A true football novel can only be written by someone who played the game. Mark Bavaro makes that clear from the first chapter of his debut novel, Rough & Tumble. It's one thing to say a tight end ran a five-yard hitch to make a catch, it's quite another to spend two pages describing every little juke, maneuver, and evasion technique it took to slip past the defense to get in place to make the catch.
But Rough & Tumble isn't a dry, drawn-out story about play on the field. It's a fast, enthralling look at the full life of a football player - from the morning routine on the trainer's table, to the boredom of team meetings, to the cheap shots suffered on even the most basic of plays.
Bavaro's alter-ego Dom Fucillo must deal with a cast of characters that surely are already familiar to Giants fans - a hard-nosed head coach, a star linebacker who parties too hard, and an injured quarterback whose main concern is a future in broadcasting. But those aren't Fucillo's only demons, as he also must deal with an estranged girlfriend, a faith that has become more superstition than religion, and injuries that could end his career at any moment.
If Bavaro deserves any criticism for Rough & Tumble, it's from his fine literary skills outshining the supposed lack of intelligence of his first-person narrator, Fucillo. Still, all of that is quickly lost in an entertaining and exciting story.
The paperback version of Rough & Tumble is available September 1 from St. Martin's Press and Thomas Dunne Books. Thank you to St. Martin's and Thomas Dunne for an advance copy.