Bleachers Summary

John Grisham


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Bleachers Summary

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Bleachers is a 2004 sports novel by American author John Grisham. Centering on the fictional Messina High School football team, and in particular its hard-nosed former coach Eddie Rake, it explores the stories of several Messina High players and their complex relationship with Rake. The book follows the players throughout their lives, and shows how their time at Messina High and their interactions with Rake shaped the rest of their lives. Exploring themes of teamwork, tough love, regret, forgiveness, priorities, fairness, and what truly makes someone great, Bleachers was famed legal thriller writer Grisham’s first entry into the sports fiction genre, and received positive reviews. It was praised for its nuanced portrayal of high school football culture and its well-drawn characters.

Bleachers begins in 1987, as Neely Crenshaw is a high school senior and an All-American quarterback. The star player of Messina High School, he has been nicknamed the “golden boy” of the team and is expected to lead his teammates to the state title. He has been highly recruited by colleges due to his accurate arm, fast feet, size, and strength. He’s been called the greatest quarterback in Messina High history. He fondly remembers having been approached by a man who watched him in a pick-up game with his friends and told him that one day he’d play football for the Spartans. The only dark cloud over his time at Messina is his tense relationship with legendary Messina football coach Eddie Rake, a mercurial man with a reputation for being extremely harsh to his players. When it comes time to win the state championship, Rake is suspended for backhanding Neely during an argument, and Neely plays with a broken hand sustained while responding to the backhand with a punch. Despite his injury, Neely rallies his team from a massive 31–0 deficit to beat their rivals at East Pike with a final score of 34–31. Messina High School wins the state championship, and Neely has achieved his life’s goal to that point.

At graduation, Neely has received thirty-one scholarship offers. He chooses Tech University, and is given a fifty thousand dollar gift from the college—in violation of NCAA rules—as a signing bonus. He starts his career on the bench, out of his depth in the much faster paced world of college football. However, his team makes it to the 1989 Gator Bowl, and in the second half he’s called in to suit up as quarterback. Immediately, he puts on a career performance, throwing for three touchdowns, running for a hundred yards, and leading a dramatic last-second comeback. Entering his sophomore year as a star, he’s named national player of the week after a six-touchdown performance against Purdue University. However, only months later, he encounters a dramatic reversal of fortune when he suffers a career-ending knee injury from a dirty hit by a rival player from A&M. With no real interest in college beyond football, he soon winds up dropping out and drifts across the country, trying to find something to reignite his passions. He eventually settles down in the Orlando, Florida area and gets into the real estate business.

Neely is reunited with most of his old friends from Messina High School when he receives word that Coach Rake has passed away. Despite Rake’s reputation, he loved as well as reviled by those he touched in his thirty-four years of coaching. Almost all of the seven hundred and fourteen players he coached return to the town for his memorial. At the funeral, his statistics are repeated. He ended his career with a record of four hundred and eighteen wins, sixty-two losses, and a near-record of thirteen state championships. However, his career also ended in his biggest disgrace and regret, when a player named Scotty Reardon died of heat stroke during a brutal, unsanctioned Sunday morning practice. Reardon’s uncle happened to be the Superintendent of Education in the district, and he was determined to get justice for his nephew. After exposing Rake’s training methods, he fired Rake. At Rake’s funeral, a letter is read from the old coach, a letter that he only wanted read after his death. In it, he states that he only had two regrets in his life: the death of Scotty Reardon, and the incident where he struck Neely Crenshaw. Hearing these words, Neely is able to forgive Coach Rake, and to let go of all the anger and resentment he has held all these years. He’s finally able to find peace with where he is now, and to recognize the role Coach Rake played in his glory days.

John Grisham is a prolific and successful American author, primarily of legal fiction. He is the author of nearly forty novels, four short stories, and three works of nonfiction. In addition to his books for adults, he is the author of the Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series for preteens. Also an attorney, politician, and activist, he has been active in advocacy for the wrongly convicted, and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990. His books have been adapted into eleven motion pictures and two TV series.