Book Review – The Forgettables by Jay Acton

  • The Forgettables – A Minor-League Odyssey
  • by Jay Acton
  • Publisher – T.Y. Crowell
  • Copyright 1973
  • 198 pages
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Front cover of original version

Rating – 7.5 / 10

Review – If you ask me, we focus far too much on success. Too many books on sports are about the biggest stars and the championship seasons. Likewise, too many books on actors focus on those few on the A list. As a result, we lose perspective, forget that  such experiences are atypical.

In a small way, The Forgettables by Jay Acton helps correct this imbalance. To steal a line from Abe Lincoln, the world will little note nor long remember the Pottstown Firebirds or The Atlantic Coast Football League in which they competed from 1968-1970. To the extent that the Firebirds are remembered at all, it is through NFL Films’ documentary Pro Football, Pottstown, Pa., which focuses on the 1970 Firebirds.

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Back Cover (new version)

Jay Acton’s Book

I’ve never seen the movie. But I saw that Jay Acton had written a book on the 1970 Firebirds titled The Forgettables. It is available in electronic form on Amazon.com for 99 cents, so I took the bait. After finishing the book, I’m glad that I read it.

But, at first, I really had my doubts. Acton starts with a dull, overly-long history of Pottstown. However, in Chapter 2 Acton rights the ship by turning to the Firebirds’ most-colorful character, quarterback King Corcoran. The rest of the book holds the reader’s interest. Acton has a good sense of pacing, deftly cutting between recounting the 1970 season and reporting on other issues (such as profiling players or Pottstown’s movers and shakers). Chapters 2- 23 more than make up for the botched beginning in Chapter 1.

Why Read This? The Rhythms Of Minor-League Life

A skeptic could ask why a book on a semi-pro football team merits anyone’s attention. The question is fair. The sports fan who likes to read will get a story that is well off the beaten path. There just aren’t many like this one. Acton has a good eye, often reporting telling anecdotes that capture the “flavor” of minor-league life –

  • For instance, the Firebirds got me hand-me-down equipment from the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Their name, therefore, had to be some sort of a bird due to the silver eagle wings that were already on the old helmets.
  • During halftime of one game @ a high-school stadium, Acton observes “A half-dozen players… puffed away on cigarettes. Since there was only one toilet, a few Firebirds relieved themselves, unselfconsciously, in the shower.”
  • During a road trip to Virginia, the team arrives by bus at 2 a.m. & books only half as many hotel rooms as it needs. So, players are forced to break down the beds, with one player sleeping on the mattress and the other on the box springs.
  • At the end of the book, Pottstown’s players agree to move the championship game out of their home stadium, in hopes that a bigger crowd at their opponent’s home field will allow them to earn more money.

Dreamers

If pressed to say what bigger lesson we can learn The Forgettables, I would say that the book is about dreams. Every person in the book has many reasons to feel discouraged that he will ever “live his dream” in pro football. But all of them persist. Learning about their varied reasons for persevering is the most-interesting and thought-provoking part of the book. Who are these people? Among many others, you meet-

  • “King” Corcoran (1943-2009) is the team’s quarterback and best player. Acton has a perfect description of Corcoran as “the poor man’s Joe Namath.” Like Namath, Corcoran is a brash, entertaining, party animal and womanizer. Here’s Corcoran on his college days @ the University of Maryland –

My freshman year at Maryland I was a legend. How did I get this name King? Let me tell you. There was this sorority with forty-seven girls in it. And me and this other kid f—-d thirty-eight of them. We were smooth about it. We just kept quiet about it. Most guys would mouth off about it. We’d just bag ‘Em and bag ‘Em and bag ‘Em.

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Before heading to Pottstown, The King was on the Jets’ taxi squad.

  • Dave DiFilippo (1916-1983) is the Firebirds’ coach. He briefly played for the Philadelphia Eagles before World War II ended his playing career. DiFilippo hopes against all odds that he can parlay the Firebirds’ job into an NFL head coaching job. To me, DiFilippo is the center of the book. Unlike his young players, he’s old enough to have tasted life’s bitterness many times. But DiFilippo is an everyman who keeps trying, and the reader cheers for him.
  • Bill Stetz is a defensive lineman from Boston College who was cut by the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles. He is the team’s resident hippie, running a “head shop” in Pottstown with two local “hangers on” called Ditty and Bongo.
  • Edward Gruber (1908 – 1996) is Pottstown’s resident “rich guy.” He made a fortune selling underwear and is the Firebirds’ owner. Acton doesn’t take the easy out of portraying Gruber as an autocrat, but the owner is still mysterious at book’s end. Acton does make it clear that Gruber’s deep pockets – and willingness to spend – give the Firebirds advantages over poorer, rival teams.

Areas for Improvement

While I enjoyed The Forgettables, some things rubbed me the wrong way. At times, Acton gets in the way of his story, by inserting his own opinions rather than letting his readers decide for themselves. A lot of Acton’s commentary focuses on the issues of the day in 1970 –  war, race relations, the generation gap, drugs, etc.

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The Firebirds (in green & white) in snowy action versus Hartford (?). Based on Acton’s description, I think that this is the 1970 championship game.

Some of this stuff can be pretty dated. Some of it just seems out of place. Too often Acton tries too hard to take down middle America and its values. Consider his description of the Indianapolis Speedway –

Through the rain I could see the Speedway, oddly disappointing, old and painted over, like a woman of expanded girth spilling out on all sides. The Speedway was not the Coliseum stretching to ends of the universe that I had imagined it would be; it was just one more American illusion festering in a cow patch.

Even more revealing is Acton’s description of the crowd in Norfolk, Virginia, the night a fight broke out between the Firebirds and the Norfolk Neptunes –

Bad blood was spilled on every play. The Norfolk fans, a military crew the lot of them, loved it. After all, Pottstown, another country so far away, was the enemy.

Acton was living in New York City when he wrote The Forgettables. Generally, he seems insightful and he crafts some stylish prose. However, at his worst, Acton comes off as the stereotypical, NYC snob – self satisfied, with a reflexive disdain for anyone from outside his milieu.

Read It, Football Fans

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OK, The Forgettables isn’t perfect. Acton got on my nerves a few times. But there’s plenty of human drama and insight into the underside of pro football. Give it a chance – for 99 cents how wrong can you go?

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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