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Sacco Sez: Brock Olivo and 'Playing for Pizza'

A few days ago while scrolling through Twitter, I saw that Special Teams Coordinator Brock Olivo will be hosting a football camp in Italy, where he coached earlier in his career.

For me, that connected some dots in the worlds of literature and football.

I knew that Olivo majored in literature at the University of Missouri, so at his introductory press conference in February, I got the chance to talk with him about some books and authors.

John Grisham has led a notable and successful career as an author specializing in thrilling legal novels, but readers may not be familiar with a charming novel of his called "Playing for Pizza."


I learned that Olivo knew of it and had read it. Actually, he more than read it.

"Read it?" he said animatedly, "I lived 'Playing for Pizza.'"

Grisham's novel is about a reserve quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Rick Dockery, who is inserted into the AFC Championship against Denver with a 17-point lead but proceeds to have the worst game imaginable, blowing the whole thing with three interceptions and winding up in a hospital.

When Dockery awakens, he finds out from his agent that nobody in the NFL wants him, but he eventually gets a chance to play professionally in Italy, but for virtually no money.

The novel involves Dockery's year in Italy and adjustment to a life in which everything he thought he knew is now different. Still, he winds up playing just as hard and with just as much intensity, but adding charm and verve to his life in many different ways.

"Grisham nailed it," Olivo told me.

"Not only are you working just as hard coaching football, but you are doing it with a group of people who are still very new to the game," he continued, "and you are doing it in a second language."

Fortunately, Olivo speaks fine Italian, which is certainly a better situation than the one in which Dockery character finds himself in the book.

"Grisham captured so many nuances of both Italian culture and of the way American football is woven into life there," Olivo said. "Coaching in Italy was a great experience for me, and the book is terrific.

"The game is the same, but you always had to allow for language differences and being able to be clear in bridging those differences, and you have to remember that you are coaching many players still new to the game. So, coaching in Italy actually made me a better coach, a better teacher, and it was a great experience, as well."

As much as readers of this column are accustomed to seeing a variety of different themes, a book review is a first, so thanks for taking the time and having the patience to let me share this.

My wife and I enjoy listening to books on tape while on driving vacations, and we sort of expected "Playing for Pizza" to take a turn away from charm and towards mystery (as Grisham's novels usually do), but it never does.

It is as charming at the end as at the start, and I thought some fans of Broncos Country might be interested in a book review shared by Brock Olivo and myself.

"Playing for Pizza" is unique among pro football novels, the first I have ever read set in Italy, and I hope some folks enjoy it as much as we did.

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