“I wrote these stories between 1992 and 2018. They cover a dozen different sports for a dozen different media outlets, from the Ann Arbor News to National Public Radio, and they stretch from a couple pages to a dozen. But they have one thing in common: they all meant a lot to me when I wrote them, and they still do today.”
The Best of Bacon presents both new and familiar stories by best-selling author John U. Bacon, all centered on sports in his home state of Michigan. Best known for his acclaimed books on college football, Bacon’s writing has been praised for going beyond traditional Xs and Os sports reporting. True to that reputation, this collection showcases personal, behind-the-scenes stories of players, coaches, and even fans. Many of these stories are connected to specific moments in time—a great season, the passing of a legendary broadcaster, or a star player’s daily grind before a big game—and will immediately transport readers to some of the highs (and lows) of their own sports memories. More often, Bacon’s writing explores timeless themes—why we love sports, how we pass that passion down to the next generation, and how it will be threatened or preserved in the future.
Michigan is one of the nation’s best sports states, home to countless amateur squads, two Big Ten schools, and professional teams in all four major sports whose histories reach back to the start of their leagues—something only New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois can also claim. This book covers the spectrum, from insider profiles of big names like Magic Johnson, Bo Schembechler, and Joe Louis, to cautionary tales of the debilitating greed threatening our favorite pastimes, to uplifting stories of the unsung heroes whose passion drives them to coach Little League baseball teams or run summer camps for peanuts. These stories speak to the value of sports, but also to our values. Whether a Spartan or a Wolverine, a long-suffering Lions’ backer or a diehard Wing-Nut, a lifetime sports fan or just someone who loves a good story, there is something here for everyone.
“While every vignette here takes you to a different place and time, it all resonates in a familiar way: John U. Bacon reports and writes with heart. He is a comfortable narrator even on the challenging subjects, and he offers a unique perspective on sports and all different sides of life. John has always brought the ‘lasting lessons’ on Michigan athletics, but the best lessons are the ones he finds within.” —Eric Adelson, Yahoo! Sports, writer, awarded nation's top sports feature, 2013
“People who think they don't like sports probably haven't read John U. Bacon. That was me before I started talking with John on my show. He doesn’t write about statistics, wins, and losses. He writes about people digging down deep, challenging themselves to do better, try harder, encourage a teammate, weather a tough loss, get back up, do it again, and then—hopefully—celebrate a success. This collection will leave you looking at sports—and the people who play and coach them—with new eyes.” —Cynthia Canty, host of “Stateside,” Michigan Radio
“John U. Bacon tells stories the same way a coach carries out a brilliant game plan. With passion and wisdom, hilarity and poignancy, he guides you to every corner of Michigan, a place where he has an unparalleled home court advantage. Whether he is writing about Bo Schembechler or Magic Johnson, Jim Abbott or Gordie Howe, his father or his son, frozen pond or broiling gym, a small-town high school hero or the forces of greed embezzling the essence of college football and basketball, Bacon examines our tumultuous love affair with sports in order to examine us. Open this collection at any juncture and find yourself transported to Bacon’s field of play.” —Linda Robertson, award-winning sports columnist, Miami Herald
The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
HarperCollins, November 7, 2017
A gripping narrative history of the largest manmade detonation prior to Hiroshima: in 1917 a ship laden with the most explosives ever packed on a vessel sailed out of Brooklyn’s harbor for the battlegrounds of World War I; when it stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, an extraordinary disaster awaited. . . .
On Monday, December 3, 1917, the French freighter SS Mont-Blanc set sail from Brooklyn carrying the largest cache of explosives ever loaded onto a ship, including 2,300 tons of picric acid, an unstable, poisonous chemical more powerful than TNT. The U.S. had just recently entered World War I, and the ordnance was bound for the battlefields of France, to help the Allies break the grueling stalemate that had protracted the fighting for nearly four demoralizing years. The explosives were so dangerous that Captain Aimé Le Medec took unprecedented safety measures, including banning the crew from smoking, lighting matches, or even touching a drop of liquor.
