No one who reads Ken Denlinger's account of five years in the life of one class of Penn State football recruits will ever again think of big-time college football in terms of bonfires, rallies and campus romance. Denlinger, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, likes football yet sees the game clearly for what it is—a highly competitive business in which a sympathetic figure like State's head coach, Joe Paterno, must behave more like a tough-minded CEO than a fatherly mentor.
Realism is the order of the day in For the Glory, and the reality is that football programs as successful as Penn State's are relentless consumers of young athletes. Of 28 freshmen scholarship recruits who had arrived in the late summer of 1988, only nine were on the team four years later. At one time or another, more than half had been injured seriously enough to require surgery; others had simply become victims in a war of attrition that most players lose.
Yet most seem to feel the game was worth the high cost of the candle, and Denlinger, to his credit, respects this. The young men he spoke to, he writes, "shared their feelings and insights...because, I hope, they sensed that although this would be an honest book, it would not be a mean one." If that is so, they were right on both counts. (St. Martin's, $22.95)