If you read one sports book this fall, try to make it The End of Autumn by Michael Oriard ( Doubleday, $17.95). Oriard spent 18 of his first 26 years in organized football, from the fourth grade in Sacred Heart Grade School and Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, to Notre Dame, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Hamilton ( Ont.) Tiger-Cats of the CFL. He got his Ph.D. at Stanford and now teaches English at Oregon State.
This isn't a book about drugs, altered transcripts and illegal recruiting; it's a book about football, what it is or should be, the place it fills or should fill in American life, what it feels like when it's played properly (Oriard was an offensive lineman for most of his career), the myriad forms of male bonding it engenders, the promise it holds for personal fulfillment, its brooding potential for psychological tragedy. If all this seems heavy with didactic dullness, it emerges in the book with freshness and sparkle. One reason is that Oriard filters it through the grid (no pun) of his own experiences, and another is that, unlike too many teachers of English, this one knows how to use the language as well.
If there's a flaw in Autumn, it's that Oriard lays it on pretty thick when it comes to the mystique of Notre Dame football. Domers will love it; the rest of you can skim those sections.
Don't skim anything else. Oriard's account of his first varsity game as a 16-year-old, played at night before 8,00 hometowners, matches the quality of the debut itself; his description of what a free Monday means to a pro football player—the luxury of the ice bath, the giant whirlpool, the easing of sore and stiff muscles—seethes with sensuality.
Aside from the value of the fine phrases and the sensitive and sensible reflections, there is another bonus for you when you close the book. You will have met a good man, a man you would like to send your son or daughter to for English 101. The Oregon State registrar is hereby warned.