Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story by Jim Dent
Jim Dent, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The Junction Boys, returns with a powerful Texas story which transcends college football, displaying the courage and determination of one of the game's most valiant players.
Freddie Steinmark was a small but scrappy young man when he arrived at the University of Texas in 1967. A tenacious competitor, Freddie became UT's star safety by the start of the 1969 season, but he'd also developed a crippling pain in his thigh. Freddie continued to play, helping the Longhorns to rip through opponents like pulpwood. His final game was for the 1969 national championship, when the Longhorns rallied to beat Arkansas in a legendary game that has become known as "the Game of the Century."
Tragically, bone cancer took Freddie off the field when nothing else could. But nothing could extinguish his irrepressible spirit or keep him away from the game. Today, a photo of Freddie hangs in the tunnel at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, where players touch it before games en route to the field. With this moving story, a Brian's Song for college football, Jim Dent once again brings readers to cheers and tears with a truly American tale of bravery in the face of the worst odds.
Praise for Courage Beyond the Game
Named one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Nonfiction titles of 2011
"Jim Dent, dadgum him, keeps writing books I wish I'd written. Now here he comes with another terrific effort, Courage Beyond the Game, the story of the most courageous kid to ever pull on a football suit. If you pick it up, it's guaranteed to pick you up." Dan Jenkins
"Jim Dent is a world class story teller... [he] will bring tears to your eyes, and Steinmark's example will make you want to be a better person." Joe Drape, New York Times bestselling author of Our Boys
"A superb work that paints the resilient athlete as a fierce competitor and an unforgettable sportsman." –Kirkus, starred review
JIM DENT, a long-time award-winning journalist who covered the Dallas Cowboys for eleven years at the Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has written eight books, including The Junction Boys, the New York Times bestseller and ESPN movie that remains a fan favorite to this day. Dent lives in Texas. For more information on the author and his book signings, visit Jim Dent on Facebook at his personal page and the Courage Beyond the Game book page.
Read an Excerpt
On a day like no other, she saw him running over a grassy hillside with the snowcapped Rocky Mountains in the background. Linda Wheeler was sitting on the passenger side of a baby blue Jeep. She had never seen anyone as alive as Freddie Steinmark. Here was the boy with the big, sparkling eyes and the smile that chased away her blues. The mere sight of him left her breathless.
Months earlier, in the fall of 1963, he had stormed into her life in the hallway of Manning Junior High. The eighth-grade girls, hoping to ogle Freddie that first day of school, had gathered near the front entrance, anticipating his arrival. They chattered excitedly about a heartthrob more celestial than Elvis Presley.
“I hear that Freddie Steinmark is around here someplace,” one of the girls loudly whispered.
“I’ve got my eyes wide open,” another gushed. “I might just kiss Freddie Steinmark straight on the lips when I see him.”
Linda could not have cared less at the time. Nothing on that first day of school in this strange place was going to make her happy. Against her will, her family had moved twelve miles from near downtown Denver to Wheat Ridge, a place a little too countrified for a girl from the city. This outpost seemed as distant from urban Denver as Memphis was to Mozambique. When the sun set over the Rockies, everyone headed home to watch The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, then went straight to bed, or so it seemed.
That first week of September, Linda was walking into an alien world she could not comprehend. Even more troubling was the realization that this strange journey into nowhere was just beginning. In two years, she would enter Wheat Ridge High School, where the cheerleaders wore overalls and the team was called the Farmers. At football games, one of the male students actually dressed like a hayseed rode around on a mule named Daisy. The drill team square-danced at halftime. Any day, Linda expected to see goats grazing on the football field.
Linda did not need to remind herself why the Wheelers had moved to the end of the earth. Simply, her mother was seeking a controlled environment where she could raise her two youngest daughters, Linda and Shannon. Marion Wheeler did not want to endure another teenage pregnancy, as she had with her oldest daughter a year earlier. In Wheat Ridge, she knew she could keep the reins on Linda and Shannon and shoo the boys away.
Linda wore black horn-rimmed glasses and a blue dress. Before heading off to school that morning, she peered into the mirror at a girl she judged to have average looks. Boys rarely gave her the time of day. Given her mother’s attitude toward the opposite sex, she wondered if she would ever get a date. A boy with the status and charm of Freddie Steinmark would never show interest in her and, if he did, she wasn’t feeling all that sociable anyway.
