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."
those meatball sandwiches?" I asked.
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
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
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.