August 13, 1984 12:00 PM

by Jack Newcombe

The narrator of this highly original sports novel is a scout for several pro football teams. He is a former player, coach and husband (his wife has divorced him). He spends his life on the road, traveling from college to college, living in motels and old inns, befriending bartenders and waitresses, watching teams work out, seeing films of games, joking with old friends, with coaches and players, then writing reports about the best athletes—assessments to be fed into the computers back at headquarters. The focus of the scout’s attention is Billy Cole, a senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, a school not usually noted for its football talent. The brilliant quarterback and passer had spent one year at Michigan, then dropped out for a year. His last game at Middlebury is, predictably enough, the climax of this novel. But In Search of Billy Cole does not have a conventional narrative. It is really about the feelings and emotions that football arouses. On one practice field, a coach’s son throws the narrator a football: “We threw, back and forth, and I felt a rise of pleasure in rehearsing the well known: the grip, the ball behind the ear in silent communication, feet in the right direction without conscious maneuvering, arm snapped forward, even a little follow-through.” This book offers an informed view of football. (Newcombe is a former LIFE editor and now is a free-lance writer who specializes in sports.) But more than that, it is a romantic, richly sentimental paean, a fresh and imaginative way for the sport’s fans to experience the game’s unique qualities. (Arbor House, $14.95)

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