To some people, sportswriters and fans among them, sports is ""fun and games""--a diversion from the serious business of life. Not so Novak, for whom sports is ""a form of godliness,"" a vision of miracles and Fates, a myth, a liturgy, a sacrament, an aesthetic perfection, a Homeric struggle. Whew! You'll learn that ""Very few philosophical-religious texts have as clear a ring of truth as a baseball smacked from the fat, true center of a willow bat."" This is a book that will stun the average sports fan, who doesn't expect to come upon the likes of Aristotle, PÃ‰guy, Spinoza, and Chesterton alongside Joe Namath, Sandy Koufax, Bob Cousey, and Joe DiMaggio. Luckily, it's not all metaphysics. Novak splices in a good deal of fun and exhilaration in the ""Sportsreel"" insets which recreate some of the best moments of the best games: the perfectly matched Celtics and Lakers of the '60s, the Dodgers' frantic pennant runs, the transfiguration of Cassius Clay into Ali and his indomitable comeback. And surely Novak is onto something when he says that we love football because it ""ventilates our rage,"" its violence and aggression--all that knee-to-the-groin stuff--undercutting our sentimental, liberal pieties. Still, Novak's relentless pursuit of cosmic significance and spiritual redemption in our national pastimes is likely to elicit a disgusted ""Waddya talkin' about?"" from, say, a Met fan worrying about the folly of the Lolich-Staub trade.