"I never saw a guy having so much fun and crying at the same time."
Drugs, sex, exploitation, and alcohol provide the octane for 8 days in the life of Phil Elliott an aging wide receiver for a Dallas professional football team. Hunter S. Thompson would have been holding his hand up by day four saying take me out coach. I might have lasted two days. Elliott not only lasts the entire span, but shows up to football practice every day and plays a professional game by day seven. If anyone is looking to write a dissertation on drug use in the early 1970s this book would be a great place to start.Nick Nolte plays Phil Elliott in the 1979 movie
Nursing the aches and pains of an athlete quickly reaching his past due date Elliott relies heavily on legal and illegal drugs to keep his body and mind working. As Phil says to a trainer on the team. "I may have ten more years left in me if I could just master the chemistry of this game."
He wasn't talking about the chemistry of the work place like the rest of us worry about. He was constantly experimenting with the proper dosages of a cornucopia of drugs to try and get through each day.
Phil can feel the end coming every time he straps on his cleats, every time he has another meaningless one night stand, and every time he wakes up feeling worse than when he went to sleep. He is in a constant state of survival. In fact Phil talks about that fact with the quarterback's girlfriend of the moment. "He played a great game," she said, disappointed but not surprised by the thought that Maxwell was despondent.
"We didn't win," I pointed out.
"Does it matter that much?"
"To him it does."
"Not to you?" She seemed surprised.
"A little, I suppose. Mostly I'm just trying to survive." I was a little embarrassed by the drama in my statement.
"I'm just trying to get the job," I explained. "He worries about getting it done right, or what he things is right."
I paused for a minute and watched her fooling absently with is hair. "You really like him, don't you?" I observed.
"I really do," she said, keeping her eyes on Maxwell. There was a tone of hopelessness in her voice.
"Because he's a man," she said. "What I thought all men were supposed to be like."
"What about me?" I asked with mock indignity.
"You," she said, turning to look at me and smiling wryly. "You. You're what men really are. Like you said, just trying to survive."Dust Jacket cover of the Hardcover edition
Even though Elliott is always worried about retaining his spot on the team he can't keep his head down in fact he keeps getting into trouble with management due to his hijinks and his disrespectful tone. What Elliott wants is more control over his life and with no union and no real security except how well he played on Sunday he finds himself questioning if management even sees him as a human being. "I'm too used to seeing myself on a list-six-foot-four-inch two-hundred-fifteen-pound flankerback, right alongside the six and seven-eighths helmets and the size thirteen shoes. No, man, I not only feel like a piece of equipment. I know I'm a piece of equipment."
I know it has become almost fashionable to be anti-union, but the only reason that we can feel comfortable getting rid of our unions is because they've done an excellent job making us all feel secure. In the process we forget what made us secure in the first place. Phil Elliott didn't really know it, but what he wanted was a union, something to offset the god like powers of NFL owners. Peter Gent
Peter Gent never played a down of college football. He was an outstanding basketball player for the Michigan State University. He turned down a pro NBA career (head scratching moment) and decided to show up to the Dallas Cowboys training camp when he heard they were offering $500 to anyone who showed up. Due to his athleticism he did make the team and contributed for a couple of years, but due to an accumulation of injuries his career was cut short. He passed away September 30th, 2011 from pulmonary disease.
I laughed out loud. I cringed. I felt Phil's fear and I wanted to put a restraining hand on his arm from time to time, but then nothing ever changes if someone isn't pushing the envelope trying to make not only the owners, but the players realize there is room for change. I was surprised at the profound impact this book had on me. Yes, it is a book about football, but actually very little football occurs. This book is more about the search for something more, for a life with meaning.