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 Sports History Review    



All-Time Greatest Alabama Sports Stories
By Benny Marshall and Friends
Edited by Wendell O. Givens
Fire Ant Books: University of Alabama Press, 2003
Paperback, $16.95 (220 pages)
ISBN: 0-8173-5052-7

All-Time Greatest Alabama Sports Stories is a collection of short accounts of major upsets, spectacular victories, and memorable moments in golf, football, baseball, and basketball.  Like the erratic scramble of quarterback dodging a blitz, the collection is not arranged chronologically or by sport but rather weaves back to Bobby Jones and golf in early decades of the twentieth century and forward to Joe Namath and football in the 1960s only to quickly dash back to Howard College's tie game 28 September 1935. Each of the twenty-six self-contained chapters in All-Time Greatest Alabama Sports Stories introduces readers to the events leading up to the game and delivers a play-by-play account of the major action--touchdowns, birdies, home runs, and lay ups--of games that will appeal to Auburn and University of Alabama fans as well as to Southern sports enthusiasts.   

Benny Marshall, a longtime sports reporter for the Birmingham News and Age-Herald, authors the first sixteen chapters.  These chapters succinctly cover the events surrounding and action of games as various as the 16 September 1931 duel between the Southern League Barons with aging pitcher Ray Caldwell and Texas League Houston with rising star pitcher Jerome H. Dean in Birmingham, the 21 November 1942 Auburn surprise victory over Georgia's undefeated football program, and the 1 January 1935 Alabama Rose Bowl game.  Marshall details Lee Mackey Jr.'s unique playing style in the 8 June 1950 U.S. Open and the 25 February 1956 University of Alabama's "Rocket Eight" basketball team winning the championship against Kentucky.  Each story captures the suspense of the game and emphasizes the unexpected turns that led to these memorable moments in sports history.  

Marshall clearly reflects on these moments in sports history with nostalgia and, perhaps, even a sense of betrayal by modern sports leagues.  The commercialization of modern sports franchises is often among the items that Marshall points to as exemplary of the corruption of modern sports.  In these first sixteen chapters the terse of prose of a veteran sportswriter is evident--the regular sports page reader will feel at home with the spare description, cliché metaphors, and choppy syntax but he will also grip the arms of his Lay-Z-Boy because of the suspense a newspaperman can bring to the action and key plays of seesawing games. 

Chapters 17 through 26 are written by Marshall's "friends": Jim Martin, Wayne Martin, Phillip Marshall, Jimmy Bryan, Wendell Givens, and others--many of whom are sportswriters themselves.  The later chapters bring Marshall's sports stories into more recent history and add interesting--and sometimes even strange--events on the racetrack, tennis court, football field, golf course, baseball diamond, and basketball court to those Marshall had written.  Clyde Bolton writes about the 15 February 1988 Daytona 500 race between father Bobby Allison and son Davey. Wendell Givens chronicles Alabama's "Mr. Tennis," Wade Herren, as he slammed his way to victory.  The unfortunate omission from this collection is any extended treatment of women's sports stories in Alabama.   

The book concludes with a Writer's Gallery with a paragraph on the biography of each contributor--each a well-respected Alabama sportswriter associated with newspapers from the Birmingham News to the Decatur Daily.  The biographies include other works by the author, so readers of All-Time Greatest Alabama Sports Stories will be able to continue reading the columns of their favorite contributors to this collection.   

The combined sportswriting talent of Marshall and his friends creates a wonderful introduction to Alabama sports that will delight fans.  Throughout the book, black and white photographs of swings and tackles as well as the faces of Alabama's sports heroes compliment the prose.  This book will make a good Father's Day gift and is recommended for sports enthusiasts in the family as well as for teens who may be attending Auburn or Alabama in the fall.   

Wendell Givens, the editor of this volume and contributor of several stories in it, is a Howard College graduate and worked under Benny Marshall, the author of the first part of the book, at the Birmingham Age-Herald.  Givens has edited other work by Marshall including Winning Isn't Everything and 20 Grand


Sean Wells
Southern Scribe Reviews


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