When it comes to fiction by and about defensive ends, I'll admit I'm a rookie. Pat Toomay's novel On Any Given Sunday (Donald I. Fine, Inc., $15.95) caught me off guard. The prose is vivid, the dialogue rings true and the plot, though porous in places, usually holds water.
But more surprising is the psyche of Toomay's main character. The author was a member of Dallas's Doomsday Defense who spent 10 years messing up the other team's Sunday afternoons. You would expect Toomay's fictional persona, Washington lineman Brad Rafferty, to be equally fearsome, or at least aggressive. But no, Brad is a 250-pound paranoid, in and out of uniform.
Is Toomay making this up or are defensive linemen really this, well, defensive? Brad's anxiety seems too pervasive to be wholly invented—but the reader must figure it out for himself. The puzzle is well worth the price of the book.
Brad is haunted by that biggest bogey in sports fiction, the fixed game. At least Brad suspects a fix—he can't prove it. His suspicions light first on the officials, but spread to include his coach, teammates and his girl friend. Come the playoffs against Chicago, Brad feels he alone can defend the integrity of the game.
"The game" has two meanings in this book. First, it is football, and by the end of the book, Brad's vision of football is definitely warped. Take his description of the scrimmage line: "The creature snapped to life, burst apart, shattering into a tumult of armor-clad fragments that tore in a vicious assault against its own midsection...."
But the game is also a metaphor. We all play the game, Toomay suggests, be it sports, business, law. We all need rules, boundaries and a clock to live by. We try to control the game through our actions. But in fact, as Brad realizes, the game controls us. We're all hunkered down in a figurative goal-line stand.
Well", maybe not all of us. But if you've ever wondered how the world looks through a face mask, On Any Given Sunday is for you.