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North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent

North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent

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Published by OpenRoadMedia

On the field, the men who play football are gladiators, titans, and every other kind of cliché. But when they leave the locker room they are only men. Peter Gent’s classic novel looks at the seedy underbelly of the pro game, chronicling eight days in the life of Phil Elliott, an aging receiver for the Texas team. Running on a mixture of painkillers and cortisone as he tries to keep his fading legs strong, Elliott tries to get every ounce of pleasure out of his last days of glory, living the life of sex, drugs, and football.

On the field, the men who play football are gladiators, titans, and every other kind of cliché. But when they leave the locker room they are only men. Peter Gent’s classic novel looks at the seedy underbelly of the pro game, chronicling eight days in the life of Phil Elliott, an aging receiver for the Texas team. Running on a mixture of painkillers and cortisone as he tries to keep his fading legs strong, Elliott tries to get every ounce of pleasure out of his last days of glory, living the life of sex, drugs, and football.

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Feb 01, 2013
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09/17/2013

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Foreword
 
IN HIS NOVEL
 
 Heart of Darkness
, Joseph Conrad put it this way:
“Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers; it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of  foresight . . . in the whole batch of them, and they did not seem aware these thingsare wanted for the work of the world.”
Thirty years after the first publication of 
 North Dallas Forty
, it hits me that those wordsdescribe best the life I once led.In July of 1964, the right to work was all I hoped for when I arrived at my first DallasCowboys training camp in Thousand Oaks, California, north of Los Angeles. That September,Tom Landry gave me a job as a receiver that I kept for five years. They were great years.Terrifying. Thrilling. Happy. Sad. Most of all, they were ultimately satisfying.As an ex-basketball player from Michigan State University, drafted by the NBA’s oldBaltimore Bullets, I hadn’t played football since high school. I had some trouble adapting to theincredible violence of the game. My teammates helped me learn—both on and off the field. Theywere costly lessons; but I have never regretted playing football in the NFL.I loved writing
 North Dallas Forty
 because it allowed me the rare pleasure of sinkingmyself in the ocean of memories from those years—a hard, violent, and painful life. I spent itwith 40 of the most fascinating, intelligent, cunning, and dangerous men I ever had the pleasureto be around before or since. There were football players.Anybody who makes it as a professional football player has survived the horror of realviolence, facing the monster that lives in his heart—these men were true gods in ruins. Whether he stays a man is still a question of fate because the monster is always straining to be loosedagain.I still remember vividly the struggle to nourish desperate desires to be alive as a man can be—to live each day as it if were the last—feeling life pumping through us with the hammeringof our hearts. It was a great life. A lot of scary high wire work, too many injuries, and lots of  pain. But I felt more in one Sunday afternoon than I did later on in whole years—writing is theonly thing I have done that comes close to being as terrifying as being a football player.My teammates were brilliant, talented, and tormented men—the adrenaline highs of worldclass players at war in the game—each peculiar and fascinating, sometimes frightening men withthe rare combination of great athletic skill, commitment, dedication, discipline, desire, plus thewillingness to sacrifice his physical, mental, and emotional health. To risk his very life to thisviolent game for the chance to inhabit his animal brain freed from all bonds of social conventionand expectation.I’ve found myself sinking into the same ocean of memories a lot lately. Suddenly, I’ve beengetting e-mails and visits from guys I played with and against in the NFL and played basketballwith and against in the Big Ten. I think about these people going back into the past, realizing that
 
I am now old enough that
 North Dallas Forty
could be considered a period piece—but no lessshocking or true for the passing of time. The current generation might well understand the novel better in hindsight than the people who lived it because they realize where most players haveended up—they’ve been reading the newspapers and listening to the news for the past 30 years.Luckily, the league that never disappoints keeps coming through for us. We’re talking the NF’ing L, mister. There’s no greater display of everything that’s magnificent about sport inAmerica and everything that’s wrong with culture in America. It’s on your TV almost half theSundays of the year. When the cameras are off and you’re not watching, these fellas really startto entertain. Rae Carruth is serving a 19-year sentence for conspiracy to murder. There are somany others. Like the receiver arrested for driving recklessly, and allegedly under the influenceof various substances. Here’s an important lesson for young receivers—driving recklessly is areally bad idea when you’re traveling with a loaf of cocaine. The good news for fantasy footballgeeks, and for coke dealers in any NFC West city, is that prosecutors will not pursue felony possession charges.But it isn’t just the news about the current players. So many remarkable things havehappened just in the past few years. Six NFL players from my era have died suddenly. (OnlyJohnny Unitas was older, and he dropped dead working out.) Two friends I played with in Dallashave begun to suffer noticeable signs of premature dementia—a.k.a. Punch Drunkeness—fromtoo many hits in the head. And I can’t keep up with the list of players who have won and lost or are still battling cancers. Plus all the heart attacks, and liver or kidney failures. And that doesn’tinclude the artificial knees and hips—or the titanium metal plates inserted into a misdiagnosed broken neck (diagnosed without x-rays 35 years ago as a ‘stinger’).For me the worst was Bobby Hayes’ death. It was hard to really deal with that. He hadfinally left Texas for the safety of his home state of Florida after Texas beat the shit outta him.Christ, when Bobby got there it had only been two years since JFK’s death—the COLOREDENTRANCE signs were still on all the downtown theatres leading up to the third balcony. Therewere still two drinking fountains. We trained in southern California because there was no placein Texas that would allow black players to live during camp.It never really changed in the years I played there (until 1969). In 1968, Dan Reeves’hometown of Selma blew up and the nightly news was either Vietnam or uppity niggers gettingthe shit beat out of them. Dallas gave all the rookies the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality testand a standard IQ test—all of it was weighted to make certain the blacks could deal with the pressure of living in the south. The SWC and SEC didn’t allow blacks to participate in sports.And by 1968, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were dead and Nixon declared the drugwar. Paranoia was everywhere. The league sent investigators after me because I entertained black players and their families in my home. It was paranoid lunacy.While we survived, The Game was a Great Love and a Great Passion. But so few are able tocomfortably put it in their past. At some point, I think we all began to realize the game wascorrupt and we all struggled to find meaning in a life spent playing the game as the corruptionclosed in on us and our loved ones.We need to make a new generation realize that
 North Dallas Forty
isn’t just a book aboutfootball—it remains a prediction of the direction of America by reading the livers, kidneys, andspines of old NFL players.PETER GENTVan Buren County, Michigan

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