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Going deep By Jan Reid Kingsbury Pete Gent’s first profession left him physically unsuited for the second. A decade ago he sprawled to catch a football thrown by Don Meredith, and a New York Giant linebacker descended knees first. Several ribs disconnected from Gent’s spine; he said one of his legs felt like it was gone, the other aflame. Today he squirms painfully if he sits in a chair for more than a few minutes. Writing novels is a craft practiced, for the most part, on one’s backside. Like Cornell Green and Preston Pearson, Gent was a college basketball player who fit into the Dallas Cowboys’ scheme of specialties. He must have been a good rebounder at Michigan State, for his Dallas specialty was the catch snared two feet beyond most men’s reach followed, too often, by collision with a goalpost or safety’s forearm that left him crumpled and reminded that contact sports are a matter of degree. During five seasons with the Cowboys, Gent had three knee operations, a broken leg, and a dislocated ankle. He played with the traumatized back because he was losing his job to Lance Rentzel, which he lost 10 DECEMBER 29, 1978 TEXAS CELEBRITY TURKEY TROT By Peter Gent William Morrow, 1978. $9.95 anyway, and the Cowboys traded him to the Giants, who cut him at the end of the ’69 training camp. He’s fared better as a novelist. Even Paper Lion author George Plimpton called North Dallas Forty the finest book written about pro football. Gent’s first novel made nationwide bestseller lists and earned him more than $500,000. Five years later, Gent has now published his second novel, Texas Celebrity Turkey Trot, in which pro football is the point of departure. Whatever the literary merits of those books, they represent a level of professional intent. The majority of American first novelists never publish a second. For the past year Gent has lived on a few acres outside Wimberley with his wife Jody and their two children. He still perks up when told Meredith recalled his third-down capabilities on a Monday night telecast. “Have you ever been knocked out?” he says. “It’s like your head fills up with air, then it all goes blowing past you.” But he brightens more at the mention of a writers’ panel he co-chaired recently with Western novelist Louis L’Amour. Gent’s begun a third novel, a mystery set in San Antonio and the Hill Country, which he claims has no football connection. Fellow novelist and future neighbor Bud Shrake gave Gent a charcoal fedora. With his hunched shoulders, hatbrim low over his broken nose, Gent looks a little, like Bogart. Shrake told him if he was going to write mysteries, he needed that hat. The passage between careers was difficult for Gent. Following his release by New York, he had a brief run as a morning radio personality on KLIF in Dallas, made his living as a printing broker. “Most ballplayers go broke once or twice,” he says. “Three years out of college I made $22,000 with the Cowboys, more than my dad ever earned, but they paid me that because I could catch passes, not because I knew anything about handling money. Somebody says, ‘Here, let me help you with your investments.’ Sure, investments. Then all at once everything you’ve devoted yourself to being is gone, just like that. And it , 4′ cw IlloA1411.! I. A A Ar