Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pigskin Rapture, by Mac Engel

It's August in Texas and I'm counting the days until kickoff!  Mac Engel, who covers sports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has been in Texas long enough to get it--football rules in Texas!  One weekend last fall, he decided to take in as much Texas football as he could in one weekend.  He didn't get a lot of rest, but he saw some great (and not-so-great) football in a four-day stretch.  The result: Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.

Engel covers four big games: Houston Texans v. Indianapolis Colts, Midland Lee v. Odessa Permian, Texas v. Oklahoma, and Dallas Cowboys v. New England Patriots.  The game coverage is adequate, giving the flow and outcome of each game.  Of the four, the only real football drama was Texas-OU, where Texas pulled off a big upset.  But Pigskin Rapture is not about the play-by-play.  It's about the people and culture of football.

At each stop, Engel takes in local dining spots, the tailgate and bar scene, and checks out other local football programs and hot spots.  This is what I enjoyed most about the book.  Engel likes the side roads, the little programs, the mainstream fans, the back stories.  He drops by Rice Stadium and Andrew Luck's high school alma mater in the Houston area.  He checks in at The Bar in Odessa, where Permian fans and former players mingle and relive the glory days.  He samples the deep-fried glory of the State Fair of Texas.  He gawks at the fine art around the palace that Jerry built--and wonders at the armed brawl in the parking lot that left a fan dead.

Texas football fans, especially fans of the teams he covers, will love Pigskin Rapture the way they might enjoy a college yearbook.  Texans and non-Texans alike will get a great glimpse into Texas football life and history.  As much as I enjoyed Engel's writing, the real star of the book (no offense, Mac) is Ron Jenkin's photography.  It's worth the price of the book.

Engel observes that "Texas-OU is what gives college football its color, character, tradition, and ultimately, its distinction from the National Football League."  The NFL "can't replicate the inborn tradition of this game, or the disdain that comes from a real rivalry."  I think this applies to college football as a whole.

I've had some real beefs with Engel's recent coverage of Baylor football.  But I'm with him in Pigskin Rapture.  His love of football and love of Texas is contagious and exuberant.  Kickoff can't get here soon enough!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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