I have a different slant on my post today. I have always liked the movie North Dallas Forty despite the fact it smeared mud all over my favorite team because it was written by an ex-Dallas Cowboys player, Peter Gent, and the characters in the book and movie could be easily traced to players, coaches and owners of America’s Team. The revelations about the lifestyles of 1970’s era football players was shocking at the time as were the look at our heroes as narcissistic brutes who were so entitled they could do and say anything without repercussions --- as long as they could play football. Players who were borderline psychopaths who were dangerously violent on and off the field.
The hero of the book and the movie was WR Phil Elliot who was growing tired of the grind of pro football but he still loved to play the game. The book and the movie took place in an 8 day span at the end of a football season, a span of time that convinced Elliot he was tired of playing the political game of football. He was actually railroaded into retirement simply because he was banging the fiancé of one of the brothers who owned the North Dallas Bulls and because he constantly tested the authority of the team’s rigid coach. The owners in the book and movie were clearly based on the Murchison brothers even though Clint Murchison Jr was the primary owner of record. The Bulls coach was not even a disguised version of Tom Landry especially in the movie where actor G.D. Spradlin’s look and demeanor was clearly based on Landry. It’s a wonder the Landry’s didn’t sue Gent and the makers of the movie for defamation of character in the way Landry was depicted. The coach had a different name, of course B.A. Strothers, and the obligatory disclaimer at the end of movies that says any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental that probably saved Gent and the movie makers from Mr Landry suing the crap out of them.
What I found shocking was the difference between the ending of the book and the movie. In the movie Phil Elliot, rather than having his reputation and his girlfriend Charlotte’s characters drug through the mud by the owners Elliot decides to quit, which is what the owners wanted anyway. Elliot leaves the owner’s office building and he takes off his tie as he runs into his QB Seth Maxwell. They exchange pleasantries and Maxwell confirms what he already knew was going to happen. He only concern was whether or not his name was brought up. The two men say their final goodbye and after walking away a few yards Maxwell, who was carrying a football, calls to Elliot and he throws a pass to him. Elliot acts like he was going to catch the ball when he spreads his arms apart and lets the ball bounce off his chest and the credits roll with the audience believing Elliot will be just fine going forward. The book was much darker and the end was no different. The point of the movie was to show the disillusionment of Elliot’s character with pro football. Thru Elliot’s eyes we see the hypocrisy and brutal violence of pro football and in the end the reality that there is life after football and hope for the future. In the book the point is that football was just a reflection of football as being as hopeless and corrupt and violent as society in general. In the book Gent relates violent new on the TV and radio playing in the background to underscore the things taking place in “real” life. The end of the book was the cap to his narrative. After quitting the Bulls Elliot leaves for his girlfriend Charlotte’s ranch. She was his hope for salvation and he hoped her love would save him from himself. When he arrives at the ranch he finds that Charlotte and an unidentified black man have been murdered by Charlotte’s ex-husband who had been stalking Charlotte throughout the course of the book. It is revealed that Charlotte, unbeknownst to Elliot, had a long standing affair with the black man and her ex-husband couldn’t accept the affair and he killed them. It was another senseless act of violence and, in Elliot’s case, the loss of hope for the future. Dark indeed. I liked the end of the movie better because I like happier endings than the one in the book depicts and most people agree with me on this because we are all looking for hope wherever we can find it. Even in all those post-apocalyptic movies the main characters give us hope things will get better, that there really is humanity in this world.
I just read the book after all these years and I sort of wish I didn’t because the book just depressed the hell out of me. I wanted Phil Elliot to go to Charlotte and find a peace that he maybe never had. Charlotte was cultured and she didn’t give a rat’s ass about football but she cared about Phil and he would learn there is life without football. In the book Charlotte was not what Phil thought because of the secret affair she was having and it cost Charlotte her life. Even if she hadn’t been murdered you could see the conflict of her affair and her relationship with Phil being the undoing of any future Phil and Charlotte might have had. I hate the end of the book, it is totally FUBAR. I choose to erase the book from my memory and I’ll go with the movie, which is damn good besides. The scene after the Bulls lose their last game and miss the playoffs because of a missed extra point where John Matuszak's character O.W. Shaddock goes off an assistant coach who was ranting on about losing because the players didn’t study the opponents tendencies is classic. (see link below) The movie is an ugly look at pro football and the people in it but there is that element of hope at the end that is the redeeming quality it needed. The book made me want to start cutting myself again (not really).