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THE CELESTIAL HELL OF THE SUPERFAN
George Plimpton
September 13, 1965
When allegiance calls, the archaficionado of pro football sheds the trappings of normal life and, caped in the bliss of his daydreams, flies forth to worship Sunday's sweaty demigods. That is the author above, taking off with pigskin and firewater—a man far gone on the Detroit Lions (for whom he once had the terrible joy of playing quarterback) but a keen observer of his fellow acolytes
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September 13, 1965

The Celestial Hell Of The Superfan

When allegiance calls, the archaficionado of pro football sheds the trappings of normal life and, caped in the bliss of his daydreams, flies forth to worship Sunday's sweaty demigods. That is the author above, taking off with pigskin and firewater—a man far gone on the Detroit Lions (for whom he once had the terrible joy of playing quarterback) but a keen observer of his fellow acolytes

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On the day of the game the complexities were staggering. Leaving for the game, Manuche would get his car going at such-and-such a minute, follow the same route to the stadium, park the car at the same lot, and so on, with fanatical exactitude, down to the manner in which he approached and left his seat. The importance of ritual was felt not only by Manuche, but many of the Giant players as well. Before the game Y. A. Tittle, perhaps the most superstitious of them, and two or three others would go to a special food shop to consume one or two meatball sandwiches apiece, not because anyone enjoyed them but for their good-luck value, which was sufficient to keep the players returning week after week until, as the successful seasons continued, the trip to the eatery took on the solemnity of a pilgrimage.

With the fall of the Giants' fortunes last season, Manuche was hardly of easy mind. I called him up after the season was over and asked him about it. Apparently, as the losses continued, he had tried to establish new patterns of behavior. "We tried all sorts of things—new routes to the stadium, different cars," he told me sorrowfully. "We thought we had something when we won the St. Louis game—but it was no good, of course."

"How about those meatball sandwiches?" I asked.

"Well, when the defeats started they thought perhaps the meatballs were not being cooked properly. They had the counterman cook the meatballs just a little longer, then a little less, but nothing helped, and finally they gave up the place entirely. Crazy it all was," Manuche went on. "I mean, you'd think there was a screw loose somewhere the way we behaved."

I said that considering my own behavior over the Lions his was perfectly natural.

"You have the trouble, too?" he asked. "If you get hooked, you're lost—eat some awful meatball sandwich, 50 or 60 of them, if you think it'll do your team any good."

Was there any cure for this state? I asked Manuche.

He was very mournful. He didn't think so; "hooked" was the word he kept repeating.

But then last winter the Lions put me through an experience that almost cured me. They telephoned from Detroit and asked if I would represent them at the National Football League draft at New York's Summit Hotel. Nothing much to it, they told me—sit at a phone and give the Detroit office the names of the players drafted by the other teams, and announce the Lions' choice (which they would phone me from Detroit) when their turn came up. It might take some time, they said, and perhaps I should plan to keep that weekend free (the draft was scheduled to start on a Saturday morning). Would I do it, they wanted to know. Absolutely! I shouted into the phone. I had a full weekend planned, but I would cancel it. A tremendous honor. I only wanted assurances that in my official capacity I could not damage the Detroit organization. Would it be possible for me to draft a 132-pound fullback from Ypsilanti High School?

No, they said coldly, that would be impossible.

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