Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood

by Jeffrey Marx


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Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx

The bestselling inspirational book in which the author reunites with a childhood football hero, now a minister and coach, and witnesses a revelatory demonstration of the true meaning of manhood.

Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL football star and volunteer coach for the Gilman high school football team, teaches his players the keys to successful defense: penetrate, pursue, punish, love. Love? A former captain of the Baltimore Colts and now an ordained minister, Ehrmann is serious about the game of football but even more serious about the purpose of life. Season of Life is his inspirational story as told by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jeffrey Marx, who was a ballboy for the Colts when he first met Ehrmann.

Ehrmann now devotes his life to teaching young men a whole new meaning of masculinity. He teaches the boys at Gilman the precepts of his Building Men for Others program: Being a man means emphasizing relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself. It means accepting responsibility and leading courageously. It means that empathy, integrity, and living a life of service to others are more important than points on a scoreboard.

Decades after he first met Ehrmann, Jeffrey Marx renewed their friendship and watched his childhood hero putting his principles into action. While chronicling a season with the Gilman Greyhounds, Marx witnessed the most extraordinary sports program he’d ever seen, where players say “I love you” to each other and coaches profess their love for their players. Off the field Marx sat with Ehrmann and absorbed life lessons that led him to reexamine his own unresolved relationship with his father.

Season of Life is a book about what it means to be a man of substance and impact. It is a moving story that will resonate with athletes, coaches, parents—anyone struggling to make the right choices in life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743269742
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/24/2004
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 47,576
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Marx won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. He has written for numerous publications, including Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Time, and The Washington Post. For more information visit his website at

Read an Excerpt

Season of Life

A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood
By Jeffrey Marx

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2003 Jeffrey Marx
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7432-6974-8

Chapter One

The 2001 Gilman football team came together for its first practice at eight in the morning on a warm and overcast Monday. It was August 13. After driving from Capitol Hill to the leafy Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore - a forty-eight-mile trip I would repeat many times during the next three months - I was greeted by the familiar sound of cleats on concrete. It was the same sound that used to fill that tunnel at Memorial Stadium, only now it was the click-clacking of boys pounding a paved path en route to a secluded practice field tucked away in the woods behind their school. For the boys, the short walk through the woods opened up to a rectangular plot of land - striped with fresh white sidelines and yard markings - on which they would transform themselves from classmates into teammates, from friends into family. For me, the walk yielded an introduction to an unmistakably unique high school sports program - and to a season that captured both my mind and my heart in ways that I never could have anticipated.

When I arrived, Joe was standing in the near corner of the field, welcoming everyone back from summer vacation, sharing hugs and handshakes as if he were running for mayor.

"Hey, Coach Ehrmann."

"Great to see you, Coach Ehrmann."

It was strange to hear the boys addressing him that way. I was still working on the transition from thinking of Joe as an "ex-Colt" to viewing him as a minister, "the Reverend Joe." Now he was "Coach Ehrmann" as well. Joe was the defensive coordinator. He was encircled by a few of the boys, introducing me around, when the shrill sound of a whistle violated the serenity of morning.

"Bring it up, boys." The booming voice prompted immediate scurrying toward the center of the nearby end zone. "Let's go. Everyone up."

The shouted instruction emanated from an oversized teddy bear of a man, big, thick guy with a buzz cut of brown hair, wearing baggy, nylon mesh shorts and a Gilman T-shirt with the sleeves cut away to free his massive upper arms. He was the head coach, Francis "Biff" Poggi, a former Gilman football player (class of 1979) and now a wealthy business owner who devoted much of his time to philanthropy. Financial management was his business - his local investment company, Samuel James Limited, had been quite successful in a wide range of public and private equity deals - but working with children was his passion. Biff was Joe's best friend and the man with whom he had started Building Men for Others. Their roles varied depending on the setting and context in which they were implementing their program for boys and men, but at Gilman they generally stuck with a single formula. Joe was the ecclesiastic authority who often stood in the shadows but always provided wisdom and guidance. Biff was the program's public face and its animated voice. And now it was time for his opening remarks to the team.

In a sense, the same scene was unfolding that very day, or perhaps it would happen in the next week or so, on high school fields throughout the nation. Tough guys of all shapes and sizes were strapping on helmets with the boundless excitement of youth and the anticipation that comes with the clean slate of a new year. On another level, though, what happened that first day at Gilman was entirely unlike anything normally associated with high school football. It started with the signature exchange of the Gilman football program - this time between Biff and the gathered throng of eighty boys, freshmen through seniors, who would spend the next week practicing together before being split into varsity and junior varsity teams.

"What is our job?" Biff asked on behalf of himself, Joe, and the eight other assistant coaches.

"To love us," most of the boys yelled back. The older boys had already been through this routine more than enough times to know the proper answer. The younger boys, new to Gilman football, would soon catch on.

