Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Am Third by Gale Sayers

Why I read it: Saw Brian's Song as a kid and always had great respect for Gale Sayers; wanted to see if it was well-founded.

Summary: Meant to be the story of a major professional football star recovering from a devastating knee injury, the book became the inspiration for the movie Brian's Song. But that was just one chapter in the book, a short story in a longer tale that rises from the ghetto to the top of the National Football League, from shy insignificance to super sports stardom.

My Thoughts: I'd have to be an idiot to think that after forty years, I could add anything to the discussion on this book. But I will say one thing; my reading of I Am Third was long overdue.

I was introduced to the Gale Sayers/Brian Piccolo story as a middle schooler, when we were shown the movie on a reel-to-reel projector. And if you haven't seen it, you've missed one of the most important movies of the twentieth century. So, before I picked up the book - long before - I knew the Hollywood story. I had set feelings about Gale Sayers. I was hopeful that they would be reinforced by the book. That's always a dangerous proposition, to trust Hollywood to have told you the truth.

Gladly, I was not disappointed. Sayers' writing style rings honest, which is all the more saddening. Having grown up in a middle class family, never rich, but never dirt poor, I've never been able to imagine the level of poverty the likes of which Sayers lived through in his early years. Descriptions of life without heat, without food, without the basics, including, at times, members of his family, make his accomplishments in life all the more amazing.

Again, to comment broadly on I Am Third at this point puts me at the end of a very long line. But if I could say one word about this book, it would be inspiration. Gale Sayers was, and is much more than the character Billy Dee Williams portrayed in Brian's Song.

Thank you, Hollywood, for not screwing this one up.