As Freddie swaggered into the building that morning, toting a passel of books and motoring like an all-district scatback, every head turned to see the raven-haired youngster with the Pepsodent smile. Amazingly, Linda felt his big brown eyes watching her. The girls were standing in line outside homeroom, waiting for the bell to ring. Freddie smiled and winked at her. How is this possible? Why is he not looking at the other girls? Freddie walked a little farther down the hall, turned, and set his eyes on Linda once more. She felt light-headed. She knew the others were jealous. Why is Mr. Wonderful stuck on the new girl? We’ve known him a lot longer than her.
In Wheat Ridge, Freddie Steinmark was bigger than the Beatles. They loved to talk about “Fast Freddie” and his athletic gift. They said that before long he would be playing halfback at the University of Colorado, then it would be off to the pros. A devout Catholic who attended mass almost every day, he also made straight A’s. He was the hero of the football, basketball, and baseball teams. He had once played on a Denver midget league football team that won every game for eight straight seasons.
Freddie was brimming with so much energy that his vitality seemed to flow through his pores. The girls around Wheat Ridge thought he was the sweetest boy they had ever met, but the boys who competed against him in sports knew better. The kid possessed a hard edge honed by a pushy father and some pushier coaches. When Freddie walked onto the football field, or the basketball court, or the baseball diamond, look out. Winning in Freddie’s world was the only way to have fun. Little wonder that Mickey Mantle was his hero and why Freddie was idolized in the same manner as “The Mick.”
Linda knew virtually nothing about sports, having grown up with two sisters who did not know if a football was blown up or stuffed. Her father Selby MacMillan Wheeler was an M.I.T. graduate and a well-known architect in the Denver area. He was not the type of man who would sit in front of the TV, watching the weekend games and memorizing batting averages. So the idea of Freddie Steinmark being the best athlete in the school did not impress her. Still, she could not get over those eyes, that smile, and the way he carried himself.
As the days passed, Freddie seemed to be everywhere. One day, she peered up from her desk in homeroom and saw him walking toward her. He casually sat down in the desk next to hers. For the next fifteen minutes, until the bell rang, he stared at Linda without saying a word. The same routine followed the next day and the next.
Linda was beginning to wonder if Freddie was ever going to speak when Rocco Rofrano, another eighth grader, sidled up next to her in the hallway. Rocco was a handsome boy and he was one of Freddie’s few non-jock friends, but they were extremely tight, going all the way back to kindergarten.
“You know, Freddie is really crazy about you,” Rocco said. “He’s liked you a lot since the day he saw you.”
“Come on, Rocco,” Linda said. “ Are you being square with me? Are you sure Freddie’s talking about me?”
“He only has eyes for you, Linda.”
“So why doesn’t he talk to me?”
“Because he doesn’t know what to say.”
“So why does he sit and stare at me?”
Rocco grinned. “Because he likes you. I mean, he likes you a lot.”
Linda felt a mixture of excitement and frustration as she walked away from Rocco that day. Boys were a new phenomenon in her life, and she really wanted a boyfriend. She knew, however, that all eighth graders were still fighting off inhibitions. This agonizing game of silence could drag on forever.
Little did Freddie know that Linda was soon watching him—from afar. She went to the junior high football games and, at first, was completely confused by the confounded system of first downs and other assorted silliness. One thing was certain about the Manning Junior High games: Freddie Steinmark was the star who carried the ball on practically every play. He scored most of the touchdowns. He played offense and defense and never left the field. He was the reason the band played. When the games were over, the cheerleaders chased him all the way to the locker room.
As football was winding down in the late fall, and the heavy snowfalls arrived, Freddie took his game to the gymnasium, where he dominated the basketball court. To Linda, it seemed that no one at Manning Junior High cheered for anyone but Freddie Steinmark. Does he possibly know how popular he is?
The next day, she shook her head and sat down at her desk, waiting for Freddie to come bee-bopping into her life once more. She knew he would have nothing to say.
* * *
Out on the rolling farmland of Wheat Ridge, the winds were soft and cool in the spring as the sun began to warm the farmland stretching west. The basketball season was almost over in late March and Freddie soon would be lacing up his baseball cleats.
Linda was sitting in the Jeep, basking in the sunshine, waiting for her sister Shannon to turn the ignition key, when she spotted Freddie running toward her. She thought there must be some kind of mistake. His dark skin glistened and she was mesmerized by everything about him. She prayed he would open his mouth.
Shannon Wheeler, sitting behind the wheel, almost panicked when she saw Freddie tearing over the hill. “Oh, my God, what is he doing?” she yelped. She released the clutch and said, “Linda, let’s get out of here!”
“No, no, no!” Linda yelled. “Wait!”
