Book Review Archives

Ain’t Nothin’ But a Winner: Bear Bryant, the Goal Line Stand, and a Chance of a Lifetime

By Barry Krauss and Joe M. Moore
Reviewed by Joe Formichella
The University of Alabama Press, 2006
$26.95, Hardcover

“Where were you when the ‘play’ happened?”

The “play” occurred in the 1979 Sugar Bowl game, fourth and inches from the goal-line, Alabama clinging to a seven point lead. The play propelled Alabama to the National Championship, the team’s stalwart defense to the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Barry Krauss—front and center in that SI photo—into the first-round NFL draft choice of the Baltimore Colts. The play was recently named one of the ten most important plays of the twentieth century by ESPN.

There are many memoirs written by former athletes with less lustrous credentials, so many that there must be reasons beyond our culture of personality to account for their popularity. Perhaps psycho-emotional reasons and benefits for the author reduce the effects of separation anxiety. In his foreword, Don Shula says that in the case of football players it’s “the loss of football in their lives when they stop playing” because “it happens before they would have chosen.” In the case of Krauss, though, the first time Shula “looked into Barry’s eyes after he retired” he saw “a peace there that only the purest of players can have.” Krauss, Shula says, “is a whole man.”

And that is what separates Ain’t Nothin’ But a Winner from other such memoirs. There is no self-aggrandizing and no mea culpas. It is not even a profile in courage. It is the story of Krauss’ football career from beginning to end, from the backyards and streets of Pompano Beach, Florida, to Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide, and Bear Bryant, to the NFL, and finally to Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. At each point Krauss wonders (and explains) how he got to be so lucky, and he never forgets that many people are responsible for almost anyone’s success in this life, nor does he fail to thank them.

Ain’t Nothin’ But a Winner is at times funny, always honest, as easy a read as the sports page, and in the end, as with all good books, it’s about more than football and competition. It’s about life, “the journey,” as Krauss calls it, and the “million little moments” that, he says, make life truly worth living.

Joe Formichella is the author of Wreck of the Twilight Limited; Here’s To You, Jackie Robinson; and Murder Creek.