A debut book offers a personal and literary inquiry into the role of football in one man’s life and in American society.
“Why has football been such a big deal in my life, and in the lives of so many?” Liparulo asks in this volume. “Will I have to confess to the sin of football idolatry?” If such a confession is necessary, he certainly won’t be making it alone: the NFL is a $9 billion industry in the U.S., and the college-level network of teams is a sprawling moneymaker for schools all across the country. Liparulo often reminds his readers that “fan” is short for “fanatic,” and in America, there’s no sport that highlights that connection quite like football. But the sport isn’t Liparulo’s first idolatry; in richly observed, intensely satisfying chapters of personal recollection, he reflects on his years growing up listening to Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, the Doobie Brothers, and Blue Oyster Cult and confesses that “rock and roll became my first religion.” Throughout his book, his narrative veers between these autobiographical chapters and more philosophical sections reflecting on the sport of football as seen through the prism of a handful of iconic games. He tells the story of his life: the friends of his youth in upstate New York, their fledgling attempts at forming rock bands of their own, his classes at Binghamton University, his ROTC experiences and service as an infantry officer in 1980s South Korea, his later teaching career. These vivid recollections are suffused with his love of literature; quotes from the Bible and Milton’s Paradise Lost are littered throughout the text (this may be the only football memoir to include multiple allusions to Michel Foucault). But the story keeps returning to football, “the big lie at the heart of the American dream,” with all its growing problems, including the harsh realities for players with brain injuries sustained on the field, a scandal that has thousands of plaintiffs pursuing legal action against the NFL. Liparulo blends all this professional and personal material with an easy, literate skill that should appeal even to nonfans.
An engaging memoir explores football and fandom.