College football superstar Clay Blackwell is surprised and excited to be picked as a first-round choice by the Birmingham Ruffians, a lackluster expansion franchise team desperate for players just like Clay—and willing to pay millions for them. Humphry Lyles, the owner, is a self-made man obsessed with success, and the $2 million signing bonus he offers Clay is just the start of the Program, his scheme to take the Ruffians from the cellar to the Super Bowl in a single season. The new coaching staff is led by Vance White, who will do anything to win; his brutal training methods make Marine boot camp look like a picnic, and even the most hardened NFL veterans are shocked by the viciousness he encourages. And, more ominous still, the Program includes another ingredient, a dark secret fueling the aggressive fury that means victory in the violent arenas of pro football.
Clay rebels against the sinister demands of the Program, but he signed with the Ruffians to play ball, and the vindictive White has made it unmistakably clear that the price for a position on the starting team is total submission to his soul-killing regimen, which is designed to transform his players into merciless gridiron assassins. Trapped between his conscience and a desire to join his teammates on their steamroller ride to the top, Clay faces a no-win situation. Does he sell his talent to Vance White’s corrupt ambition—or stick to his guns and possibly forfeit everything he loves?
Tim Green captures all of the rich atmosphere of pro football and the colorful characters of the life he knows so well in this hard-hitting, high-tension tale of tragedy, triumph, and total dedication to a sport in which the stakes literally can be a matter of life and death.