"And what is your job?" Biff shot back.

"To love each other," the boys responded.

I would quickly come to realize that this standard exchange - always initiated by Biff or Joe - was just as much a part of Gilman football as running or tackling.

"I don't care if you're big or small, huge muscles or no muscles, never even played football or star of the team - I don't care about any of that stuff," Biff went on to tell the boys, who sat in the grass while he spoke. "If you're here, then you're one of us, and we love you. Simple as that."

Biff paused.

"Look at me, boys," he started again. Most of them were already staring up in at least the general direction of his six-foot-three, 300-pound frame. Thanks to the combination of his physical stature and his never-ending passion for both football and the overall well-being of his players - "my boys," he always called them - Biff never had much of a problem holding their attention. But he often used that "look at me" phrase as a rhetorical device to signal when something really important was coming.

"Look at me, boys," Biff said. "We're gonna go through this whole thing as a team. We are the Gilman football community. A community. This is the only place probably in your whole life where you're gonna be together and work together with a group as diverse as this - racially, socially, economically, you name it. It's a beautiful thing to be together like this. You'll never find anything else like it in the world - simply won't happen. So enjoy it. Make the most of this. It's yours."

Biff asked the boys to take a few moments and look around at one another. With heads swiveling, what they saw was indeed a melting pot of black and white, rich and poor, city and suburb. Though an elite private school for boys only, Gilman had long prided itself on diversity, and thanks to the effect of recruiting and a powerful equalizer known as financial aid, the football team offered an even better cross section of society than the overall student population.

Heads were still turning when Biff broke the silence with slowly spoken words strung together into chunks for emphasis: "The relationships you make here ... you will always have them ... for the rest of your life ... the rest of your life."

Biff was speaking just above a whisper now. There was something magical about the spell of such a big, powerful man turning down the volume like that. His players were totally locked in.

"Cherish this, boys," Biff said. "Cherish this."

So what if the Associated Press had recently anointed Gilman as the top-ranked team in Maryland and USA Today had picked the Greyhounds for the pre-season Top Ten of the entire East? Gilman football did not exist for anyone on the outside looking in. It was not about public accolades. It was about living in community. It was about fostering relationships. It was about learning the importance of serving others. Oh, sure, Biff allowed that he was definitely in favor of beating archrival McDonogh - the same McDonogh at which I had spent that fateful summer of 1974 with the Colts. In fact, winning that one game and successfully defending the league championship (Conference A of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association) were the only performance-related goals he announced to the boys. But such accomplishments would only be by-products of a much broader agenda. The only thing that really mattered to Biff and Joe was offering a solid foundation on which the boys could later construct lives of meaning and value.

I watched a variety of football drills and conditioning exercises during that first day on the field in the woods. I also listened in on offensive and defensive strategy sessions in the team meeting room on the second floor of the school's field house. At one point, I even heard the Reverend Joe Ehrmann temporarily abandon the soft language of his day job when he introduced the three P's expected of anyone who wanted to play defense for him. Penetrate. Pursue. Punish. "All eleven men flying to the ball," Joe said. "All eleven men. Every single play."

Still, no matter how much football I saw and heard during those initial hours of the season, I drove away thinking only about the philosophical overview Biff had shared with the boys during those first few minutes of the morning. If a Martian had just happened to land on Earth and somehow found himself witnessing only that introductory talk, a perfectly logical communique home might have included a summary such as this: "Learned about some sort of group gathering called football. It teaches boys to love."

Joe, Biff, and the boys had nineteen days to prepare for the first of ten games on their schedule. The toughest part of that stretch included both morning and afternoon practice sessions - "two-a-days" in football parlance - wrapped in the stifling heat and humidity of late summer. Standing on the sidelines and wandering around the field for a good number of those practices, there were times I felt like a kid again. Occasionally, during a break in the action, I would get one of the boys or one of the coaches to play catch for a few minutes. With the pebbled leather of a football both scuffing my palms and stoking my imagination, I might as well have been back in training camp with the Colts.

Of course, it never took too long to be reminded that my reality was now housed on a totally unfamiliar end-of-the-age spectrum. With the Colts, I was a wide-eyed kid running around in an adult world filled with real-life action heroes. At Gilman, I was a grown man surrounded by football players still dealing with pimples and prom dates.

I initially found it disconcerting whenever one of the boys addressed me with a deferential "sir" or called me Mr. Marx. But spending time with them quickly proved to be an extremely refreshing experience. Without any children of my own, I enjoyed the burst of exposure to the rhythms and rituals of the teen years. The boys were so excitable. They were often hilarious. And they were always open to new thoughts and ideas - so inquisitive and ready to learn.

They could not have found two better men to serve as teachers.