“Gotta go,” Shannon said. “What would Mother say?”
The windows were rolled down because of the beautiful weather. Within seconds, Freddie’s face was inches from Linda’s. She had never seen such a happy boy. He flashed the smile she would never forget.
“Wanna go out?” he blurted. The voice seemed strange. She had never heard it.
“Well, sure, Freddie Steinmark,” Linda said. “Of course I would like to go out with you. What are we gonna do?”
“How about let’s go to dinner tomorrow night after the game?”
“Why not?” she said, turning slowly and smiling at Shannon.
Shannon rolled her eyes as her left foot searched for the clutch. “Can we leave now, Linda?”
“One second,” she said. Then she turned to Freddie. “Where do you want to meet?”
Freddie named the restaurant. Again, their eyes met and they shook hands.
As the Jeep pulled away, Linda’s eyes were locked onto Freddie’s. She would think about him for the rest of the day. But how in the name of Pikes Peak was she going to explain this to her mother?
* * *
A date the following night with Freddie meant that Linda would sit in the stands by herself. Amid the adulation of the Wheat Ridge fans, Freddie led the basketball team in scoring and a victory over Arvada Junior High. When she saw him dribbling past opponents, and clicking on the open shots, the excitement shot through her arteries. Little Freddie was as smooth as smoke through a keyhole. Everyone knew who was in charge on the floor. Linda could never imagine how a boy as cool as Freddie would look her way.
By the time he showered and dressed and met Linda at the local diner, it was already 11:15. Linda’s ironclad curfew was midnight, which meant she would have a half hour with her newfound Romeo.
“I can’t tell you how frustrated I was that night,” she remembered almost forty years later. “All day I’d looked forward to being with Freddie and we had about twenty minutes together. I had a date with the cutest boy in the school and it was over just like that.”
It was not over. The next day in homeroom, Freddie sat next to her and started to talk. Linda finally began to wonder if he would ever stop. She had no idea of all the things on his mind. He already had big plans for the two of them.
Freddie called her every night at home. On the fourth date, he did something that stunned her into total silence. Standing next to the junior high gymnasium, beneath a moonlit sky, he kissed her. Then he looked into her eyes and said, “I love you, Linda.” She thought she would cry.
Linda promised herself she would never forget the moment. It was her first kiss. Never had a boy expressed his love for her. Everything was happening so fast. Am I supposed to feel this way? If so, Wheat Ridge was starting to look pretty doggone good.
Courage Beyond the Game 4.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Review by Mark S. McDonald Sr.
Heroes, some say, are hard to find. While that may be true for Hollywood, for the halls of Congress and the ranks of deadbeat Dads, maybe we look in the wrong places.
Perhaps we should be inspired by the Meals on Wheels program where a retired science teacher limps on a tungsten knee to volunteer serving lunches to those nearly his own age. Maybe we should search the Wounded Warrior Project, which honors and empowers injured and disabled servicemen and women.
Or, we could do what author Jim Dent did. We could look into the heart of Freddie Steinmark.
There, in the new release "Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story," (333 pages, St. Martin's Press), we discover the tale of a dutiful son, a bright student, a lover, a young man of faith, the indomitable spirit of a champion, on and off the playing field.
Dent traces the young Steinmark through his youth in suburban Denver, then through the athlete's rise through the Colorado prep ranks to schoolboy stardom and, oh yes, true love with a local sweetheart named Linda. Who could know that Steinmark would roam the gridiron with such pure instinct, such pure joy, that the defensive back with the 145-pound frame suited for jockey silks would become one of the most unlikely stars ever to wear the burnt orange in the storied history of University of Texas Longhorn football?
If every underdog has its day, then on its face, the Steinmark saga is one of triumph, of meeting obstacles and tackling them for no gain. But more than a football book or even a broader story about a dedicated athlete, this tale shows us that the least likely hero (that word again) can be the most uplifting. "Courage" also reminds us that there is no greater challenge - no greater measure of a man or woman -- than to show grace under fire.
The author of "Junction Boys" and "Twelve Mighty Orphans," Dent has long recognized a compelling story with a sports backdrop. In "Courage," once again Dent has skillfully woven the human condition into the fabric of narrative, always moving forward with action and sharp dialogue. But then who should be surprised?
A former resident of Arkansas and long-time sportswriter at metro dailies in Texas, the author did not so much cover the now-defunct Southwest Conference, he was immersed in it. He lived it. At so many levels, Jim Dent was a natural for the Freddie Steinmark story.
