Fourth and Long Gone
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Fourth and Long Gone is a 1985 novel written by college football coaching legend Pepper Rodgers. Although fictional, it is a roman à clef based on true stories. Unlike more serious exposé-style sports fiction written by authors such as former Dallas Cowboys receiver Peter Gent, who authored the gritty North Dallas Forty and the darker The Franchise, Fourth and Long Gone is more light-hearted and bawdy.
Charles Forrest "Buck" Lee is an assistant coach to the legendary Coach Reginald Benbow "Buddy" Shavers at the powerhouse West Alabama State University in Evergreen. When Lee is hired as the new head coach job at West Alabama's historic in-state rival, the East Alabama University in Stanleyville, Shavers takes great offense because their rivalry is a bitter one. West Alabama has been extremely dominant in their meetings; the last East Alabama victory was years earlier when Buck Lee was a young assistant. Shavers didn't take to losing to them well.
In his last meeting with Shavers as a West Alabama assistant coach, Buck Lee accuses Buddy Shavers of sabotaging his chances of getting head coaching positions elsewhere, and cites, in particular, his failure to get the job at the United States Air Force Academy because Shavers said he had sex with West Alabama cheerleaders.
But Buck Lee has a plan to beat West Alabama: sign a phenomenal high school running back named Eaarnel Simpson. A certain Heisman Trophy candidate, most of the big name colleges want to sign him. But Coach Shavers is known as the master recruiter, so Buck Lee, believing he knows Shavers' recruiting style and tricks, takes the sole responsibility of signing Eaarnel Simpson and building a winning football team around him.
To do that, he uses a unique clique of assistant coaches, friends, and supporters who aid him in recruiting players, which means that, in one case, they have to essentially recruit the domineering father of a quarterback prospect. One of Lee's top supporters is a real estate agent who variously portrays a veterinarian, a gynecologist, and a Catholic priest.
Thanks to winning a lottery, East Alabama signs Eaarnel Simpson. Buck Lee believes that he's finally one-upped the master recruiter Shavers, but he has to defeat Shavers and West Alabama on the gridiron. However, Eaarnel Simpson fractures his ankle in the previous game and can't play in West Alabama game. A victory seems improbable, but the Rattlers do defeat the Hawks and Buck Lee wins Coach of the Year.
But the success comes at a price: his family leaves him.
The Atlanta, Georgia-born Buck Lee has a fear of dogs and fear of flying, never voted in his life, and has a chronic jock itch problem. He's also got a beautiful wife named Gail and a son named Bucky.
The Eaarnel Simpson/Herschel Walker comparison
Pepper Rodgers has claimed that Eaarnel Simpson is a direct reference to former University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker. The recruiting of Eaarnel Simpson parallels the recruiting of Walker. However, unlike Eaarnel Simpson, Herschel Walker didn't fracture his ankle in his freshman season. After his junior year, Walker left college and signed with Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals of the fledgling United States Football League. After the USFL folded three seasons later, Walker played for the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles.
At 6'-1" and 225 pounds, Walker had the rare combination of size and great speed. However, his twelve-year professional career was seen by some as somewhat of a disappointment, and due to the cumulative effects of nagging injuries, he was relegated to part-time status in his final few seasons, usually as a third or fourth receiver. He finished his NFL career with 8,225 yards rushing and 512 receptions for 4,859 yards. Scoring-wise, he has 61 rushing touchdowns and 21 receiving touchdowns.
Although the rival schools, West Alabama and East Alabama are completely fictitious, it is possible that they are references to the University of Alabama, which is located in the western part of the state in Tuscaloosa and Auburn University, which is located in the eastern part of the state in Auburn. The two teams meet annually in the Iron Bowl. Coincidentally, Auburn University was originally called East Alabama Male College upon its founding in 1856. After several name changes, it officially adopted the Auburn name in 1960.