Christmas Books: Football, History, Fiction And Anne Coulter, Too

“Young men, you are about to play Harvard this afternoon,” A Yale football coach from the 1910s once told his charges. “You will never do anything more important in your entire lives.”

That solemn pronouncement was never more true that in 1968, when both teams were unbeaten heading into their season finale matchup. The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 (Scribner), is, as the year of the title suggests, saturated with politics. In the midst of all the tumult was a game for the ages in which the Crimson staged a fourth-quarter to erase a 29-13 Yale lead and score a winning tie as time ran out.

George Howe Colt revisits the game and the men who made the drama possible: Stern coaches John Yovicsin of Harvard and Carmen Cozza of Yale, who both ruled during a time of nonconformity; Yale quarterback Jake Dowling, a Jack Armstrong in the flesh; his teammate Calvin Hill, who later starred in the NFL, plus such Harvard stars as the future thespian Tommy Lee Jones and two feisty ethnics at the WASP-dominated university: Running back Vic Gatto and backup quarterback Frank Champi ,a superb passer who engineered the heart-stopping comeback.

The 1968 game was unforgettable in not just in the outcome. When the contest ended, young and old, whiskers and longhairs, all came together for a rendition of “Fair Harvard.” Tears were wiped away. Grown men wept. For one brief moment, Harvard was still Harvard and Yale, even in sorrow, was still Yale.

A few months after The Game, pro football’s own masterpiece took place. Prior to the New York Jets’ stunning 16-7 win over the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts powerhouse in 1969, the Super Bowl was considered a dull and pointless affair. The Jets-Colts singlehandedly transformed it into the global phenomenon it is today. Bob Lederer, author of Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl Team That Changed Football (Dey Street Books) is a native of Flushing and a lifelong Jets fan. As a teenager, he was transfixed by the upset win. For years, he swore he would write a book on those Jets. Instead of another book focusing on Joe Namath, Lederer decided to contact as many of the living 1969 Jets as possible. Long-suffering Jets fans will revel in portraits not just of Namath, but also Matt Snell, Al Atkinson, Emerson Boozer and Gerry Philbin. Head coach Weeb Eubanks also gets his due. The Ohioan was the winning coach not only in this transformative game, but also the 1958 NFL title game, in which his Johnny Unitas-led Colts defeated the New York Giants in an overtime classic at Yankee Stadium, the game that made televised football the sensation it has been since then.

David A. Kaplan’s The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside The Supreme Court’s Assault On The Constitution (Crown)  is a play, in the title, on Alexander Bickel’s classic, The Least Dangerous Branch. For most of American history, the Supreme Court was a sleepy outpost of the three branches of government. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 1970s, both the Warren and Burger Courts imposed a social revolution on American life: Brown vs. Board of Education on one end, Roe vs. Wade on the other, igniting a cultural war that rages on. Kaplan believes that Brown was argued correctly, but he ruefully concludes that the court went too far with Roe. Prior to 1973, 46 states criminalized abortion; in one fell swoop, that was done away with, judicial activism that the Roberts Court would replicate on the marriage question decades later. Kaplan’s scholarship is incomplete. The Brown decision lead to similar edicts: Green vs. Prince William County (1968) and Swann vs. Mecklenburg County (1971).  Both mandated busing orders, even from district to district, sparking a middle-class flight from public schools, throwing those institutions into a crisis that will be with America for decades to come. A conservative backlash was inevitable, most dramatically with the 2000 Bush vs. Gore decision installing George W. Bush as president. With the additions of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Kaplan frets the court might be moving too far right. He holds out hope that John Roberts will be a mediating force. Kaplan also issues a call for greater self-government among the public at large.

Another year, another Anne Coulter best seller. In Resistance Is Futile (Sentinel), Coulter maintains that liberals are wasting their time in scandal-mongering. A longtime critic of the media, Coulter states “that for any progress to be made in this country, the media has to be destroyed.”  Neither liberals nor conservatives take Coulter seriously, but on this score they should listen.

Also from the right, Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot Or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders (Sentinel) takes on the perennial immigration issue. Salam reminds readers of his family’s roots possibly to prove that he understands the restrictionists’ point of view and also, we’ll guess, to shield himself from charges of nativism and xenophobia. Salam calls for a grand compromise of border security, a point-based immigration system and amnesty for illegals. This Hail Mary is a slender book. For more intense treatments of this issue, try Patrick J. Buchanan’s State of Emergency or Samuel T. Francis’s essay collection, America Extinguished.

On the fiction side, William Boyle’s Gravesend (Pegasus) has received comparisons to Richard Price and Dennis Lehane. Believe the hype. This page-turner dramatizes the lives of 20-something Brooklynites, who must deal with a past tragedy while reaching a crossroads in their own adult lives.

Meanwhile, Elliot Ackerman’s equally-dramatic Waiting For Eden (Alfred A. Knopf) , tackles the classic theme of a young veteran returning from war, facing life with bride, a young daughter and the struggle against a fatal illness, all  narrated by the hero’s late war buddy, observing from a more peaceful place.

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Joe Scotchie
Joe Scotchie is the editor of both The Roslyn News and New Hyde Park Illustrated News. In 2009, he won a New York State Press Association award for a sports feature. Joseph Scotchie’s past publications include biographies of Thomas Wolfe and Richard Weaver and a comprehensive history of the city of Asheville, North Carolina.

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