The Sweet Season: A Sportswriter Rediscovers Football, Family, and a Bit of Faith at Minnesota's St. John's University

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9780060505844: The Sweet Season: A Sportswriter Rediscovers Football, Family, and a Bit of Faith at Minnesota's St. John's University

After fifteen years as a Sports Illustrated writer, pleading for interviews with large men in possession of larger egos, Austin Murphy decides to bail out. The time has come, he concludes, to fly beneath the radar of big-league sports, to while away a season with the Johnnies. So, he moves his family to the middle of Minnesota to chronicle a season at St. John's, a Division III program that has reached unparalleled success under the unorthodox guidance of John "Gags" Gagliardi.

The Sweet Season is an account of what happens when a family pulls up stakes and spends months in a strange and wonderful place. It is also, not incidentally, the story of the most incredible football program in the country, run by a smiling sage who has forgotten more about the game than most of his peers will ever know.

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Review:

The Sweet Season is an aptly titled, vibrantly entertaining book. After a decade of fall travel covering games, longtime Sports Illustrated football reporter Austin Murphy forgoes the roadie lifestyle to move with his family and cover one of the best football programs in the nation, at Minnesota's St. John's University. With all the self-deprecating and witty style of Bill Bryson, Murphy depicts the coaches, players, monks (it is, after all, a Catholic school), his family, and himself as fallible humans and unsung heroes.

Above all, Murphy has fun here, in his silly depictions of small-town, college life, the simple delights his family brings, and the refreshment of football without superhuman egos. John Gagliardi, the 70-plus coach of St. John's, has won more games than any five active NFL coaches combined, despite a non-traditional coaching style devoid of full-contact scrimmages or hours of (useless) calisthenics. One Johnny exercise is the Beautiful Day Drill, where players flop down and stare at the sky, commenting on the loveliness overhead.

Murphy's football anecdotes are insightful, his humor relentless, and his game savvy tested. At the first St. John's game, Murphy "[watches] the kickoff transfixed, half-expecting Eau Claire's returner to go all the way. I mean, I've been with the Johnnies damned near a month and haven't seen them make a tackle. Who's to say they can do it?" As we find out, and opposing teams can attest, they hit hard, every season. Highly recommended. --Michael Ferch

About the Author:

Austin Murphy is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He lives in northern California with his wife and their two children.

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