by Austin Murphy HarperCollins, $24.95
AN HOUR OR so before Notre Dame took on UCLA last October, SI senior writer Austin Murphy borrowed a photographer's credential and snuck down to the sideline to take in the sights at Notre Dame Stadium. A security guard soon noticed Murphy's lack of a camera and suggested that he return to his perch in the press box. As he headed for the stairs, Murphy mentioned to the guard that he'd been kicked out of better places. "Oh yeah?" the guard asked. "Name one."
It was a stumper, and Murphy gleefully illustrates why in his book Saturday Rules: A Season With Trojans and Domers [And Gators and Buckeyes and Wolverines]. Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes look at Notre Dame and USC during the 2006 season, Saturday is actually an ode to the college game, a lighthearted, lovingly written broadside against those who think the NFL is king in this country. The pro game, Murphy writes, is "corporate and inconstant," while college football "comes with a pageantry and passion that is simply not found in other games."
To prove his thesis, Murphy immersed himself in that pageantry—interviewing USC's Song Girls, sampling Gator Killer Punch at the massive Florida-Georgia tailgate in Jacksonville, lugging a sousaphone during Ohio State band practice. There's plenty of football too: Murphy's access to the Irish and Trojans produced revealing looks at two marquee programs, and the backstory of how Ohio State coach Jim Tressel got the idea to use the Statue of Liberty play against Michigan is more entertaining than any chalk talk should be. That play makes another appearance, in Boise State's Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. By the time Murphy gets to that game, readers won't need any more proof that Saturdays do rule.