SI Vault
 
ZERO OF THE LIONS
George Plimpton
September 07, 1964
As a football player, the zero wedged unheroically at left between the broad backs of Nick Pietrosante (33) and Jim Gibbons (80) of the Detroit Lions is a nothing who even keeps his helmet on because it hurts his ears to pull it off. He is the author, and he is about to take the field for the climax of what began as no more than a Walter Mitty daydream. He had long wondered—as has every follower of the sport—what it would feel like to quarterback a professional football team. Sports Illustrated approached the Detroit Lions, who were willing to oblige him before several thousand fans in their big preseason scrimmage. What follows is his account of the smashing career of the most naive, inept, befuddled, tolerated and unnerved quarterback that pro football has ever known
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 07, 1964

Zero Of The Lions

As a football player, the zero wedged unheroically at left between the broad backs of Nick Pietrosante (33) and Jim Gibbons (80) of the Detroit Lions is a nothing who even keeps his helmet on because it hurts his ears to pull it off. He is the author, and he is about to take the field for the climax of what began as no more than a Walter Mitty daydream. He had long wondered—as has every follower of the sport—what it would feel like to quarterback a professional football team. Sports Illustrated approached the Detroit Lions, who were willing to oblige him before several thousand fans in their big preseason scrimmage. What follows is his account of the smashing career of the most naive, inept, befuddled, tolerated and unnerved quarterback that pro football has ever known

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

"You'll get used to it," said Walker.

"Jeez!" I was straining to get it off.

"You're truly married to pro football," said Walker. "After a while you'll never know you got it on."

The helmet came away finally, leaving my ears inflamed and raw, the side of my head furrowed. "Enough to make one quit the game," I said.

I soon got in the habit of putting the helmet on when there was even the slightest chance of entering a scrimmage, rather than face the awkward possibility of being called suddenly by Coach Wilson and either not having a helmet at all (players were supposed to keep their helmets at hand, but it was easy enough to leave them lying in the grass while you tossed a ball back and forth) or having difficulty getting into it: the strain, and getting the ears straight, all that procedure, while running out to take over the offensive huddle.

So when Wilson said there were 10 minutes to go, I stared at him wildly, retrieving my helmet from the grass and fidgeting with it.

I turned away, got my thumbs into the helmet ear holes and, ducking my head, I wrenched the helmet on. When I'd got my ears straight I clicked the chin strap fast to a little punch-on snap—which sounds sharply in the helmet, pop!—and I wandered over to the bench and sat down.

One of the troubles with wearing the helmet was that it closed off the outside world, the noise of the crowd, the cheering as the contests wore on—all of this just a murmur—leaving my mind to work away busily inside the amphitheater of the helmet. Voices, my own, spoke quite clearly, my lips moving in the security of the helmet, offering consolation, encouragement and paternal advice of a particularly galling sort: "The thing to be is calm, son, and remember not to snatch back from the ball until you get it set in your palm."

"I'll hang on to the ball," I murmured back.

"But"—the portentous voice came again like the Ghost's in Hamlet—"you must not dally, son. On the hand-offs you must get the ball to the halfbacks with dispatch."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13