Friday, September 14, 2012

Five notable books about football (and its dark side)

Rick Telander, who played football for Northwestern University, has been sports columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times since 1995. His books include Heaven is a Playground which was named as one of the best sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Telander tagged five top books about football (and its dark side), including:
by Dan Jenkins

Let’s turn to two books that became successful films in the seventies, starting with Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins.

Semi-Tough is the funniest satire of the sport I’ve read. All the fiction before was Disney stuff, about the sports hero winning one for the crippled kid – not about the sports star drinking 40 shots while trying to get laid. There’s a lot of locker-room and bathroom humour in this book. Some of it is X-rated, but it’s also more serious. Dan Jenkins satirises the ugly aspect of football that Dave Meggyesy brought out through non-fiction.

It makes you laugh at things that were politically incorrect while making you realise that they’re wrong. It was a revelatory type of writing that had not been done before by anybody. It’s a really smart-ass dirty playboy aspect of the sport and he brought that out.

The protagonist of this novel, Billy Clyde Puckett, is a Texas-born halfback for the New York Giants. The next novel you named is about the Dallas Cowboys. What is it about the Lone Star state that makes it such an incubator for football?

Their slogan – Don’t Mess with Texas – might say it all. It’s an oversized aggressive state, the biggest state other than Alaska. Everything is huge. The Cowboys came to embody the state. Their original coach, Tom Landry, was a God-fearing Christian and the team was filled with rebellious sex and drug-crazed athletes who were almost sanctified. They were called America’s team.

Once you get out in the plains of Texas, whole towns get wrapped up in the game, as they showed in Friday Night Lights. Teams became symbols of success for whole towns. I’ve been a lot to Lubbock and Midland and it’s really something to behold.

Dan Jenkins comes from Texas, Fort Worth. Then you get a guy like Pete Gent, who was from the Midwest but joined the Dallas Cowboys. He was a very literate person, one of the first athletes I can think of to write a book. He wrote about what he saw from the inside in North Dallas Forty.
Read about another book Telander discussed at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue