Book rec: “Fading Echoes”

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We do these posts from time-to-time. They’re “off topic,” in many senses. Which is to say, there are no Hoosiers here.

But I figure if you guys come to this blog, you care about sports. And you want to read well-reported and written stories about the games we play, and what they might mean to us.

Mike Sielski has been providing that type of journalism for readers in the Philadelphia market since I met him back in the summer of 2003. We were all covering the trial of a Penn State football player accused of sexual assault that day. (Incidentally, Dustin Dopirak happened to write a column about that trial and it went on to win pretty much every award given to college columnists that year.) I’ve been reading Sielski ever since, and, as a matter of full disclosure, will admit that I consider him a mentor and have tried to emulate his work as a columnist.

Sielski somehow found time to write a book about two football players — Colby Umbrell and Bryan Buckley — who were involved in what was then one of Pennsylvania’s finest rivalries. Buckley played for the powerhouse Central Bucks West team, while Umbrell played for CB East.

While Sielski certainly captures how important football can be to a town — and especially to its high school students — what he truly discovers is the way the game and its lessons can stay with you. Umbrell and Buckley, acquaintances but not friends, both end up playing college football but give it up following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to enter the armed forces.

Sielski provides a nuanced view of two promising young men who decide to make a difficult decision during one of the most emotional periods in our country’s history. Through his usual dogged reporting, the author is able to plunge deeply into all of those feelings we all had eight years ago and finds two people who finally decide the only thing they can do is what they believe deep down is the only thing to do.

Buckley makes it back alive. Umbrell does not.

“Fading Echoes,” has so much to offer. You will go inside a football program that won four state titles and rattled off 59 straight wins during the 1990s under a strict, old-school coach. You will also understand what the team on the other side of town feels as it works through severe disadvantages to try to match its rival. Sielski provides details of military training — Umbrell in the Army, Buckley with the Marines — that will make you ache. His writing about parents and sons will haunt you.

Mostly, though, the book shows us where our games fit and why they matter.

Several great sports books have been released in recent months — John Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman,” and “Shooting Stars,”  by LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger are must-reads — and “Fading Echoes” is an important piece of work because it shows how we live when Friday nights or Saturday afternoons seem to mean everything.

And how two men react when that feeling is jarred so suddenly and so violently.

2 comments

  1. Thank you! These stories are important, Not sure about “Shooting Stars”. It’s a shame that the youth of America is not exposed to these stories. Old farts like me read them.

  2. Sounds like a great book…Definitely going to try and give it a read..

    Can I recommend a movie? The film <“The Best of Times”(Robin Williams and Kurt Russell) touches on many of the same themes. Though the movie on surface is basically a quirky B-rate sports comedy, it has a very sentimental side and mystical undertone. It marvelously intertwines the nuances of football with the human spirit; the infectious pride that can move from one to many, and how challenging our past can at least give us the tools to reclaim the future….and as the people of Taft restore their small town to get ready for a rematch of a classic football rivalry…a cross-town rivalry that had always been dominated by their arch-nemesis, Bakersfield, our own depleted spirits are revived with each hammer to nail leading up to the big game… Within the restored hope the scales of destiny may tip and what we invest into one man’s fate may prove to be the power to change us all.

    Somewhat related topic: Saw this story on the NBC evening news tonight…feature about a small town newspaper in Kansas…thought you might enjoy.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/vp/33216577#33216577

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