Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fantasy Football: Football Hero by Tim Green

Speed is the only thing left to Ty from his parents, wiped out suddenly in an auto accident, but when, as the fastest kid in sixth grade, he tries out for the middle-school football team, the coach sees a winning season in the quick legs and sure hands of the skinny kid who has to kick off his ragged sneakers to snag passes.

Ty has been described as a Cinderella character, an obviously unwanted orphan dropped on his hardscrabble and unwilling uncle and aunt. He sleeps on a mattress in the laundry room and is forced to use a porta-potty in the woods behind their run-down trailer, and at first Uncle Gus insists that he work after school in the family cleaning service instead of playing ball. But when one of their clients, a local crooked bar owner nicknamed "Lucy" learns that Ty's football hero big brother is about to be drafted by the New York Jets, he insists that Gus give Ty time off from his toilet-cleaning chores to play for his school team. Lucy's no altruist, of course, seeing in his connection with Ty an opening to his super star brother Tiger Lewis and insider information useful in his illegal gambling operation.

Uncle Gus, always scrambling unsuccessfully for a way to score financially, sells Ty on the job of reporting on the Jets' injuries for his so-called "fantasy football" league, all the while turning over strategic game day information each week to Lucy and his Mafia gambling connections. Soon Ty finds himself in the center of an undercover FBI operation to nail the nationwide gambling ring, a sting which could ruin his brother's future career in the NFL and send his uncle to prison for many years.

Woven through this cliff-hanging crime story is Ty's own struggle to stay out of trouble with his abusive Uncle Gus and handle the well-to-do bullies on his team who nickname him "Toilet Ty, the Turd Guy," and try to do him damage in every scrimmage. As we would expect, there is plenty of game play action in Tim Green's plot line as well, including a Hail Mary pass which Ty manages to pull down to win the big game. A former NFL player himself, Green writes convincingly of middle school and pro football, and if Ty's deeds are a bit dramatic in the double climaxes of the story, readers will be pulling for this stubborn, self-reliant, and courageous young character all the way.

Football Hero (HarperCollins, 2008) is a thumpin' good, page-turning sports thriller which holds that there are real heroes to be found in life on and off the playing field.

For young adult football fans, Tim Green's earlier novel, Football Genius, offers another young underdog hero who manages to bring his own unusual play-calling talents into the game of life as well as the game of football.

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