LionsFans.com Book Review:
Black and Honolulu Blue: In the Trenches of the NFL
Written by Keith Dorney
Reviewed by Doug Warren
Back in the spring of 1979, the Detroit Lions second-year Head Coach Monte Clark was looking for an Offensive Tackle to solidify Detroits offensive line. He found one when he choose Penn State All-American Keith Dorney in the first-round with the 10th overall selection. The 65", 268 pounder became an immediate starter and remained a cornerstone on the Lions offensive line for the next eight seasons (1979-86). An arthritic knee and numerous other injuries finally took their toll on Keith the following season (1987), limiting him to just five games and causing him to hang up his cleats for good at the end of the year.
However, while Keith became one of the best offensive linemen in Lions history; those early days of his first Lion camp were anything but easy. Dorney tells the tale of his first Detroit training camp, as well as much of the rest of his football career and life in his colorful and candid autobiography, Black and Honolulu Blue: In the Trenches of the NFL, which was released by Triumph Books of Chicago in 2003. In the tradition of classic NFL books like Pete Gents North Dallas Forty, and George Plimptons 1963 Detroit Lion epic, Paper Lion, Keith welcomes the reader into a side of football that is seldom seen and even less understood. A side where the sacrifice is immense, the pain intense, and the glory as fleeting as it is exhilarating.
The book begins with Keith describing his first Lions practice, and his first encounter with a player that was known by his teammates simply as "Low Rider."
"The sweat pouring down my face stung my eyes as I got down into my stance. I was in the midst of my first NFL practice, and I was confused, tired, and scared all at the same time. I struggled to remember the instructions given to me just moments before by my offensive line coach. The quarterback barked out the signals, the ball was hiked, and I set up into my pass-protection stance the best I could. Before I had a chance to react, or even process what I was supposed to do next, I was on my back. Dave Pureifory had just crashed into me and knocked me off my feet, then smashed his helmet into my chest as he drove me to the turf. He had hold of my neck with one giant hand and the front of my jersey with the other. He hesitated a moment, allowing his own sweat to drip through his mask and onto my face, then picked me up off my back slightly before once again slamming me back down to the turf.
"Welcome to the NFL, rookie, he said disgustedly as he walked away. I heard the laughter of the other veterans as I picked myself up and made my way back to the huddle."
While Black and Honolulu Blue is Dorneys first book, you would never know it. From the fear and pain facing a training-camp rookie, to the unrelenting August heat, to the intense pressure and paranoia that engulfed Keiths soon-to-be released rookie roommate; Dorney describes everything from his first Lions training camp in vivid detail.
One of the chapters of the book I enjoyed the most is the one in which Keith describes his 1980 season-ending knee injury, and the surgery and rehab that followed. From Dorneys sideline and training room encounters with the Lions longtime trainer Kent Falb, to the friendship and mutual admiration shared by Keith and the Lions then-team physician, Dr. Robert Tiege, to the description of Monte Clark seeing his star linemans knee explode over and over again in his private film room, the book gives the reader a deeper understanding of the life of an NFL athlete and those that work around him.
While Keith takes the reader inside the world of NFL gameplay, injury, surgery and rehab. He also openly writes about the everyday aches and pains a player must endure to simply get out of bed in the morning; as well as the training, weightlifting, and painkillers a player must submit himself to if they hope play in next Sundays game.
What separates this book from most other books of its kind however, is that Keith also decided to include a chapter devoted to women. Appropriately titled, "Women of the Game," the chapter is written partly by Keiths mother, Audrey Dorney, and by his wife, Katherine Dorney. In it, each woman takes a look at Keith through her own eyes, with Audrey describing the life of a football Mom with a, in Keiths words, "June Cleaver" approach that is "slightly tongue in cheek." Conversely, Katherine gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a professional athletes wife, on gameday, in the stands at the Silverdome. Both ladies stories add to the overall flavor and appeal of the book, giving it a twist that is all but absent in most football biographies.
Two other chapters in the book put the spotlight on some of Keiths most euphoric and painful memories of his career. The first, entitled "Greatest Hits," details some of his most memorable gridiron collisions. The second, entitled "*%@$# Kickers!" details Dorneys memories of the Lions infamous December 31, 1983, NFC Divisional Playoff versus the San Francisco Forty Niners in Candlestick Park. For those who are too young to remember that game; here is Keiths recollection of the games final moments:
"There were only five seconds left on the clock. This was it.
"It was going to be a 43-yard field goal, but our kicker had already hit a 53-yarder to end the half. It wasnt exactly a chip shot, but surely he could sail it through. A possible trip to the Super Bowl was at stake!
"I will forever remember Eddie Murrays pristine uniform, clean and dry, as he stood there in the middle of our huddle. He stood out like a beacon, in stark contrast to the 10 other men, all of whom were literally covered with mud and soaked to the bone from head to toe.
"I took my place on the line of scrimmage, confident of what we needed to do. A smile came over my face as I got down into my stance and looked inside at the ball. As soon as the ball disappeared, I stepped inside with my left foot, interlocking it with the foot of the guard next to me, crying out in pain as I transferred my weight to the leg with the hip pointer. A surge of 49ers crashed into me, but I held firm, keeping my shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage. Usually I can hear the sound of the kickers foot hitting the ball, but the deafening crowd noise prevented me from hearing anything. I looked up after the appropriate interval and saw the ball sailing toward the uprights.
"The next few moments appeared to transpire in super-slow motion and are captured in my memory forever, haunting me, teasing me, torturing me over and over again. From my angle, it appeared to be good, and I raised my arms into the air, a feeling of elation buoying my exhausted body. The pitch of the crowd, seemingly already at its maximum decibel level, erupted even louder as the ball just sailed wide of the upright and careened harmlessly to the ground.
"No good. My hands fell down to the top of my helmet in disbelief as the 49ers players in front of me celebrated wildly. Pandemonium ensued, temporarily overwhelming my senses. A sea of bodies enveloped me jumping, screaming 49ers fans all with arms flailing about wildly in celebration. It took me a moment to assimilate the drastic change of events. My elation turned to despair.
"We had lost. No more postseason. No game next week. No Super Bowl. I stood there looking at the goalposts in disbelief, as tears welled up in my eyes. Fans jostled me about, oblivious to my sorrow, as they continued their wild celebration.
. . . As it turned out, that was the closest I ever got to playing in a Super Bowl."
I was in seventh grade as I watched the above scene unfold in my parents living room in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a crappy way to begin the New Year; and just like Keith, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Keith Dorneys first book, Black and Honolulu Blue: In the Trenches of the NFL, is loaded with this kind of engaging reading. He was a damn good football player, and as the above passages show, hes also a damn good writer.
Go buy his book Lions fans, you wont regret it.
For more information on former Lion Keith Dorney and his book, "Black and Honolulu Blue: In the Trenches of the NFL," please visit www.keithdorney.com