A recent headline in the New York Times aptly described the current state of college football as a scandal-ridden, money-hungry and dysfunctional institution: “The Only Thing That Rules College Football is Anarchy.” The first decade of the 21st century has found the sport mired in scandals involving both players and coaches. The coveted Heisman Trophy, symbolic of the game’s greatest player, was surrendered by winner Reggie Bush following allegations of payment during his career at USC. Successful coaches have also been fired after being accused of malfeasance. And, perhaps most importantly, major college programs and conferences seem to operate with one goal: to make as much money as possible.
"Page after page of this stirring book brings Steinmark to life --- he is human, inspirational and unforgettable."
Against this backdrop of greed and corruption, it is heartening to be reminded that there remain elements of the sport that illustrate why millions attend games on any weekend --- adorned in the colors of a favorite university and cheering for the young players, many of whom still play for the love of the game and not for multi-million-dollar contracts. Fred Steinmark was such a player. Award-winning author Jim Dent chronicles the life of Steinmark, a brave young man who died far too young. COURAGE BEYOND THE GAME is a book that will remind many who despair at the current state of college football that the game still has much to love.
Freddie Steinmark was a Colorado high school football player deemed too slow and too small for major college football. He proved the skeptics wrong and became a starting safety at the University of Texas, a perennial college football powerhouse. By the start of his senior year in 1969, Steinmark was a team leader and an all-American. During that season, Texas would be a contender for a national championship and would battle Arkansas in a season-ending clash that would be considered by many as one of those “games of the century” that seem to occur every few years. The Arkansas-Texas contest was a game between undefeated teams ranked one and two in the nation, which even drew the attendance of President Richard Nixon, who declared that the winner would become national champion.
Dent’s writings clearly establish his love of football. This biography joins MONSTER OF THE MIDWAY, THE UNDEFEATED and THE JUNCTION BOYS as books that chronicle major eras of college football. More than biographies of individuals, they capture the spirit of the times and the personalities that shaped the football era. In 1969, college football was still more of a regional game; national exposure through television had yet to occur. Major college teams did not recruit nationally, and indeed the college game was not yet fully integrated. This context stands as important background to the main character of COURAGE BEYOND THE GAME.
Arkansas-Texas would be Steinmark’s final football game. What he believed to be a minor leg injury would be diagnosed as cancer. Within weeks, he would lose his leg; within two years, cancer would claim his life. Page after page of this stirring book brings Steinmark to life --- he is human, inspirational and unforgettable.
Regardless of your views on college football, COURAGE BEYOND THE GAME is a wonderful book. It will remind you of an era when money had not yet tainted the game. It will also assure you that, in a game permeated by money, there remain individual players, like Steinmark, whose spirit and devotion to football stand in stark contrast to greedy college athletes, coaches and administrators. That is a lesson we should never forget.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on August 18, 2011