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Rough Magic: Bill Walsh's Return To Stanford Football

Rough Magic: Bill Walsh's Return To Stanford Football


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Here is an exhilarating chronicle of the Stanford University football team's spectacular 1992 seasons and an incisive portrait of Bill Walsh, their idiosyncratic, ingenious coach, whom George Schulz has called "a great intellect." Not since A Season on The Brink has there been such a revealing study of a great team and a great coach in action.

When Walsh returned to Stanford in 1992 to coach its team, the Cardinal, he surprised many, including himself, by turning his back on a realm - professional sports - that he had conquered. During the fourteen years since he had last coached at Stanford, he had amassed a record and a reputation few men of his era could equal, having led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl wins and six divisional titles. The nickname "Genius" had been bestowed on him, and most in the sports community and beyond would use it without reservation. Even those few who added a dash of sarcasm when they used the moniker could not deny Walsh's brilliance.

What drew Walsh back to Stanford (in what Time magazine called his "Second Coming") was its embodiment of the scholar-athlete ideal so rarely glimpsed today in the high-stakes world of college sports. What that idea meant for Walsh in real terms was a decent team, hampered by its school's high admission standards, surrounded by the toughest teams in the sport. What Walsh and his scholar-athletes did in his first year back astonished many. They achieved their first ten-win season since 1940, earned their first top ten ranking in over twenty years, and won their first bowl game since the Carter administration.

Throughout that remarkable season, Lowell Cohn had unlimited access to Walsh, his coaches, and his players during every game, practice, scrimmage, and team meeting. The result of his immersion in the Cardinal's triumphant 1992 season is an account of singular intensity, depth, and eloquence. Certainly there is victory's thrill and defeat's agony here, but there is more besides: a trenchant depiction of a man driven by relentless intellectual energy and chased by perpetual self-doubt; a galvanizing story of how a disparate, squabbling collection of young men become united by success and by near tragedy; and indisputable proof that, at its best, football is as much an intellectual challenge as it is a physical one.

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