Playing for Pizza

Playing for Pizza

3.7 287
by John Grisham, Christopher Evan Welch

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Rick Dockery was the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. In the AFC Championship game against Denver, to the surprise and dismay of virtually everyone, Rick actually got into the game. With a 17-point lead and just minutes to go, Rick provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL. Overnight, he became a national

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Rick Dockery was the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. In the AFC Championship game against Denver, to the surprise and dismay of virtually everyone, Rick actually got into the game. With a 17-point lead and just minutes to go, Rick provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL. Overnight, he became a national laughingstock and, of course, was immediately cut by the Browns and shunned by all other teams.

But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent, Arnie, find a team that needs him. Against enormous odds Arnie finally locates just such a team and informs Rick that, miraculously, he can in fact now be a starting quarterback–for the mighty Panthers of Parma, Italy.

Yes, Italians do play American football, to one degree or another, and the Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player–any former NFL player–at their helm. So Rick reluctantly agrees to play for the Panthers–at least until a better offer comes along–and heads off to Italy. He knows nothing about Parma, has never been to Europe, and doesn’t speak or understand a word of Italian. To say that Italy holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement.

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Editorial Reviews

Rick Dockery wanted to make football history -- but not that kind of football history. Last year, as a last-minute replacement in an AFC championship game, he single-handedly blew his team's 17-point lead. Now a national laughingstock, this unemployed backup quarterback is begging for a second chance. He finds it in unexpected ways in Parma, Italy, a place he's never heard of. A singular sports novel by fiction maestro John Grisham.

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Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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5.50(w) x 6.32(h) x 1.04(d)

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Chapter One

It was a hospital bed, that much appeared certain, though certainty was coming and going. It was narrow and hard and there were shiny metal railings standing sentrylike along the sides, preventing escape. The sheets were plain and very white. Sanitary. The room was dark, but sunlight was trying to creep around the blinds covering the window.

He closed his eyes again; even that was painful. Then he opened them, and for a long silent minute or so he managed to keep the lids apart and focus on his cloudy little world. He was lying on his back and pinned down by firmly tucked sheets. He noticed a tube dangling to his left, running down to his hand, then disappearing up somewhere behind him. There was a voice in the distance, out in the hallway. Then he made the mistake of trying to move, just a slight adjustment of the head, and it didn't work. Hot bolts of pain hit his skull and neck and he groaned loudly.

"Rick. Are you awake?"

The voice was familiar, and quickly a face followed it. Arnie was breathing on him.

"Arnie?" he said with a weak, scratchy voice, then he swallowed.

"It's me, Rick, thank God you're awake."

Arnie the agent, always there at the important moments.

"Where am I, Arnie?"

"You're in the hospital, Rick."

"Got that. But why?"

"When did you wake up?" Arnie found a switch, and a light came on beside the bed.

"I don't know. A few minutes ago."

"How do you feel?"

"Like someone crushed my skull."

"Close. You're gonna be fine, trust me."

Trust me, trust me. How many times had he heard Arnie ask for trust? Truth was, he'd never completely trusted Arnie and there was no plausible reason to start now. What did Arnie know about traumatic head injuries or whatever mortal wound someone had inflicted?

Rick closed his eyes again and breathed deeply. "What happened?" he asked softly.

Arnie hesitated and ran a hand over his hairless head. He glanced at his watch, 4:00 p.m., so his client had been knocked out for almost twenty-four hours. Not long enough, he thought, sadly.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Arnie asked as he carefully put both elbows on the bed's railing and leaned forward.

After a pause, Rick managed to say, "I remember Bannister coming at me."

Arnie smacked his lips and said, "No, Rick. That was the second concussion, two years ago in Dallas, when you were with the Cowboys." Rick groaned at the memory, and it wasn't pleasant for Arnie either, because his client had been squatting on the sideline looking at a certain cheerleader when the play came his way and he was squashed, helmetless, by a ton of flying bodies. Dallas cut him two weeks later and found another third-string quarterback.

"Last year you were in Seattle, Rick, and now you're in Cleveland, the Browns, remember?"

