I would not have heard of this book if the publisher - Set Shot Press - hadn't purchased an advertisement through Blogads on Corn Nation. The Thin Thirty tells the story of the 1962 Kentucky Wildcats football team. The subtitle states "The Untold Story of Brutality, Scandal and Redemption for Charlie Bradshaw's 1962 Kentucky Football team." (the entirety of which won't fit in the title area on our sites).
The gist of the story: Kentucky football is set to do very well under Blanton Collier when the powers that be decide he isn't good enough and hire Paul Bear Bryant assistant coach Charlie Bradshaw. Bradshaw comes to Kentucky where there are 88 players, and so brutalizes them in his first year that there are only 30 left when the next season begins.
The players are treated to a level of brutality that would have made Bryant wince. I won't mention specifics so as to not steal from the book but a telling comment comes from one of the Kentucky players:
....Cheatam would later serve in Vietnam and rise to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. Twenty years after the events, he remarked that "I guess I could say that nothing I have seen in training (in the military) compared to those terrible practices at U.K.", adding "if the services had pulled anything like that someone would be put in jail."
Brutality is only one part of the story. The scandal includes a couple of homosexual predators who persuade some of the young football players to have sex with them through the use of lavish parties, alcohol and money. One of those predators is the actor Rock Hudson. Another scandal (although certainly not as juicy) is that the football players who quit the team are conned out of their scholarships.
The story is excellent. A reign of terror, hidden lust, and forbidden desire, all the right ingredients for a miniseries. Or in this day, a full television series that doesn't know how to end. The author does a very good job of placing the story into the historical context of the times. The racial tensions that would engulf the South and the level of poverty and living conditions experienced by several of the players add to the story without detracting from the overall theme.
There are several problems with the book. One of them isn't in the detail in terms of getting the facts straight. The book is well-researched, nearly to a fault. Approximately the first 100 pages contain the stories of the football players before Bradshaw's arrival. It nearly kills the book, not so much due to the detail, but by the time Bradshaw arrives on campus there have been too many warnings about bad times to come, or that the players had no idea of what was about to happen to them. You keep expecting the book to jump into the meat and yet you get another story about another player.
Unfortunately, the writing is substandard. There are a fair amount of grammatical errors and a lot of redundancy, i.e. the author saying what's just been said and then in the next sentence saying it again. The author many times fails in letting the subject carry the weight of the story or let the reader draw their own conclusions about the level of brutality and sadism that the players experienced.
Another problem - author Ragland devotes an entire chapter to the 1962 Kentucky - Xavier game. It was a huge loss by Kentucky, but Ragland is emphatic that the game was fixed. Unfortunately there isn't a single quote or legitimate source that provides any proof that the game was fixed. Here's what Ragland concludes:
It is known the game was fixed. Who fixed it? It will never be known and it's not important to know.
What the.....? I came to the conclusion that saying it was fixed is an easy way to explain away a horrible loss against an opponent Kentucky should have destroyed. Given the level of research done for the rest of this story, this chapter should have been removed as it damages the credibility of the rest of the book.
Despite problems with the writing the story is compelling and I finished the book because I wanted to know what happened with Bradshaw and his players. The last part of the book is an epilogue regarding the Kentucky players and what became of their lives. It's a nice touch that you don't see too often - most authors are content to let a story end without a follow up.
The Thin Thirty contains a story of brutality that deserves to be told. If you can handle the grammatical errors and the author's writing it's a very good book as you'd be hard-pressed to find a story this unique. If nothing else, the author has served the men who played for Kentucky during Bradshaw's first year very well as their story is finally told. Perhaps with that knowledge some of their demons can be put to rest.