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Review: Lupica's 'Bump and Run' goes for a touchdown
(CNN) -- How long has it been since someone wrote a witheringly funny book about professional football? Dan Jenkins invented the genre with "Semi-Tough" in 1973. Ex-Cowboys receiver Peter Gent offered "North Dallas Forty" in 1984.
Since then, silence.
The dearth of fresh material has prompted two responses. One is the re-publication of Gent's novel in October. The other is "Bump and Run."
Sportswriter Mike Lupica has certainly spent enough time around the NFL to write knowledgeably about the national obsession with the game. He is enough of a cynic not to buy into its squeaky-clean United Way ad image. He brings that informed cynicism to the novel. The result is screamingly funny.
"Bump and Run" is the story of Jack Molloy, black-sheep son of the man who owns the (fictitious) New York Hawks NFL team. His own dreams of playing pro ball shattered by a college injury, Molloy earns his keep as the "Jammer" -- or fixer -- for the owner of a Las Vegas casino. He's in charge of keeping people, including his boss, out of jams. He's also the guy high rollers count on for favors, "whether it's a tee time ... or the best odds on the Georgia-Florida game, or a showgirl who'd not only laugh and look at you the way Siegfried always looked at Roy, but who wouldn't ask you for five hundred dollars afterward to help out with her acting classes."
His life changes one morning when he sees on television that his father has died. Jack is off to New York and a strained reunion with his brother and sister. He's also blindsided by his father's will. The old man has left him in charge of the team. His siblings are furious, the team executives incredulous and the NFL positively apoplectic. Jack's not too happy, either.
He gets a crash course in pro football management from Hawks general manager Pete Stanton:
"'You pay your high-end guys and screw your low-end guys ... and basically do everything in your power to completely wipe out the middle class.' I told him it sounded somewhat like the Republican Party that way."
Molloy knows the only way to have a shot at surviving in his new role is to win the Super Bowl. There are a few obstacles to overcome -- an aging quarterback, an AWOL star receiver and a legend-in-the-making coach who hasn't had an original thought since the T-formation. But he muddles along, calling on his Vegas-tempered street smarts to get him from crisis to crisis.
Lupica casts his jaundiced eye on all the hype and hoopla generated by the NFL publicity machine (which, after all, has three TV networks and a cable outlet in its thrall). He skewers players, coaches, executives, owners and reporters without fear or favor. Jack Molloy stands as a man of relative reason in an insane world. He's also inventive and cunning and not encumbered by the smallest wisp of ethics. He would seem to be a perfect fit with the NFL, but the other owners smell blood in the water and they're ready to pounce.
Nothing sacred, not even the Super Bowl
"Bump and Run" lampoons every aspect of the game except one-the actual competition on the field. Molloy, the ex-athlete, aches with the knowledge that he could have played on this team. In fact, his quarterback was his college teammate. His wistful appreciation of the opportunity he missed is the only note of melancholy in the book. It adds an interesting grace note to a character that might otherwise seem shallow and callow.
Nothing is sacred to Lupica. Not even the Super Bowl. Molloy attends the annual party thrown by the NFL Commissioner on the eve of the game. "The league had dropped a ton of sand on the tarp ... and brought in the Beach Boys to perform, which Annie (Molloy's date) said was like watching old people have sex."
"Bump and Run" is a rousing, riotous romp through modern American sports. Its pointed humor also raises important questions about the state of that industry and its larger-than-life presence in our culture. But mostly, it's a lot of fun. Mike Lupica can proudly take his place alongside Jenkins and Gent as an author not afraid to tell the emperors of the NFL that they are wearing no clothes.
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L.A. Times Syndicate: Mike Lupica
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