On Christmas night, 1939, two vastly different teams from Garfield, New Jersey, and Miami, Florida collided in the historic Orange Bowl to decide the National Sports Foundation’s national championship. Garfield’s Boilermakers were children of immigrants drawn to the industrial city’s churning factories. Miami’s Stingarees were from families from all over the country settling in one of America’s most promising and thriving cities.
In City of Champions, Hank Gola, a veteran and award-winning football writer, unveils this long-forgotten game. Gola mines stories of the towns and the lives of the players and coaches—detailing the grit (and wild strokes of fortune) that led up to a Garfield victory, stunning the football world. Gola also describes how this game mirrored America, revealing some of the most pressing cultural, economic and socio-political issues of the day.
Hank Gola has spent over four decades as a journalist, primarily covering professional football and golf for the New York Daily News and New York Post. An award-winning sportswriter, Gola most recently was named the 2018 recipient of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association’s Lincoln Werden Award for golf journalism. A native of Garfield, New Jersey, he now lives in Parsippany, NJ, with his wife, Lillian. He has two children, Henry and Julianne, and three grandchildren, Rose, Ruby and Elliot and a loyal pug, Freddie.
What People are Saying About This
“I love stories that transport us back in time vividly, and particularly stories that time forgot with heroic twists. [Laura Hillenbrand's]“Unbroken,’’ with athlete-turned-World War II POW Louis Zamperini, is a classic in that genre.
Hank Gola has unearthed another one. “City of Champions,” with the hopes and dreams of a little town in New Jersey riding on a 1939 football game in Florida, is a story so rich and so unforgettable and so inspirational that kids who grow up today in Garfield, N.J., are told the story four generations after it happened. Well, it shouldn’t just be told to Garfield kids. It should be told across America. It's that good.”
Hank uses a tale passed from father to son about a legendary high school football game to transport us to a world of hometown heroes in America, from blue collar New Jersey to the segregated south. I wish I’d been in the Orange Bowl that Christmas, but Hank made me feel like I was.
ESPN football writer Rich Cimini
City of Champions is an absolute winner. You don't have to be a football fan to lose yourself in this wonderful story because it transcends the sport. It's about a small town and its colorful characters, including the legendary Benny Babula, whose name screams, "Football Hero." It's set against the backdrop of pre-World War II America, creating many twists and turns. Hank Gola's passion for his hometown oozes in every paragraph. His storytelling is so rich and detailed that it seems like you're watching a movie, not reading a book. You'll feel like you grew up in Garfield, New Jersey after reading this. Go Boilermakers!
NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells
As one Jersey guy, I appreciate what another Jersey guy, Hank Gola, has done in City of Champions. It’s a great look at the glory days of high school football in my home state from one of America’s top football writers.
Paul S. George
"A marvelous David and Goliath story. Gola’s compelling narrative is filled with rich detail bringing the reader back to a long-ago era when Miami and the country were dramatically different from today."
CBS Sports Jim Nantz
A spell-binding telling of a great American Cinderella story and a vivid portrait of how the nation lived, worked--and played--on the eve of WWII.
Jim Nantz, CBS Sports - Jim Nantz
Hank Gola brings to life this unbelievable, yet long-forgotten, 1939 high school season and, in the telling, reveals pre-war America in all its glory, courage--and growing pains
Beautifully written, painstakingly reported, and lovingly told,City of Championsis mesmerizing. Hank Gola passionately tells the story of a long-ago football game that was so much more than just a sporting event. It’s a brilliant look at who we once were and in some cases who we might want to be again.