Rick remembered and groaned a bit louder. "What day is it?" he asked, eyes open now.

"Monday. The game was yesterday. Do you recall any of it?" Not if you're lucky, Arnie wanted to say. "I'll get a nurse. They've been waiting."

"Not yet, Arnie. Talk to me. What happened?"

"You threw a pass, then you got sandwiched. Purcell came on a weak-side blitz and took your head off. You never saw him."

"Why was I in the game?"

Now, that was an excellent question, one that was raging on every sports radio show in Cleveland and the upper Midwest. Why was HE in the game? Why was HE on the team? Where in the hell did HE come from?

"Let's talk about it later," Arnie said, and Rick was too weak to argue. With great reluctance, his wounded brain was stirring slightly, shaking itself from its coma and trying to awaken. The Browns. Browns Stadium, on a very cold Sunday afternoon before a record crowd. The play-offs, no, more than that—the AFC title game.

The ground was frozen, hard as concrete and just as cold.

A nurse was in the room, and Arnie was announcing, "I think he's snapped out of it."

"That's great," she said, without much enthusiasm. "I'll go find a doctor." With even less enthusiasm.
Rick watched her leave without moving his head. Arnie was cracking his knuckles and ready to bolt. "Look, Rick, I need to get going."

"Sure, Arnie. Thanks."

"No problem. Look, there's no easy way to say this, so I'll just be blunt. The Browns called this morning—Wacker—and, well, they've released you." It was almost an annual ritual now, this postseason cutting.

"I'm sorry," Arnie said, but only because he had to say it.

"Call the other teams," Rick said, and certainly not for the first time.

"Evidently I won't have to. They're already calling me."

"That's great."

"Not really. They're calling to warn me not to call them. I'm afraid this might be the end of the line, kid."

There was no doubt it was the end of the line, but Arnie just couldn't find the candor. Maybe tomorrow. Eight teams in six years. Only the Toronto Argonauts dared to sign him for a second season. Every team needed a backup to their backup quarterback, and Rick was perfect for the role. Problems started, though, when he ventured onto the field.

"Gotta run," Arnie said, glancing at his watch again. "And listen, do yourself a favor and keep the television turned off. It's brutal, especially ESPN." He patted his knee and darted from the room. Outside the door there were two thick security guards sitting in folding chairs, trying to stay awake.
Arnie stopped at the nurses' station and spoke to the doctor, who eventually made his way down the hall, past the security guards, and into Rick's room. His bedside manner lacked warmth—a quick check of the basics without much conversation. Neurological work to follow. Just another garden-variety brain concussion, isn't this the third one?

"I think so," Rick said.

"Thought about finding another job?" the doctor asked.


Perhaps you should, the doctor thought, and not just because of your bruised brain. Three interceptions in eleven minutes should be a clear sign that football is not your calling. Two nurses appeared quietly and helped with the tests and paperwork. Neither said a word to the patient, though he was an unmarried professional athlete with notable good looks and a hard body. And at that moment, when he needed them, they could not have cared less.

As soon as he was alone again, Rick very carefully began looking for the remote. A large television hung from the wall in the corner. He planned to go straight to ESPN and get it over with. Every movement hurt, and not just his head and neck. Something close to a fresh knife wound ached in his lower back. His left elbow, the non-throwing one, throbbed with pain.

Sandwiched? He felt like he'd been flattened by a cement truck.

The nurse was back, holding a tray with some pills. "Where's the remote?" Rick asked.

"Uh, the television's broke."

"Arnie pulled the plug, didn't he?"

"Which plug?"

"The television."

"Who's Arnie?" she asked as she tinkered with a rather large needle.

"What's that?" Rick asked, forgetting Arnie for a second.

"Vicodin. It'll help you sleep."

"I'm tired of sleeping."

"Doctor's orders, okay. You need rest, and lots of it." She drained the Vicodin into his IV bag and watched the clear liquids for a moment.

"Are you a Browns fan?" Rick asked.

"My husband is."

"Was he at the game yesterday?"


"How bad was it?"

