Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No Bed of Roses

For my birthday, Jana got me No Bed of Roses, a book recommended by ajs last month in our impromptu book club post. The book is by Chris Kennedy, a walk-on who was a wide receiver at UW from 199-93, and who, quite frankly, I don’t remember. Not surprising, since he was stuck on the bench behind the likes of Lee Deramus, J.C. Dawkins, and Michael London.

A couple days of crappy weather kept us homebound, to my delight, as I was able to finish this relatively short (230 pages) book in a couple days. Overall, it was a really good look inside the Badger football program at an amazing time, the early days of the Alvarez Era when the program was transforming from perennial loser to national power.

Kennedy, understandably, did not see the field, as the talent level on the roster was upgraded dramatically during that time. If he had arrived on campus four years earlier, he may have ended up starting – West Bend’s own Tony Spaeth, also a small high school running back turned college receiver, led the team in receiving one of the Don Morton years.

As you go through, you really feel for guys like Kennedy who bust their ass for years and get barely a sniff of the field. Ever since Barry arrived, an emphasis has been placed on maintaining a thriving walk-on program. That program should not just yield starters like the Jim Leonhards, Donnel Thompsons and Joe Panoses. It also needs guys like Chris Kennedy who push the starters every day in practice as scout teamers, and who keep interest in the Badgers personal in small towns around the state.

Reading the book called to mind the experience of our old friend Kurt Reineck. I met him first day at Sullivan Hall; he told me he was on the football team, and I didn't believe him at first since he wasn't on the roster listed in Badger Plus, which I read religiously. Kurt was smacked with reality his first day of practice, when Donald Hayes glided by him on the 10th set of end-of-practice sprints as if it were a stroll in the park. Kurt left the team after a few days, which is what most of Kennedy's walk-on peers did, what I would have done, and what I was pulling for Kennedy to do while reading. College is too short, man, enjoy it!

If I had one criticism, it would be that Kennedy’s motivation to write the book seems to be to set the record as he sees it straight – no one in his family complained about being left off the trip to Tokyo for the critical game against Michigan State, and as such, he didn’t deserve to be left off the Rose Bowl dress list. Hearing just his side of the story, you come to the conclusion that he got screwed. He also seems to enjoy telling stories of all the wonderful women who find themselves attracted to football players.

To me the most interesting part of the book is Kennedy’s relationship with Jay Norvell, then his position coach and now UCLA’s offensive coordinator. Norvell comes off as a real asshole who in four years never takes the time to get to know Kennedy. Then again, Kennedy was probably never going to see significant playing time, so why devote tons of time developing him rather than getting Deramus where he needs to be? It’s a catch-22, and it’s probably unrealistic to expect position coaches to be close with all their players.

Our good friend Adam Mertz is thanked up front in the acknowledgements section, and a snippet of Mertzy’s review is on the back cover.

In the end, glad I spent the time on it, college football from a different perspective. It’s a good read, pick it up if you have a chance.

Anyone else read it yet? ajs?


Toohey said...


Head on over to my favorite website and you'll find a brief filmography of Mr. Kennedy.

ajs said...

I have not...I'm still on the library wait list. I was 40 some deep as of a few months ago. I read Fall River Dreams as was recommended. Good read.

Thanks for the review. I might just have to go out and buy it this afternoon with some of my Xmas scratch.

Craig Pintens said...

Tony Spaeth? Founding father of the Tony Spaeth fan club (Badger Chapter), of which Hill, Corbett, and Stangl were members.

Scott Tappa said...

Unfortunately, Tony Spaeth was a shining example of the UW football program's struggles in the late 80s. Back then, he was the team's leading receiver. Nowadays, he might play a Ben Strickland-type role on special teams.

But don't get me wrong, always very proud to have a West Bender playing for the Badgers, last one if I'm not mistaken (not counting volleyball, of course).

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