Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reading Huddle: Playing for Pizza

After a couple of months off, Naptime Huddle presents a new selection for its book club, “Reading Huddle.” I chose this book for a few reasons—the subject matter, naturally, but also because it is a rare creature:  the well-written fictional work about football.  I have another reason outside of the book club to introduce this particular book at this particular time, as I will explain toward the end of this post…


Have you ever, now or in your younger days, dreamed of quitting your job, cutting off ties with the people and obligations that are bringing you down, and start a new life in another country—somewhere with a hint of romance…like Italy?

In the novel Playing for Pizza, Rick Dockery, the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, gets to do just that.  The only difference between your dream and his reality is that he really has no choice.  Through an unbelievable chain events, he has managed, in the span of a few moments, to realize his dream of playing in a professional football game (the AFC Championship, no less) and then blow that dream to pieces by blowing his team’s lead—and his opportunity for greatness—in a big way. 

Hounded by angry fans and a critical media, Dockery longs to find a way to get way, way out of town.  Despite his public career implosion, he can’t let go of his dream to play football.  His loyal agent finds him an opportunity—maybe his only opportunity—to join another team as it’s starting quarterback.  Only this team isn’t in the NFL—it’s a ragtag group of enthusiastic players in Parma, Italy.

Assuming that Parma will be a short-term solution, a place where he can cool his heels—and his head—Rick accepts the offer.  From there, we watch as Rick struggles to cope with his culture shock—from adapting to a new culinary lifestyle, to learning to tolerate opera and to navigating Italy’s impossibly narrow streets.
Psych! This is actually a pedestrian trail on Capri. Made ya look...

I have to admit that nostalgia played a small role in this Reading Huddle selection.  In September 2009, my husband and I took a trip to Italy: 
the Amalfi Coast, including Capri...


...and Rome. 

It was a wonderful trip, and the last vacation we took before we had our son the next year.  So, I hope you don't mind the vacation photos I've included in this post (and will include in the follow-up post).


This novel, which is part football, part romance, part travelogue, is very different from anything you’ve read by John Grisham.  Wait—what was that? John Grisham?!?  The same recovering attorney* who wrote The Firm, The Pelican Brief and A Time to Kill?  The John Grisham who made “legal thriller” an oxymoron no more?

It turns out that Grisham was inspired to write Playing for Pizza while conducting research for his novel, The Broker, in Bologna, Italy.  Surprised that “American football” (so called to distinguish it from the fútbol—a.k.a. soccer—played by the rest of the world) had a presence in Italy, albeit a small one, he smelled an opportunity (or maybe it was just basil).  When his focus turned to Pizza, he got a feel for the Italian football experience by watching Parma’s games and becoming a shadow of the team’s head coach, an American who had played at Illinois State.  He also did a lot of hard time in local restaurants so he could paint an authentic picture of Rick’s dining experiences.


Not only does Playing for Pizza provide a unique and (hopefully) entertaining look at the football experience, but it does it in an international context, which provides me with a nice segue to a soon-to-be revealed series on NH. 

While it might not come as a surprise that Naptime Huddle has found an audience here in the U.S., you may be surprised to hear that we have developed a respectable international following as well.  Nearly 20% of my readership is located outside the United States.  In honor of these readers, I will soon be publishing a series of posts about the status of football in those countries where Naptime Huddle has a following.  Which country boasts the largest number of NH fans?  Stay tuned to find out!

I hope you enjoy Playing for Pizza and that it transports you to the land of love, art, divine cuisine and football that might just be played in its purest form—because the men on the field are playing for the love of the game… and pizza.

Look for discussion questions about the book during the week of June 18th.  Here is a link to buy Playing for Pizza on Amazon:


*My term for a person (like me) who has decided to retire from the noble career of lawyering.


  1. I'm interested in putting together a website of sports blogs/reports/research. My idea would be to combine a bunch of bloggers together onto one site. Most of the people would be part-time writers that would write about the playoffs or draft or preseason predictions of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, etc. I'm also interested in gathering together a few writers who would be more "full" time. I'm not interested in an article a day, but maybe a few a week kind of deal.

    Would you have an interest in this type of site? I checked out your site and it would be similar to that. We could even possibly have your articles off of your wordpress go to my site, if you're interested. You could write an the same article for both sites, or possibly convert people to just go to my site after awhile for your posts. It is up to you.

    This idea would take place in another month or so, if you have an interest. Do you know of other sports-related bloggers?

    Travis Bishop

    1. Hi Travis,

      Thanks for reading! I am definitely interested in your idea. Let me think on it and I will email you with any questions or thought.

      Have a great weekend!



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