Writing with co-author Jon Land, Casciola, an All-Ivy tackle who returned to Princeton as its head coach in the 1970s, devotes parts of the book to rule changes and coaching guidelines that could improve player safety. He also drifts into tangents about the prevalence of injuries in other sports like soccer and cheerleading. But 1st and Forever is primarily a memoir of Casciola’s life in football, featuring the inspiring people he encountered as a player, coach, and president of the National Football Foundation.
Princeton plays a prominent role, with chapters devoted to Stas Maliszewski ’66, Cosmo Iacavazzi ’65, Charlie Gogolak ’66, Paul Savidge ’66, and Bob Ehrlich ’79. Within these portraits are some memorable gems: Maliszewski, he writes, had his sights set on Notre Dame until Jim Leach ’64, the future congressman whose parents employed Maliszewski’s mother as a domestic worker, asked him whether he’d ever considered Princeton. Of Gogolak, one of the game’s first soccer-style placekickers, Casciola recalls, “I was his position coach at Princeton but was under strict orders not to coach him at all.”
The authors: Bob Casciola ’58 is a former football player, coach, and president of the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame. At the end of his playing career, he became an assistant coach at Princeton and Dartmouth, landed his first head-coaching job at Connecticut (1971-72), and returned to Princeton, where he led the Tigers for five seasons. He later worked as an executive for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and spent more than a decade leading the NFF, which honored him with its Distinguished American Award in 2004, shortly before he retired.
Jon Land has written or co-written more than 40 books, including the true-crime memoir Takedown: A Small-Town Cop’s Battle Against the Hells Angels and the Nation’s Biggest Drug Gang (with Jeff Buck and Lindsay Preston) and two recent installments of the Murder, She Wrote series.
Opening lines: My lifelong affair with the game of football began thanks to a combination of a bicycle and a radio. I must’ve been eight or nine years old, maybe even younger. I was riding a bike around the sidewalk in front of my house. It was right after the end of World War II, and the radio was blaring from the front porch while I made tracks over the pavement. My four brothers were listening to a football game with their friends, hooting and hollering as if they were in the stands. All of them were older than me, the nearest in age, Al, still eleven years my senior, so I was used to being solitary. Then again, I wasn’t really alone, because there was the sound of the radio to keep me company.
I grew up in New Hyde Park on Long Island in New York. A working-class neighborhood where basketball hoops dotted the driveways and neighbors called each other by their first names, always ready with a smile or a helping hand. Back then, Notre Dame was the only college football team to have its games broadcast by a national radio network; in this case Mutual Radio, which meant the school’s games could be heard all over the country. And as I was pedaling about, mostly in circles, I heard the play-by-play man blare the name of Notre Dame’s famed quarterback, Angelo Bertelli, as he raced into the end zone for a touchdown.
I didn’t know anything about football in those days. But I was old enough to recognize an Italian name when I heard it, and that was enough to make me stop pedaling about and listen, enraptured and close enough to the radio to hear the occasional crackle of static. I’d found a hero in a fellow Italian whose name could be heard from coast to coast, thanks to the fact that he was a football player.
Reviews: “Football is all-American. It always has been and always will be. Yet, nobody has their heads in the sand, starting with Bob Casciola,” writes Chris Berman of ESPN. “1st and Forever is both a feel-good and feel-enlightened read for football fans present and future.”
Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrich ’79, who played for Casciola at Princeton, calls 1st and Forever “a timely and important book on why football is so central to our culture.”