A small town Hoosier boy enrolls in the University of Chicago in 1968. Amidst student demonstrations against the Viet Nam War and the military-industrial complex the University of Chicago resurrects its football program, which has been dead for 30 years. Demonstrators occupy the Administration Building and the football field. So, Jack Blair decides to join the team. His radical-feminist girl friend is not pleased.
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Was this ragtag band of precocious intellectuals the worst, or the most courageous, team in college football? From 1892 until the 1930s the legendary Monsters of the Midway dominated college football. However, in 1939 the University of Chicago dropped out of the Big Ten and killed its varsity football program.
But now, it's 1969 and football is back. The resurrection of Chicago football hasn't brought the Monsters back to life. The team plays more like the lab mice of the Midway. The new Maroons are called "the worst team in college ball" by People Magazine. But this under-sized and outnumbered team is also compared to the hero of Troy courageously facing Achilles. They lose game after game. Yet, guys whose IQ is greater than their weight refuse to give up their mission to win one for their old coach, Wally Hass. Wally's goal is to win one more game before he retires which would make his 100th victory as a coach.
Sex, drugs, rock and roll, the Draft Lottery, the Anti-War Movement and student rebellion on college campuses in the late 60s -- the University of Chicago is swimming against the
cultural tide by resurrecting its football program. Jack Blair is a small town Hoosier kid who
just wanted to go to the best college in the Midwest. In Chicago Jack encounters figures as
disparate as Muhammad Ali, Milton Friedman and George Halas.
Jack joins the team for resume-building. His goal is to win the Rhodes scholarship and maybe a football game.Along with his teammates he is swept into the tumult of the late 1960s. He falls in love with a radical feminist who demonstrates against the return of football to Chicago. He rooms with a secular Jewish kid taking ballet whose father has begun manufacturing something called a computer chip.
Jack's teammates reflect the wackiness of the times. There is the 135 pound nose guard and the 295 pound Sumerian scholar. On the team bus the Maroons blast The Mothers of Invention on an 8-track, smoke pot and worry about a friend's suicide attempt.
An assistant coach rides Jack for not fully committing to the team.His favorite professor chides him to concentrate on his studies. Jack comes of age in a bewildering cultural milieu of frats, jocks, hippies and Marxist radicals. But his greatest challenge is whether he can learn to love and make an authentic commitment.
The book is inspired by the author's experience of playing on the resurrected University of Chicago Maroons a/k/a the Monsters of the Midway. Jeff Rasley is also the author of five other books, Bringing Progress to Paradise; Light in the Mountains; False Prophet?; Islands in my Dreams and Nepal Himalayas in the Moment.
Jack Blair was running all out toward the end zone with the opposing safety back pedaling for all he was worth. Jack cut left. It didn't work. The safety broke into a run shadowing him. Jack lowered his head and pumped his arms churning his long legs as hard as he could, but the safety stayed with him. Head fake right! The DB reacted shifting his shoulders. That tiny loss of momentum by his pursuer gave Jack the break he needed.
Jack launched his body into the air. The safety leaped after him. The ball was already air borne arcing toward the two opposing sets of hands. Jack stretched every fiber of muscles, tendons and ligaments to the limit his fifteen year old six foot frame allowed. The tips of the fingers on his out stretched left hand contacted the spiraling tip of the football. Jack opened his mouth and roared "Aahh!" He somehow elevated another inch before gravity and the weight of the safety on his back clawing at Jack's arms brought him crashing toward the ground.
As the ground rose up to meet him Jack pulled the ball toward his body and extended the toes of his trailing right foot dragging the cleated shoe across the back line of the end zone. Whump! He landed hard with the ball clutched to his chest. The face guard of his helmet smacked the ground bouncing his head against the pads inside his helmet.
Jack twisted away from the panting safety, pushed him off and rolled over onto his elbow. He looked up to see the back judge running toward him blowing his whistle with hands cupped together above his head in the sacred prayer-like symbol of touchdown.
That score sealed a victory for the fighting Owls of Seymour Indiana the last game of their 1965 season. The touch down catch turned out to be the last play of Jack Blair's high school football career. But his high school football experience did not quite end with that successful bang. It ended with more of a whimper the following August.