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Published January 10, 2001 9:27PM (EST)

First and Last Seasons: A Father, a Son, and Sunday Afternoon Football by Dan McGraw, and
Fifth Quarter: The Scrimmage of a Football Coach's Daughter by Jennifer Allen
Football requires brawn, stamina and an overarching toughness, and so too, at times, does fatherhood. This overlap is the yardage traversed by this brilliant pair of memoirs, both rhapsodic and ruthlessly candid accounts of lives lived from Sunday to Sunday and scoreboard to scoreboard. For Jennifer Allen's father, those scoreboards meant everything -- as a top-ranked NFL coach throughout the '60s and '70s, the late George Allen knew his career hinged on their outcomes. That mad pressure all but blows the lid off Allen's memories of her father, but her treatment is tenderly bittersweet (and couched in the pitch-perfect prose that's characterized Allen's fiction): "I didn't forgive him," she writes. "I simply understood him ... I saw all his ego emptying out onto the field in one loud, cheering rush. I saw his intense preparation adding up to this: to rise out of some bottomless void that he must have felt inside so that he might have a momentary chance to become a winner." For Dan McGraw's father, that thirst for victory was just slightly less personal. As a Clevelander, Dick McGraw suffered through the misfortunes of his hapless Browns with an Irishman's black humor and indefatigable pluck. It was with that same humor and pluck that he faced his own slow death from cancer in 1999, the same year in which the NFL gave the Browns back to Cleveland after the team's owner had abandoned the city for Baltimore. The younger McGraw's depiction of that death and rebirth is coarse, elegiac and never less than heartbreaking.

-- Jonathan Miles

The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison always puts me in a good mood. All of his books have at least one flinty, improbably touching male character who cracks me up and wins me over. He's usually a combination of opposites: He spends weeks alone in a godforsaken cabin somewhere but he's also literate and civilized and an epicure. He's something of a loner by nature but can never quite contain his lusty enthusiasm for women, which usually gets him into hilarious trouble. I picked up Harrison's latest book, "The Beast God Forgot to Invent," a collection of three novellas, and there this guy was, narrating the final one, "I Forgot to Go to Spain." This time he's a 55-year-old author of quickie biographies who's made a fortune and finds himself full of energetic regrets and unanswered questions about the choices he's made. In a full-throttle voice prone to witty asides and entertaining digressions, he tells about his impulsive decision to scrap his lucrative business and track down a woman he was once briefly married to, and then to detour to Spain, which he's never visited. "To be frank I've been fibbing a bit for reasons of clarity," he says halfway through his story, and I knew I was hooked.

-- Maria Russo

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