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May 05, 1997|LISA DILLMAN

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Offsides," by Kerry Madden-Lunsford

Publisher: William Morrow, 1996.

Price: $22.00.

No, this is not a book about a poorly played San Jose Shark-Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game.

Kerry Madden-Lunsford's first novel, "Offsides," draws on her experience as a much-traveled football coach's daughter. Her father, Joe, does some drawing too, opening some chapters with a diagram of a play.

Kicking off Chapter 5 is "Eagle Nasty Lightning Y I Combo:" Pass rush games are typically executed by the DOWN LINEMAN and are effective in disrupting pass protection blocking schemes."

But the heroine of "Offsides," a witty bookish youngster, Liz Donegal, doesn't give a wit about "Monster Left," or "40-50 Wham." She simply wants to unpack, not uproot.

Liz lives in eight states before her senior year in high school, and her dad's essential philosophy in moving is decidedly unsentimental ("Don't be a quitter," and "Get your [butt] in the car.") So, from Ames, Iowa, to Kansas to Pittsburgh to Knoxville, Tenn., Liz Donegal adopts new personas, depending upon her latest favorite book.

In Ames, she became Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan and played Anne Frank with her younger sister, Peaches.

In Kansas and Pittsburgh, she became Francie Nolan, the heroine of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." For her, it's a matter of coping, as Liz realizes she doesn't fit into the world of football.

The novel accurately captures the nomadic life of a coach's family, and "Offsides" follows the alternately humorous and painful coming-of-age of a young girl. And all the while, she tries to relate to her father.

"Daddy, why are we the Hurricanes when our mascot isn't really a Hurricane? And why is Alabama called the Crimson Tide, but their mascot is an elephant?"

"Dammit, Liz, honey, it makes perfect sense if you just think about it. When the boys from Alabama run down the field, they look like a damn red ocean wave."

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