The bye week is upon us once again, and that means a Saturday without Stanford football. What will we do? How will we cope? How will we function during the one autumn Saturday that doesn't prominently feature Cardinalmania™?
Normally during the bye week I try to do one of two things: I either try to get out of town for a few days or I take the entire week off. Since neither of those are an option for this year's bye week, I'll be moving on to Plan C: lounging on my couch all day and watching Pac-10 football. Not that I'm complaining, mind you…some of my best weekends were spent without leaving the couch!
But if those three options don't appeal to you, here is a fourth: catch up on some reading. And if you need a little help, I've got just the book for you.
During the Boston College road trip, I ended up at the gargantuan New England Mobile Book Fair in beautiful Newton, Massachusetts. It's not mobile, and it's also not a fair. It's a bookstore that, from the outside, looks like the world's largest backyard toolshed and, on the inside, is crammed from wall to wall and from ceiling to ceiling with books. A friend took me there because she needed a couple of books and we needed to kill a little time before heading to Fenway.
Naturally, being the cheap sports fan that I am, it wasn't long before I found myself in the bargain section checking out the football books. And as I scanned the shelves, as I saw "the book." What's more, there were three copies of "the book" on the shelf. For $4.98 apiece, no less.
"The book" is more commonly known by its proper name, "Rough Magic." It's very much like John Feinstein's "Season On The Brink" (which, sadly, I have not read yet), except, instead of The General, the central character is The Genius. Written by longtime Bay Area sportswriter Lowell Cohn, it follows Bill Walsh during the 1992 season, Walsh's first season back at Stanford as the head coach.
I'll admit that I'm not a big book reader. I can't read in cars or buses because it gives me headaches. On planes I prefer to listen to music, take a nap, or check out the inflight shopping catalogs and look at all the useless stuff I can't afford anyway. And if given a choice between reading a book or watching television, I'm grabbing the remote and flipping on "Cheaters" (the greatest show on television today). The last book I read was my checkbook, which you could probably find at the New England Mobile Book Fair in the ‘mystery' section.
But the last book I read for fun was "Rough Magic." This book is a must-read for all Cardinal fans as the definitive literary portrait of the Stanford football program.
However, when it came out before the 1994 season, and as that rough season unfolded, "Rough Magic" simply became known as "the book." As in, during Walsh's weekly media luncheons that year, "Bill, in ‘the book' you called Lou Holtz a spoiled brat…what did you mean by that?"
Yes, this is the book that caused everyone in South Bend to overreact (imagine that!) just because someone called Lou Holtz a spoiled brat. But, if you remember, and if you've read "the book" before, that was pretty tame compared to some of Walsh's more inflammatory comments about other opponents.
Walsh's best salvos came at the Blockbuster Bowl, as he spewed plenty of venom towards Penn State. And his pregame thoughts on the U$C Trojans are legendary (I'll save those for a later column). But many of Walsh's remarks were so controversial and his targets were so wide-ranging (Walsh pretty much ends up doing a saturation bombing job on the Pac-10) that Walsh pretty much spent the entire 1994 season defending something he had said two years earlier under the guise of motivating his team.
Need examples? Okay. Here's Walsh as he prepped his team for the Arizona Wildcats: "They hose off their players and clean them up and bring them in. It's a hatchet fight and you guys know it…We leave college football for three hours when we play these guys…This is a mercenary group that's come in to play you."
Walsh on the Oregon State Beavers: "They can score a touchdown and not even know how they did it…Oregon State doesn't belong in the Pac-10…but they can't give up the millions of dollars that come from the [conference]. Obviously they don't put it back into football." (Funny how things can change in ten years, isn't it?)
While it is refreshing to hear coaches talk like that instead of lapsing into coach-speak ("Well, we need to execute our gameplan, hang on to the football, and give it everything we've got, because [insert opponent's name here] is a fine football team and if we don't play 100% then it's gonna be a long day blah blah blah blah…"), it does throw you for a loop when you first read it. It also reminds you why coach-speak was invented in the first place. Say what you want about Tyrone Willingham and his reluctance to put things on the record, but does he ever provide his opponents with bulletin-board material?
Controversial parts aside, this is a fascinating look at the inner workings of a major college football program and the inner workings of the people who make that program run. Cohn's all-access pass into the program takes him not only into the locker room, practice field, and conference room, but also, it seems, into the minds and psyches of the coaches, players, and staff themselves. By the end of the book, Walsh is painted as a man that is equal parts genius, scatterbrained, manipulative, helpless, refined, crude, theatrical, insecure, and narcissistic. Added together, all those parts combine to illustrate a very complex man doing a very complex job.
While the book revolves around Walsh, plenty of other characters are also involved. The give-and-take between Walsh and his coaching staff, particularly fiery defensive coordinator Fred vonAppen is one of the book's main subplots, as is Walsh's relationship with then-offensive line coach Scott Schuhmann (now Stanford's director of football operations). One of the book's more memorable passages comes when the subject turns to Stanford's then-secondary coach, a man by the name of Tom Holmoe, whose brash and emotional style led the veteran coaches to agree "that someday he would be a head coach."
