Consider this a shameless plug for my uncle’s new book, After the Arena, in which I make a cameo appearance drinking strawberry moonshine. No joke – page 193.
And, let’s just get out of the way that this is no literary masterpiece. After the Arena is Coach Pat Dye’s follow-up to In the Arena that was published in 1992. Coach Dye – Uncle Pat – is a retired football coach who grew up in rural Georgia; he’s no English scholar, which he points out several times, so he’s not trying to be a literary genius.
That said, he knows football. And if you’ve ever wanted to have a candid conversation and reminisce about some of the great characters and moments in college football, this is a book you should pick up. It has voice and tone and reads just like you’re sitting there on the porch with him, looking out over the lake and thinking about some of the best (and worst) times of a man’s life.
If you’re not convinced, here are some specific folks who should read this book:
Auburn players: If you played at Auburn, particularly if you played for Coach Dye, your name is probably in the book. He names player after player, and his memory for their height, weight and the most significant contribution to a game is remarkable. It isn’t just Auburn players that he mentions, he talks about numerous players and coaches from the South – Georgia, Alabama, Georgia Tech, LSU, Tennessee – so if you played or coached during any of the 60+ years Coach Dye has been playing, coaching or studying the game – you have a shot of being called out by name. It would be an interesting index if someone wanted to take the time to create it.
Auburn men and women: If you love Auburn, then you love people who love Auburn and you enjoy hearing them talk about loving Auburn. This story has a couple of romances, but the most predominant (sorry Nancy) is Coach’s love for Auburn. The publication time was not a coincidence, and I’m sure many an Auburn man or woman woke up on Christmas day to find one of these under the tree; heck, I did.
Alabama fans: There, I said it. If you’re an Alabama fan, then you love Coach Bryant. (That is one difference between Auburn and Alabama fans – Auburn people love Auburn – they love everything about it from the sidewalks to the swimmers, from the traditions to the teachers. Alabama fans love Alabama greats. But let me get back on point….)
Alabama fans love Coach Bryant, and what probably some don’t know is that Coach Dye coached for Bear for nine years, and even beyond that, had a great relationship and friendship with him. There is a lot in this book about Coach Bryant – stories you’ll never hear and insights you’ll never glean unless you read After the Arena. What I got from reading this about the relationship between Coach Bryant and Coach Dye is that, for all the glory, praise and notoriety, the job of a head football coach is a lonely one. It is hard and it’s political and the expectations are practically unattainable, which makes it lonely. When there are few people around you that you can be yourself with, few you can talk to and even fewer that you can trust, that’s a lonely place to live.
I think for that reason alone, I’m glad Coach Dye got out when he did, because since then, he’s had a full life of being around Auburn people and enjoying the company. And when he wants to be by himself or just with Nancy, he can do that. Coach Bryant didn’t get to enjoy those years. He lost his last regular season game to Auburn in November of 1982, won his bowl game in late December, and then died less than a month later in January of 1983. And while Alabama fans are probably glad they got every season out of Bear that they could, I bet his children and grandchildren sure do wish they had that last decade of his life just to themselves.
Those who love college football, especially SEC football: When you’re reading this book, you’ll be struck by the remarkable vastness of what Coach Dye has lived when it comes to college football. He has literally studied the game for more than 60 years – beginning with games in Athens in the 40’s and Uncle Wayne’s and Uncle Nat’s early years at Richmond Academy in Augusta to this current season with Gus Malzahn at Auburn’s helm. So off-handedly he references the institution of the 2-point conversion and Georgia opening their season against Alabama – an unheard of match-up in today’s world. These signal huge changes in the way football has progressed as a game and even within a season. This is not to mention the more intricate changes of offensive or defensive strategy. So anyone who loves and appreciates college football will enjoy reading what this student has learned and observed.
In addition to all the talk about football and Auburn, After the Areana covers a few other things that have been significant to him since leaving coaching – life at Crooked Oaks and his Japanese maple farm of Quail Hollow Gardens, his friendship with Harper Lee and, of course, Nancy. A quick read if you like at not much over 200 pages, After the Arena is sure to be enjoyed by many who love and cherish the things that live in the heart of one of Southern football’s legends.
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