Cruisin’ with the Tooz

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In a confrontation in the film version of Peter Gent’s NORTH DALLAS FORTY, an irate player informs a coach that management wants it both ways-- football is either a game or a business, depending on what benefits the owners at the time. John Matuszak’s firsthand experience gave that speech a powerful sense of verisimilitude when “the Tooz” made his acting debut in 1979.

Before he became the Tooz, however, Matuszak was a large, sometimes clumsy young man who had difficulty adjusting to a world that was much smaller in every respect--especially in the compassion it would show toward him and his periodic failures to measure up to other people’s perceptions. Still, even when he is detailing his version of events and circumstances which were often the staple of sports news during his playing days, it is clear that Matuszak would have had it no other way. For he is happy with his life and recognizes that he could not have gotten to where he is without the journey through the dark side. In short, CRUISIN’ WITH THE TOOZ is replete with details and insights which confirm that Peter Gent’s novel was indeed an accurate rendition of professional football. Indeed, this as-told-to work appears to have two goals--to demonstrate the game/business approach unerringly portrayed in NORTH DALLAS FORTY as well as to set the record straight on the picture of Matuszak presented by the media and his teammates, particularly Kenny Stabler.

In reading this book, the reader may be reminded of the hoary joke regarding where a three-hundred-pound gorilla might wish to sit down. John Matuszak is a large man, and in person it would be difficult not to accept his stories and pronouncements as anything other than gospel. Still, with the distance of print, the sneaking suspicion surfaces that perhaps he protests too much; he does not always avoid the smugness of the reformed sinner. Thus, like the owners he criticizes, Matuszak wants to have it both ways.