Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football

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Simon and Schuster, 2001 - Sports & Recreation - 297 pages
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Every Saturday afternoon from early September to the end of November more than a thousand teams from St. Norbert's (Wisconsin) to Western Kentucky to Ohio State meet in front of crowds as small as several hundred and as large as 100,000. They are participants in an epic that began November 6, 1869, when the men of Princeton and Rutgers decided to test themselves on a field not yet called a gridiron. They are actors playing out their drama on a stage on which an unmatched cast of legendary performers has presented thrilling rivalries, glorious triumphs, and spectacular upsets. It is college football, a tapestry woven of memories as indestructible as they are colorful...threads that have encircled and captivated an audience measured in the millions, and have done so for generations.

Welcome to "Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football," the definitive history of college football, from Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" Michigan Wolverines of 1901 to Bobby Bowden's undefeated 1999 Florida State Seminoles and everything in-between, before, and since. Here are Red Grange, Illinois's Galloping Ghost; Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, and Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett. Here is that day in 1957 when Bud Wilkinson's 47-game winning streak at Oklahoma was ended by Notre Dame and the Game of the Century when Bubba Smith's undefeated 1966 Michigan State team played also-undefeated Notre Dame to a 10-10 tie. With hundreds of vintage photographs, dozens of primary documents, and a vivid text, "Rites of Autumn" brings back to life Johnny Rodgers running back a punt for a Nebraska touchdown against Oklahoma in their 1971 Game of the Century; Cal's four-lateral kickoff return for a touchdown-- "The Play" -- that defeated John Elway's 1982 Stanford team; and Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass that beat Bernie Kosar's defending national champion Miami team 47-45 on the last play of the 1984 Thanksgiving Day game.

In this extraordinary volume -- the companion to an equally extraordinary 10-hour prime-time television series -- are the stories of the first forward pass (1876; Yale vs. Princeton), the first huddle (Illinois, 1921), the invention of the flying wedge (Harvard, 1892), and the wishbone (Texas, 1968). Here, "outlined against a blue-gray October sky," are Notre Dame's Four Horsemen and George Gipp, the subject of Knute Rockne's most famous halftime speech, who once told his coach, "Aw, these pep talks are O.K., Rock, I guess, but I got two hundred bucks bet on this game and if you think I'm lying down out there, you're crazy." Here are USC tackle Marion Morrison before he became John Wayne, and the famous letter to Princeton coach Fritz Crisler written by a former student known, when he attended Old Nassau, as Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. In "Rites of Autumn" prize-winning sportswriter Richard Whittingham brings the most spectacular regular-season games to vivid life, from Jim Thorpe's Carlisle Indian School vs. Army in 1912 to USC's one-point victory over crosstown rival UCLA in 1967. Here are the great coaches, from Pop Warner to Knute Rockne to Eddie Robinson to Joe Paterno; the great African-American tradition, from schools like Southern and Grambling and from players like Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Brown. And, of course, here are the great rivalries: Army-Navy, Texas-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-USC, and more. With sidebars on everything from Walter Camp's firstAll-America team to the history of the great Bowl games, conference and national championships, the Heisman and Outland Trophy winners, decade-by-decade all-star teams, and the greatest teams of all time -- all illustrated by an astonishing selection of more than 250 photographs -- "Rites of Autumn" is a spectacular achievement: the ultimate book for anyone who has ever spent an autumn Saturday following America's most passionately watched sport.


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Rites of autumn: the story of college football

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College football fans who long for a simpler time when the men on the field and the sidelines were all noble will enjoy Fields of Honor, which is authored by a football brat whose father and uncle ... Read full review


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About the author (2001)

Richard Whittingham is the author of more than thirty books, including collaborations with Sir Edmund Hillary, Joe DiMaggio, and Life magazine.

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