Tonight the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will face off in Super Bowl XLVII. Therefore it seems like an appropriate time to review the best football novel ever written, and one of the funniest books of any genre, Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins.
The novel chronicles the journey to the Super Bowl of two Texas-born NFL players, Billy Clyde Puckett and Marvin "Shake" Tiller. Billy Clyde and Shake play for the New York Giants, who are battling their arch-rivals, the "dog-ass" New York Jets in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. In addition to being the Giants' star running back, Puckett has also been asked by a book publisher to keep a journal of events before, during, and after the big game, a journal that will later be turned into a book. Billy Clyde does a fine job of this, mainly because author Dan Jenkins (a Fort Worth native himself) has been a sportswriter for most of his life, and his description of in-game action is one of the highlights of this book.
First published in 1972, Semi-Tough is not just a book about football, and not simply a hilarious read throughout; it is also one of the least politically correct books you will ever read. It contains booze, drugs, sex, smoking, foul language, and humor that would certainly be considered both sexist and racist, especially today when we are actually censoring the language in classic books like Huckleberry Finn. Yet the book works, perhaps because rather in spite of the coarse humor; in Semi-Tough the humor is always honest and no one is spared, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed.
It is likely that many more people have seen the film adaptation from 1977 staring Burt Reynolds than have read Dan Jenkins' novel. This is a shame, because the movie (as is usually the case) is nothing like the book, and nowhere near as good or as funny. Semi-Tough is a must-read for both football fans and fans of great books, and a great way to spend the long hours before kickoff tonight. So run to your closest bookstore (preferably an independent one) and pick up a copy of Semi-Tough. You'll be laughing so hard you just might miss kickoff tonight.