Sailing north, the Mont-Blanc faced deadly danger, enduring a terrifying snowstorm off the coast of Maine and evading stealthy enemy U-boats hunting the waters of the Atlantic. But it was in Nova Scotia that an extraordinary disaster awaited. As the Mont-Blanc waited to dock in Halifax, it was struck by a Norwegian relief ship, the Imo,charging out of port. A small fire on the freighter’s deck caused by the impact ignited the explosives below, resulting in a horrific blast that, in one fifteenth of a second, leveled 325 acres of Halifax—killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 9,000 more.
In this definitive account, Bacon combines research and eyewitness accounts to re-create the tragedy and its aftermath, including the international effort to rebuild the devastated port city. As he brings to light one of the most dramatic incidents of the twentieth century, Bacon explores the long shadow this first "weapon of mass destruction" would cast on the future of nuclear warfare— crucial insights and understanding relevant to us today.
The Great Halifax Explosion includes 25 black-and-white photos.
During his three decades on ESPN and ABC, John Saunders became one of the nation's most respected and beloved sportscasters. In this moving, jarring, and ultimately inspiring memoir, written with New York Times Bestselling author, John U. Bacon, Saunders discusses his troubled childhood, the traumatic brain injury he suffered in 2011, and the severe depression that nearly cost him his life. As Saunders writes,
Playing Hurt is not an autobiography of a sports celebrity but a memoir of a man facing his own mental illness, and emerging better off for the effort. I will take you into the heart of my struggle with depression, including insights into some of its causes, its consequences, and its treatments.
I invite you behind the facade of my apparently "perfect" life as a sportscaster, with a wonderful wife and two healthy, happy adult daughters. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am truly grateful. But none of these things can protect me or anyone else from the disease of depression and its potentially lethal effects.
Mine is a rare story: that of a black man in the sports industry openly grappling with depression. I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the lengths I've gone to to conceal my private life from the public.
So why write a book? Because I want to end the pain and heartache that comes from leading a double life. I also want to reach out to the millions of people, especially men, who think they're alone and can't ask for help.
John Saunders died suddenly on August 10, 2016, from an enlarged heart, diabetes, and other complications. This book is his ultimate act of generosity to help those who suffer from mental illness, and those who love them.
Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
Endzone tells the story of how college football’s most successful, richest and respected program almost lost all three in less than a decade – and entirely of its own doing. It is a story of hubris, greed, and betrayal – a tale more suited to Wall Street than the world’s top public university.
Endzone takes you inside the offices, the board rooms and the locker rooms to see what happened, and why – with countless eye-opening, head-shaking scenes of conflict and conquest.
But Endzone is also an inspiring story of redemption and revival. When those who loved Michigan football the most recognized it was being attacked from within, they rallied to reclaim the values that made it great for over a century — values that went deeper than dollars. The list of heroes includes players, students, lettermen, fans and faculty – and the leaders who had the courage to listen to them.
Their unprecedented uprising produced a new athletic director, and a new coach – the hottest in the land – who vindicated the fans’ faith when he turned down more money and fame to return to the place he loved most: Michigan.
If you love a good story, you’ll want to dive into Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.
Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football
Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc., 2013
For the millions of fans who celebrate the game-day heroics of the student athletes that give college football its heart and soul, bestselling author John U. Bacon’s Fourth and Long, a warts-and-all look at the present and future of the game, gives them reason to still believe.
REVIEWS “John U. Bacon went deep inside the world of college football, penetrating the locker room doors to meet some players you won’t forget and, most amazingly, learn the secrets coaches protect more fiercely than the CIA. By getting so close to the heart of the sport, Bacon reminds us what we love about our greatest game.” –John Saunders, Emmy-nominated studio host of ESPN and ABC College Football
“No one knows the Big Ten better than John U. Bacon, so it’s no surprise he picked the perfect football season to chronicle in his groundbreaking book, Fourth and Long. Bacon has written a riveting portrait of a watershed season in the most venerable college conference in the nation. The Big Ten is at the vortex of so many issues in college sports, and Bacon expertly covers them all.” –Christine Brennan, USA Today national sports columnist and bestselling author of Best Seat in the House “In Fourth and Long, Bacon, author of a superb account of a coach and football program over three turbulent seasons at the University of Michigan in Three and Out… If you’re looking for feel-good stories about college football, look elsewhere. Bacon is a journalist who loves his conference and his sport and is angry at the abuses committed in their names… And yet, Fourth and Long is not depressing. By showing us how deep corruption runs in college football, the author is also showing us why we care so much, and all there is that deserves to be saved.” –Allen Barra, author, The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant, from his review in The Chicago Tribune
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011
Three and Out tells the story of how college football’s most influential coach took over the nation’s most successful program, only to produce three of the worst seasons in the histories of both Rich Rodriguez and the University of Michigan.
