Nick Remke is a good man with bad luck. Or maybe bad timing. Or both. He’s worked hard as a plant manager for textile manufacturers and done a good job, but luck, timing, or fate seem to have always been against him, denying him a permanent position and the opportunity to put down roots.
Now time’s running out for Nick. He’s no longer a young man and his spotty track record is a liability. To say he’s desperate when he arrives in Longview, Ohio, a sleepy town of twelve thousand, to apply for a position at the Made Right, the town’s major employer, would not be an exaggeration.
On the way into the interview, Marie, the foxy administrative assistant to the owners, notices Nick’s limp and suggests it would be to his advantage to say it’s an old football injury. The owners are huge football fans, especially concerning Notre Dame. Jeremy Ziglar Jr. quickly decides that Nick’s not the man for the job until he notices he went to Notre Dame and has a limp attributed to his favorite game. Did Nick play for Notre Dame? Yes. How come he’s never heard of him? Nick changed his name. “It used to be…” Nick provides the name of a Notre Dame football icon. Being a football legend, even if from bygone seasons, is enough to get Nick the job. His football prowess is further enhanced when he’s coerced into coaching the local high school squad.
As the months go by, Nick continues to win the hearts (especially Marie’s) and minds of the Longview with solid performances at work and on the gridiron. His reluctance to talk about his Notre Dame glory days is considered humility, a character trait that is in itself inspiring. He’s a local celebrity. However, being newsworthy turns out not to be an asset for Nick, being more of a ruinous liability.
Third and Long by Bob Katz is one of those books you want to read every word of for fear you’ll miss one of the many brilliant passages. Whether it’s characterization, descriptive setting, or narrative insights, they all shine with originality and effectiveness, for example:
“Like angry callers to talk radio, ill-informed but hotly passionate, we had hunches.”
Katz’s use of a challenging and relatively rare point of view, the first-person omniscient, in which the narrator is a character in the story but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters, enables the reader to become immersed in the culture and character of this small town. You know these people, how they feel, how they think, what their dreams and disappointments are, because you’ve become one of them.
Third and Long is literary fiction at its best.