Study Guide for Bleachers by John Grisham - BookNotes

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Summary (Continued)

Paul and Neely reminisce about other players as well, including Jesse, who is in jail and will be for a long time to come. Jesse had signed with the University of Miami, which burned Rake. Rake liked to deliver his own players to colleges of his choice, and he had wanted Jesse to go to A&M. Neely remarks that Coach had wanted him to go to State, but he chose Tech because of a secret $50,000 signing bonus. He admits that as long as he kept winning games there were little envelopes in his mailbox of as much as $5000 in cash with notes of encouragement from anonymous alumni. Paul admits surprise that Neely took the money, but Neely justifies it by saying it was a part of every school in the NCAA.

Silo pulls in then and approaches them with the Messina strut in his walk. Neely thinks of it as a challenge to anyone to utter a careless word. They greet each other and sit three in a row across the bleachers. Neely tells Silo he now lives in the Orlando area and works in real estate. He is divorced with no kids while Silo has never married and has no children he knows of. He had stopped by Rake’s house that afternoon and tells Neely and Paul that it’s full of folks all sitting around waiting for Rake to die. He hadn’t seen the coach, because the dying man didn’t want anyone to see how he had become no more than a skeleton. This quiets all three of them, because they can’t imagine their old Coach lying helpless in a bed in a dark room. He had always relished physical contact with his players, and he loved the violence of football and demanded it from every player. In thirty-four years, however, he had only ever struck two players off the field - one had been a hothead who had quit the team and instigated a fistfight; the other had been Neely Crenshaw himself, who had received a cheap shot in the face.

Then, Neely and Silo reminisce about the knee injury which ended Neely’s football career. A player from A&M had deliberately gone for his knee in an out-of-bounds hit, and it was a career-ending injury. Neely accepts the blame, saying he should never have left the pocket, but no matter where the blame lies, the ultimate result never changed. The men decide to drink beer together and sit in the bleachers, because it seems like the place to be right then.

The chapter then proceeds to explain The Spartan Marathon Run, the annual torture created by Rake to inaugurate each season. It was always held the first day of August practice at noon for maximum heat. The format was simple - a player would run until he dropped with twelve laps around the field as the minimum. If the player was unable to complete twelve laps, he got a second chance the next day, but if he failed again, he was unfit to be a Messina Spartan. Once a player quit or passed out after the twelfth lap, he was made to sit at midfield and bake under the sun until there was no one left standing. Over the years, this practice had led some athletes to pursue other sports or quit athletics altogether. However, the benefit of this practice was the superb condition of every Spartan. In his senior year, Neely completed 31 laps, but Paul completed 38 laps and won the race. Every Spartan after that knew Paul’s number and the number of laps he ran. While he was at tech, but after his knee injury, Neely had met up with a coed from Messina in a bar. She told him there was a new record for the Marathon - a kid named Jaeger who had run 83 laps.

At that moment, coming up the bleachers is the aforementioned Spartan - Randy Jaeger. He is wearing his green game jersey and quickly recognizes Neely. His family owns a shopping center north of town. He establishes with Neely that he had been a senior the year Rake was fired, an event about which Neely had heard only brief details. Neely asks Jaeger what Rake had said when he completed the 83 laps. Jaeger laughs and says that in front of the team, he told Jaeger he should have done a hundred, but in the locker-room, he very quietly told him that it was a gutsy performance. Other players appear in the bleachers as well, some from the sixties like Blanchard Teague and Jon Couch. They were on the ’68 team which was never scored upon.

All the men eventually congregate together when Silo returns with cases of beer. They talk quietly again until Neely notices Rabbit, a former teacher who had taught for eleven years at Messina High before anyone realized he’d never finished the 9th grade. Rake had intervened in the scandal and had Rabbit reassigned as the assistant athletic director. He drove the team bus, cleaned uniforms, maintained equipment, and supplied Rake with gossip. Now he turns on the field lights, which prompts Paul to note that he’s been turning them on every night for a week. It’s his version of a vigil, and when Rake dies, the lights will go out. Another memory they chuckle over concerns how Rabbit became crippled. During a game in 1981, for reasons no one would ever know, Rabbit had sprinted on the field to stop an opposing player named Lightning Lloyd from scoring. He tackled the guy and went airborne. He was taken off in an ambulance, and the officials awarded Lloyd a touchdown. As Rabbit was taken away, 10,000 fans stood and applauded him with respect. Rake then used the event to fire up his team, and they scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win the game. At the annual football banquet ever after, Rake awarded a Rabbit Trophy for the Hit-of-the-Year.

Neely is asked when he last saw Rake, and he responds that Rake had come to visit him after his last surgery. They mention that they thought what had happened between Rake and Neely had been another cheap shot, but the truth about what had happened at the ’87 title game had been buried for 15 years, and none of them seem to want to break the silence about it. The discussion then turns to Rake’s jealousy of the stars of the team, his favorites, of which Neely was never a part, and when they had erected the bronze statue. Jaeger mentions how Rake and Miss Lila, after he was fired, would drive up on Karr’s Hill, sit and watch the game from there while listening to the play-by-play on the radio. He was making sure the town knew he was still watching. At the end of every halftime, the band would face the hill, play the fight song, and all 10,000 fans would wave at Rake. Jaeger further mentions that Rake took up golf, but was still bitter about what had happened. The rumor was that he would be buried beside Scotty.

The next former player to arrive is Mal Brown, the county sheriff. His was the first number - 31 - to be retired. He had played during The Streak and had even played on a broken ankle, something Rake loved about players - the willingness to play hurt. After the requisite handshakes, the Sheriff observes that Neely should have come back long before this, that it “ain’t right to run away.” When the Sheriff then turns the conversation to Neely’s injury, Neely quickly ends it by asking which was Rake’s worst team. Mal Brown answers his question with a comment about how he went into voluntary solitary confinement after losing four games in ’76. The men chalk up so many losses to the lack of talent. The loggers quit when the price of timber shot up, the quarterback broke his arm, and there was no backup. It was the only time in 41 years that Harrisburg had beaten Messina. The Harrisburg players had rubbed it in big, and ran up the score. Rake wrote it down in his soul and went looking for loggers. The next year, they beat Harrisburg 94 to nothing.

Silo then rises to leave and tells them all he’ll see them tomorrow. He tells Mal Brown that he’s laying off stealing cars for a few days in honor of Coach Rake. As he walks away, the Sheriff predicts Silo will be in prison within 12 months and that Paul had better have his bank records in order. Neely isn’t in the mood for such a discussion and gets up to leave as well. As he walks down the bleachers, he uses everything he has in him to walk without a limp. He has learned over time to keep walking as if everything is normal.


This opening day of the vigil for Coach Rake introduces the readers to Neely and his “fraternity brothers.” These are the heroes of the glory teams Rake coached, and they are here to sit and reminisce about him, as he lies dying. There are many subtle references to the ’87 championship team which Neely led and the confrontation between him and Coach Rake. The reader quickly becomes aware in this chapter that Neely is here not just to sit a vigil for Coach Rake, but also to resolve the ambivalence he feels towards the man.


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