Sports

“The Code” and “The Black Ace” by G.B. Joyce

 

“The Code” and “The Black Ace” written by award-winning Canadian sportswriter G. B. Joyce, are set in the world of professional hockey. Former pro hockey player, Brad Shade, worked as an investigator for four years post-hockey, but is now an assessor scout for a hockey team based in the States. He interviews junior league prospects and their families, watches them play, and analyzes why they would or would not fit into the franchise. Millions of dollars are at stake and kids that do well in junior hockey might not have what it takes mentally or physically to make a career of it.
 

 

During a scouting trip, Shade has trouble arranging a meet with one of the prospects. In the course of tracking him down, Shade uncovers some disturbing information, a major coverup seems likely, the prospect’s teammate goes missing, and people wind up dead. And Shade gets a chance to apply his P.I. investigative skills to his present scouting gig.

 

“The Code” shows the underbelly of the junior hockey leagues, highlighting the greed and money to be made. Sadly, in any big money sport with youth being fed into the majors, there are parents that chase the dream without regard for what the kids want. And as G.B. Joyce points out, unless there is a real hunger/enthusiasm for the game (not for the fame or money alone), it’s unlikely that even a talented player will have much staying power.

 

A Canadian TV show, “Private Eyes,” is currently being broadcast in the USA. The show is fun and when I discovered that it was based on Joyce’s books, I picked up “The Code,” and soon after, “The Black Ace.” The similarity between the books and the TV show end with the game of hockey and Shade’s stint as a P.I.  Even our hero’s name has been changed to Matt in the TV show. Both versions are good; Shade’s investigations are dogged in both, but on TV he's a full time P.I. and in “The Code” any investigation is tied to the game and his job as a scout.

 

I love the game of hockey in its purest form, so while there is a mystery to be solved in “The Code,” reading this as a sports book was a distinct pleasure. I saw several episodes of the show before picking up the books, and each brings something new to my understanding of both P.I. work and the game of hockey.
 

 

“The Black Ace” is the second book in this hockey/detective series.

Shade is now the official scouting director for the L.A. team, but still spends a lot of time on the road checking out prospects in the junior leagues. 
 

He learns that former teammate and roommate, Martin Mars, has died and that his death has been classified as a suicide. Shade and "Whisper" played together in a history making, five overtime game. On behalf of the franchise, he and a colleague, Chief, attend the funeral. When Shade and Chief pay their respects, the widow shares her doubts that her husband could have committed suicide and asks Shade to look into it. 
 

Shade can’t say no, but Chief has a bad feeling about the situation. Before long, they are beaten up, jailed, threatened, and no closer to the truth. The mystery is why anybody would care enough about their presence to harass them. Shade is not intimidated, won’t leave town because of his promise to the widow, and the threats blow back on the bad guys. He and Chief do some digging, uncover Mars’ shocking past, as well as a mega bucks deal that may be the reason Mars is dead.
 

Shade had attitude on the ice and his off-ice personality hasn't changed. His view of the world is a tad snarky, but he’s entitled. Shade’s manager blew his millions on a shady real estate deal and Shade’s ACL was shredded by an opponent he never liked. But that snarky veneer shows cracks when faced with a good person who needs help and when guilt for his own actions in the past come skating into the present.
 

As Joyce walks us through the process of choosing the next Wayne Gretzky or Martin Brodeur, we learn what kinds of deals need to be made to protect the players and/or the front office. Both books contain lots of tidbits about the life of a hockey player. Did you know that the players fly first class because the seats are bigger/wider? Most of the players have well developed thighs and shoulders and they simply can’t fit into the seats in economy. And here I thought they were just after the special drinks and snacks only available up front.
 

Shade is a complex character, nicely layered with references to the impact life on the road has on his personal relationships. He’s upfront about the career ending injuries he and other players have sustained and knows full well that he was not a gifted player, just a very smart one with a genuine love of the game.

 

According to the online booksellers, “The Code” and “The Black Ace” are followed by “The Third Man In,” rounding out the Brad Shade series. It’s on my ’to buy’ list.

 

Please visit    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/authors/14875/gare-joyce   to learn more about G.B. Joyce (Gare Joyce for non-fiction) and his books.

 

 

 

 

 

“When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss

 

Book Cover - When Pride Still Mattered

“When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” an incredibly well researched biography, takes an unflinching look at Lombardi’s personal life as well as his famed professional milestones.

 

Vince Lombardi, a legend in American football, is often remembered for having said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” He was a taskmaster, a leader, and well respected as a coach, but it took over two decades to reach national fame in the NFL. He spent a number of years as a coach at St. Cecelia’s in Englewood, NJ before moving on to a coaching position at his alma mater, Fordham University in NYC and then to West Point.

 

His next professional move was to the NFL, where he was an assistant coach for the NY Giants. He worked with some of the greats – Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, and Charlie Conerly among others. His solid strategies for training the offensive line proved that he had the stuff of head coaches. At the age of 45, he became head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. He transformed them from a sadly disorganized losing team, to winners of the only three consecutive NFL championships in the history of the game (the last championship before the Superbowl was created, followed by SuperBowls I and II). One of his famous quotes, made at the first team meeting: "I have never been on a losing team, gentlemen, and I do not intend to start now!"

 

Living in a family of football fans as I did, Lombardi was a household name. His ability to have turned around the sad sack Packers and create that amazing team was talked about, rehashed and dissected. The tactic of running the ‘sweep’ repeatedly was astounding to me – if a team runs the same play against the opposition again and again, why can’t the other team defend against it? After all, they knew what was coming. The play was so famous that even the fans knew what was coming. And, of course the opposition did, but not trained well enough against it to keep the Packers from rolling over them.

 

“When Pride Still Mattered” includes interviews, conversations, and assessments from players that worked with Lombardi through the years. There are detailed descriptions of important games and even information about the early Players Association. Read this section and you’ll understand the need to form the first players union back then.

 

Maraniss’ notes about Lombardi’s family are equally revealing. Having a famous father that spent more time with the players than at home, was difficult for Lombardi’s son and daughter. A bizarre story of Susan handing out towels in the ladies room at the Giants games boggles the mind. The strain on his marriage was apparent as Marie took a back seat to her husband’s chosen profession, even during their honeymoon. If she had not attended each and every home game, she might not have seen him at all during the season.

 

That winning spirit pushed Lombardi to greatness in football and Maraniss details the highs and lows along the way.  “When Pride Still Mattered” looks at the principles that drove Vince Lombardi’s life both on and off the field, and lets you draw your own conclusions about whether that driving force is worth the sacrifices made.

 

I highly recommend David Maraniss’ “When Pride Still Mattered,” not only for the fascinating look into the life of a football icon, but for its literary style as well. Lots of biographers turn a person’s life into a list of facts and cute moments and we are left knowing little more than what has already been written in newspaper articles or on the internet. Whether you are a football fan or a fan of sports in general, “When Pride Still Mattered” is worth your time.