As for the players, the defense, which was the heart and soul of that 1992 squad, is prominently featured, with intimate looks at Tom Williams, Dave Garnett, Ron George, Estevan Avila, Tyrone Parker, and others. Readers also get to know Glyn Milburn and Steve Stenstrom, while Chris Dalman and Steve Hoyem personify the struggling offensive line in a revealing dialogue at one point late in the season. And the young man who gets the distinction of being described as "exactly the kind of innocent, eager player Walsh had come back to college to coach" is none other than freshman kicker Eric Abrams.
Football is much more than a physical game, more than just blocking and tackling. In many cases, football games are won before they are even played. They are won in the conference room, where coaches slave away in dark rooms breaking down film. They are won on the practice fields and locker rooms, where the players learn about themselves and each other. They are also won in the head coach's office, where the tone for the entire program is set. Cohn captures and chronicles that mental aspect of the game beautifully, and that, besides the fact that this book is about a program that we all know and love, is what makes "Rough Magic" a fascinating read.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw "the book" on a random shelf in a random bookstore clear across the country. And no, I didn't plunk down the $4.98. I actually "borrowed" my copy from the American Studies house library in 1995. Ironically, I ended up living at AmStud my senior year, and somehow I "forgot" to return it (don't tell anybody!). I'm sure you don't have to travel all the way to Newton, Massachusetts, to track down a copy of the book. If you're willing to do a little digging, it shouldn't be that difficult to get a hold of.
If you've never read "Rough Magic" before, pick up a copy (just don't "borrow" mine). If you've read it before, it's worth picking up again. Despite the fact that "the book" caused quite a stir and may have contributed to the unhappy ending that was Bill Walsh's 1994 season, reading "Rough Magic" will not only entertain and inform, but it will more than satisfy your Stanford football quota for the weekend.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
Who knew cal would pull off the biggest televised upset since Nikki outlasted Tamyra on American Idol?
During halftime of that cal-Michigan State game, my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was a cal friend of mine who was at the game in East Lansing. I picked it up and answered, "Dude…is this real?" And that's the frightening thing (or the exciting thing, if you're in Berkeley). After a win like that, you have to start asking the question: is cal real?
I have a feeling that cal would give another Michigan team problems. I'm not talking about the Wolverines, either. The Bears could probably handle the Detroit Lions the way both of those teams played over the weekend (if you're the Lions, how do you let 86-year old Rodney Peete dissect you for 310 yards passing?)…
If you can't win a tough non-conference game on the road, at least make sure you come away from it with all of your personnel. Wazzu couldn't do it against Ohio State. They lost their left tackle, left guard, and a defensive tackle to injury, then had two more guys get suspended for a postgame incident. Mike Price's job just got a little tougher…
Keenan Howry got the billboard in Times Square, but it's fellow Oregon WR Samie Parker who has been getting all the headlines this year…
Did you see U$C shred Colorado at Folsom Field? Troy Polamalu had 11 tackles, but the Trojan front seven just destroyed the Buffaloes. Wow. Conquest, indeed…
It didn't show up on the stat sheet, but Carson Palmer made his trademark Bonehead Play of the Week. Forced to scramble, Palmer got just to the sideline when he uncorked a wildly overthrown ball that was picked off. Fortunately for U$C, the Buffaloes got whistled for a weak roughing-the-passer call, wiping the interception off the board. When will Palmer go through an entire game without making at least one senseless throw?
So Rick Neuheisel signs a contract extension, then his team gets a lackluster win over San Jose State. Then Mike Price signs a contract extension, and his team can't get it done in a tough loss at Ohio State. Is there something to this? And can Mike Bellotti sign a new deal around Halloween?
So A-State came back from 22 points down to beat San Diego State. Whoop de freakin' doo. They're still horrible…
As always, thanks for the e-mails. Keep them coming! And as always, the best ones get posted here…
On my list of improvements that need to happen at Stanford Stadium, Scott from Fresno writes…"One significant improvement that I cannot believe an erudite urbanite like yourself would miss: what are you going to choke your prime rib down with, Troy?? Beer! Not bear, but BEER!!! Bring back the cerveza! And make it cold!! Please God!! Buddy Ball and cerveza mas fina por favor!"
And buenos nachos to you too, Scott! Pardon me while I lapse into Homer Simpson mode. Mmmmmm…….beer. Okay. I'm back…sorry about that.
Gerald from parts unknown writes…"Liked your comments on Buddy. Can he coach? We don't know. Is he a good guy and a great representative for Stanford? You betcha. And that counts for a whole lot. Not enough to overcome a couple of 3-8 seasons, of course."
No question Buddy is a nice guy (I'm still stunned by his gesture at Logan Airport after the game). There's also no question that, unfortunately, being a nice guy has little to do with winning. Exhibit A: Tom Holmoe. Even so, I like the direction the program is headed in, and I think Stanford has the chance to dominate in 2003.
Got a thought on Stanford sports? Read any good books lately? E-mail me!
Troy Clardy hosts Stanford football postgame call-in shows, as well as Stanford football road pregame shows, Stanford basketball pregame shows, the Buddy Teevens Show, the Mike Montgomery Show, and the Stanford Profile on Stanford radio network flagship station KTCT ("The Ticket 1050") in San Francisco. The Buddy Teevens Show airs every Friday morning at 7:20, and the Stanford Profile airs every Thursday evening at 7:00 on KTCT.