"So...what're you going to do, George?" his father asked.
"I don't know. Go in the service, maybe."
"You need to get back to college, George. You're not a quitter. You're better than that."
Three days of unbearable silence later George returned to New Hampshire. His playing life was over, his pilot light barely aflame, but in the next two years he worked enough as a part-time bartender, landscapes mover and paver to know what he didn't want, so he hit the books, or at least tapped them, enough to get a B.S. in phys ed.
And he met a girl. Bumped into her at a party and was so taken by her that just before the next bash at his frat house, he concocted a doozy. He talked Sharon Little-field into coming as a blind date for a nonexistent friend of his, then offered his regrets when she showed up and the buddy didn't—but, hey, now that she was there, why not be his date? She didn't mind, because there was nothing slick about his deception; truth is, he was a little rough around the edges. She liked his blue eyes, his blond hair and his swagger, and she so prized her own privacy and independence that it was O.K. that he was a loner. They married before he graduated. She would look back on that first date, four children later, as such a wonderful little lie.
1969-74 Phys-Ed Teacher, Driver's Ed Teacher, Assistant Football Coach
Surprise! the son of Central Islip's school board president secured his first real job in 1969—as a teacher and assistant football coach at Central Islip High. "It was almost," says George's youngest brother, Tom, "as if he'd become Dad's project."
Take a young man. Place him in front of a group of kids just a few years younger than he is. He must give them direction when he's barely begun to find his own. He must seal off all his own doubts so they'll believe and follow. Make sure they never do what he did: quit. What's a young coach but an elaborate bluff, a careful construction of small lies? What's a successful coach but one so convincing that even he comes to believe the bluff, and turns it into truth?
But this was a good lie, right? A boy becoming a man in a world where everyone lies had to figure that out. This sort of lie his country rewarded, for its coaches played the role that tribal elders—the ones entrusted to take boys and turn them, through rites of passage, into men—played in other lands. George started driving up and down the East Coast, attending football clinics at which these elders held court, in quest of knowledge and a model.