“There was something about pro football,” he told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2001. “It was violent, it was cruel. There was a part of the game that was literally insane. And I loved it.”
Peter Gent, the author of the football novel-slash-expose North Dallas Forty, has died at age 69. Pulmonary disease is what got him.
Gent played basketball in college but tried out for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and caught on as an pass-catching end. He played five years in the pain, glory, mayhem and racism of the 1960s NFL, and then wrote about it all in North Dallas Forty.
The novel was a surprise hit. The New York Times named it a Noteworthy Title of 1973 and called it “a strong and believable picture of what goes on in the locker room, on the field, and after the game.”
A 1979 movie starred Nick Nolte as Phillip Elliott, the book’s stand-in for Gent. One of the ironies of North Dallas Forty is that it only seemed to boost the popularity of the Dallas Cowboys, who were just starting their self-proclaimed era as “America’s Team.”
Gent had bigger things on his mind than just the game. He saw the corruption of the NFL as an harbinger of the corruption of America. As he put it in his foreward to a 2003 edition:
“North Dallas Forty isn’t just a book about football — it remains a prediction of the direction of America by reading the livers, kidneys, and spines of old NFL players.”