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Final plays are examined in ‘Heart Stoppers’

Observer Scene | Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Written by Notre Dame professor Ted Mandell, “Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: The Greatest College Football Finishes (Since 1970)” is an interesting and expansive look at more than 100 of the greatest game finishes from the last three decades.

Originally published in the 1990s, Mandell has updated the volume to include several recent games, including four from the 2005 season – the book ends with the epic 2006 Rose Bowl, in which the Vince Young-led Texas Longhorns defeated the USC Trojans.

Every chapter in the book is divided in the same way – “The Background,” “The Play” and “The Aftermath” – which makes for easy and organized reading.

Additionally, each chapter has a pull quote of a coach or player involved. Mandell sets up the background information for the end of the game, then talks about the individual play that won (or lost) that game. The book then discusses how each team finished and what effect that particular game had on the team in question. “Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys” is obviously well researched, as it is filled with quotes and anecdotes that embellish the games themselves.

“Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys” starts at 1968 and concentrates on finishes that can be broken down to a single play, which means great games like 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma, 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State and 1998 Arkansas-Tennessee aren’t included. In a nice touch, the volume includes not only Division I-A, but also Division I-AA (including some Ivy League games, like the 1968 match-up between Harvard and Yale) through Division III.

Yet many of these games are going to be very familiar to college football fans, including the 1984 Miami-Nebraska Orange Bowl, the 1980 BYU-SMU Holiday Bowl and the 2003 Ohio State-Miami Fiesta Bowl.

Notre Dame friends will be happy to know that no fewer than eight Irish games are included here, among them the 1988 Miami game, the 1992 “Snow Bowl” and the 1980 Michigan game.

Mandell’s writing is simple and easy to follow. His descriptions of the game are well-done and the background information is ample. It seems a bit odd to read descriptions of a sport that is so visual, but the book is sufficient as a reference and makes for interesting reading on its own.

One of the best aspects of the volume is the inclusion of a pair of CDs, which feature many of the original calls from the game. Some of these are famous already, like Flutie’s Hail Mary (“He did it! He did it! Flutie did it!”), which was recently featured in a Wheaties commercial, or Joe Starkey’s call of “The Play” (“The band is on the field!”). The CDs make for fun and, in a way, brings back memories of pre-ESPN days when radio was primarily how sports fans got their fix.

“Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys” is a fun book and an excellent reference for college football fans. The $25 price tag is a bit much, but it makes a great gift for anyone interested in the sport.