Playing for Pizza by John Grisham © 2012 Dell
A disastrous playoff performance for the Cleveland Browns spells the end of Rick Dockery’s career as a backup NFL quarterback. His agent can’t even find him a roster spot in the Canadian league. But Rick’s agent does find an offer from an American-style football team in Parma, Italy, where perhaps Rick can resurrect his career against inferior talent.
I suppose, if you are one of the fraction-of-a-percent who’ve played pro football, the mere fact Rick is a struggling quarterback who’s scared to take a hard hit will make you care about him. Average Joes who don’t get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to ride an NFL bench may be less moved by Rick’s version of a plight.
Rick’s new team, the middling Parma Panthers, think Rick can deliver their first Italian Super Bowl title. As he adapts to Italy and his new teammates, Rick falls in love with Italian cuisine and culture. Given no reason to think he wouldn’t fall in love with the cuisine and culture, this was a neither-here-nor-there plot development.
The football season goes through some ups and downs, but Rick helps the Panthers gain a shot at the title game. Then his agent comes through with an offer from a Canadian team, and Rick has to choose between his Italian friends and his last shot to play “real” football.
In the end, Parma wins its first Super Bowl, thanks to Rick taking a scary hard hit. Afterward, he remains in Italy, even if his latest concussion means he’ll never play quarterback again. And Rick falls in love, curiously not with an Italian girl, as the culture clash subplot seemed to implicate, but with a wanderlust co-ed from Georgia, USA.
Pizza read like the author’s love letter to Italy wrapped in a tissue paper story. Small stakes conflicts ended up in all happy endings. Maybe a decent day-on-the-beach novel, but too light to hold down a spot on my shelf.