"You don't want to know."

When he awoke, Arnie was there again, sitting in a chair beside the bed and reading the Cleveland Post. At the bottom of the front page, Rick could barely make out the headline "Fans Storm Hospital."

"What!" Rick said as forcefully as possible.

Arnie snatched the paper down and bolted to his feet. "Are you okay, kid?"

"Wonderful, Arnie. What day is it?"

"Tuesday, early Tuesday morning. How do you feel, kid?"

"Give me that newspaper."

"What do you want to know?"

"What's going on, Arnie?"

"What do you want to know?"


"Have you watched television?"

"No. You pulled the plug. Talk to me, Arnie."

Arnie cracked his knuckles, then walked slowly to the window, where he barely opened the blinds. He peered through them, as if trouble were out there. "Yesterday some hooligans came here and made a scene. Cops handled it well, arrested a dozen or so. Just a bunch of thugs. Browns fans."

"How many?"

"Paper said about twenty. Just drunks."

"And why did they come here, Arnie? It's just you and me—agent and player. The door's closed. Please fill in the blanks."

"They found out you were here. A lot of folks would like to take a shot at you these days. You've had a hundred death threats. Folks are upset. They're even threatening me." Arnie leaned against the wall, a flash of smugness because his life was now worth being threatened. "You still don't remember?" he asked.


"Browns are up seventeen to zip over the Broncos with eleven minutes to go. Zip doesn't come close to describing the ass-kicking. After three quarters, the Broncos have eighty-one yards in total offense, and three, count 'em, three first downs. Anything?"


"Ben Marroon is at quarterback because Nagle pulled a hamstring in the first quarter."

"I remember that now."

"With eleven minutes to go, Marroon gets drilled on a late hit. They carry him off. No one's worried because the Browns' defense could stop General Patton and his tanks. You take the field, third and twelve, you throw a beautiful pass in the flat to Sweeney, who, of course, plays for the Broncos, and forty yards later he's in the end zone. Remember any of this?"

Rick slowly closed his eyes and said, "No."

"Don't try too hard.

"Both teams punt, then the Broncos fumble. With six minutes to go, on a third and eight, you check off at the line and throw to Bryce on a hook, but the ball is high and is picked off by somebody in a white jersey, can't recall his name but he sure can run, all the way. Seventeen to fourteen. The place is getting tense, eighty thousand plus. A few minutes earlier they were celebrating. First Super Bowl ever, all that jazz. Broncos kick off, Browns run the ball three times because Cooley ain't about to send in a pass play, and so the Browns punt. Or try to. Snap gets fumbled, Broncos get the ball on the Browns' thirty-four-yard line, which is no problem whatsoever because in three plays the Browns' defense, which is really, really pissed at this point, stuffs them for fifteen yards, out of field goal range. Broncos punt, you take over at your own 6, and for the next four minutes manage to cram the ball into the middle of the defensive line. The drive stalls at midfield, third and ten, forty seconds to go. Browns are afraid to pass and even more afraid to punt. I don't know what Cooley sends in, but you check off again, fire a missile to the right sideline for Bryce, who's wide open. Right on target."

Rick tried to sit up, and for a moment forgot about his injuries. "I still don't remember."

"Right on target, but much too hard. It hits Bryce in the chest, bounces up, and Goodson grabs it, gallops to the promised land. Browns lose twenty-one to seventeen. You're on the ground, almost sawed in half. They put you on a stretcher, and as they roll you off the field, half the crowd is booing and the other half is cheering wildly. Quite a noise, never heard anything like it. A couple of drunks jump from the stands and rush the stretcher—they would've killed you—but security steps in. A nice brawl ensues, and it, too, is all over the talk shows."

Rick was slumped over, low in the bed, lower than ever, with his eyes closed and his breathing quite labored. The headaches were back, along with the sharp pains in the neck and along the spine. Where were the drugs?

"Sorry, kid," Arnie said. The room was nicer in the darkness, so Arnie closed the blinds and reassumed his position in the chair, with his newspaper. His client appeared to be dead.

