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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
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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

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I could hear a band playing somewhere in the stands. The wind coming up off the parking lot fields was cool. The public address system was announcing the contest winners. A pretty girl wearing a white evening dress and long white gloves was standing at midfield. The Queen of Something-or-other, she was handing out the awards, one of them to Pat Studstill for the most accurate punt of the evening—it had gone 60 yards on the fly, a yard or so out from the corner flag to upset Yale Lary. As he stepped forward I pounded my cleats against the ground and brayed out his name happily, concentrating on what was going on to keep my mind occupied, "Monk, oh you Monk!" The Lions called him Monk for his black, close-cropped hair that stood up stiff and brush-heavy above a small, pinched face that might have belonged to a Sicilian ascetic. He usually kept it in repose, poker-faced, tight-lipped, but now it wore a leer, was alive with it, as he escorted the girl in the evening dress from the field to conclude the ceremonies, all of us along the bench hooting and braying at him.

George Wilson then called: "All right, teams A and B out there!" motioning to me, hard-faced. I got into my helmet.

The officials, in their vertical black-and-white jerseys, were waiting on the 20-yard line. The kickoff was to be dispensed with, and the scrimmage would start from there.

I came up off the bench slowly, working my fingers up into my helmet to get at my ears. As I crossed the sidelines I was conscious not only of moving out into the massive attention of the crowd, but also of seeing ahead through the opening of my helmet the two teams waiting. Some of the defense was already kneeling at the line of scrimmage, heads turned so that helmeted, silver, with the cages protruding, they were made to seem animal and impersonal—wildlife of some large species disturbed at a water hole and watching me come toward them. Close to, suddenly, there was nothing familiar about them. With the arc lights high up on the standards, the interiors of their helmets were shadowed. There was, perhaps, the shine of a cheekbone, the glint of an eye, but no one was recognizable. I trotted by the ball. Its trade name "The Duke" was face up. The referee was waiting, astride it, a whistle at the end of a black cord dangling from his neck. The offensive team, in its blue jerseys, about 10 yards back on its own 10-yard line, moved and collected in the huddle formation as I came up, and I slowed, and walked towards them, trying to be calm about it, almost lazying up to them to see what could be done. By that time I had no other choice.

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