Literary writing about football
December 3, 2014 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Are there any literary writers (i.e. not sportswriters) who've written about modern NFL football in the same way that Joyce Carol Oates has written about boxing / David Foster Wallace has written about tennis?
posted by jtothes to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean, incorporated it into a novel? Hunter S. Thompson talked about football a lot, but it was usually in journalistic pieces.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:32 PM on December 3, 2014

Response by poster: No, I mean in essays. The authors I mentioned have written very keen essays on those sports, and I'm looking more that sort of thing.
posted by jtothes at 4:34 PM on December 3, 2014

The first thing that I thought of was George Plimpton's Paper Lion.
posted by octothorpe at 4:44 PM on December 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Not really modern, mid-60's. George Plimpton, Paper Lion.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:45 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dang you octothorpe!
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:45 PM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Does Chuck Klosterman count? One of his essays in Eating the Dinosaur was about football.
posted by jabes at 4:47 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Steve Almond just did, sort of.
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:47 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

More Klosterman columns here, on ESPN.
posted by jabes at 4:52 PM on December 3, 2014

I know you said essays, but since you mentioned DFW I figured I'd chime in with Don Delillo's End Zone, which was a book DFW very very loosely based Infinite Jest on, and which concerns a football team at a school.

Also Hunter S Thompson was very knowledgeable about football and wrote many essays on it.
posted by nevercalm at 5:06 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

A sideways approach to this question might be to peruse this list -- The Best American Sports Writing / Index: 1991-2012 -- and see whether anything suits you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:11 PM on December 3, 2014

Hm, Roy Blount Jr. is mostly known as a humorist, and he has published at least one little-known novel that I can find. So you might accept About Three Bricks Shy / And The Load Filled Up, but if any journalism/sportswriting experience is a disqualification, then it's out.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:44 PM on December 3, 2014

Stephen Fatsis, A Few Seconds of Panic.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:35 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

That Wikipedia article led me to this page, which may or may not be helpful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:36 PM on December 3, 2014

A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley sort of fits your criteria. It's basically an autobiography of/novel about a football guy.
posted by Alex Voyd at 1:14 AM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding "A Fan's Notes," which is very good.
posted by shallowcenter at 6:29 AM on December 4, 2014

Does Gregg Easterbook's work count ?
posted by k5.user at 8:53 AM on December 4, 2014

I don't know if your definition of "literary" means fiction, or just good writing (I haven't read the books you mention, but I'm aware that Joyce Carol Oates is primarily a fiction writer.) My suggestions are non-fiction, because I don't read much fiction.

First, and I see K5.user beat me to it, but I'm going to go into a bit more detail: The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America by Gregg Easterbrook. Easterbrook writes a weekly column for during football season that has the smartest breakdowns of games that you'll find anywhere. But I wouldn't describe him as a "sportswriter" - I think this is his only sports book. He's written several other books, including novels and non-fiction. The ESPN column is only a hobby; his day job is Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, so you know he's a smart guy. The book is a look at the current state of football, and the problems in the game and suggested solutions. Full disclosure: I haven't read it yet (it's in the queue) but I feel comfortable recommending anything by Easterbrook sight unseen.

A little history? The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football by John J. Miller. Again, I believe this is his only sports book. It's the story of the flying wedge formation, how it caused serious injuries and even deaths, and how Teddy used the bully pulpit to get it banned.

Biography? How about the greatest coach in the history of the NFL: When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss (a Pulitzer Prize winner.)

A first-person account of an epochal season, a best-seller, and a classic of the genre? Instant Replay, by Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap. A diary of Green Bay's 1967 season, the Ice Bowl and Kramer's block on Jethro Pugh, and Super Bowl II. I know this flunks one of your criteria in that Schaap is a sportswriter, but understand he wasn't some run-of-the-mill sports hack, he was one of the most respected sportswriters ever [citation needed], so I thought I'd throw it out there. (I also have an autographed copy on my shelf.)

(Can you tell I'm a Packers fan?)
posted by dono at 12:09 PM on December 4, 2014

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