And Now, The Starting Lineup for Your Maltese Falcons!

An observation I had in my years working for Sports Illustrated: athletes and the heroes of crime fiction have much in common, but most simply this—a ruthless clarity of purpose and an ability to perform at their best when the action reaches its climax.

Below I’ve assembled a football team populated by great characters from crime fiction. I wound up placing more criminals on offense and more detectives on defense, which seemed natural. It is, after all, the criminals who are trying to get something past the detectives.

I’m calling my team the Maltese Falcons.


Quarterback: Parker

Richard Stark’s master thief is the man to run my offense. No one is better at anticipating angles, planning around the weaknesses of his teammates, and ruthlessly attacking the vulnerabilities of his opponents. I looked hard at Sherlock Holmes for the job, but, even though he’s smart enough to beat the drug tests, I can’t have a cocaine user as the face of my franchise.


Running Back: Tom Ripley

In all of crime fiction, there has never been a figure more elusive than Ripley. He’s a master at finding that narrow opening and escaping through it. I just have to hope that he won’t decide that he wants to be the quarterback, kill Parker, and then pretend to be him.

I also have Ripley returning kicks.


Offensive Line, Tackles and Guards: Hercule Poirot, Andy Dalziel, Nero Wolfe, and Dr. John Watson

Going for beef here, obviously. The modern offensive lineman needs to be quick, too, so I’m hoping that the fear of incurring Parker’s wrath will get these heavyweights moving, at least in short bursts. I’ll have to work these guys hard in practice. 


Center: Joe Pike

Robert Crais’ tough and taciturn hero will, in this setting, be a natural ally for Parker and a motivator to the rest of the offensive line.


Wide receivers: Frank and Joe Hardy

Go ahead and laugh. But looking at my team, I’m worried that my average age is a tad high. So I’m asking the Hardy Boys, the teen protagonists of the first detective stories I ever read, to suit up.


Tight End: Myron Bolitar

Harlan Coben's Bolitar has knee problems, but he’s also a former college basketball player. Most of the NFL’s great tight ends of recent years—Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham— played basketball in college. Parker won’t like Bolitar’s jokes, but he'll love throwing to this big target.



Defensive Ends: Martin Beck and Inspector Van Veeteren

For my defensive ends, I want players who will be methodical and relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback.  These Swedes will work hard in the film room to scout an opponent’s tendencies. If they can get me one sack each per game, I’m happy.


Nose Tackle: Bernie Little

He works with a canine in Spencer Quinn’s entertaining Chet and Bernie series, so I trust he’ll be comfortable lining up in a four-point stance.


Inside Linebackers: Jack Reacher and Easy Rawlins

Lee Child's Reacher has size and toughness, which is exactly what I want in the middle of my defense, and the best at this position have often been a little unbalanced. With his great sense of timing, I’m hoping to get a “Lavar Leap” or two out of him.

Rawlins brings the kind of blue-collar ethic this defense needs, and the backstory given to him by Walter Mosley, in which he is essentially orphaned, calls to mind that of the great Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke.


Outside Linebackers: Jack Foley and Buddy

These Elmore Leonard creations know how to work together, and they have the unflappability needed to be able to function in a unit led by Reacher without going crazy.


Cornerbacks: Dave Robicheaux and Hackberry Holland

From Deion Sanders to Richard Sherman, the best cornerbacks of recent years have had bold personalities, so I’m drafting these James Lee Burke characters for the position. However well they do in games, I’m looking forward to seeing these guys line up against the Hardy Boys in practices.


Strong Safety: Harry Bosch

Michael Connelly’s Bosch has seen it all in the L.A police department without losing his passion or focus, and I need a veteran with a strong procedural background anchoring my defensive backfield, especially with the personnel risk I’m taking at free safety.


Free Safety: Lisbeth Salander

I didn’t love Stieg Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo the way others did, but no one can question the Salander’s intensity. She’s an intimidator, and if there’s a fumble, I expect her to emerge from the bottom of the pile with ball in hand. Plus, in the American version of the movie, Salander was played by Rooney Mara, and the Mara family owns the New York Giants and have been part of the NFL since its founding.


Kicker: Judge Dee

Roger van Gulik’s hero from ancient China had to serve as detective, judge, and jury, so I trust that he’ll be fine if, at the end of the game, suddenly all the responsibility falls on his toe.


Punter: Nick Gallow

Modesty would seemingly forbid me from picking a character from my own book, but Gallow is an actual professional punter, and I can’t ignore that kind of experience. In five seasons he’s never shanked a kick, and if the return man breaks through the coverage, the 6'4″, 225-pound Gallow can deliver a wallop of a tackle. He enjoys these hits a little too much, to be honest with you.


Coach: Columbo

My lone dip into the world of TV detectives, but the man in the rumpled raincoat has everything I want in a coach. He’s not a yeller, and he’s a master at pushing people’s buttons.

So that's my all-crime football team. As anyone who's ever played fantasy football can attest, tinkering is inevitable. So take to the comments and help me out with a scouting report; let me know who I missed, who should be higher up on the depth chart, and how we can pummel the opponents.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Bill Syken's Hanman's Game, the debut mystery in the Nick Gallow series about a professional punter who's caught up in the murder of a new teammate!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Hangman's Game Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) August 6, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 12:29 p.m. ET August 13, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

After reporting for several newspapers, Bill Syken spent eight years as a staff reporter and editor at Sports Illustrated, where he continues to work as a writer and editor for its books division. He earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University and a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri. He lives in Philadelphia. Hangman's Game is his first novel.


