Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Playing for Pizza

Grisham takes fictional Browns QB to Italy
Thursday, October 25, 2007 4:12 AM
By Gary Budzak

(Doubleday, $21.95) by John Grisham
Former Cleveland Browns quarterbacks Charlie Frye and Rick Dockery can relate: One bad game, and the Browns say bye-bye.
Frye was the Browns' starter going into this season, but a bad first half in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers got him dealt to the Seattle Seahawks days later. Dockery was mopping up in the American Football Conference championship game against the Denver Broncos and somehow gave the game away. Next stop for Dockery: the Parma Panthers -- in Italy, not Ohio.
Frye is real, of course, and Dockery is a figment of John Grisham's imagination. He stars in the latest Grisham novel, Playing for Pizza -- a departure from the author's usual legal thrillers.
Dockery's sudden departure echoes that of Frye. Had the Browns management read Grisham's galleys?
Dockery, a journeyman player, played so badly that he needs not only a job but a way out of town for his safety -- not to mention a paternity issue. His agent suggests Italy, where at least Dockery would still be able to play football.
The Italians play the American form of the game,
although their best teams probably couldn't beat Mount Union College. Each team is allowed three American ringers, and Dockery is wanted despite his bungling against the Broncos.
Dockery's new coach is American, but his teammates are mostly Italian. A running back called Franco (after Steelers great Franco Harris) shows Dockery highlights of his running. Dockery asks whether the film is in slow motion.
In addition to assimilating with the Panthers, fish-out-of-water Dockery also has to adjust to Italian culture: driving a stick-shift car, parking in tiny spots and pacing himself during multicourse dinners. Can an American jock learn to appreciate real Parmesan cheese, Italian opera and the architecture and history of castles and cathedrals? Will he end his one-night stands and find a mate? And will he finally be a game winner?
Grisham hung out with and used the real Parma Panthers to legitimize and add passion to his page turner. Readers care about Dockery and root for him and the Panthers. If only Charlie Frye could have similar luck with the Seahawks.
Among the penalties, however, is a plotline that sends a Cleveland sportswriter to cover Dockery's games in Italy. In these crunch times for newspapers, a freelancer in Italy would e-mail a story to the paper,
if the paper bothered covering it at all.
But that minor complaint isn't enough to keep the highly readable story out of the end zone.