Messina High School had thirty-four years of winning football teams under its legendary coach, Eddie Rake. There was one streak of four years in a row when they won every game. Now the coach is dying of cancer and many of his former players have come back to reminisce. They recall his domineering personality, the verbal tongue-lashing when a player missed a tackle, the cruel workouts in full uniform in August. The coach was a tyrant who would accept absolutely no excuses for failure. However, he produced winning teams year after year which made the players into local heroes and the townspeople into fanatical fans.
The former players gather in small groups in the bleachers of the stadium, talking about their current lives and their memories of past glory on the football field. The dialog is excellent, revealing the controversial character of the coach who is always off stage throughout the book. The town policeman describes a brutal experience in Vietnam which he survived only because he had learned from his coach never to give up. Another former player gives credit to the coach for giving him the courage to face the stigma of being openly gay. At the funeral, three players deliver eulogies. This is a particularly difficult assignment for a former star quarterback who has to work through his ambivalent feelings of love and hate for the coach.
John Grisham is a well-known author with fifteen published novels, several of which were made into movies. This book is one of his best.