cover image The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Champion Team Exa

The Junction Boys: How Ten Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Champion Team Exa

Jim Dent. St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-312-19293-8

When Paul ""Bear"" Bryant left the University of Kentucky to take the reins of the Texas A&M football program in 1954, his legend was already approaching Texas-size proportions (almost 30 years later, Bryant became the winningest Division I coach of all time, with most of his victories coming at the University of Alabama). The problem: he knew he had inherited an awful team. Texas sportswriter Dent (King of the Cowboys) tells how Bryant turned the A&M program around. Over 100 boys rode in three buses out to the remote west Texas town of Junction and began grueling practices on cactus-riddled gravel in 110-degree heat, with no water. Ten days later, all but 34 had quit or simply run off. The team won just one game that season; two years later, however, A&M went undefeated. Dent has produced a richly evocative chronicle of the time and place, filled with bourbon-swilling, money-rolled alumni and every conceivable form of coaching sadism (Bryan deliberately broke one player's nose with his own forehead on the first day of practice). Culled from dozens of interviews with participants, Dent's text follows the players through the training camp, the team's eventual success and Bryan's continuing influence in their lives. Dent is a smooth storyteller, and he writes with a novelistic, often gritty touch. Though he does show Bryan paying for recruits, driven by pride and savagely attacking his players, he excuses Bryan's excesses as part of what it takes to build winning character. In the end, Dent gives readers a whooping celebration of the myth of Texas gridiron machismo. (Sept.)