‘A triumph of imagination: The last golden season of Army football’ Analysis

 

When I was, I think, maybe 10 or 11 years old, I took a trip up the East Coast from my home in Virginia to stay on a battleship for a few nights up in Massachusetts with the Cub Scouts. I remember my adventures there with my friends well.

But what I don’t remember too well, unfortunately, is a stop along the way on the trip – a visit to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

I can’t remember if the visit there was going to Massachusetts or back, whether it was for the entire day or just a few short hours. More importantly, though, I struggle way more than I wish I did of remembering the campus itself. Googling pictures helps a little, but it doesn’t quite do the trick of bringing it all back.

That’s one reason I particularly liked reading the excerpt “A triumph of imagination: The last golden season of Army football” from Mark Beech’s book “When Saturday Mattered Most.” At the moment he described the scenery at West Point and the “Gloom Period,” I really felt like I could envision the place again. That’s a testament to the language he used in the piece.

But more to the point, the story offered an exclusive look at an otherwise forgotten season for one of college football’s most historically prestigious programs – Army. In its entirety, it recounts the 1958 season in more ways than just the simple highs and lows from the result of a game, which we get a sense of from the excerpt, or chapter one, provided.

At least in this portion of the book, it’s all about head coach Red Blaik, who, it later turns out, is in his final year in charge after a storied career. Heading into the 1958 season, the program was in a funk. It wasn’t in a state of complete disarray, but it wasn’t quite the title contender it had once been under Blaik when he helped guide the Black Knights to three straight national championships from 1944-46.

So he changed things up.

His innovative thinking created a scheme consisting of nothing but unbalanced wide-receiver sets that would open up the run or pass by spreading the defenses out without choice. The offense proved to be successful for Army, but the best part about it was that Beech found out exactly what Blaik said and did when he introduced this new scheme to his coaching staff.

He dug up hard-to-find quotes through the archives and confirmed with multiple sources that Blaik was “tapping his piece of chalk on the board” as he made his case. He also thoughtfully described the new offense, rather than just leave it ambiguous to the reader. A lot of people can insert the bare facts of the event into the story, but it’s another thing to be able to apply that extra mile of detail.

When Beech proposed this book to a publisher, the connection wasn’t a secret: He had graduated from West Point and served five years in the army, and his dad did too before him. And so because his book is about Army football, to me, that poses a question.

I’ve been told on many occasions that you should write out of your comfort zone. On the other hand, I’ve also been told that you should write about something that you enjoy. So which is it? Which type is going to help craft a better story? “A triumph of imagination: The last golden season of Army football,” or “When Saturday Mattered Most” as a whole, is the latter, and it turned out well.

And furthermore, regarding the lede, the most important part of the story, Beech said he mulled over it for a long time. If it’s becoming that much of a challenge to write, are you better off jumping to other parts of the story first? Is it worth the price of time (and maybe your sanity) to make it as memorable (or unmemorable) as a trip you took a decade earlier?

http://www.si.com/more-sports/2012/09/20/when-saturday-mattered-most

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