REVIEWS “John U. Bacon’s report from the front lines of the weird world of college football is eye-opening, and occasionally jaw-dropping.” –George F. Will
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership
Written with the University of Michigan’s Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler, who passed away in November, 2006, Bo’s last book spells out in colorful detail exactly what every leader must know from the beginning of his career to the end. A New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s Business Best Seller lists, and received strong reviews from Newsweek, The Washington Post, business best seller Tom Peters, and Warren Buffett, who described it as, “A great book about a great man.”
Cirque du Soleil, The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All
Spark explores how Cirque du Soleil manages creativity in the workplace, generating eye-popping innovations without losing the discipline every organization needs to be successful. Coauthored with Cirque du Soleil president Lyn Heward, Bacon was granted unprecedented access to Cirque’s creators, performers and employees, and was even thrust into trying everything from the trapeze at 50-feet to the German Wheel to, yes, make up, all to gain a deeper understanding of how Cirque works. Bacon frequently gives speeches on his experience with Cirque du Soleil, and the lessons learned.
REVIEWS An inspiring tale about the power of creativity and the imagination, from Cirque du Soleil, the amazing troupe of performers that “makes nearly every other form of entertainment seem timid, sullen, earthbound.” –Time
America’s Corner Store: Walgreen’s Prescription for Success
John Wiley & Sons, 2004
Wiley 2004 Since Charles Walgreen, the son of Swedish immigrants, opened his first store in 1901 on Chicago’s South Side, the pharmacy that still bears his name has grown to more than 4,000 outlets in 44 states, employing 150,000…it’s still and growing. A truly family endeavor, Walgreen’s pursued success with an “almost religious devotion to substance over style.” In an era rife with corporate scandal and mismanagement, the company continues to please its investors and employees alike, and reportedly raked in $33 billion in 2002.
REVIEWS “Who would have thought the story of a drugstore chain could encompass so much vital and fascinating American history? With superb storytelling skills, John Bacon gives us a vivid and insightful chronicle of matters both large and small, from the birth of the milkshake to the rise of America’s consumer culture. America’s Corner Store is a genuine treat.” –James Tobin, the National Book Critics’ Circle–Award winner, and author of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight
“Run the business with your head. Lead the family with your heart. Walgreens’ history is filled with good values, strong principles, and immense courage. A family business classic.” –Howard “Howdy” S. Holmes, President and CEO, “Jiffy” Mixes
Blue Ice tells the story of the unlikely success and longevity of the University of Michigan’s hockey program – from its fight to become a varsity sport in the 1920s right up to its 1996 and 1998 NCAA national championships. The book focuses more on the remarkable characters who developed the program than the games they played. The book became a Michigan Public Television documentary by the same name, and won two Emmy Awards.
REVIEWS “Bacon has captured the essence of University of Michigan hockey. You can even smell Yost Ice Arena on some of the pages. This great, big barn of a book certainly lights the lamp.” –Rich Eisen
“This is more than a history of Michigan hockey. It’s a history of college hockey, and really of hockey itself. I learned a lot about how the game developed – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Any hockey fan will too.” –Ted Lindsay, NHL Hall of Famer
A Legacy of Champions: The Story of the Men Who Built University of Michigan Football
Coauthored with his former colleagues at The Detroit News, Bacon researched and wrote the first third of the book on legendary coach and athletic director Fielding Yost’s contributions on and off the field. This section, excerpted in the Detroit News, provided the inspiration for Michigan Television’s award-winning documentary, Michigan Football Memories, available on DVD.