Why we love the game, what is at risk, and the fight to save it.In search of the sport’s old ideals amid the roaring flood of hypocrisy and greed, bestselling author John U. Bacon embedded himself in four programs—Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern—and captured college football’s oldest, biggest, most storied league, the Big Ten, at its tipping point. He sat in as coaches dissected game film, he ate dinner at training tables, and he listened in locker rooms. He talked with tailgating fans and college presidents, and he spent months in the company of the gifted young athletes who play the game. None of Bacon’s discoveries is more poignant than this: the last, true defenders of the student-athlete ideal are the players themselves, who, even as money changes everything around them, are left to carry the future of the league, the game, and more than a century of tradition on their backs every fall Saturday. Fourth and Long reveals intimate scenes behind closed doors, from a team’s angry face-off with their athletic director to a defensive lineman acing his master’s exams in theoretical math. It captures the private moment when coach Urban Meyer earned the devotion of Ohio State’s Buckeyes on their way to a perfect season. It shows Michigan’s athletic department endangering the very traditions that distinguish the college game from all others. And it recreates the euphoria of the Northwestern Wildcats winning their first bowl game in decades, even as they do honor to the student-athlete ideal. Most unforgettably, Fourth and Long finds what the national media missed in the ugly aftermath of Penn State’s tragic scandal: the unheralded story of players who joined forces with Coach Bill O’Brien to save the university’s treasured program—and with it, a piece of the game’s soul. This is the work of a writer in love with an old game—a game he sees at the precipice. Bacon’s deep knowledge of sports history and his sensitivity to the tribal subcultures of the college game power this elegy to a beloved and endangered American institution.
Sports, Coaching, Football (American),