September 08, 2011
(+++) THE SPORTING LIFE CONTINUES
Football Genius #4: The Big Time. By Tim Green. Harper. $6.99.
Football Genius #5: Deep Zone. By Tim Green. Harper. $16.99.
Tim Green continues his mythologizing of the nobility of organized sports in the latest Football Genius novel, Deep Zone, which is being made available at the same time as the paperback version of the previous book in the series, The Big Time. The whole notion of combining “football” with“genius” shows pretty clearly what Green is trying to do: show his readers (the books target ages 8-12) that sports are a high calling, not just a form of entertainment — and never, never to be regarded as simply some sort of organized gladiatorial combat in which millionaires wearing heavy padding attempt to outrun and (especially) outhit other millionaires. That may be the reality of professional football in the United States, but it is not the way things are in Green’s universe, despite the purported realism of the Football Genius sequence.
In The Big Time, Green tries to showcase conflicts between family matters and football ambition, as Troy White — who is helping his team make the playoffs and is already being recruited by numerous agents — is suddenly confronted by a lawyer who says he is Troy’s father. Troy has wanted to find and be with his father for years, but now that desire may be in conflict with the tremendous importance of football. It turns out that Troy’s dad, like Troy, had ambitions to be in the NFL, but a serious injury (“another eighth of an inch and I wouldn’t be walking”) got in the way. Troy’s father initially proves supportive, and Troy’s team wins the state championship, but there are (understandably) significant conflicts between Troy’s father and mother, and Troy even has to decide whether to help the FBI when it turns out that his father’s activities could land Dad in jail for up to 10 years. Family matters end up going badly — very badly indeed — but football matters go quite well for Troy, and Green suggests that that somehow makes up for everything else.
Intermingled pasts are an important element of Deep Zone as well. Here Troy meets and plays against Ty Lewis, who showed up in an earlier Green book called Football Hero — in which Ty was chased by the Mafia but still managed to make the important plays. Ty has a brother, Thane, who is a star in the NFL, and Ty is always trying to prove himself Thane’s equal. For his part, Troy is one of a kind, a quarterback able to predict a football play before it happens (a rather creaky plot device, but a crucial one in Green’s series). Troy and Ty are rivals in a 7-on-7 tournament, and each wonders about himself and about the other. Troy, for example, is not sure why Ty seems to have an interest in Troy’s friend, Tate (for some reason, Green’s novels are packed with names that start with T). Ty, more introspective because of the shadow of Thane, knows he has exceptional speed but is not sure that will be enough to overcome Troy’s smart playing (not to mention his apparent ability to see the football future). The dialogue here, and what passes for advice, will be appealing only to strongly committed sports fans: “The only statistic that matters is wins and loses. Never forget that. No one gives you credit for breaking up an interception, not like they do when you catch a touchdown pass, but breaking up an interception is every bit as important as scoring a touchdown. When that cornerback gets his hands on the ball? Remember this: It’s your ball. It belongs to you. You go get that thing like some punk stole your lunch money. You hear me?” Yes, Ty hears Thane, who is dispensing this bit of older-brother wisdom, and Green’s readers hear all this and presumably accept it as truth and reality. And so it may be within the extremely narrow world of professional football: “There’s only one team in the whole country that gets to go home a winner, and that’s gonna be us,” says one coach, and so much for any notion that “how you play the game” is the slightest bit relevant. The FBI and Mafia elements that reappear here are never very effectively integrated into the football heroics, although Green certainly tries hard enough. The problem is that he just isn’t very interested in anything off the field, so when he twists and turns things to inveigle a happy ending, it simply isn’t very convincing. Dedicated football fans and players may very well agree with the way Green has things come out. But anyone else who picks up the Football Genius books is likely to put them down, at the end if not before, with a very sour taste in his or her mouth.