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North Dallas Forty (1973)
Whatever the reason, it is a well known oddity of sports literature that there is much great writing about baseball, boxing, golf, fishing and hunting, but practically no good writing about any other sport (see the George Plimpton essay below for one theory). Football in particular has produced virtually no great books, the sole exceptions being North Dallas Forty and Friday Night Lights.
North Dallas Forty, which also has the distinction of being made into the only good football movie ever, is Peter Gent's thinly veiled roman a clef based on his brief time with the Cowboys. The hero, Phil Elliott, is a wide receiver with the best hands in football but a body that's breaking down, a taste for drugs, alcohol and women and some serious problems fitting into his totalitarian coach's system.
Gent's portrayal of the savagery of the men who play the game and the brutality of the men who run it, was years ahead of its time. Along with books like Ball Four, it helped to revolutionize sports writing, making it much more honest particularly in regard to the flaws of the participants. But, in its own way, it too is ultimately just as idealistic as any John R. Tunis book. Elliott's love of the game and willingness to endure physical and spiritual hardship to play may be cloaked in an aura of docudrama, but they result in a formula that every sports fan will recognize. The story also captures the spirit of books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (see Orrin's review), Cool Hand Luke and From Here to Eternity (see Orrin's review)--wherein a rebellious freedom loving antihero takes on the repressive system.
This balance between familiar literary themes and hackneyed, but still effective, sports clichés on the one hand and relatively revolutionary honesty about the darker side of sports on the other, combine to make this book a classic.
See also:Sports (General)
-MSU: 1999 Outstanding Alumni Award Winners
-First Stop, East Lansing: MSU's Professional Athletes of the Modern Era
-ARTICLE: Gent conjures up a family tale 'The Last Magic Summer' (USA Today)
-John Feinstein Best Sports Books of the Century (NANDO)