Book Review: Rising Tide by Randy Roberts & Ed Krzemienski

Rising tide book coverNot much has changed in the last fifty years.  College recruiting is still a cutthroat business, race relations in this country are still strained and Alabama is still the best football team in the nation.

With that said, in Rising Tide: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath and Dixie’s Last Quarter, Randy Roberts and Ed Krzemienski load us into their time machine by painting a vivid picture of high-stakes college football and racial disharmony in the South in the 1950s and 60s.

Their story begins with the tale of Howard Schnellenberger (yes, THAT Howard Schnellenberger) as he is sent up to Pennsylvania with one very important objective: bring Joe Namath back to Alabama.  Negotiations between the University of Maryland and the nation’s hottest, high school prospect had broken down.  The year was 1961.

Growing up in Western, Pennsylvania, a young Namath didn’t want to work in the steel mills like his father, grandfather and nearly every other male immigrant who had settled in that part of the nation.  “Working in a steel mill provided a good life for a man and his family, but not an easy one.  Few who went into the mill ever came out.  It was a lifetime commitment.”  Football, for Namath, became that way out.  He most certainly had the talent for it.

After tracing Namath’s high school career on the football field, and equally memorable trouble-making antics off it, the book follows Namath on his recruiting trips to Notre Dame (“where are all the girls?”), Minnesota (“snow blindness”) and the University of Miami where he enjoyed the “round the clock party.”  Several other schools wooed Namath including Michigan State, Arizona State, Iowa and of course Maryland where he probably would have enrolled had he not missed qualifying eligibly on his SAT… by three points.

joe namath alabamaUpon landing in Tuscaloosa, Namath had trouble adjusting to the South despite his early success.  Namath was of Hungarian descent.  “He was one of the wretched refuse.  His family had washed onto Ellis Island sometime at or near the turn of the century, and now he had washed into the Southeastern Conference.  Joe did not look, speak or behave like Bryant’s other boys, and it was not just because he was a northerner.  Joe Namath was just different.”

Even though his head coach and football legend Bear Bryant recognized Namath’s greatness, Bryant was no coddler, repeatedly pulling Namath from games after poor performances.  No starting spots were granted based on notoriety.  The authors give us a convincing glimpse of what it was like to be coached by the Bear himself.  Bryant “had a gaze that was difficult to meet, the kind of penetrating intensity that made a man afraid to look into his eyes directly because it might be interpreted as a challenge, and fearful to look away because it might be taken as a lack of resolve.  There was nothing about Coach Bryant that breathed a trace of softness or suggested he couldn’t kick the ass of any man within hollering distance.”

Although Namath and Bryant shared a common goal, the two couldn’t have been more different. “Bryant exuded the hard-edged confidence of a battle-hardened World War II general.  Namath oozed a different sort of confidence.  It was less uptight, the smiling confidence of a new generation coming of age.”

Willie Joe and BearTheir unlikely union came at a pivotal time in our nation’s history.  Integration in the South occurred at a snail’s pace with tremendous, and quite often violent, resistance; racial strife became the backdrop for the era and a troublesome topic for Bryant and his football program.

Tensions escalated when a top-ranked, and all-white, Alabama team was invited to play against an integrated UCLA team in the 1962 Rose Bowl.  Rumors swirled that fans planned to boycott the game were Alabama to accept the invite.  They didn’t, opting to play Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, which they won.  “Alabama won the national championship in 1961 without competing in a single integrated contest.”  They did so again Namath’s senior year.  One sports writer called them Alabama’s “Front-of-the-Bus” championships.  The authors remind us Namath’s title would be “the last time it would happen, though no one knew it then.  To many it was a clear sign of the desperately slow pace of change in America.”

Hard to imagine this was only fifty years ago… or is it?

Sure, college football has changed since then.  One would expect nothing less.  Although with all the SEC coaches and quarterbacks making headlines and trading verbal jabs in recent years, Rising Tide is a hospitable reminder that same hoopla began long ago by two men in a far more controversial time.

Their names were Bear and Joe Willie.

29 thoughts on “Book Review: Rising Tide by Randy Roberts & Ed Krzemienski

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Rising Tide by Randy Roberts & Ed Krzemienski - BallHyped Blog Network, NCAA Football | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. Some things never change… Like Ohio State and their cream puff schedule and the incessant chant out of Columbus of “We’re Number One!” Followed by a “huge” let down as the Buckeyes lose yet again in some bowl game that they talked themselves into… I absolutely despise the college football bowl system and can’t wait for the day when it’s relegated to also-rans while a 16 team playoff determines the National Champion as it should have been all along…

  3. Wow great post bro! Not gonna get super in depth but growing up in the deep south as I have things haven’t really changed. Holla blackass. Lol!

  4. Alabama and integration……nah they weren’t ready yet. Hoop coach Adolph Rupp he wasn’t ready yet either. Then along came Don Haskins and his African-American Texas Western basketball team. The year 1966 and these two teams battled for the National Championship. Kentucky led by Miami’s own Pat Riley and Louie Dampier opened an eight point favorite over Haskin team. Late sharp money knocked the odds down to six. We all know the result and Adolph Rupp was never the same again.

  5. Oh no, Al, they definitely paint him as a mean old cuss in the book.

    And yea, re: Freeman, I’m pretty sure he’s got his bags already packed. He is persona non grata numero uno in that locker room.

