Rick Dockery has done very little in his life other than play football – and for most of his life, he has excelled at the sport. But Rick would learn soon enough that, although he is good enough to land a quarterbacking job in the NFL, his role will almost certainly always be that of backup-to-the-backup-quarterback.
Rick, though, is satisfied with that; the money is good and the women are plentiful even for a third-string NFL quarterback. Time runs out quickly, however, for third-team players, and for Rick that point is reached with his unexpected appearance at quarterback for Cleveland in a critical playoff game. The kindest thing to be said about Rick’s performance in that game is that, in only fifteen minutes on the field, he single-handedly ended his team’s season.
When Rick finally comes back to his senses (from the blows he took to the head during that game), he agrees to be next season’s starting quarterback for the Parma Panthers. That’s Parma, as in Parma, Italy.
That is the set-up for John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza, a novel that, while it has its stronger moments, still defies the reader to take it all that seriously. Grisham explores the culture shock Dockery experiences upon his arrival, and he does a good job filling his readers in on American football as it is played in Italy today. He even creates several memorable Italian Panthers who are willing to play the game for free -as do all players in the league except for each team’s allotted three American players – only for the chance to one day boast that they played in the “Super Bowl.”
Playing for Pizza is fun when it focuses on the actual games and the seriousness with which the players take them. Despite their games being akin to low Division III level American football, the Italian players live for their wins and despair at their losses. Too, the slow bonding of Dockery with the rest of the team, and vice versa, is a nice feel-good aspect of the story to witness.
Grisham even throws in a love interest for Dockery to show that his NFL downfall has matured him. One does, however, get the impression that, were his new love not so physically stunning, the relationship would never have had a chance of happening. For him, it is more a lust affair than a love affair. The problem is that Dockery, for all the emotional “progress” he makes during the season, is still more a shallow narcissist than not. That means that Grisham’s attempts to make him a sympathetic character do not quite hit the mark.
This is not at all a bad book but it would have been a much more interesting one if its characters were better developed and it had a more serious tone. As it is written, the novel is little more than an unrealistic comedy populated by caricatures rather than real people – and, for all I know, that may have been exactly what Grisham was going for. I am rating the book as I do not because it is bad as it is written, but rather because it was so close to being a much better book - and failed to get there.
Rated at: 3.0