The doctors were ready to release him, but Arnie had argued strongly that he needed a few more days of rest and protection. The Browns were paying for the security guards, and they were not happy about it. The team was also covering the medicals, and it wouldn't be long before they complained.

And Arnie was fed up, too. Rick's career, if you could call it that, was over. Arnie got 5 percent, and 5 percent of Rick's salary wasn't enough to cover expenses. "Are you awake, Rick?"

"Yes," he said, with his eyes still closed.

"Listen to me, okay."

"I'm listening."

"The hardest part of my job is telling a player that it's time to quit. You've played all your life, it's all you know, all you dream about. No one is ever ready to quit. But, Rick, ole buddy, it's time to call it quits. There are no options."

"I'm twenty-eight years old, Arnie," Rick said, with his eyes open. Very sad eyes. "What do you suggest I do?"

"A lot of guys go into coaching. And real estate. You were smart—you got your degree."

"My degree is in phys ed, Arnie. That means I can get a job teaching volleyball to sixth graders for forty thousand a year. I'm not ready for that."

Arnie stood and walked around the end of the bed, as if deep in thought. "Why don't you go home, get some rest, and think about it?"

"Home? Where is home? I've lived in so many different places."

"Home is Iowa, Rick. They still love you there." And they really love you in Denver, Arnie thought, but wisely kept it to himself.

The idea of being seen on the streets of Davenport, Iowa, terrified Rick, and he let out a soft groan. The town was probably humiliated by the play of its native son. Ouch. He thought of his poor parents, and closed his eyes.

Arnie glanced at his watch, then for some reason finally noticed that there were no get-well cards or flowers in the room. The nurses told him that no friends had stopped by, no family, no teammates, no one even remotely connected to the Cleveland Browns. "I gotta run, kid. I'll drop by tomorrow."
Walking out, he nonchalantly tossed the newspaper on Rick's bed. As soon as the door closed behind him, Rick grabbed it, and soon wished he had not. The police estimated a crowd of fifty had staged a rowdy demonstration outside the hospital. Things got ugly when a TV news crew showed up and began filming. A window was smashed, and a few of the drunker fans stormed the ER check-in, supposedly looking for Rick Dockery. Eight were arrested. A large photo—front page beneath the fold—captured the crowd before the arrests. Two crude signs could be read clearly: "Pull the Plug Now!" and "Legalize Euthanasia."

