. Personally, he a) openly and admittedly cheated, paying for players, among other infractons b) couldn't remain faithful to his wife c) couldn't quit drinking or smoking and also had some gambling issues later in life. Dent never even wonders at the paradox, hypocrisy or irony of any of this. In the final chapter, Dent gives some details on players who went on to be professionally successful and who credited Bryant with making them so. Did these men also follow Bryant in that regard? Were they, too, professional successes with terrible character flaws? Dent doesn't say.

Bryant also, at least as described in the book, had different rules and standards for different players. He waffled on his own rules right after making them. He endangered the lives of a few players, forcing them beyond exhaustion and heat stroke, while taking it easier on others. He comes across as capricious, almost crazy, more like Kim Jong Il than George Washington.

The coach also comes across, at least at this stage of his career, as incompetent, handling his players poorly, playing them at positions for which they were ill-suited, altogether ignoring one great talent, possibly the best he'd ever see as a coach. I'm not a Bryant scholar, haven't read any of the biographies, and maybe some of those books would tell me more, but there's little in The Junction Boys to suggest that he was even half the coach he's reputed to have been. He seems to have been a great recruiter, albeit a crooked one. Maybe he won simply because he was able to load his teams with (often ill-gotten) talent. Of course he never coached in the NFL where recruiting is largely taken out of the equation and a coach has to be a master of the x's and o's. Dent never even tries to tell us what made Bryant's teams win.

The other obvious thing Dent misses is: what about the seventy five or so players who quit the Junction training camp? Not one of those guys is interviewed, only the ones who stayed and loved Bryant and would be interested in furthering his legend.

Bryant's legacy in terms of his influence on other coaches is another area left unexplored. His belief that 'toughness' was more important than speed or skill or execution or anything else was prevalent, even dominant for a long time, not so much at the collegiate or professional levels but definitely in high school football. I don't live in the South anymore and I'm not close to the high school football scene anywhere but I still read, every year or so, about a player being 'conditioned' to death during two-a-days. I know Bryant didn't start this sort of practice and he was never the only one doing it but he was the most prominent. How much of it still goes on and how much of that is still attributable to Bryant's influence is not entirely determinable but it would have been nice if Dent had looked at the issue.

