John Bacon Discusses Novel Fourth and Long At Curley Center Event
John Bacon, author of the polarizing novel Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football, spoke at Penn State’s John Curley Center for Sports Journalism last night. The event, moderated by newly anointed Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society John Affleck, had a small crowd of about 30 to 40 people in the Carnegie Cinema.
Bacon opened with a 15 minute speech before the question-and-answer session began. He rehashed most of the notable Penn State portions of the book, such as the call center that Mauti, Zordich, O’Brien, and Fitzgerald ran to convince every player they could to stay after the transfer rule went into effect. We covered that story a month ago.
A lot of Bacon’s discussion with Affleck revolved around the process of writing the book and how Bacon was able to gain such great access and develop so much trust with the Penn State football program during his time in State College. When he first came to town, the NCAA sanctions had not yet come down, but when they did, the story that he was planning to tell changed immeasurably.
What was going to be a story about how the team responded to the scandal become a story about, “Do you stay? Do you go? Why do you stay? Why do you go,” in the words of Bacon. He discussed the 100+ college football coaches who came to town to try to steal away Nittany Lions, camping out in the Lasch parking lot. “College football it it’s best. The vulture system,” Bacon said.
“People don’t realize how close to imploding this place was,” Bacon said. “Jordan Hill got in his car like a cowboy riding around campus herding up sheep, just trying to convince players to stay.”
Much of the reason that Bacon was able to gain so much access to the program was because O’Brien had read his last book and enjoyed it. The book, titled Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football was a similarly immersive story about an NCAA football team.
He met O’Brien at a lunch for the new Pegula Ice Arena on April 20. Lucky for Bacon, he knew Josh Brandwene, the current head coach of the Penn State women’s hockey team. Bacon had a connection with Brandwene, who was sitting at O’Brien’s table and invited him to take the empty seat. The next day, he was attending a Penn State practice and the rest is history.
Bacon went into his past a bit, telling one funny anecdote of his time in college. A teacher’s assistant invited him to what Bacon called “an English department party.” It turns out that what Bacon expected to be a party was an event with a bunch of professors and academics that the famous Al Young was speaking at.
He walked in the door, handed his jacket to a doorman, and went in only to be surprised when he was the age of the crowd at this “party.” Soon enough, he found out that the doorman was Young.
He apologized to Young, explaining himself. The famous poet and novelist responded, “You’re looking for a party, you found a party.” He went on to give him one piece of advice: “Don’t want to write. Need to write,” something that Bacon said he didn’t understand until years later.
While Bacon did enjoy writing Fourth and Long, covering four teams in one season took its toll on Bacon. “It was insane,” he said. “It will kill you, but it was a sweet death in some ways. I had no life whatsoever during that time.”