Their names are Tonsillitis Johnson and Larry Hoage.
They aren't real people. They just seem to be.
Tonsillitis Johnson is, as Hoage would say, some kind of stud hoss running back that TCU is recruiting. And Larry Hoage is, to paraphrase him his ownself, some kind of gut-bustin', sidewinder play-by-play man.
They're two memorable characters in Dan Jenkins' bawdy, broadly stereotyped and out-loud funny new novel, "Life Its Ownself," which resurrects Billy Clyde Puckett, Shake Tiller and the rest of the crew of "Semi-Tough," and takes them off the playing field and into sportscasting, television sit-coms and magazine journalism. Not to worry, sports fans. You can take the football out of Billy Clyde's hands, but you can't take it out of his life.
This may seem like a strange time to discuss any sport other than baseball, but there aren't many writers around like Jenkins who can make sports funny, so they're always in season. And even if what happens to Billy Clyde isn't actual fact, it's a lot more entertaining than anything Steve Carlton said lately.
Having suffered a career-ending knee injury, Billy Clyde decides to become a TV color man and, against his better esthetic judgment, work the NFL games with Hoage, who "was possibly the worst play-by-play announcer in the annals of television, a man who had successfully defended his Fluff Dry Award against all comers for a decade, a man who would throw a body block on Mother Teresa to get at a microphone. Larry Hoage had a way of making an off-tackle run for no gain sound like a mid-air collision of 747s." He routinely got the names, the teams, the score and all the facts wrong. Other than that, he was fine.
So why take the gig? Because the network "was going to pay me good money to go to several American cities and get drunk."
Is this a great country, or what?
Jenkins says Hoage isn't patterned after somebody, but "everybody, all the talking heads you see on football games, except Al Michaels and Howard Cosell." So if any of this sounds familiar, it's intentional:
"Well, chilluns, I think we're in for a real old-fashioned, gut-bustin' sidewinder tomorrow! This is gonna be some kind of football game! Dreamer Tatum! Number 32! You don't run the football at him, boy! You'll come up a day late and a dollar short! You don't stick your hand in the cookie jar when Dreamer Tatum's around! He'll snatch you bald-headed! He'll come after you like a hookin' bull! I've got a feeling the Redskins are gonna cut the old wolf loose and pop the big soo-prise when they ring that bell tomorrow! Yes sir, chilluns, I think Washington's gonna put the big britches on 'em!"
That's Larry Hoage.
Tonsillitis Johnson, on the other hand, doesn't say much. He's the kind of player who can do everything with a football, except autograph it. SAT scores? How could you expect him to pass the test when he can't spell it?
Not that T.J. Lambert, the fictional TCU coach, cares about that. All T.J. cares about is winning. Education? Look son, a winning football team will put a new wing on a library quicker than all them friends of Beowulf.
"They's a conference rule," T.J. confides to Billy Clyde, "what says a high school athlete has to fill out one of these in the presence of the head coach. Tonsillitis said he'd take it home and send it back to me. I said, naw, you got to do it here, hoss. Just put your name down there. Your address. Your high school. Your momma and daddy's name. He started to fill it out. When he come to the place where he was supposed to put down his favorite sport, he looked at me . . . I said, Put down your favorite sport. It's football, ain't it? He gimme a nod. I said, Write it down, hoss. So he did. Only here's what he wrote."
T.J. handed Billy Clyde the questionnaire. Tonsillitis had written down the word, "booley."
"Somethin' like that."
But T.J. wants him some kind of bad, because he's fast, he's got a 32-inch waist, a 52-inch chest, and he can bench-press the King Ranch. So, for dear old alma mater and his former teammate, T.J., Billy Clyde helps in the recruiting.
Tonsillitis is willing to "G.B.O.S." -- Get Bad On Saturdays -- for the right price. He can be, as Billy Clyde says, "Grovered." As in, Grover Cleveland, he whose face its ownself is on them $1,000-dollar bills. And when the moment of truth comes, when T.J., B.C., Tonsillitis and his business manager brother, Darnell, are behind closed doors, their conversation goes like this:
"What number you want to wear on that purple jersey, hoss?" T.J. asked, squeezing Tonsillitis' shoulder lovingly.
"Thirty grand," Billy Clyde said, answering for him.
"My man!" said Darnell, offering B.C. his palm to slap.
Jenkins' arrows aren't aimed just at broadcasters or illiterate coaches and athletes. He shoots at the NFL, "boring;" the Super Bowl, "basically a six-day cocktail party followed by a frivolous, over-hyped football game that every poor, hungover bastard in town has come to loathe before it's even played;" and that endless gaggle of pre-Super Bowl stories for which sportswriters try to get players to "talk at length about the case of chicken pox they suffered as 3-year-olds."
His two most outrageous scenarios center on cheating. NFL players, led by Dreamer Tatum, conspire to fix every game, including the Super Bowl, to force the owners to agree to their contractual demands. Meanwhile, one NFL ref, the infamous "zebra" Charlie Teasdale, calls strategic penalties to keep the scores within the point spread, so he can collect his bets.
"It's just my fantasy," Jenkins says. "The pro game bores me so much that I keep thinking there must be something going on. So I made it up."
But you know what?
The wilder it gets, the more plausible it becomes.
NFL ratings are down so far this season. Jenkins, who grew up in Fort Worth, dearly loving college football, suspects the public is growing tired of how routine and overexposed pro football has become. "Every game looks the same," he says. "Every play looks the same; it's either a draw or a post pattern. The problem with the long season is that teams don't try until December. They just coast through."
So if some weekend you feel you're being numbed into catatonia by football its ownself, try doing what people did before the NFL invented television. Read a book.