Again, though, this is a compelling story, one that's fascinated Texas and, really, the entire South, for a long time. I read this book quickly, even with all its flaws. I just wish a better writer would have written it, some modern-day Melville maybe. It's pretty easy to see Bryant as Captain Ahab, standing out on the dusty practice field at Junction, Texas, getting crazier and crazier, driving his crew to ruin. Robert Penn Warren, who fashioned Huey Long into Willie Stark in All the King's Men, might also have been up to the task, having seen the way the tawdry and the grandiose co-exist, the way a great man can fall. But Dent's a newspaperman, not a poet, and his small talent fails this big story.
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on January 24, 2003
Though worshipful of football coach and icon Bear Bryant, the author exposes a vile, shameful side to the well-beloved coach. Inheriting a Texas A & M football program in steep decline, Coach Bryant bussed his 110 players to the west Texas town of Junction for pre-season practice in August,1954 without having scouted the fields and team barracks his team would use for two weeks. When Bryant, his coaches and his players arrived in Junction, they stumbled across playing fields of cactus, essentially desert without grass. Junction, Texas had not received more than a scattering of rain for about five years and the terain looked it. Bryant worked his boys long and hard in the 100+ degree heat and allowed no water breaks. By the time the team embarked back to the university, the Aggies had dwindled to 35 players. Each night of the nightmare saw groups of players turn their backs on their scholarships, and in many cases their futures, escaping the torture camp which was Bryant's Junction. Sadly, many of the boys were in similar straights as Dennis Goehring, who stuck it out. Goehring's family had lost their ranch due to the six year west Texas drought. For Goehring, leaving Junction would have amounted to destitution. Goehring toughed it out. As did Jack Pardee, a future professional star as a player and coach. But even Pardee, tough as nails and an oil roughneck at 15 years of age to support his struggling family, collapsed and fainted on the practice field at Junction. Billy Schoeder collapsed as well and was kicked by Bryant as Schroeder lay helpless and unconcsious. Schroeder was taken to a doctor just in time to save his life from heat stroke and would never be the same physically. This whipped team would win only one game in 1954. But for an opening game trouncing, the Aggies played doggedly throughout the season. A national title would await in 1956 for Jack Pardee, Gene Stallings, Heisman trophy winner John David Crow (who, as a freshman in 1954, did not attend Junction) and the Aggies. Today, in reflection, it is easy to agree that what Bryant did to his players at Junction was appalling. He even agreed. Yet it must be said that Bryant formed a great team at Junction. More importantly, almost every boy who stuck it out at Junction became very successful in later life. Yet, at what cost? It is fascinating that two Junction survivors, Hall and Huddleston, refused to attend a 25th Junction anniversary party that included the legendary Bryant. The two believed that the 75 boys who had staggered away from Junction in dejection in August, 1954 should have been included in any sort of Junction party. The author is weak in several areas. He shows little analytical ability. None of the assistant coaches seem to have been interviewed. Details are filled in by only a small group of players, a great weakness in Dent's research. Also, Dent revels pointlessly in the telling of the joyful experiences of several Aggies at the LaGrange Chicken Ranch, made famous nationally since by musicals and a song by the rock band ZZ Top. Dent also is mistaken if he thinks Bob Wills sang "Faded Love" or any other of his band's songs. Wills was a musician and an arranger, but never sang with his musical outfit. He limited himself to making quirky comments during the songs, sometimes cajoling his singer and band.
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on December 12, 1999
Before there was Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden or Lou Holtz, there was the incomparable Bear Bryant. Kids today act as if today's coaches are insufferable, or unbearable to work under, but most kids never knew Bear Bryant or even heard of the fabled coach.
Dent retells the tale of how 111 boys went into the Texas backwoods, and how only 35 survived. When you finish this book, it's hard to believe what the boys had to put up through, and why some of them even stayed around. Although the yarn of Junction is covered through only a few chapters, it's important to know how the Texas A&M program came from the ashes before Bryant to a respected and fear team after Junction.
From this book you'll learn the meaning of perseverance, dedication and hard work. You'll never complain about how hard something is until you've been put through Junction. A town during the mid 50's that was in drought and just about desolate.
Then you'll learn about who Bear Bryant is. A man who didn't know the meaning of quit. Who knew hard work and the will to win. If you thought Lombardi or a Parcells or even a Bobby Knight was incorrigible, then you never met Bear Bryant. If you want to pick up a great book on everything described above, then the Junction Boys is the place to start.
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on December 13, 1999
This book, gives a wonderful insight not only into how Coach Bryant forged a championship team, but also into how he forged his own greatest coaching years.
Although the 10 days at Junction were brutal (the squeamish and soft-hearted should find another book to read)the results produced a group of players and men who were and remain both tough and successful.
The 10 days also made Coach Bryant aware that he'd probably gone too far. His practices at Texas A&M and Alabama remained as tough and demanding as any ever were in college football. But "Junction" was never repeated.
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on May 16, 2000
Bear Bryant was a master at getting the most out of the men that played for him, and this story is the standard by which the rest of his life was lived. Compassion overwhelms you as you read this book. You feel compelled to cheer on the survivors no matter what they undertook, for they simply went through hell for ten days in Junction, TX with the devil himself conducting drills. They had more heart in them than the whole National Football League has in them today. By today's standards, Coach would have been considered cruel and insensitive. Yet he managed to have so many successful years at coaching because he knew how and with whom he could build a team. He knew who had character and he knew who had heart. This book I highly recommend for the humor, for the drama and for the all of the characters of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Football Team of 1954.
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on July 23, 2012
Dent's book about Bryant, his torture experiece, and some other things is an OK sports book, but just OK. It is real thin, and as many such books do, contains a lot of supposedly verbatim convesations that the author could have not possibly known to be true. What I am a total loss to understand is how anyone could write or read this book and think Bryant was some sort of hero. He is a total loser. He is lucky he didn't kill some of his players, and even he admits some of his actions to run players off was wrong. Other sources on Bryant point out that he left a lot to be desired in the character category, something which the author didn't even address. Bryant took over a hundred athletes to Junction and came home with a couple of dozen. The author made no attempt whatsoever to interview any of the players that left the camp, reinforcing the absurd idea that a player who would rather live with all his body parts intact than pay homage to a sadist football coach did not deserve any credit. What's wrong with this book is not unlike what is wrong with much of college football still today. Win at all costs, even if it mean life threatening injuries. And, then they made a movie out of it ????????????????
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on January 19, 2000
This is the best book I have ever read. The heart and determination of the men who survived Junction was and still is truly amazing. Every football player on any level should read this book. Injuries such as "turf toe" would never be heard of again.
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on October 19, 1999
The Junction Boys is a magical story that takes you back to an era of truth and accountability. A highly descriptive telling that entrances the reader throughout the whole book. This book is much more than a story about college football. It is story about life.
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on May 19, 2013
Bear Bryant was apparently one of the greatest college football coaches ever. The way Dent describes him in this book as an unsympathetic bully who lagged all advances in football technique, that is a miracle. This book focuses on a several week period of his first year as coach of Texas A&M when he took his players to a godforsaken place for fall practice and essentially broke their will with privation, starting with 101 players and ending with 28 survivors. They won one game during the ensuing season. He had opportunities to win games if he had used the new-fangled technique called the forward pass. He refused. One comes away thinking the guy was the quintessence of everything bad in college sports.
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