Playing for Pizza

Playing for Pizza
Cover of Playing for Pizza
Author John Grisham
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date September 25, 2007
Media type Print (Hardcover,Paperback)
ISBN 0-385-52500-1
OCLC Number 154309113
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 22
LC Classification PS3557.R5355 P56 2007

Playing for Pizza is a short novel by John Grisham, released on September 25, 2007. The novel is about an itinerant American football player who can no longer get work in the National Football League and whose agent, as a last resort, signs a deal for him to play for the Parma Panthers, in ParmaItaly.




Rick Dockery is a third string NFL quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, who throws three interceptions in 11 minutes in the AFC championship game, blowing a 17 point lead and resulting in the Browns missing their chance at their first-ever Super Bowl appearance. He is cut from the team, vilified in the press, and is facing legal troubles due to a questionable paternity lawsuit. His agent Arnie tries to find him work in the NFL, but no team will take him. Arnie manages to find him a starting position for the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football league for meager compensation. Rick accepts the job, glad to get away from the negative press and his legal troubles in the United States, but wary of living in Italy, where he doesn’t know the language and where American football draws little attention or respect. The Parma Panthers have only two other Americans on the team — halfback Slidell “Sly” Turner and Safety Trey Colby.

The Panthers win their first game with Rick, then lose a couple for various reasons, including the loss of his American teammates to homesickness and injury. Despite these problems, Italy and the team are growing on Rick, and he begins to feel some loyalty to them despite the fact that Arnie has found him a more lucrative job offer with a more respected CFL team. Rick decides to honor his contract with the Parma Panthers. With renewed resolve, a talented Italian wide receiver and a new strategy, they win each of their remaining regular-season games, then advance to the playoffs and the Italian Super Bowl, a very close and hard-fought game against their rivals, the Bergamo Lions. The book ends with Rick contemplating his future in Italy with his girlfriend, Livvy.

Important characters

  • Rick Dockery – Former NFL and Iowa third string quarterback who loses his NFL job and winds up playing in Italy.(Actually modeled after Mike Souza who played at Illinois State and then the CFL and then played with the Parma Panthers)
  • Sam Russo – An American who coaches the Panthers.
  • Arnie – Rick’s agent, who found him the job in Italy
  • Sly Turner – Running back from Colorado State, an American who quits early in the season.
  • Trey Colby – A safety turned wide receiver who breaks his leg mid-season. Played at Ole Miss and was 3rd team SEC.
  • Fabrizio – Talented but egotistical Italian-born wide receiver, known to walk off field in the middle of games.
  • Giuseppe “Franco” Lazzarino – fullback of the Panthers and Italian Judge who sorts out Rick’s legal problems. Idolizes Franco Harris.
  • Nino – Center, and co-owner of a local restaurant where Rick is introduced to traditional Italian cuisine.
  • Maschi- Talented Italian linebacker who plays for rival team, the undefeated Bergamo Lions. Injured on the “Kill Maschi” play, designed by Rick in preparation for their first matchup. Idolizes Lawrence Taylor and demands to be called “L.T.” like Taylor
  • Charley Cray – Writer for Cleveland Post, who attacks Rick (in print) following his disastrous performance in his last NFL game, then follows up with more nasty articles after Rick has relocated to Italy.
  • Livvy Galloway – American college student studying in Italy, and love interest for Rick.
  • Gabriella – beautiful opera singer Rick is infatuated with
Interview with John Grisham
September 30, 2007

In his latest work, author John Grisham departs from legal thrillers and heads for the world of sports. Based on a real-life league, Playing for Pizza tells the story of an aging American football player who joins an Italian team; the players are paid in food.


In the book world, when it comes to legal thrillers, no one is more closely associated with the genre than John Grisham. In the 1990s, he was among the bestselling, if not the bestselling U.S. author with seven books racking up a total of more than 60 million copies sold. You know many of the titles – “The Firm,” “Pelican Brief,” “The Client,” “The Rainmaker.” He’s written 20 books in all. But Grisham’s latest work is a departure from the courtroom setting. It’s titled “Playing for Pizza.”

