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August 25, 2003|Steve Horn

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, heard, observed, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

What: "Bleachers."

Author: John Grisham.

Publisher: Doubleday.

Price: $19.95.

John Grisham is no one-tort pony.

The best-selling novelist, who departed from his usual legal genre in 2001 with the outstanding "A Painted House," has entered the world of sports with "Bleachers."

This is one of Grisham's shortest efforts, but he remains on his game with the story of Neely Crenshaw, a former star high school quarterback who returns to the scene of his prep glory for the first time in 15 years only because his legendary coach, Eddie Rake, is on his deathbed.

Rake led Messina High to more than 400 victories, including an amazing six-year undefeated streak in the 1960s, and that naturally made him a legend in the small town. However, his brutal style led to a love-hate relationship with the players and one of his traditions led to an incident that cost him his job.

Crenshaw suffered a career-ending knee injury in college and some questions were never answered about the stunning comeback he engineered in Messina's 1987 state title game victory. He reflects upon the past and what might have been in a vigil at the school's bleachers with some former teammates.

Some of the best writing from Grisham, who played high school football, occurs when a taped radio broadcast of the big game is played in the hallowed stands.

It is left to Crenshaw to sum things up when he tells an old girlfriend:

"When you're famous at 18, you spend the rest of your life fading away. You dream of the glory days, but you know they're gone forever. I wish I'd never seen a football."

"Glory Days" was taken as a title years ago by Bruce Springsteen, but Grisham makes "Bleachers" sing.

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