Meat and potatoes for the football fan, courtesy of ex-pro (and current sports journalist) Rivers.
The former Denver Broncos fullback (1991–96) debuts with a crafty little game fix here; not some disbelief-suspending byzantine effort, but the evolution of an organized-crime figure moving from the world of bookmaking to gambling himself. Of course, gambling isn’t the same as just calling the shots as he sees them, but it involves a touch of subtle blackmail and less—though not-so-subtle—strong-arm work (like ramming a finger up the nostrils of a disrespectful team owner, digging for brain matter). There are at least a dozen principal characters—NFL security specialists, gangsters, shady girlfriends (one appears to be just a gold digger but turns into a real snake in the grass; another snake in the grass turns into marriage material), and then the players themselves, all actively in the thick of things. The star quarterback and the gangster may be portrayed a bit too much like saint and sinner, though it’s also possible just to see them as being really, really good at what they do. The draw here isn’t just in the pleasure of a paced, credible thriller, but also in the sharp insights into the way football is played these days, what the quarterback sees and thinks when he looks at the defensive formations, what the coaches do during the week, the intricate job of a long-snapper, the extent to which financial sleaze has entered the game, from betting to loan-sharking (“We let him run for a little bit, and then we take over his business”), from payoffs to the gambling-sickness that has so many players in its grasp. What you have in the end is a thinking-(wo)man’s football thriller with an ethical twist, maybe the epitome of niche marketing.
A natty condemnation of financial misdoings in the NFL as well as a piece of insider’s delight for gridiron fans.