  6. Chris, I didn’t see the Glory Road movie, but I did watch the actual game live. If memory serves, Big Daddy Latin, and Willie Worsley stunned the Wildcats. The spread was never in jeopardy for TW. As you know, they later changed the school name to UTEP and Don Haskins has his name plastered all over the school. Bookmakers beat the squares, but the sharp players ate in all up and much more.

  7. Chris

    Byrant and Rupp had their issues that were eerily glossed over by historians and present day analysts alike .

    Not only has Freeman’s bags been packed but his parking space has already been reallocated to another player .

    Cano may not get the $300 million he is said to be looking for but if the Yankees are forced into a bidding war by Jay-z (Cano’s agent) , then all bets are off . It’s being speculated that the Angels’ Arte Moreno may well give the green light to go after Cano. Also given the money and statements attributed to Magic Johnson of the Dodgers , do you really believe that type of deal can’t happen ? The Dodgers as it now stands , money is of no object given their tv deal .

    And if the Dodgers simply start the bidding at $250 million . tell me at what point the Yankees are going to drop out ? So like I said do you really believe that Robinson Cano can;t get that type of a contract given what Pujiols , A Rod and Josh Hamilton are said to be earning ? Cano has been far more productive than both over the past two seasons .

    tophatal …………….

  8. I will say this about the book, Al. They don’t paint Bryant out to be a racist, that’s for sure. So if he was one, the book is inaccurate in that respect.

    Re: the Yankees, they’re clearly going to start rebuilding. No A-Rod, no Sandman, no Pettitte and Jeter on his last leg, no pun intended. Is Cano the player they want to build around? Not for that price tag.

    Odd how the Dodgers could probably afford that amount while the Yankees could not. I just don’t think he’s gonna get it.

  9. Chris

    The Yankees can afford it , it’s just that they don’t want to be hit with the luxury tax once again . There is way too much disparity and the idiocy of the system was seen this year . The Yankees will have to pay almost $30 million , while the Dodgers will only pay $9 million. Yet the difference between the payrolls of the two teams , is a mere $18 million . Now you tell me what is meant to be fair about an asinine system that now even some of the most prominent owners within the game are now beginning to question ? Here’s pointer for you , repeatedly you state that the Rays are profitable , but the only reason they are able to eke out a profit comes by way of that idiotic system .

    tophatal ………….

  10. I’m not so sure about that, Al.

    The Yankees can financially afford to write that check but can they afford being tied into one player like they were A-Rod when there’s even the slightest potential of a bust?

    I’m not saying Cano’s not a talent but name me one player that’s earning over $200 mil in the majors that’s actually showing the team that invested that much in him a profitable return, whether it be on their financial statement or their win column.

    Most people have already written off the Yanks for the next few years. Cutting ANY player a check for $300 mil might just assure that.

  11. Don’t look at the competitive side of the equation alone and that is the mistake you’re making . The franchise needs a major draw ,. without one they cannot survive and remain competitive . Granted the Yankees have the YES Network and content that goes with it beyond baseball . Other teams are not in that position with the exception of the Red Sox (NESN) and Dodgers (Time Warner Incs Inc { $ 8 billion contrac}) All the others are now simply trying to play catch up and that is why I said to the Rays lack ambition and in terms of their business template its simply archaic and lacks creativity .

    Name another team in baseball that has gross revenues in excess of $00 million annually ?

    <p tophatal …………………

  12. Chris

    Great for the Rays . Question is , are they one and done or do make a deep run this postseason ?

    The Bucs are not the same they are descending into deeper depths of mediocrity . The defense has become a complete joke and it lacks discipline. To my mind it’s a reflection of Greg Schiano .

    Denver didn’t just kick Philly’s @ss today they wedged inanimate object in that team’s rectum . The Chip Kelly era ……… wow ! Overrated or what ? t

    tophatal …………..

  13. Chris

    The Rays are good but let’s see how they acquit themselves in the playoffs .

    Revis was on an island all on his own on Sunday , Larry Fitzgerald made sure of that as he repeatedly made the Bucs corner-back look mediocre throughout the game . And this is what they’re getting for six-years $96 million ? What a waste !

    I’ll take Patrick Peterson over Darrelle Revis any day of the week , and then some .

    USC (Trojans) AD Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin . Basically took him off the team’s bus and essentially and told him ……….” walk your @ss home “. Arizona St kicked the ###t out of USC

    tophatal …………….

  14. Kiffen begged for his job. Thank you PHaden for sticking to your decision. A once proud Trojan program now playing second fiddle to the cross-town hoop school.

  15. Well, Al, is the glass half empty or half full?

    The Rays made the post-season, sort of. They certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by having to travel to Arlington and then Cleveland and then, if they somehow manage to eke out those wins, will technically I guess qualify for a post-season berth.

    Although I guess that’s better than what the Buccaneers can expect out of their season. Perhaps the Bucs would be better off a football game only consisted of three quarters.

  16. Price was unstoppable last night .

    So Josh Freeman suffers from ADHD ? Did he actually make the Bucs aware of this because he could now also be suspended for having abused the league’s substance abuse program having taken a non prescribed medication this season ?

    This whole episode is getting peculiar and even nastier by the minute, with Freeman’s agent Erik Burkhardt calling both Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik liars . Damn , bro , what’s up with that ?

    tophatal …………

  17. I’m not sure what the truth is here, Al.

    If Josh is telling the truth then the Buccaneers really didn’t handle things all that well.

    And if Josh is lying and he actually has a substance abuse problem, then I’m not too sure there’s a team out there that will take a chance on him.

    Either way, this is probably information that we shouldn’t be reading about the way we are.

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