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Playing for Pizza 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 287 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
When I checked this novel out from the library, I had predicted how it would unfold. And I turned out to be completely right. I did this with some assistance from the blurb. The main character, Rick Dockery, is a sub-par quarterback that loves to play the game. After he is cut from his most recent NFL team, Rick signs with a team in Italy. And from that I came to the conclusion that it would be somewhat of a comedy that deals with him adjusting to Italian culture, while at the same time trying to help his new team win a championship. So yes it¿s a very predictable plot.
But that doesn¿t automatically bring down the quality of the book. It had a very good message: the NFL lifestyle is over luxurious, and there¿s really no passion for the game. In the Italian league, with exception to the American players, there are no salaries. The Italian athletes see pro football as a club, and have actual careers to support their financial needs. And they are fine with that. They have the passion for the sport that is missing, for the most part, from pro football in America. That is the theme I love from this novel.
Before when I said I predicted it was a comedy, that¿s on overstatement. Grisham has a way of wording things. When I hear them in my head as I read, they are really funny. This happens especially when Rick is practicing for the first few times with his new team. As you would have guessed the skill level in a Europe league is far below that of the NFL, and they have a different style of practice. So consequently Rick has trouble adjusting to the skill level of his offensive line and wide receivers. The way Grisham delineates Rick¿s frustration is very funny.
Something else I like about this book is the references to the real world. Several times Grisham mentions real NFL teams and players. And apparently the way Italian culture is portrayed here is very accurate. All the Italians teams are real, and the reputations are real. For example, in the text, the Bergamo Lions is the powerhouse of the league, and has one the championship the past nine years in a row. I looked this up on internet and its true. That is a big positive for me.
But no book is perfect. And Playing for Pizza is exhibit A to this statement. The ending was quite the disappointment. I¿m not going to spoil anything, but let¿s just say it leaves the reader very clueless about the future of Rick¿s career. This was something I was intrigued with and was looking forward learning how it played out. But Grisham leaves it up to the reader¿s imagination. I hate it when authors do that.
Another flaw is the many things Rick gets involved in besides football. The most annoying of which are his numerous Italian love interests. Rick has spends a lot of times thinking about girls, two in particular, and whenever I got to one of these chapters I felt very inclined to just skip it. It just seemed to get in the way from what the book could have been. I understand the setting is in Italy and it would be hard to ignore this theme, but it would probably be worth it. I chose this book because it had to do with football, not romance. But there is enough football that it can get confusing for someone who is unfamiliar with the game. By this I mean there is frequent use of football terms. This is no problem whatsoever for me, but could frustrate some people.
But the pros greatly overpower the cons, and overall it was an enjoyable read. I highly
Only_Excerpts More than 1 year ago
It's a pretty good book, but found it very confusing to understand exactly WHAT this story was supposed to mean. A good read though for those who like sports books and want to get a quick read in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An absolute delight. Really a must read
Stacy Byker More than 1 year ago
My husband brought this home after borrowing it from a co worker. I do not know much about the ins and outs of football especially football leagues in Europe, but this book was so easy to pick up and get into. It is wonderful to follow the transformation of the main character and take in the feel and culture of Italy. I loved all the characters he meets along his incredible journey in Italy. It is an easygoing read that is hard to put down. I was surprised to also read the research put into the autheticness of creating this book! I don't think women and men alike will be disappointed!
kronan1 More than 1 year ago
A Total Surprise....................................................... I picked up this for  my grandson  when he needed to do a book report.   I thought football might be something that would interest him.   Not my bag at all.   But being the compulsive reader that I am I started reading it when he was done with it.   I care nothing about football and I loved the book.  For those confused about a lack of plot.  My read on it was it was about cultural differences--personal growth--human values.  I'd highly recommend it.   
kteachML More than 1 year ago
A fun book to read if you like food and football. Light expose. Different from John Grisham's usual legal fare. Makes you want to go to Italy!
tomsmom More than 1 year ago
A diversion for Grisham, not unlike Skipping Christmas. A pleasant story, filled with interesting characters, and lucious descriptions of Italian countryside and food. A story for a football fan, or his wife! It made me think of football strategy as I never have before. I give it five stars, and plan to read it again!
jweb628 More than 1 year ago
Loved this very different, very human and engaging story from Grisham, the great writer of courtroom and legal dramas. One of two 'football' books he's given us. This one excels as a story of a man who has to re-evaluate his life in the face of changing citcumstances , reshaping his goals and lifestyle to reflect his new reality. Along the way it takes the reader on a grand epicurean tour of northern Italy. Really, it made me salivate and wonder, "How and when can I get to Parma?"
ShellMason More than 1 year ago
I think people (and critics) are sometimes too hard on John Grisham. A writer should be allowed to cross boundaries without being scolded for trying to do so. In Playing for Pizza, Grisham does this beautifully. Rick Dockery is one of the all-time great fiction louses, the sensory details of Italian life are delicious, and Christopher Evan Welch perfectly captures Grisham aloof and happy-go-lucky tone. I highly recommend this audiobook to anyone looking for some fun.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book to read -- and read again...and again! Grisham pulls off another coup, improbably merging the character and charm of Italian small-urban culture with all the excitement of the NFL, minus the pretentiousness of American professional sports. The reader meets (and winds up loving) a unique assortment of beautifully-believable characters living La dolce vita, who have no problem introducing it to an All-American NFL loser, in a cultural bank shot that transforms him. Amazingly, it's a gallopingly-joyous page-turner, as well!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dad did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A place for children and grown ups alike where fantasy and fun comes to life
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why so sad :(
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't see how l didn't screw up..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
C u at swim res 1
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*blushes* thanx Gracie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tttyt gracieu
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Next res? Lol.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago