Books College football: Famous rivalry and famous team seen through partisan eyes

October 29, 2001

A War in Dixie
by Ivan Maisel and Kelly Whiteside / HarperCollins, $25.00

"The best thing about this game is also the worst thing about
this game," says Frank Cox, Jr., the Auburn equipment supervisor.
"It's too important to too many people."

This turns out to be one of the few intelligent observations
made by anyone in A War in Dixie, an account of the season-long
march to last year's Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama.
The rivalry between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide is as
ferocious as any in sports, and SI senior writer Maisel and USA
Today writer Whiteside double-cover it with skill. Still, it
doesn't render an enjoyable read because the making of college
football teams can be as unappetizing as the making of sausages
and laws, especially in the state of Alabama, where nurses in
maternity wards throughout the state outfit infants in those
teams' colors during Iron Bowl week.

As long as the book's coaches, players and fans are discussing
football strategy, they come across as thoughtful and
sophisticated--really, you can learn a lot from them. When they
try to justify their obsession with football by linking it to
important life lessons, however, they sound like goofballs.

Consider Auburn athletic director David Housel. The Tigers'
football team, he says, represents "a human spirit at its very,
very best." Not only are his players very good, they are "caring
people"--not, he hastens to add, "in a sissy, weak way, but in a
strong way."

Worse, consider Alabama coach Mike DuBose, who casts a grim
shadow over the book, partly because he has such a miserable
year and partly because the more he mucks things up, the more he
tries to give advice to other people. DuBose hasn't been the
same since August 1999, when he was found to have had an affair
(or a "mistake," as he called it) with his secretary and lied
about it (or "made the situation worse with my response," as he
preferred to say). Happily for DuBose, he has found solace in
Christianity; unhappily for the book, he fumblingly tries to
apply the lessons of Christianity, as he understands them, to
each new disaster. By season's end, when the Tide has fallen to
3-8 and DuBose has been sacked, he complains bitterly to anyone
who will listen that Alabama's fans "have made football their
God."

DuBose may have a point there. Last year's Iron Bowl took place
on Nov. 18, during the presidential recount. According to the
book, fans were frantic at the prospect that CBS might interrupt
the game to tell them the name of their next president--that is,
until a reassuring headline in The Birmingham News promised that
local TV WON'T INTERRUPT IRON BOWL FOR ELECTION.

Maisel and Whiteside have written well, but their subject might
make you a little sick.

Echoes of Notre Dame Football
by Joe Garner / Sourcebooks MediaFusion, $49.95

Here's A book that calls to mind the difference between
nostalgia and history. History is an opportunity to learn
something, while nostalgia is a collection of inspiring
photographs, soothing cliches and familiar stories that bring a
lump to your throat. Echoes of Notre Dame Football is 100%
nostalgia. It's intended solely for those who get choked up
watching Knute Rockne All American; those who get excited at
Touchdown Jesus; and, above all, those who live and die with the
Fighting Irish. It also comes with two appropriately hokey CDs,
narrated by Regis Philbin (Notre Dame '53), that will leave
lovers of the Irish feeling like millionaires.

COLOR PHOTO: HARPERCOLLINS COLOR PHOTO: SOURCEBOOKS, INC.
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