In his novel, "Semi-Tough," Dan Jenkins has a bestseller all about pro football, kind of - Sports Illustrated Vault |
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In his novel, "Semi-Tough," Dan Jenkins has a bestseller all about pro football, kind of

What has happened, of course, is that our own Dan Jenkins has gone and written himself a bestseller about a couple of down-home football players with NFL moves and Fort Worth philosophies: it seems most everybody likes it except maybe for one or two tootie-fruities who never smelled the inside of a locker room or let it loose at an all-skate. And the Ms. New York City Sophistication types who sniff that Semi-Tough (Atheneum, $7.95) is not only racist, but sexist.

Such surface observations are understandable since the book does dwell on the bawdy days leading to a Super Bowl game between the Giants and the Jets. Joe Willie has retired, leaving Fun City pretty much to the Giants' star halfback, Billy Clyde Puckett, who is talking the thing out. "It used to be said," writes Billy Clyde, "that if a white stud came along who was as strong as Jim Brown and as quick as Gale Sayers, he could get richer than the Mafia playing football. I suppose I'm just about that person."

With Billy Clyde reflecting on himself, his friends and his beginnings, Semi-Tough rambles through a broken field of personal anecdotes and insights relevant in the end because they tell as much about Dan Jenkins as about Billy Clyde and his buddy Shake Tiller. Between them those two have created the ultimate fantasy in which every game and every girl are won. Shake is also into a full-fledged pursuit of himself. "It bothers me," he says, "that all I've ever done is be a split end and bleep around." (There are a goodly number of words best represented elsewhere as bleeps, asterisks, stars and exclamation points.)

Obviously the book has very little to do with football. It is more Dan's way of lending insight to some of the higher pursuits of Western man—booze, broads and chicken-fried steak—though if you calculated the number of times the use of "nigger," "chink" or "hebe" came to pass you might think it was some kind of jockstrap Mein Kampf. Billy Clyde warns us very early, however, that a lot of things are said just to get your attention, which, I recall, is the way donkeys are taught.

The mystery of the book is not whether the Giants win—this they do in a game with more ironies than yards gained rushing—but who gets the girl. She would be Barbara Jane Bookman, as close to being a Number One as there ever was. "The book is really a love story," Dan admitted over a young Scotch recently. Frankly, that made me feel pretty good, since I suspected it all along. So if the book is neither racist nor sexist maybe it is exactly what Barbara Jane says it is, "semi-honest and half-funny."