Larry Merchant has written a very funny book about pro football called...And Every Day You Take Another Bite (Doubleday, $6.95). A sport whose fans have to put up with Howard Cosell on every given Monday needs all the humor it can get.
It is not easy to see the humor in football, but then most people do not see football the way Merchant does. A few years ago Merchant, who does a sports column for the New York Post, invited a group of us to his apartment to watch the NFL and AFL title games on adjoining TV sets—one black and white, one color. I cannot recall who was playing, but then I'm not sure I ever knew. On the black-and-white set, even the ghosts had ghosts; that afternoon the 15-9 defense was born. The color set was a blizzard of chartreuse and magenta—out-of-focus chartreuse and magenta. The lack of reception did not seem to bother Merchant or the other guests, who whiled away the afternoon making wisecracks. Vic Ziegel, a colleague of Merchant's on the Post, got off the best. Speaking of a certain wide receiver, Ziegel said he had such great peripheral vision he could see his own ears.
Another contributing factor to Merchant's singular view of football can be traced to his career at Oklahoma, where he was on the same team as Darrell Royal, Dee Andros, Wade Walker and Jim Owens (who once fell on him, separating his shoulder). "I was a fourth-string halfback," admits Merchant. "But there were only four strings," he adds proudly. "The second happiest day of my life was when Bud Wilkinson called me into his office after I had a good scrimmage and told me, 'You're going to play a lot of football for Oklahoma.' " Wilkinson was wrong; Merchant never played any football for Oklahoma. But he sat on the bench when the Sooners beat LSU 35-0 in the Sugar Bowl and, on the train back to Norman, he got into a discussion about Moby Dick with Wilkinson, who has a master's in English. "He told me to read it for the story," Larry recalls.
...And Every Day You Take Another Bite (which is some mouthful) has no story. Merchant wrote it to become famous and "to expose the oversell and baloney that gets in the way of people seeing the game for what it is." Among the pieces of baloney Merchant slices are "momentum," "intangibles" and the notion that football builds men. On the latter, he quotes Bobby Dodd, the old Georgia Tech coach: "You give me a good boy, and I'll give you a good boy back." Adds Merchant, "I had plenty of character. All I wanted from football was to play. Why? Because it's fun." Read...AEDYTAB and see why.