Top positive review
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Premier Sports Writing
on September 29, 2012
You've seen the titles before. The Most Astuounding, Greatest, Apocalyptic/Player/Team/Game Ever. So many of them and thousands of comparable books promise thrill-a-minute adventure, but stumble and fall slogging through descriptions of individual games.
By sharp and happy contrast, author Mark Beech is a sprinter pulling readers out of box score boredom to the living finish line of a splendidly told story.
When Saturday Mattered Most examines the history of Army's undefeated 1958 football team ... which immediately raises the question: Who wants to read about an old football team? The answer? Anyone who gives thanks for fine writing and a glimpse of timeless magnetism and courage; frailty and pain; scandal and character, the fascinating puzzle of men together.
The book far surpasses football. It tells the story of Red Blaik, a head coach of few words, who suffered the dismissal of more than 30 players (including his own son) because of honor code violations in a 1951 scandal. Here is Blaik clashing with the West Point brass over the place and future of Army football. Here is Blaik writing weekly summaries and game assessments to General MacArthur. And here is a coach evoking reverence among some and disdain among others, both views echoing down to the present.
This is also the story of the "Lonely (Lonesome) End", in the vanguard of the wideout style of football. And here is the story of Pete Dawkins the most decorated of cadets (Head of the Corps of Cadets; captain of the football team; class president; Rhodes Scholar; player of six musical instruments; tenth in his class; winner of the Maxwell Award; Winner of the Heisman Trophy) and possibly the second-best back on the Army team.
The book is so powerful and compactly written that Blaik's eventual resignation comes not so much as a surprise that he quit, but as a surprise that the book is nearly finished. The story and the writing are so appealing that I even read the acknowledgments. I never do that.
Best of all, the What-Became-of-Them section eloquently reminds us that those with a role on any Saturday that mattered most inevitably become the Monday-through-Friday everyday people, regardless of former status as hero, reserve, or fan in the stands. When Saturday Mattered Most ends with the stark fact built into every game: The fastest thing in sports is glory fading. A marvelous book.