Who better to chronicle the ballyhooed 1969 collision of Razorbacks and Longhorns in what was called the "The Game of the Century"? Who better to show how President Richard Nixon shamelessly played to the national TV audience as he saluted Texas coach Darrell Royal, Steinmark and his teammates in the Texas locker room?
With cancer gnawing at his body, Steinmark stood strong as long as he could, albeit on one leg. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, the young man rose to the occasion. Dent captures the essence of the Steinmark spirit when he quoted from a piece in the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald by Blackie Sherrod. The legendary columnist was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his description of Steinmark's final hours.
"A vigil candle on a table burned 24 hours a day," Sherrod wrote. "Freddie was a gaunt shadow and his voice about gone and I had to bend close to hear him whisper, "I'm getting better."
Warning: When you read this one, make sure to have tissues handy. Once "Courage" goes to the big screen, Kleenex will be stan
More than 1 year ago
Freddie Steinmark is a near - mythic figure in Longhorn lore, and Jim Dent does a terrific job of capturing the emotion and the passion of this incredible young man.
You do not have to be a UT fan to enjoy it -- or appreciate the courage and the spirit that Steinmark's memory has embodied for 40 years.
Freddie's roommate told me recently, "Freddie always did exactly the right thing at exactly the right time." How many people can we say THAT about today ?
Congratuations to Jim Dent for keeping Freddie's inspiration alive.
More than 1 year ago
If there's one thing Jim Dent can do like no other, it's tell a compelling story. In this story, the story of a courageous young man with an uncommon ability to overcome adversity, who just happened to play football for the University of Texas in the late 60's, is a story you will be glad you read. In keeping with his incredibly inspirational previous books, "12 Mighty Orphans" and "The Junction Boys", Dent has once again penned a heart grabbing and gut wrenching story that will hold you absolutely spellbound from the moment you read the forward until its completion. There are sports books everywhere, but the moniker "sports book" does this masterpiece no justice. Rather, this is a book that teaches all of us it's not what we become, but what we overcome. That all our perceived problems are most likely temporal and that if we have the courage to believe in ourselves, we can push right on through whatever is facing us.
More than 1 year ago
Growing up in Texas, I remember watching Freddie Steinmark when he played at the University of Texas. I always wondered why this story was hardly noticed by anyone outside of UT. Jim Dent has once again delivered a must read for anyone who loves sports and loves underdogs. Freddie was a fierce undersized competitor who became an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. The fact that he played an entire season with bone cancer in his thigh and never once complained exemplifies the "Courage" that he had. Thank you Jim Dent for once again finding an incredible sports story.
More than 1 year ago
I love Jim Dent's books. He always seems to find or tell the story that other people miss. Freddie Steinmark's story is gut wrenching and important for anybody who is a Longhorn fan. It is truly inspirational and a must read for sports fans in general. I really loved Twelve Mighty Orphans and Junction Boys, and every time one of Jim's books comes out, I have to get it right away. This is one amazing story and it stirs so many great memories for me. This is another one of his "can't put it down" books.
More than 1 year ago
Dent does it again in his latest book. I had a hard time putting the book down. Truly inspirational and engaging. Incredible story told as only Dent can. Great read!
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
Whats up people
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
I remember this tragic story like it was yesterday. This young man showed great strength throughout this terrible ordeal. I'm so happy that this experienced author brought this courageous young man back to all of us. He was s good college football player and was very special to everyone around him. A real overachiever.
I have read the 'Junction Boys' (of which they made a TV movie) from Mr. Dent. It was excellent, as well. IMHO, 'Courage Beyond The Game' is even better. I sure hope that that there is a movie made from this book about Freddie Steinmark. This book should be a gift to every child (or adult) battling a crisis in their life. I found it very inspirational and would also recommend it to any person who loves sports of any kind.
More than 1 year ago
Theis a great srory of courage and faith.
More than 1 year ago
In "Courage Beyond The Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story,'' Jim Dent has written yet another masterpiece that actually surpases "The Junction Boys'' and "Twelve Mighty Orphans,'' his two best books. Dent will make you laugh and cry in a page-turner that chronicles the amazing life of Freddie Steinmark, who played the entire 1969 national championship season at the University of Texas with cancer in his left leg. Freddie is the toughest guy to ever suit up. This is an inspirational story that you will want your kids to read. Mack Brown wrote the foreword and he also said, "This is a book that Texas fans from every era will want to read. I loved the book.'' Dent's book is five stars all the way around.I would be willing to bet that this story makes it to the movies within a year. I will gladly pay the price of admission once more. --Kathy Shrum
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