Date finished: 5-8-05
Author: John Grisham
Category: General fiction
Former high school football star Neely Crenshaw returns to the small town where he played quarterback during a death watch for his former coach. As is the case with any small town football coach who brings glory to the town by winning (a lot!), Rake was treated like a god. Crenshaw brings his demons with him, including the fact that his football career ended with an injury during college and the secret he and the entire 1987 team carry.
The former Messina Spartans gather nightly in the stands at Rake Field to drink beer and relive some of the glory days while they await word of Rake’s death. The highlight of this time is listening to the 1987 state championship game, Neely’s crowning achievement and the source of great mystery in Messina since none of the coaches were on the sideline during the second half.
With Rake’s death that night, the town finally gets answers to that mystery. Rake confesses via a letter read by his daughter that he regrets two things in life, one being that he hit Neely during halftime of that championship game. Neely’s eulogy gives him a chance to come to closure on the event and acceptance for the hand life dealt him after high school.
In a previous life, I was a sports writer down in south Texas, so I’m totally buying this scenario with Rake as god in a small town as well as the resultant abuse of players. In fact, it was reminiscent of Bear Bryant and the horrible training camp he held at Texas A&M for his players. Maybe crossed a little with Bobby Knight, although there is evidence that Rake actually cared about his players.
I enjoyed this story. We see some closure for Neely that was believable, but not complete. The flow was fairly even in that there were no high points of emotion or discovery. There was no high drama, no major conflict. Just 35-year-old men coming to terms with life as it is and was. (Always a hard thing for us when life doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would in high school.)