Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

August 2, 2011
3 min. read

I have to admit that I was intrigued when I read the summary of this book. A novel by John Grisham about a third string NFL quarterback, escaping his terrible past to play professional football in Italy. Nothing about lawyers? This sounds interesting, if not just to figure out why John didn’t write about lawyers.

Normally the novel isn’t quite as good, when an author writes completely out of their “comfort zone”. That is definitely the case here. It doesn’t have the same fire as a typical Grisham thriller. That isn’t to say it is a bad book. I enjoyed the read and it was fun to see a different side of this author.

The book starts with Rick Dockery in a hospital bed, after the worst game of his varied NFL career. In the AFC Championship game, this third string player is forced into the game with 11 minutes left. The Browns are up 20-0. Rick manages to toss enough interceptions to loose the game and Cleveland’s Super Bowl ticket. The last hit of the game mercifully knocks him senseless and offers a day with no memory of what happened.

All bridges burned, Rick’s only available job is playing for the Parma Panthers in Italy, where American Football ranks at near the bottom of all sports. Games are free, yet less than a couple hundred attend. Only three Americans are allowed per team and they are the only players paid any money. It seemed like the same as a Softball league in the US, a proud hobby to most.

The description of the four hour Italian meals made me want to go to Italy, just for the food. It was obvious that Grisham had spent some time in Italy and really wanted to give the read an appreciation of the country. I wish his character development was as endearing.

Rick is a typical womanizing NFL player at the start of the novel. He doesn’t seem to change. Some of the characters are fleshed out well, but most are flat. It is a story about an American NFL player in Italy. That is it. The plot could have used much more development and choices for story direction at times were just boring. The romance near the end of the book is empty. I felt that Rick and his girlfriend were together because it was convenient. I had hoped for more.

This book would have been harder to get published, if written by a non-famous author.  If you are not a fan of football, you will probably not enjoy this novel. Most of the conflicts and growth occur only in relation to football. Rick doesn’t grow much as a person, otherwise. It is worth reading and is a short and quick book. I think the library is a great place to get a copy, because you probably won’t want to read it again.

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