Sometimes life does imitate art.
I have been, for a number of years, a fan of the books of author John Grisham. I’m sure that there are at least a few of you out there who also read Grisham’s work. It’s kind of unavoidable at some point, as the attorney and former Mississippi state legislator has cranked out nearly 40 novels in the last three decades.
As you are likely aware, most — but not all — of Grisham’s books are legal thrillers, with murder and betrayal and various schemes often at the center of the story. There have been a number of movie adaptations of his work, particularly back in the 1990s, when “A Time to Kill,” “The Firm,” “The Client,” “The Pelican Brief” and others hit theaters and featured A-list stars.
But it’s Grisham’s novels that are set in the Deep South that particularly resonate with me. He often writes about the fictional small town of Clanton, Mississippi, and if you are, like me, from a small town in the South, the picture he paints of that life is especially vivid. Those novels speak to the rural Southern experience in a knowing, nuanced way that is rarely matched in modern fiction.
When I read those particular novels — “The Summons,” for example, or especially “The Last Juror,” which is probably my favorite book — I see Abbeville and I see Greenwood and I see characters and events and little story beats that echo my own experiences. In fact, with “The Last Juror” it’s probably a little too on the nose: It’s about a man with the last name “Traynor” who goes to work at the local newspaper in the Abbeville-like hamlet of Clanton and gets into various adventures and misadventures as he covers trials, politics and the various quirks of small town Southern life.
As I said, sometimes life imitates art.
You’re probably wondering why I’m prattling on about Grisham on Sunday morning, and I promise I’m getting around to it. See, I was reminded of another one of his novels as I was reading the sports page in the Index-Journal last week.
You’re likely aware that Greenwood High School football coach Dan Pippin announced recently that he would be retiring after the Eagles’ current season. Last week, the coach’s future plans came into clearer focus, as the Index-Journal’s Skylar Rolstad reported Pippin will be the coach of the Lazio Ducks, a semi-pro team based in Rome, Italy. The Ducks’ next season will begin in March 2020.
“I cannot tell you how excited I am to have the opportunity that y’all have given me to be a member of your family and make y’all a member of my family,” Pippin said in a video on the Ducks Instagram page. “We are excited beyond belief for the opportunity that’s been given to us to be able to help you with American football and myself also, that y’all are going to help me learn more about American football.”
When I heard of Pippin’s coming exit from the Lakelands stage and his plans to go coach American football in Italy, my thoughts immediately turned to the 2007 John Grisham novel “Playing for Pizza.”
A light, but engrossing, read, “Playing for Pizza” is about an aging professional quarterback named Rick Dockery who is nearing the end of the line in the NFL and, looking for a place to play, accepts a roster spot with the Parma Panthers, a semi-pro team in Italy. Initially skeptical, he eventually warms to his Italian teammates and the idiosyncrasies of life in a foreign land.
(Of note: The real-life Parma Panthers play in the same division as Pippin’s Lazio Ducks.)
While not a direct parallel, obviously there are similarities between the Grisham novel and Pippin’s upcoming adventure.
“Y’all have helped me reinvigorate my career,” Pippin said to Ducks fans in the recent Instagram video. And indeed, that may be the case. Pippin has had a good-but-not-great run at Greenwood, and his coming journey could, indeed, be a fresh, fulfilling bookend to a long coaching career.
In “Playing for Pizza,” the main character finds what he needs on the football fields of Italy. In that regard, I’m certain Pippin is hoping that life will again imitate art.