Daily Archives: November 15, 2007

Army-Navy Brilliance: Feinstein’s Civil War prose

I’ve read some more from John Feinstein’s book on Army and Navy football. His writing doesn’t cease to amaze me, in terms of seamless introduction of people and integration of trivia. I really think this technique (applicable to the majority of engaging creative nonfiction writers) works better with prose than with moving image. In film, a fade-to-black (followed by a title card) or a dissolve could be employed to join otherwise disparate or loosely related content, but it’s not as exciting or fulfilling as reading a piece of text and literally seeing the incorporation of transitions that don’t involve an inch of space between two paragraphs.

For example, after talking about Navy football player Shaun Stephenson, Feinstein notes that head coach George Chaump has been replaced by Charlie Weatherbie; Stephenson suffers an ACL injury; Navy goes to Dallas to play SMU at the Cotton Bowl. Feinstein remarks:

“The Cotton Bowl is located in the middle of the Texas state fairgrounds and, as the Navy buses inched through Friday afternoon traffic, Clint Bruce, who had grown up…nearby…, sat in the back of the bus carrying the defense and pointed out landmarks to his teammates” (124).

A few comments about Bruce concludes that paragraph. A few paces later, Feinstein mentions one way in which Navy and Army football players are more intellectually stimulated than they would be in other football programs. Observe:

“Traveling with a military academy football team wasn’t quite the same as traveling with other football teams. Not only did tutors routinely make the trips, but players brought books with them. They also read newspapers. At dinner that night, Garrett Smith, Bryce Minamer, and center Brian Dreschler got into a lengthy conversation about AIDS research” (125).

Shortly thereafter, he adds:

“More often than not, players at Navy either root for Army or don’t care very much whether the Cadets win or lose. The same is true at Army when it comes to Navy. But both Army and Navy always root for Air Force to lose” (126-127).


“Playing defense is much more about getting whipped into an emotional frenzy than playing offense is. Offense is almost scientific; the linemen must know their blocking techniques and remember their schemes. The so-called ‘skill’ position players need finesse and quickness at least as much, usually more, than they need power”(127).

I love it. I just love it.

Great writing makes me happy in a way that great filmmaking can’t or doesn’t–or hasn’t done yet.