Joe and Biff originally met in the mid-1970s, when Joe was with the Colts and Biff was a high school football player who sometimes found a way to sneak into the team training facility and lift weights with the pros. Though their only conversation was brief, Biff would always remember being charmed by the magnificent leader of the Sack Pack, and that alone made him feel personally connected whenever he saw Joe play at Memorial Stadium or on television. More than a decade later, after Joe had retired from football and Biff had completed his own playing days as an offensive lineman at Duke, the memory of that one chance encounter in the Colts' weight room remained fond enough for Biff to respond with great joy when he happened to see Joe back on television. It was around Thanksgiving. Biff was visiting his parents when Joe was interviewed for a feature story about The Door.

"Hey, Dad, we need to go down there," Biff said. "Can't we do something to help?"

They drove downtown to The Door, unannounced, with a sizable donation of food. Biff was pleased to find Joe there, and they struck up a conversation that has never really ended. The first project they did together was a football camp - part football, part education, actually - for kids from The Door. Then they started working together on a summer camp for disadvantaged youngsters in South Carolina, where Biff had a home. Over time, their wives became friends and their young sons started playing together. Joe and Biff became inseparable.

"We've always had an incredible bond," Biff told me. "It just seems like there's a bridge between our souls."

When I asked Joe about that, he said, "Biff is God's replacement for Billy."

Even the age difference - Joe now fifty-two, Biff forty-one - was about right.

Joe simply loved having a little brother again.

My favorite part of two-a-days was Biff's daily talks about Building Men for Others.

Prior to afternoon practices, the boys streamed into the meticulously maintained field house officially known as the Redmond C. S. Finney Athletic Center (named after a longtime Gilman headmaster) and climbed the stairs to the team meeting room, where they plopped themselves in chairs behind four long rows of tables. Large windows at the front of the room overlooked a cavernous gymnasium, but the blinds were generally kept closed. All eyes were on Biff. He usually began in a chair, facing the team from behind a small table of his own, but he often got up to use the grease-marker board waiting in a corner for him, and once standing, Biff typically paced for a while as he spoke. The talks usually lasted twenty to thirty minutes. I was the only one taking notes. Everyone else just listened.

There were times when Joe contributed a relevant story from the Bible to underscore a particular message Biff was sharing with the boys - and Biff sometimes injected a brief passage on his own. But the overriding themes were, if not entirely secular, certainly universal.

"I expect greatness out of you," Biff once told the boys. "And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people's lives."

How would the boys make the most impact? Almost anything Biff ever talked about could be fashioned into at least a partial answer to that question.

For one thing, they would make an impact by being inclusive rather than exclusive.

"The rest of the world will always try to separate you," Biff said. "That's almost a law of nature - gonna happen no matter what, right? The rest of the world will want to separate you by race, by socioeconomic status, by education levels, by religion, by neighborhood, by what kind of car you drive, by the clothes you wear, by athletic ability. You name it - always gonna be people who want to separate by that stuff. Well, if you let that happen now, then you'll let it happen later. Don't let it happen. If you're one of us, then you won't walk around putting people in boxes. Not now. Not ever. Because every single one of them has something to offer. Every single one of them is special. Look at me, boys."

They were looking.

"We are a program of inclusion," Biff said. "We do not believe in separation."

The boys would also make an impact by breaking down cliques and stereotypes, by developing empathy and kindness for all.

"What's empathy?" Biff asked them. "Feeling what?"

"Feeling what the other person feels," said senior Napoleon Sykes, one of the team captains, a small but solid wide receiver and hard-hitting defensive back who had already accepted a scholarship to play college football at Wake Forest.

"Exactly right," Biff said. "Not feeling for someone, but with someone. If you can put yourself in another man's shoes, that's a great gift to have for a lifetime."


Excerpted from Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx Copyright © 2003 by Jeffrey Marx. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Ronnie Lott

This is not a book you are just going to read and then forget about. You're probably going to read it again sometime. And you'll definitely want to tell family and friends about it. By sharing Season of Life with others, you will be helping to make this a better world.

Carl Lewis

Season of Life should be required reading for every high school student in America and every parent as well.

Frank Deford

Jeffrey Marx has used the most violent of American games to show how men and boys should dare not be afraid to look for love. I was tremendously touched by Season of Life.

Steve Moulton

This is a life-changing book. You'd have to be a slug on a rock not to be impacted by the messages in this book.

Christine Brennan

In a warm, passionate story, Jeffrey Marx finds a boyhood hero who ends up leading him on a fascinating personal journey. This is a book that every father and son will enjoy.

