Pete Gent died recently. Talk about an obit everyone missed.
Fantastic talent, hometown legend in his little Michigan town of several thousand (won the State title in basketball), All-American basketball player, never played football in college but became a receiver for America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys with Dandy Don and Tom Landry), best selling author, wrote a great screenplay (possibly the best sports movie screenplay ever) and was played by Nick Nolte in the movies. But football, Hollywood, a bitter divorce and his own lifestyle all conspired against him.
Reading the obits on Gent, even from the “great newspapers” is a joke. All he becomes is a caricature guy who blew the whistle on pro football in his best-known, but not his best work, North Dallas Forty. He was a superb writer. The obits all talked about how he wrote North Dallas Forty and “exposed the seamy side of football”, typical obits not really capturing his brilliance, In reality, he was a much more nunaced character.
In his own small hometown of Bangor, Michigan which I once visited after he returned to live there (I never got to meet him), there was a sign - did it say “Home to Pete Gent” who did all those things? No, it said “Home to the girl who broke the high school girls softball record 1998-2002″. State titles, All-American, Dallas Cowboys, Hollywood, Manhattan - I wonder what he thought every time he saw that back in Bangor.
He made lots of money and then lost it. The ability to live in the fast lane was a punishment, not a reward. He actually wrote a better book than North Dallas Forty when he moved back to Bangor. It was called The Last Magic Summer about coaching his son and how America has changed. The book is about how to live and die with style and grace.
I went back and read some of Gent’s nonfootball stuff today. He wrote this,
“In the Fifties and Sixties, Bangor had prospered. The school system fluorished. The athletic programs were in ascendancy. All that was gone now. the stores, the car dealers, John Deere and international Harvester, the lumberyards, the factories, the dairies, the farm exchanges, the jobs and the dreams. Gone. Dutch elm disease killed all the American elms and the town grew progressively hotter each summer. Now thhe biggest payroll in town was the Bangor public school system which functioned like a branch of a multinational corporation .The kids were just products to be punched and shipped off fast - stamped “some assembly required”. School administrators passed through like young GM executives on the fast track to Detroit. Banogr’s school system was sick - infected by a gatepost stupid school board: grasping, ambitious adminstrators; and teachers and coaches with no investment of time or emotion in the kids ot town.”
Not one of those slick major newspaper obit writers or sportswriters could write that well - and this guy was a superb athlete on top of it. But the obits missed it.
He quoted this in his book, that explains him.
Down these mean streets a man must go…
He is a common man, or he could not go among common people.
He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.
- Raymond Chandler
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