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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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"That's a good number you're wearing, " Williams said. "Johnny Olszewski's—Johnny O's."

Olszewski had been a Detroit back on the 1961 team.

"It indicates my talent," I said. Friday Macklem had either Hopalong Cassady's old number available, which was 40, or Johnny O's zero, and he thought the zero had more—well, distinction.

I went back to my locker. My football shoes were up on top, next to the big silver helmet with the blue Lion decal, and when I took the shoes down they seemed astonishingly heavy to the hand. "Hey!" I said.

I spotted Friday coming by again.

"Hey, Friday, what's happened to my shoes?"

He came over. He looked very busy. "What's trouble?" he asked briskly. "Boy, you'd better hop to it. You're going to miss the bus."

"Well," I said, "these shoes seem, well, sort of heavy, that's what they seem."

"Your shoes seem heavy?" said Friday, quite loudly, so that I moved toward him and I said softly, "Well, look here, Friday, heft them for yourself."

He did so, and he looked surprised. "There's nothing wrong."

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