A sportswriters heartfelt, heart-wrenching story
Playing football was all John Ed Bradley knew, from the time he grew up in Opelousas, La., to the day he first set foot on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. No drugs could match it. The way it felt to run out there with the crowd yelling for you. I wish every kid could experience that, Bradley writes in It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium.But after his final game as an offensive lineman for the LSU Tigers, a 34-10 victory over Wake Forest in the 1979 Tangerine Bowl, Bradley walked away from it all. Bradley could have stayed in the game as a coach or possibly as a player in the NFL, but for him there seemed to be more in life a career as a writer. Football was over.For the ensuing years Bradley would do anything he could to avoid his LSU past, even if it meant botching an assignment as a sportswriter. He was a decorated center for the Bayou Bengals, but he had seen how it defined former players, and how fans would latch on to anything about them. Bradley recalled that LSU players walked between raindrops when they wore the team colors of purple and gold.With football behind him, Bradley went on to become a sportswriter, but not without some lumps. In It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium, Bradley vividly describes one of his first assignments as a sportswriter for the Washington Post to cover the LSU-Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.For Bradley, though, this was no easy task. He recounts how, during the first half of the game, he locked himself in a bathroom stall.By the time I returned to my seat, the half was almost over. I pretended to take notes, he writes, but I was somewhere else.Indeed, he was anywhere but where his formal football team was. Instead, Bradleys imagination took him to his girlfriends bedroom, where he was telling her how great a writer he would be. Or out driving the back roads in her convertible, wind blowing her pretty hair. In the old church cemetery at Grand Coteau where we went to hide from the world, the huge oaks black against the sky as the two of us walked among the tombs.Even though he never filed a story that night, the Post brass, including Executive Editor Ben Bradlee of Watergate fame, kept their faith in Bradley, and it paid off.That would be the first of many steps Bradley who also has written for Esquire, Sports Illustrated and has six novels to his credit took to realize his past made him who he is today. Eloquent and truthful, Bradleys book can be painful to read, as he recounts the death of his father, teammate David Woodley, and his LSU coach to whom the book was dedicated, Charlie McClendon. It was those string of deaths that brought him back to the game, for as much as he tried to get away from his past, it kept tugging at him with each passing.Bradley also recounts visits to former teammates he hadnt spoken to in decades, and eventually makes peace with the fact that because of their years together slugging it out on the Deep South soil, the bond was greater than his ambitions.Make no mistake, this is not some saccharin-laced, expanded version of Bruce Springsteens Glory Days. It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium cuts to the bone, and as hard as it is to read at times, its even harder to put down. One must wonder what Bradley went though when he wrote it.
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