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Life with father: The coach and the quarterback

By Jennifer Allen/Random House, $23.95

This is a quite remarkable book, a child's-eye view of a father
that at least on one level has the sting, the humor, the
melancholy of a novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling)
or Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird). But this is not fiction,
and the father is the once famous football coach of the Rams and
Redskins, George Allen. The author is his daughter.

Allen was an unusual man, so preoccupied with coaching that he
couldn't find his own house without asking directions, so driven
to succeed that he scarcely found time to sleep or eat. "Your
father thinks chewing is a distraction," the author quotes her
hilariously outspoken French mother. "Your father's afraid
chewing might take his mind off football."

Allen was also something of a misplaced person, a milk drinker
among bourbon-sipping NFL pooh-bahs, a Boy Scout among cynics. He
coined platitudes not only for his players but also for
himself--"Try to think of yourself as a winner" or, poignantly,
after a firing, "What will I do the remaining days of my life?"
Allen scarcely knew his own children. To his daughter he said, in
all sincerity, "So you better drink your milk, Jen, if you want
to grow up big and strong like Mike Ditka."

This is a memoir worth reading even by those who don't know
George Allen from Woody. There are many rewards here, as for
example, in this passage: "Seeing Coach Allen run out onto the
field, leading his entire band of Redskins, my mother said she
forgave her husband entirely....I didn't forgive him, I simply
understood him better. I saw his ego emptying out onto the field
in one loud, cheering rush. I saw his intense preparation adding
up to this: to cross over and out of some bottomless void that he
must have felt inside so that he might have a momentary chance to
become a winner."

By Archie and Peyton Manning (with John Underwood)/Harper
Collins, $24

If a movie were to be made of their lives, Archie might be played
by a somewhat more athletically robust Jimmy Stewart, Peyton by a
taller Tom Cruise. To say the Mannings, father-and-son legends,
are perfect is but a slight exaggeration. They are the best
father-and-son quarterback combination in the history of
football, college and pro, and they are gentlemen and scholars.
Good guys, too.

But as this highly readable double memoir reveals, there is more
to their lives than unending triumph. Archie's father committed
suicide when Archie was starting his celebrated career at Ole
Miss. He almost quit school to go to work, and what would that
have done to the dynasty? He also played on lousy teams in the
NFL. Peyton was much influenced by the illness of his older
brother, Cooper, and he too began his NFL career with a lousy
team. He soon made it a winner.

Archie has the majority say in these pages, and he speaks with
considerable honesty and eloquence. But some of the better
passages, brief as they may be, are by the family's ghostwriter,
Underwood, in his own words.