Saturday, December 10, 2011

#233: The President's Team: A Review

---SSL Broadcast #71---

Attention on deck.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a copy of the book The President's Team: The 1963 Army-Navy Game & The Assassination of JFK.

It is a must-read for anyone who is at once a history buff and an afecianado of collegiate football, or who is a past, current, or future member of the United States Naval Academy.

Even if neither of those specifically apply to you, I still recommend it.

In his preface, author Michael Connelly confesses that he had only intended to shape this work to frame the two-week period beginning with the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and ending with the Army-Navy game, which was played with the blessing (or, perhaps, insistance) of the fallen leader's family.

Through his research and the interviews he conducted, however, Connelly discovered a much more involved story, from multiple angles.

This work first details Kennedy's own involvement with the United States Navy and his heroism during World War II, his family's traditional games of touch football in New England (as well as the family's history in politics), then flashes forward to his election to the presidency in 1960.

At that time, the football team that represented the brigade boasted its first Heisman Trophy winner in Joe Bellino, who led the Midshipmen to their second win in as many years against the archrival Cadets of Army.

From there, Connelly interweaves the stories of the President with his favorite collegiate team, including Kennedy meeting with Bellino and some of his teammates while he was President-Elect.

The 1961 season is a blur in the scope of the book, but it's given enough of a mention to help flesh out Navy's fiery head coach Wayne Hardin, cover their third straight win over Army, and identify a certain "plebe" who was destined for great things of his own beginning in 1962. That plebe's name was Roger Staubach.

From there, Connelly describes in riveting detail how Staubach rose to become Navy's starter early in his sophomore year and how he took the sports world by storm. He also deftly profiles the teammates that helped make Staubach even greater.

Every so often, Connelly leaves the team briefly to pen a parallel storyline, relating what was happening in the world with regard to Kennedy's Presidency, and how he was still keeping an eye on the Academy and finding time to attend the Army-Navy games.

Naturally, most of the book focuses on the 1963 season, which was winding down when Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas.

Connelly's choice to start the story in 1960 helps to maximize the emotional impact on the Midshipmen when their focus was abruptly torn away from prepping for their clash with Army.

Connelly chronicles the classic Army-Navy game that took place two weeks after its originally scheduled date, and follows that up with Navy's attempt to secure a national title.

A couple of wonderful elements are included in the book. There are two sections with an array of black and white photographs of the people involved, and another section that gives the current whereabouts (as of the book's publication) of the players who were on the 1963 team.

I have a couple of criticisms, of course. One is that while the editors did well to ensure the book was virtually free of any ugly punctuation and grammatical errors, there were some facts that were needlessly repeated, some in close proximity to each other.

The second is that the book's subtitle: "The 1963 Army-Navy Game and the Assassination of JFK" only makes up a portion of the book. That was the intial scope of the project, as Connelly mentions in his preface, but the book is far more than that.

Something more along the lines of "The Story of Navy Football During JFK's Administration" would have been more accurate.

Still, if the subtitle as it stands is enough to get you to crack the cover, the "bonus coverage" is a terrific (and necessary) surprise.

The President's Team is available at major booksellers, or online at

Mr. Connelly is my guest on this edition of "Steeltown Sports Live."

Also on today's show:

- A couple of wins against Ohio opponents in less than a week for the Steelers.

- Sidney Crosby on ice...or rather, off ice...I mean... whatever...

- WVU wins the Big East, and Pitt still makes a bowl game.

- The Pirates make some moves at the Winter Meetings, but nothing that's going to improve the team.

- The pattern continues on the NFL Picks after another 1-1 week (12-13-1 overall).



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