Third and Long, Bob Katz. Minneapolis: Trolley Car Press, 2010.
Summary: When a drifter, once a Notre Dame football star, shows up in Longview, Ohio, he quickly becomes the town’s hope to save its major factory, lead its football team to victory, and maybe save the town.
He’d drifted from town to town after a brief football career, dropping out of Notre Dame. With experience in clothing manufacturing, he got off the train in Longview, Ohio in 1997 to apply for a job as factory manager of the Made Right Clothing Company, the major business in this Ohio River county seat. He almost didn’t make the cut until Marie, the administrative assistant who had taken a shine to him let slip he had a football injury. His abbreviated career at Notre Dame, under the name of Nick Nocero was enough to change the owner’s mind.
It became clear he faced a challenge. There had already been layoffs. Foreign competition was making it more difficult to get contracts. Yet the change was noticeable. Nocero cared, and would help out wherever needed. Working with the union steward, they met some rush contracts and business was up. But that just appeared to make them more attractive to some visiting Korean businessmen discussing a “strategic partnership.”
Longview High School, playing at Made Right Stadium, had fielded a string of mediocre football teams, the Bobcats, under Coach Pruitt, who has just suffered a stroke. The assistant, Sherman, was a math teacher who could do stats but knew little of the game. The Made Right owners put the pressure on for Nick to help. He assists and then takes over, which Sherman was only too glad for him to do. And the team starts winning. Marie’s son Brian plays for them, and he not only plays better, but starts becoming a better student.
Suddenly he is in demand. To speak to the Chamber of Commerce. To swap stories at the American Legion. To get a celebrity to the town’s Christmas tree lighting event. Both for the town and for him, it’s “third and long” and everyone is hoping for a miracle. The company, the school, the town have been just hanging on. Marie, a single mom sees a man who is worthy of her.
It’s hopeful. The team’s winning, the company is making respectable gains, and romance is budding. But there is a secret in Nick’s past that could trip him, and the whole shebang, up, downing them all for a loss.
Bob Katz has captured life in an Ohio town. The cover even looks familiar, like I’ve been in this town. Nearly all the small county seats are just hanging on, if that. If that one big employer pulls out, it changes everything. It has for a number of them. He also captures how a winning team can lift a whole town. Nick both intrigues, with the sense of mystery surrounding his life, about which he say little, and his ability to lead and inspire. Katz understands what a famous pastor once observed, that people love to be led well. The people of the town did, the kids did, and I found myself rooting for Nick, as he tries to make the most of this “third and long” shot to show what he can do, who he can be. This is a finely written story speaking to the hopes we cling to for ourselves, and for the places we call home.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author.