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ESPN COLLEGE FOOTBALL ENCYCLOPEDIA: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE GAME
Edited by Michael MacCambridge
ESPN Books 1,629 pages, $49.95
No sport more closely resembles a religion than college football, with its high priests (coaches), grand cathedrals (stadiums) and, of course, huge, ecstatic congregations of the faithful. All that was missing was a bible.
Let us give thanks to the college football gods, for unto us a bible is given. And it is of truly Biblical proportions: more than 1,600 pages, weighing more than seven pounds. Massive in scope, minute in detail and more than three years in the making, it's a worthy successor to its ancestor, The Baseball Encyclopedia.
Editor Michael MacCambridge and his staff of elves have produced an exhaustive--some might say exhausting--work. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was once hired to write a book for ESPN.) Each of the nation's 119 Division I-A teams, from Air Force to Wyoming, is introduced and dissected in from four to 12 pages. Not only is the date and score of every game in the program's history included, but each school's winning percentage is also charted with a bar graph. An "expert" has been designated to tell the story of each program, choose its greatest player and recount its most memorable victories and heartbreaks.
The etymology of each team's nickname and the evolution of its mascot are also provided, usually with the utmost seriousness. Sixteen glossy color pages depict changing fashions in college football helmets. Even the lyrics of each school's fight song are given in full--though most are indistinguishable exhortations to "wave our banner high" and "march onward to victory."
More riveting are the annual reviews of all seasons, beginning with 1869, when Rutgers and Princeton were the country's only college football teams. (They played twice and traded wins.) Not content with listing final conference standings, the Encyclopedia provides national poll results for every week of every season, starting in 1936. And listing individual leaders and award winners isn't sufficient either; the book gives a detailed count of each year's Heisman Trophy vote. (Did you know that in 1964 Tulsa quarterback Jerry Rhome received almost twice as many votes as Illinois's Dick Butkus?) Additionally, a box score is provided for nearly every bowl game ever played, even such long-forgotten classics as Houston's Oil Bowl, Fresno's Raisin Bowl, Phoenix's Salad Bowl and, indeed, Havana's Bacardi Bowl, played only once, in '37. (Auburn and Villanova tied, 7-7.)
At times all of this detail can be stultifying. For instance, a tortured explanation tells how Iowa's athletes became known as the Hawkeyes, even though "no such bird exists." ( Iowa's mascot, Herky the Hawk, might have replied that the nickname probably refers to a hawk's eyesight, which is, famously, eight times more powerful than a human's.) But MacCambridge has wisely anticipated such fumbles and invites readers to submit corrections on a page at ESPN.com. Let a thousand nitpicking corrections bloom, for the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia is likely here to stay.