This is an excerpt from Salon contributor Irvin Muchnick’s Without Helmets or Shoulder Pads: The American Way of Death in Football Conditioning, just published by ECW Press. Portions of the book have appeared previously in different form at Salon: reporting on the University of California’s cover-up of the 2014 death of Ted Agu, and analysis of the on-field near-death of Damar Hamlin and its aftermath.
In his song “American Pie,” Don McLean pinpoints “the day the music died”: Feb. 3, 1959, when four early rock and roll luminaries went down together in a plane crash. In my own low-profile journey writing about football, it became no longer possible to consume the sport without a core cringe subsequent to Oct. 22, 1989. That was the day I attended a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots at Stanford Stadium outside Palo Alto, California.
The backstory involves what I was doing there and why the game wasn’t being played, per normal scheduling, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. I was following Joe Montana, the 49ers’ quarterback, for a cover story for the New York Times Magazine. And the Loma Prieta earthquake, five days earlier, had forced Candlestick to be closed for repairs and the game to be relocated 30 miles south of its original planned site.
The launch event for WITHOUT HELMETS OR SHOULDER PADS is this Thursday, October 5, 7 p.m., at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California.
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