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Season of Life 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
mondobondo More than 1 year ago
Second only to the Bible is this fine book about Joe Ehrmann and what it means to raise boys to be men in the truest sense. Joe is a giant in our culture quietly helping us all learn how to build men for others. thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The main character in the book goes through a maturation process in discovering himself and direction given him by God . He lives as the world lives for a time and then God puts him through lifes fires . He emerges as a strong man with a vision for what God wants him to do with the rest of his life . He coaches young men and teaches them to be actual men .
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is for everyone-not just football players. Anyone who cares about and loves people-family, team members, parents and especially teachers and coaches. We cannot help focusing on our own lives and relationships. There are tears and smiles on every page. This is a must for all caring human beings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is full of wonderful concepts. I started reading this book one afternoon and was finished with it the next day. You can't put it down. All the men/boys in my extended family will be receiving a copy of this. Every mother should read this as well. It is insightful and inspires one and all. My husband and youngest son are reading this and enjoying as much as I did.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Truly the ultimate guide and philosophy for raising boys to become men in todays society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Season of life written by Jeffrey Marx is an inspirational book written in the perspective of former NFL star Joe Ehrmann for the driven, motivated aspired individual looking for there personal purpose in there life, in the season of life you learn many lessons one of which being the definition of masculinity. Joe Ehrmann has always believed that what has been taught about being a "man" has been wrongly passed down. In today’s present world during childhood being the most athletic is the best way of showing "manhood". As young males soon develop and become older soon "manhood" is represented by sexual conquest, the ability for girls to be attracted to you, and the way girls long for you, And to finish your life the ultimate success of your masculinity is shown by the numbers in your bank account. The season of life is written of the transition of Ehrmann life from the party lifestyle to Ehrmanns journey finding christ. I loved reading the season of life and learning how I can benefit from certain life decisions I can make to better my faith. Although I do wish Mr. Ehrmann went over why the relationship to God was never there before the incident, I still loved the book. In conclusion the season of life is written for the person in there life figuring out there purpose and how God can lead there life into a better path. - Max C
Dom Ursetta More than 1 year ago
Joe shows these young boys on a high school football team that he helps coach how to become men. Throughout the book Joe helps shape these boys into men by teaching them what life is really about, Joe has talks with the boys and preaches to them on how football is just a game and how there is more to it then just winning. This book was given to me by a alumni football player at castle view from a few years back. He passed it down to me and told me how much potential i have but it means nothing without your teammates there to help you become great. This book opened up my understanding about what it means to be a man and to lead others to do great things. This is a great book for everyone who wants to read about a journey on how boys become men, this book is perfect for a father and his soon athlete or not.
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I bought this book as a gift for my 19 yr old son.I was told it is a very good book for men. It is inspirational and gets one to think outside the box of sports only. My son enjoyed the book. He read it constantly. He felt it dragged in a few places. He recommends this book to others. It is on my list to read.He finished the book last week and is recommending it to others. My son is not a big reader but enjoys reading when he finds a book to hold his interest My husband is now going to read the book. I would recommend this book by the fact that it held my son's interest to read it constantly and recommend it to others.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives you what it takes to be a winner. Need I say more?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every coach who ever stands in front of a player, in any sport, should read this book. It is what high school athletics should be about but often is lost in the drive to win.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never been more moved by a book in my life! I find myself thinking about it after the days have passed from completing the last chapter. In the book, there is an exercise where they asked the players to draw a circle and then draw a box. Place two names in the circle that have most influenced yourlife. In the box, place one name of a person who has had an adverse effect on your life. I will strive to be the person that some young person places in the circle! Read the book-you will laugh, cry, and more importantly you will be 'sent' out into the world upon completing it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A truly inspirational book. I wish I had this book 25 years ago. I read it, my wife read it and my son, a football player read it. Having coached sports from recreation to Jr. Olympic, this book should be required reading for every parent who even thinks about coaching. On the human side, it had me reflecting on my own life. Luckily, I have time to change some of the mistakes of the past. Give this book to a coach and ask that they read it and pass it on to another.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book truly is inspirational for anyone regardless if they know anything about or like football. What is written on these pages can be applied to anyone's life. I found myself studying the passages in the book and then reflecting on them afterwards.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though I am not a huge sports fan and I do not know much about football. This book inspired me to better myself and focus on serving others rather than doing things for personal gain. I would encourage everyone to read this book because of its inspirational nature and appeal to all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. Season of Life will always live on in my mind as one of the most inspirational and life-changing books I have read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first approached this book, I had the initial impression that it would be just another banal 'feel-good' book about football. As I began to read the book and reflect upon 'Rev. Joe's' messages, I found myself frantically flipping back pages to reread a passage, or see that quote just one more time. What began as a quick afternoon read, developed into a multi-day affair of taking notes, rereading, and reflecting! The format of the book is deceivingly simple; Mr. Marx is able to convey the warm camaraderie of the Gilman Football team in a very moving, very honest lesson about what it means to love and to be compassionate. Far from being commonplace, the powerful lessons of this book will sit well with young men, people struggling in difficult times, or anyone hoping to read an inspiring story.