Mal Brown played for Rake during The Streak, and his jersey was the first to be retired. He is a tough cop who was in Vietnam and is now the sheriff of Messina. He relays the news of the coach’s death to the players and takes Paul and Neely to prison to visit Jesse Trapp. He likes to threaten people with his power, playfully or seriously, warning Silo Mooney he will shut down his car theft ring.
Buck is the radio announcer for the 1987 Spartan game, loyal to Messina football and its stars. He quits when Rake is fired.
The story is mostly seen from Neely’s perspective. Neely Crenshaw is the confused thirty-something who returns to Messina for Coach Rake’s funeral. He was one of the most illustrious star football players of Messina but became embittered and refused to go back while Rake was alive. He was captain of the 1987 team when Rake hit him and broke his nose at half time. This wound has never healed. He wishes he had never been trapped in the hero mentality of football, playing for glory at any price. On the way to a great national career, he is permanently maimed in college ball and out of the game at nineteen. He does not know how to pick up the pieces of his life. Now a mediocre real estate salesman whose wife has left him, he returns to get the forgiveness of Cameron, his former girlfriend, and to speak a eulogy for Rake at his funeral, finally having to forgive the past.
Paul Curry was a receiver for the Spartans, co-captain of the 1987 team with Neely Crenshaw. He has become a banker in Messina with a large family and is contented to be a booster. He gives a loan to Nat Sawyer to start his coffee shop and when Rake is fired, he tries to straddle the divide in opinion in town. A foil to Neely in that he has found his place in Messina as an adult, he nevertheless understands the dilemma of his former best friend.
Judge Mike Hilliard
Judge Hilliard gives the first player eulogy at the funeral, because he was on the first team Rake coached. He tells how hard it was but how rewarding to work under a great man.
Randy was captain of the 1992 team when Scotty Reardon died. He has the distinction of having run eighty-three laps in the Spartan Marathon, a record.
Cameron Lane (Seawright)
Cameron was Neely’s high school sweetheart, his first and true love, whom he dumped for Screamer. Cameron was devastated at his treatment of her, taking ten years to recover. She went on to college and married a rich businessman and had two daughters. Neely is still in love with her and apologizes. She criticizes the high school football culture that made Neely arrogant and thoughtless.
Silo was one of the most famous Messina players and was on the 1987 team with Paul and Neely. He was huge and had fouls in every game with his aggressive tackles. In the 1987 game, he became a leader, helping to keep the team together when Rake hit Neely and chaos ensued. Silo threatened the coaches and threw them out and made the team promise to keep silent about the incident. He helped Neely to structure the comeback in the second half for the championship. Ironically, later he sells drugs and then opens a body shop, only to deal in stolen car parts. Sheriff Brown threatens to shut him down.
Rabbit is the eccentric but kindly assistant athletic director for Coach Rake. He lives above the clubhouse and keeps the grounds neat. He is loyal to Rake because Rake saved him from being fired from the high school for teaching with no credentials. He gets excited during a game and tries to tackle an opposing player on the field, thus incurring a brain injury but becomes a local hero.
Coach Eddie Rake
Coach Eddie Rake is a legend for his thirty-four years of coaching the Messina Spartan football team with thirteen state championships and 418 wins. The town of Messina worships him for years, because he puts the town on the map and gives them their taste for victory. Rake is feared by the players because he is abusive in his methods, but they also love him for his fatherly concern for them. He trains them to win and never to quit. His violent military training of the boys is finally questioned after two tragedies: the locker room fight of 1987, and the death of Scotty Reardon from heatstroke in 1992. When Rake is fired, he becomes reclusive and tries to do good works in the town through his church. His firing is the occasion for a town war, with people choosing sides. This is only resolved at his death when he is forgiven, and the town decides to keep him as a hero.
John Reardon is Scotty Reardon’s uncle and the Superintendent of Education who has Rake fired for Scotty’s death by heatstroke during training.
Scotty Reardon is the fifteen-year-old player on the 1992 team, forced to run up and down the bleachers until he drops and dies of heatstroke. He is the reason Rake is fired and has to retire as a coach.
Nat Sawyer was a bad punter for the Spartans and played with Neely and Paul. He is described as “an ungainly gazelle” (p. 89). Later he becomes the gay coffee shop owner in Messina and befriends the retired Rake, teaching him to read detective fiction. He was a friend of Cameron’s and takes Neely to task for dumping her.
Screamer (Brandy Skimmel) is a trashy and sexy girl who goes after the football stars. She seduces Neely away from his girlfriend, Cameron. Neely ends up having to pay for her abortion. Screamer goes to Hollywood as Tessa Canyon to become a star but ends up as a cocktail waitress and call girl in Las Vegas.
Collis Suggs was the first black captain of the Spartans in 1970. He became a preacher and has a large congregation in Messina. Rake used to go hear him preach and asked him to give one of the eulogies at his funeral.
Jesse Trapp was a quarterback for the Spartans, one of the all-time best players. He played college ball for Miami and was headed for the NFL but couldn’t shake his drug habit. He sold drugs as part of a large organization and got busted. He is let out of jail for the funeral. He is ashamed he let down Coach Rake.
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