Thursday, October 25, 2007

Playing for Pizza-John Grisham

Rick Dockery is the stereotypical washed-up professional football player. He's warmed the benches for many a professional football team. But his wild arm under pressure has kept him from actually taking many game time snaps.

So it's a surprise to all when he (third string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns) comes off the bench in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game (against the Denver Broncos). But nobody is too worried-Cleveland's up by XX points, there are only 11 minutes left in the game, and Cleveland's defense has been able to consistently shut down Denver's offense the entire game. Even if Dockery isn't able to move the ball an inch, the defense can hold out for 11 minutes.

Nobody counted on Rick turning the Denver defense into a powerhouse offense. He proves majestic in his passing game during those 11 minutes, throwing beautiful pass after beautiful pass right into the arms of Denver defenders. At the end of the game, Cleveland fans are screaming for blood-from Dockery. He has succeeded in, as one cynical sportswriter put it, "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" in the final moments of the game, denying Cleveland a coveted championship.

Needless to say, within hours, Rick finds himself without a job, without a hometown (Cleveland residents vow revenge, and he's ashamed to go back to his roots), and without prospects; his agent reports a suspicious number of hangups and un-returned phone messages.

Until he gets the call from his agent: he's been offered a first string quarterback position with the Panthers. A dream too good to be true! It would be his first time as First String since college!

The Parma Panthers. As in Parma, Italy. As part of the Italian professional football league: Football Americano. Starting quarterback, one of only three Americans on the team, salary of $20,000 plus an apartment for four months.

And so, with that, Rick has reached new levels of mediocrity; relegated to playing with middle-aged Italians who work as judges, restaurateurs and construction workers by day, and play football in the evening.

It's a different world from American football. None but the Americans receive a salary. The playbook is reminiscent of Rick's high school playbook. The home field is only 90 yards instead of the typical 100 (not by design; that's all the space they have available). No sponsors, and very little press coverage. And the average game has 1,000-2,000 fans (as opposed to the 80,000 Rick has been accustomed to.

But "Reek" as his teammates call him, finds that this group of footballers are the real deal. They know what being a part of a team is really all about. It's not about the paycheck for them; it's about the team, and about the team, together, winning the game.

And, in four short months playing the game at the bottom of the professional ladder, he learns more about the game, about leadership and teamwork, and most importantly, about himself, than he has in all his previous experience.

And he learns that the Super Bowl means something in Italy too. And that he is personally responsible for leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl victory. And for, perhaps, the first time in his life, he's forced to lead a team toward the big prize. The question is, does he have it in him?
It's a remarkable read; easy to read-and fast, but a great story. It's not told in typical Grisham fashion; written in the style of "Bleachers" or "A Painted House," but very well written nonetheless.

it kept me intrigued; in fact, once I picked it up and started reading, I couldn't put it down. Strongly recommended reading.

4.5 out of 5 on the MyndFood scale.


SheGazelle said...

I've had the book on my hold list at the library forever. I'm like number 20 something in line for it.
So did you enjoy book reports in school or what?

PJ said...

As a matter of fact, I did! And when I read a particularly good book, I want to share it; this seems a decent venue for doing so.

On another note: you're welcome to borrow this-or any other-book...