Bill ""Beowolf"" Bailey is a high-school football star--he plays defensive safety--in Rawlings, Montana. Beowolf's mother is gone; his father too (killed sky-diving, hence the title). And his heroic, absurd grandfather has recently died after drinking snake venom, while brother Jason is now quarterbacking at the University of Montana. Thus, Beowolf has settled on Jeannie, a cheerleader, as his savior from terminal, teenager/orphan vertigo. Jeannie, however, is really in love with flakey Gray, a brilliant pass receiver on the team who's also a long-hair and folk singer non-conformist; so, though she eventually sleeps with Beowolf, even becoming pregnant by him, it's Gray she always wants. And when Beowolf realizes the hopelessness of the situation, he goes all-out on the day of the big pre-Thanksgiving game, hating football just enough to play it brutally well. Through all of this, unfortunately, first-novelist Barron's heart is most frequently found on his sleeve: ""A body striving for the ideals plastered in slogans on locker-room walls paid for the attempt in real pain, and even for a team as good as the Rattlers the dream of greatness could never quite be reconciled with reality."" Furthermore, the book's big-game finale (like many debut-novel expertise scenes), is a self-conscious tour de force: meticulously described, play-by-play, slightly befuddling in its technicalities, the second-by-second details draining away any drama. And though Barron conveys the locker-room aches and numbness well, the rest is aimless and over-familiar--with a theme (the-game-isn't-life-but-then-what-is?) that's handled more effectively in David Guy's less pretentious, quite affecting Football Dreams (1980).