Friday, December 24, 2021

Review of "Playing for Pizza," by John Grisham

 Review of

Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham ISBN 9780385525008

Four out of five stars

Very different approach to a classic sports plot

 Rick Dockery had a very successful college football career and since then has bounced around in the NFL. Generally relegated to the third string or emergency quarterback, he has a powerful arm but is inconsistent. He is playing for the Cleveland Browns, and they are in the AFC Championship against the Denver Broncos. When the first and second-string quarterbacks are both knocked out of action, Rick enters the game in the final minutes and with the Browns having a 17-point lead.

 Rick then proceeds to have what is arguably the worst few minutes of any quarterback in NFL history and the Broncos win the game. The backlash is immediate and vicious, even though Rick ended up in the hospital after the game. There was so much anger that his life was threatened, and he needed a police guard while he recovered.

 Not wanting to give up the only life he knew, Rick asked his agent Arnie to find him another spot as a quarterback. Obliging beyond the call of duty, Arnie finds him a spot as the quarterback of a team in Parma, Italy known as the Panthers. While American football is a niche sport in Italy, those who play it do so with a passion. Each team in the league can have at most three American players, most of which were fringe players in the United States. The Italian players are generally not paid, although they are extremely well fed in the Italian style.

 After some thought, Rick agrees to go to Parma and be the starting quarterback. There is significant culture shock, yet nearly everyone goes out of their way to make him feel comfortable. The playbook is extremely simple compared to the NFL, but when he calls the play in the huddle, one of the Italian players must translate for the others.

 While the Italian backdrop is unusual for sports fiction, the sports action segment of the story is standard fare. After difficulties and setbacks, the Panthers play and win in the big game at the end and Rick emerges as one of the major instruments of the victory. In a nice twist, he also gets the girl at the end, so there is a double happy ending.

 The setting and description of the Italian environment for Rick is what makes this story work. It is amusing, from the actions of the police to the seriousness of the dining and drinking to the enormous number of historical places that Rick and the girl visit. There is also the Italian passion for opera. It would be possible to replace the sports aspect with many other plotlines and the story would still be interesting and entertaining.

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