  1. Ashli Wells

    I love that you included Lisbeth (I’m pretty sure she could take on anyone!) & the Hardy boys. They are so different! This looks like an interesting book. I’ll be on the lookout for it! I love sports and mysteries!

  2. Andrew Beck

    What a team! But who would you sign up to coach? Someone smart who could manage this crew! That’s asking for a lot! Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer might have the smarts to do so, plus a laid back attitude that the guys on the team would find less threatening. Fun idea. And Temperance Brennan could form the cheerleading squad–but she’d involve herself in game strategy anyway, whether the coach liked it or not. Kay Scarpetta can do the play by play.

  3. Teddy P

    Great idea!

  4. DebP

    I’m intrigued. Count me in.

  5. Cindy Jameson

    I love this fresh take on a crime novel!!!

  6. Karen Barnett

    Fascinating, but would I stand a chance of getting to read it once my sons/grandsons discovered I had a copy?!?

  7. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    I am a team player! Yes!

  8. Brenda Tucker

    A great team, unbeatable! Hangman”s Game sounds interesting, thanks.

  9. joe henriques

    Fun list. What about one for TV detectives? A few names come to mind: Jim Rockford (QB), Frank Cannon (C), Magnum (TE), Hawk (CB), Kojak (Coach).

    That’s all I got. Not sure where to put Mannix, Tubs, and Crockett.

  10. bill norris

    a super sweet grouping.

  11. L L

    sounds interesting

  12. Patricia Hill

    Love football and I love mysteries-a good combination

  13. Mary Ann Brady

    Fabulous! Hope I win. Thx.

  14. lynette thompson

    Sounds like a great book, add my name. Thank you

  15. Betty Ramsey

    Great line up…


    Talk about imagination!!

  17. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  18. Janice

    Very interesting concept and different too!

  19. LabRat517

    Some excellent choices there but I would make a few changes. Sorry, but I would ditch Columbo as coach and move Nero to that job. As good a thinker as Columbo is I think Wolfe is better and he would be the master of reading the opposing team. To replace him I would put Hawk on the line. Some size there and someone who actually enjoys kicking butt. Also as NFL commissioner I would get Keller. Teams would think twice about deflating balls with him in charge.

  20. Rena


  21. Louis Burklow

    Great list but no room for Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear? After all, both were good enough football players to get scholarships from Pac 12 schools in California – pretty good for a couple of guys from small-town Wyoming. Otherwise, I like your list and would like to check out your book.

  22. Mike Rogers

    Looks great!

  23. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  24. patricia gibby

    I cannot wait to read this book!

  25. Dan Carr

    Hmmm, OK !

  26. Michael D. McClure

    This sounds like a winning line-up on all sides, and the book sounds pretty darn good too. Will be anxious to hear if I win.

  27. Joyce Mitchell

    Thanks for the chance to win.

  28. Daniel Morrell

    sounds like a fun one

  29. Sallyw

    I think you have a great team, I wouldn’t make any changes.

  30. L

    What an intriguing bunch to throw in a pot together! Some good choices. I love that Columbo is the Coach.

  31. Vicky Boackle

    sounds fantastic.

  32. Patricia Simpkin

    This sounds interesting. I’m a team player!

  33. Benita Glickman

    Sounds great! Thanks for the possibility!

  34. Jim Belcher

    Really sorry not to see Spenser and Hawk make the line up, but it would be a cool story to read.

  35. Sandy Klocinski

    I will be the first to admit I don’t get football; the truth is I hate it. But I do love well written mysteries and I’d love to give this novel a chance.

  36. Daniel Vice

    I would like this

  37. Tawney Mazek

    The Hardy Boys, but no Nancy Drew? Tut Tut….but a fun exercise – you could make many variations.

  38. Lori Walker


  39. Dawn K

    looks good

  40. SexyBrat

    Pick me 😀

  41. Ed Nemmers

    I would like to read the work of Bill Syken.

  42. donna graham

    I’m glad I’ve joined your team. If I win, I’ll pass along the book to others, after I read it. Thanks.

  43. Brenda Elsner

    I would love this!!!!

  44. Shannon Baas

    I would like this.

  45. Linda Peters

    now this sounds interesting, thanks

  46. Daniel Laforce

    Sounds cool

  47. Tricha Leary


  48. versatileer

    This sounds like an intriguing book. Thank you for giving all of us the chance to win this fine giveaway.

  49. Kaye Killgore

    I think Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear would make good additions to your team. LOL

  50. Jason Steinmetz

    Enter me please

  51. Loren Palmer

    just hanging in waiting to win!

  52. Dawn K

    looks good

  53. Buddy Garrette

    It sounds like an interesting book. Thanks.

  54. Lily

    Thanks for the great giveaway!

  55. Tim Moss

    Good deal, count me in!

  56. Richard Hicks

    Should be a good read.

  57. Jeffrey Malis

    Thanks for the article (fun concept!) and the opportunity!

  58. Francine Anchondo

    Thanks for the chance.

  59. JULES M.

    i’d love to read this


    Sounds fabulous!!

  61. Denise Sachs

    Thanks for the chance.

  62. keith james

    Allow me to throw my hat in the ring.

  63. Pat Murphy

    Judge Dee can kick it over the goal post. Great detective. Wish there were more of his stories.

  64. Andra Dalton

    Murder, mystery, & mayhem oh my!!! Definitely count me in for sure!!! Can’t wait to get my hands on this book!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all who enter!!!:)

  65. vicki wurgler

    sounds good love to win

  66. Kris Kaminski

    not a sports fan, but what the heck! I’m in.

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