Lars Anderson tackles the European Football League and its roster of not-quite-NFL players.


There is a Trivial Pursuit aura about the NFL Europe, the minor-league arm of America’s National Football League. Whatever happened to … oh, Ron Powlus, who one football expert predicted would win two Heisman Memorial trophies as quarterback of Notre Dame? He didn’t win any, couldn’t make it in the NFL, and wound up in Europe. Still playing quarterback, still throwing interceptions — for the Amsterdam Admirals.

What about Danny Wuerffel, who did win a Heisman (and a national championship) while quarterbacking for Florida? He wound up throwing passes for the Rhein Fire. And Lawrence Phillips, the troubled running back from Nebraska? Try the Barcelona Dragons.

All these players would rather be playing in the NFL, which adds to the poignancy of Lars Anderson’s THE PROVING GROUND (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95), an entertaining and insightful account of a season of NFL Europe football. The game is the same but everything else is just slightly off-kilter, as when the fans come out to heckle a visiting team and shout such things as “You’re not going to play well,” and “We like you very little.” Anderson has the wit to catch both these little moments of absurdity and the moments of real feeling, when grown men are playing out the string in a game that has been just about all they’ve known of life. — G.N.

Our Read: An engaging and offbeat sports book


THEODORE REX
By Edmund Morris, Random House, $35

When Theodore Roosevelt became the president of the United States, he was, characteristically, on the move. The vice president had been vacationing with his family in the remote Adirondack Mountains when word came that President William McKinley was dying of an assassin’s bullet in Buffalo, New York. Teddy set out on rain-slicked mountain roads in the middle of the night, jumped aboard a special train to Buffalo, took the oath of office, and within two days was on his way to Washington. That was Teddy: world traveler, cattle rancher, big-game hunter, police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy, trustbuster, friend of cowboys and college presidents. He was ever restless, mentally and physically.

The story of Roosevelt’s presidency is told here with all the verve and vivacity of a novel. Morris is the author of Dutch, the controversial Ronald Reagan biography, and his book on Roosevelt’s early life, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won a Pulitzer Prize. Still, it would be hard to write a dull book on Teddy. Provided you can get him to stand still long enough. —

Our Read: A presidential page-turner