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Review: Hero of the Underground By Jason Peter

Most Husker fans know of Jason Peter. He became an All-American in 1997 and was co-caption of the 1997 Nebraska national championship team. He was a first-round draft pick in 1998 by the Carolina Panthers, but had his career cut short by injuries in 2001. It was then that his life changed, the hero worship ended and he began his descent into a drug-filled hellhole. Out of that hellhole came his story, Hero of the Underground.

Hero of the Underground has been out for over a month, released in early July. Peter changed the names of everyone in the book so as to not implicate anyone but himself. He took a chance in doing so, given the recent scandal regarding James Frey's A Million Little Lies where it turned out Frey's memoir was mostly fiction. It could have turned out that Peter's book was seen in the same light. Fortunately for Peter this has not happened.

It''s a hard book to put down after you get started and it's not because of the Nebraska football content. Instead you're caught up in Peter's life as it becomes a continuous lather, rinse, repeat cycle. He gets high, realizes he's too screwed up to continue, goes to rehab, leaves rehab, immediately gets high and start the cycle all over again. Sooner or later it has to end.

Drugs are mentioned so often in the book that after a while, much like Peter you become numb to them. Heroin, meth, loads of pain killers, vicodin, whatever. There are enough hookers and girlfriends in the book that after a while they, too became nameless, as do the people he meets in rehab. In this regard the book is successful because after a while you don't really care about their names, so it wouldn't have made much difference had Peter used them (other than to the people he was naming, a bunch of lawyers, or public relations people).

For the majority of the book Peter comes off as an arrogant ass. He's as blunt as possible about what he's doing to himself, yet he shirks off every possible attempt by someone to help him. He seems completely aware about the trainwreck his life has become yet refuses to do anything serious about it. Such is the life of a junkie.

There's a point at which anyone in this situation hits rock bottom. For some readers Peter may have hit bottom when he recounts his paranoia about being arrested during a drug-induced bout of paranoia at the beginning of the book. For Peter, it was when he realized he'd nearly killed his mother from anxiety. For me, the exact moment was when he realized he's missed three or four days of his life without any idea of what day it is nor what he'd been doing over that time span.

The football content in the book is interesting, although not as interesting as the rest of his story. Still, I get a feeling of camaraderie in knowing that Peter detests Lou Holtz even more than I do, and his chapter about his stint at Nebraska is worth every word. 

'Hero of the Underground' presents an interesting juxtaposition to other books related to Nebraska football. Fan books, i.e., Steve Smith's excellent "Forever Red', Tom Osborne's book "Faith in the Game", or "What It Means to be A Husker" deal with the images of Nebraska football as Norman Rockwell would have painted them, picturesque romantic visions of hard-working young man doing battle on our behalf. In other words, total goodness, complete with healthy doses of religious faith. Peter's book contains everything that these books are not, the darkest side of sports and humanity against the backdrop of the hero worship that's a part of Husker football.

This isn't a book for Nebraska football fans, it's a book for everyone. Well, maybe not everyone. As a parent, I'd have a hard time giving it to my kid to read unless they were heading down the same dangerous path. While the tale of destruction might give warning, the constant dismissal of faith and 12-step programs (not everyone can afford the rehab centers that Peter uses, then non-chalantly tosses aside) may not have the affect you intend, so if you're considering using it as a warning you damned well better read it first

Don't buy this book because it's about a Nebraska Cornhusker hero. Buy it because it's a damned good book and when you start reading it you won't stop until you're done. Some may get turned off by the raw nature of the subject and the language, but given the success it's had (up to #20 on the NY Times Best Seller list), those are few.

Buy the book if you haven't yet. You won't be disappointed.