Pat is a likeable 34-year-old just released from a mental institution whose entire goal is to win back his wife, Nikki. But just as football plays don’t always go the way the X’s and O’s are drawn up, Pat’s playbook has a few glitches.
His mom saves him from a mental institution to live at home with her and Pat’s dad, until Pat gets settled and can move out on his own. Pat is convinced that Nikki will forget their “apart time” if he does obsessive exercises to make himself buff, begins to read the classics and becomes more positive. His mom has bought him several pieces of exercise equipment so he can pursue his obsession but his dad isn’t even talking to him.
Pat begins to read Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald but hates that their stories don’t have happy endings; he feels deceived. He also notices that all the photographs of Nikki have been removed from the home. His mom tells him a burglar broke in and took all the photos.
Pat gets a new therapist, Dr.Patel, and Pat hopes he is more positive than his last doctor. When Pat arrives at the office and hears Kenny G playing on the office speakers, he has a meltdown, screaming and throwing chairs. Once the music is stopped, Pat calms down.
Pat tells Dr. Patel he has agreed to give Nikki some space. They are separated - but only temporarily - he says. Pat has lost 50 pounds during their separation and runs every day. Pat’s brother, Jake, who is very successful, comes for a visit to watch a Philadelphia Eagles football game on TV with Pat and their dad.
They have a routine of watching games in the living room with TV trays and eating “crabby snacks.” Jake gives Pat a season ticket and a jersey with wide receiver Hank Baskett’s name and number on it. Jake tells Pat that the old “Vet” football stadium is gone and that the Eagles now play in a new stadium. Pat comes to realize he was in the institution longer than he thought - four years. This sets off another episode and his father has to stop him by hitting him.
His dad yells that Pat should go back to the mental ward the next day but his mother says Pat is staying.
One time when Pat is out running, he meets his old best friend, Ronnie. Ronnie asks Pat over to dinner, along with his wife’s sister, Tiffany. Tiffany starts jogging with Pat, showing up whenever Pat is running.
She lets Pat know she is “scouting” him to see if he is fit enough. Tiffany, a recent widow, also lives with her parents. Pat takes Tiffany to a diner and the event turns out both comic and sad. Pat wants to have Tiffany as a friend because he would never be unfaithful to Nikki. Pat continues to see Dr. Patel, who is also a huge Eagles fan. Pat’s relationship with his dad improves because he and his brother chant the Eagles fight song and root for their team. Pat is introduced to the world of tailgating. At a home game, he viciously defends his brother when an opposing fan attacks his brother. That show of violence elevates Pat’s stature in his father’s eyes.
But while Pat wants to believe in happy endings, he is getting conflicting signals from fans who show so much hatred toward fans of other teams. Pat knows Nikki is a pacifist and would hate how he acted. Pat tells Tiffany he doesn’t want to lose Nikki and go back to what he called the “bad place.” She tells Pat that she has no sympathy for Nikki, who abandoned Pat.
Tiffany also tells Pat she has been scouting him to see if he can handle being her partner in a dance competition. If he agrees, she will act as a go-between for him and Nikki. Pat can’t contact Nikki because of a restraining order. To be Tiffany’s dance partner, however, Pat must tell no one, bring 15 people to the competition and give up football. Pat agrees, but his family doesn’t understand why he has abandoned football. Worse, the Eagles start losing and his dad, brother, and tailgating friends blame Pat for putting a jinx on the team.
The story is a bittersweet one in which it is easy to root for Pat yet be bewildered by some of the things he does. The movie version was nominated for several Oscars and will soon be out on DVD.
Maggie Braun is a special education teacher at Manhattan High School and a Manhattan resident.