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Mike Lupica: 'Red Zone'

New York Daily News sportswriter Mike Lupica, whose columns are syndicated nationally, has just released his 14th book, "Red Zone."

The funny work about a fictitious National Football League team, the New York Hawks, features some larger-than-life characters.

During an interview with The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, Lupica said, "I've told people, for as long as I've done this, that sports has a beginning, a middle and an end, every day... Somebody asked me, 'Why do you like to write novels?' I said, 'Because then things come out the way I want them to.' You know, for 350 pages, they come out the way I want them to. And, most of the time, the good guys triumph and the bad guys get what they deserve. Usually, there are a lot of owners who are bad guys, except for my hero."

In "The Red Zone," this owner makes a deal with the devil. He ends up selling a part of the team that he never should have.

The book touches upon some of the current goings-on in the sports world, such as the just completed baseball postseason, the controversy over steroids and the current NFL season.

Read an excerpt from Chapter One. But be cautioned that some of the language involved might sound like it has come out of a locker room.


Chapter 1

Let's get something straight right from the start: Whoever said it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all can kiss my a##.

I assume it was one of those English poets deeper than Dr. Phil. Though it actually sounds lame enough to have come from some sports columnist trying to show everybody what a Real Writer he is. Or one of the guys doing the smirkfest that currently passes for sports broadcasting, where they can't seem to give you a goddamn score without throwing in a couple of rim shots first.

You know the drill: We just want to know if the Yankees beat the Red Sox, but they think it's open-mike night at the comedy club.

If I sound hot about my former friends in the media, maybe it's because they had so much fun at my expense after I did the whole love-and-lost deal with my football team, the New York Hawks. I wasn't the first to find out how fast it can turn around on you when you're not on top anymore, in sports or anything else. But I'd actually convinced myself that the media actually liked me for my adorable self, not all the checks I picked up, parties I threw, slow news days I got them through, or Very Bad Girls I fixed them up with on the road.

"Clear something up for me," I said to Gil Spencer of the Daily News. "I screwed up with the Hawks, right? I didn't dump Martha Stewart's stock for her?"

"You're smart enough to figure it out, Jack," Spencer said. "Bad #### makes really good copy."

"Even when it happens to one of the good guys?"

"Especially when it happens to one of the good guys," he said.

It happened to me the way it did, the whole thing in lights, because it was New York, and the Hawks had become the most glamorous pro football team in the world. It happened because of all the things I'd ever said—me, Jack Molloy—about how a Molloy would always be in charge of the Hawks, the same way idiots would always be in charge of network television.

It happened because I didn't have just the coolest team in sports but the single most valuable property, even more than the Yankees—they owned their own network, but I owned my own stadium—and blew it, gave it away like some dumb goober trusting my pension to my CEO and Arthur Andersen.

I had the best job in sports, and walked away from it, like one of those dumb-ass jocks who thinks retiring with the trophy is all that matters, then finds out differently once the goddamn games go on without him.

You ever watch one of those plays in football where it seems like everybody on the field is fighting for the ball after somebody fumbles it and the refs nearly have to use the Jaws of Life to pry the players apart?

This is how you end up on the bottom of a pile like that a year after thinking you were cute enough to be hanging on to the front of the boat and yelling that you were king of the world.

But why wouldn't I think that way? I'd been estranged from my old man, Big Tim Molloy, for five years before his heart gave out at a Hawks preseason game one night. If I was in his will at all, I was supposed to be in the footnotes section at the end. But the old man had always told me that the only thing better than a good entrance was a good exit. And he had always loved a good surprise. The surprise was that he left the football side of the operation to me.

The last line of the will was scrawled in what was left of his Catholic school handwriting.

You're up, Molloy is what it said.

Molloy being what he had always called me—when we were talking, anyway—and what I had always called him.

And what happened next was this: In my one and only season running the Hawks, with a little bit of the old man's flair and a lot of tricky moves I think he would have appreciated, I beat the game. My twin sibs, Ken and Babs, didn't want me to succeed; neither did a prospective buyer for the Hawks named Allen Getz; neither did my frisky stepmother, Kitty Drucker-Cole Molloy. My fellow owners wanted me around about as much as they wanted Jews in their country clubs. And ultimately they did what a lot of people, at least those outside Las Vegas, where I'd made my chops as Billy Grace's right-hand man, had done throughout what had passed for my adult life:

Underestimated me.

As Casey Stengel, one of the old man's drinking buddies, used to say, You could look it up.

I had finally outscammed the owners who were trying to scam me, including the Christian hard-on who ran the Ownership Committee; beat back Getz; made peace in the family; won the damn Super Bowl, the first the Hawks had ever won; then handed over the day-to-day running of the team to my brother.

You remember our win over the Los Angeles Bangers. Everybody does, mostly because it was acknowledged to be the most exciting finish to an NFL championship game since the Colts–Giants sudden-death game in 1958, the day Johnny Unitas basically invented pro football, at least on television.

It was at that point that I decided I had pretty much conquered pro football, and Annie Kay and I left for Paris. I was actually starting to think about marrying her at that point, even though Billy Grace used to say there were two things he never expected to hear me say.

One was that I really was getting married.

Two was "Could I get another one of those fruity drinks over here, please? With an umbrella?"

I didn't even bother to hang around for the Hawks' victory parade that went down Fifth Avenue, across Central Park South, then up Central Park West, past the old man's last New York City apartment, ending with the party at Tavern on the Green where our defensive end, Raiford (Prison Blues) Dionne, and veteran offensive tackle Elvis Elgin had that unfortunate episode where they confused one of the female cops sent to quiet the festivities with the kind of strippers often used at bachelor parties. They'd eventually taken her into the chef's office to see what kind of bad underwear she had on underneath her NYPD blues. It was then that they found out Badge No. 362054 was actually the real thing and not part of her costume.

I turned the Hawks over to my brother, because he had wanted to run them his whole life, most of which had been spent kissing up to the old man. He wanted to be there every day. He wanted to be the boss over the long haul. And as much fun as I'd had that first season running with the big dogs, I didn't want to be there over the long haul, just because I didn't want to be anywhere over the long haul.

Or so I told myself.

--From "Red Zone," Copyright (c) 2003 by Mike Lupica, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.