Ex-Cowboy, author Peter Gent dies

BANGOR, Mich. -- The seamier side of professional football was exposed by former NFL player Peter Gent's "North Dallas Forty," the 1973 novel that became a sports movie classic depicting the drugs, sex, greed and self-preservation of the game.

Gent had an unlikely five-season career playing for Dallas before penning the story loosely based on the Cowboys. It later became a movie, nestled between comedy and tragedy, showing the drinking and drugging by thinly disguised football characters.

Gent, who died Friday at his boyhood home in western Michigan, seemed pleased with how the movie turned out but usually didn't watch it years later, his son said Saturday. Gent went on to write several more books.

"He was just a brilliant guy who had a lot of other interests. He read a lot and loved history," Carter Gent said. "Watching sports didn't do much for him."

He said his father died from a pulmonary illness at his home in Bangor where he'd lived since 1990. He was 69.

Peter Gent was a star basketball player at Michigan State University in the 1960s, and was drafted by the NBA's Baltimore Bullets after averaging 21 points a game in his final college season.

But he chose a different sport. Although he didn't play football in college, Gent got an NFL tryout with the Cowboys in 1964, and spent five seasons with the team.

"He had heard you'd get $500 just for showing up," his son said. "The wide receivers coach liked him. He was long and lean and had good hands."

His 1973 novel was made into a movie, "North Dallas Forty," six years later. It starred Nick Nolte as an aging player, singer-songwriter Mac Davis as a quarterback and John Matuszak, a former Raiders defensive end and notorious Super Bowl party boy.

Gent wrote a sequel, "North Dallas After Forty," as well as other books, including a memoir about coaching his son's baseball team, "The Last Magic Summer: A Season With My Son."

Gent, who was divorced, is survived by his 35-year-old son, who lives in Kalamazoo; a daughter, Holly Gent Palmo of Austin, Texas; a brother, Jamie Gent; and four grandchildren.