Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review of "The Perfect Game"

While most books I read are very good, as any avid reader knows, every now and again there will be a book that didn't live up to expectations.  This was one of those books.  I remembered watching this game and was amazed at how well Villanova played in winning one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. When I saw there was a book about that game, I was hoping it would be as good as the game was.  Unfortunately, for me this book didn't come close.  Here is my review of "The Perfect Game."

“The Perfect Game: How Villanova’s Shocking 1985 Upset of Mighty Georgetown Changed the Landscape of College Hoops Forever” by Frank Fitzpatrick
Basketball, college, history, upsets
Publish date:
January 22, 2013
320 pages
2 ½  of 5 stars (fair)
It is considered one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history during a year when the sport was undergoing significant changes. 1985 was the year that the NCAA basketball tournament was expanded to 64 games and had the regional brackets that are familiar to even non-basketball fans. Several conferences experimented with a shot clock, which was to become a permanent rule the next year – it was not used during this tourney, which was important to this game.

Which game is this? It was the thrilling 66-64 win by the Villanova Wildcats over the Georgetown Hoyas in the finals of the 1985 NCAA basketball tournament.  This book by veteran Philadelphia writer Frank Fitzpatrick claims to show the reader how this one game changed the sport.  But that is misleading for several reasons and as a result I was disappointed with this book.

The first disappointment for me is that there was very little mention of the game itself, save for some short references, until page 231 when Chapter 13 was about the game day experience for the players and the historical contest.  That is a long time to wait for the main subject of the book.  The information before that chapter is also not all about the season and tournament games that led up to their mighty clash.  While there is some good basketball writing, especially in the previous chapter when the previous tourney games for the Wildcats and Hoyas are discussed, there is much more about the racial overtones of the Hoyas.

While one cannot ignore the role that race played in the sport at that time, especially centered around Georgetown, I felt that there was far too much of the book that dealt with that subject and that the author tried to force the topic to be the reason for something when there could be other factors. The author felt that race played a role in how many Americans would root for a team in this game, and that many felt Villanova was the “good” team and Georgetown was the “bad” team due to race.  While that may have had some role, it is indisputable that many sports fans love to cheer for an underdog. Because Georgetown was such a prohibitive favorite, it is very possible that many simply wanted to cheer for the underdog – a possibility not discussed in the book.

The other aspect that I felt was misleading was that this game alone “changed the landscape of college hoops forever.”  While the game was to undergo major changes that I mentioned earlier, they were going to happen regardless of the outcome of this game. It could be historic because it was the last game without the shot clock and Villanova took advantage of this, but that was already approved to add a shot clock in all NCAA games for the following season.  Teams didn’t change to mimic the Wildcats to copy their success.  While the championship game was held in a regular sized college arena (Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky), it wasn’t the last one to be held in a non-dome setting as that would not take effect until 1997, as mentioned in the book.

Those are just a few examples of how this book was a letdown for me after the title grabbed my attention.  The stories on the two schools are not even complete – for Villanova, Ed Pickney’s book on the team gives a more complete picture, while there are several books on this era of Georgetown basketball and the two main men for the Hoyas that year, Patrick Ewing and coach John Thompson.  If a reader wants to read on these two schools or this game, those are better options.

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