John Grisham joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

Mr. JOHN GRISHAM (Author, “Playing for Pizza”): Happy to be here.

HATTORI: John, “Playing for Pizza” has nothing to do with Papa John’s or Shakey’s but rather American football in Italy, a country where most people think of football is soccer. Tell us a bit about the story.

Mr. GRISHAM: Well, there is American football in Italy when I was researching a book called “The Broker” that was published, I think, in ’05. I sort of stumbled across this football league and became fascinated with these Italian guys who loved to put on the pads and helmets and beat each other up once a week.

The intriguing part of the story is that each team is allowed to have three Americans. And so I was sort of intrigued by the notion of how a kid, who grows up in the U.S., how you would ever end up playing for the Parma Panthers in the Italian version of the NFL.

HATTORI: And the title “Playing for Pizza” is literally what they do. They play football and their reward is to get that pizza once in a while.

Mr. GRISHAM: Yeah. The first guy I met – he was this big, tough Italian guy, wonderful fellow. And he was telling me about this league and a lot of stories about American football there. And I asked him, I said, well, you know, the Americans get paid a little bit of money. Not much. And I said, do Italians get paid? He said, oh, no, we play it for pizza. And that’s what they played for, the beer and pizza after practice and after the games.

HATTORI: In the book, the team is out to win the Super Bowl. Is there really a Super Bowl contest in Italy?

Mr. GRISHAM: Oh, in July the 14th of this year, I watched the Italian Super Bowl – my first ever Super Bowl – in a town of Reggio Emilia, which is about an hour from Parma. And the Parma Panthers played the Bergamo Lions just like in the novel – I’d finished the book by then. And I was hoping Parma would make it to the Super Bowl. They did and they lost in double overtime.

HATTORI: Hmm. You know, for me, some of the most tantalizing passages in the book are about food – Parma ham, tortellini in brodo, fine wines, Parmesan cheese. That research must have been hell, huh.

Mr. GRISHAM: It was really tough. If these restaurants’, these chefs, they kind of know who you are and if you walk in with a – like a notepad and you’re taking notes about their food, they keep bringing you more and more food, more and more wine, and they don’t charge you for it. So just, you know, you walking out the street with a notebook and introduce yourself and the food is incredible.

But also, I had the – in Parma, there were three Americans there, all young men from – who play college football here, including the coach. And they took me to the restaurants and the good places around Parma. It was tough, tough research.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HATTORI: So, the food there – that was nonfiction, in fact.

Mr. GRISHAM: All legitimate. And I wrote so much about the food and the wine that I knew when the book arrived at Doubleday, that my editor there would say you got – this is great but you got to take out some of the food and, which happened once in “The Broker.” It happens a lot of time because I enjoy writing about the food.

HATTORI: What was the reaction among the football players there when they learned that an American had come to write a story about football in Italy?

Mr. GRISHAM: Pretty curious. I tell the coach up front what I was doing and I was not going to embarrass anybody. When I arrived, they were guarded at first. But as the weeks have gone by and the book is about to be published over there, I think they’re genuinely excited about the fact that they’re going to – about to get a lot of attention because of the book.

HATTORI: I’m curious, too, what they think about American football played in America.

Mr. GRISHAM: They follow the game. Believe it or not, I was surprised at the amount of English that is spoken. The coaches are all Americans. Virtually every Italian – and there’re probably 40 of them on a team – some are fluent in English. The plays are called in English in a huddle. And sometimes, they – one of the other players who is fluent would translate quickly and sometimes, they would not. But they love the sport. Their equipment and gear is first rate. And they’re very content with playing the game for the love of it and for the pizza.

HATTORI: Author John Grisham, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. GRISHAM: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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