On the appointed
day I arrived at 8 o'clock in the morning, on schedule, at the Summit Hotel.
The league had set aside two large adjoining conference rooms. One of them was
equipped with a bar, a buffet table and two television sets that were tuned to
different channels so that a burble of sound rose from them, with an occasional
scream or sob from a grade-B movie. From the other room it sounded as though
things were very lively in there.
The main room,
decorated with a deep-red wall-to-wall carpet, was devoted to the business at
hand—half the room assigned for television equipment and interviews and the
other set up with 14 small tables, one for each team in the NFL (the name
designated on a placard), arranged in two long rows of seven each. A speaker's
table with its podium from which the draft selections would be announced stood
at the head of the room. Each table was decorated with a small, fat
football-player doll, a painted brown football tucked under one arm, the
appropriate team name painted on its jersey and topped with an oversize
helmeted head fixed by a spring so it bounced and turned at the slightest touch
for a painfully long period. One sees such dolls bobbing on the back-window
shelves of automobiles. When a draft choice was announced and the
representatives reached for their phones to call the home offices these dolls,
set off by the vibration, would bounce and bob in a little lunatic show of
approbation, their faces fixed with the thin half-moon signs of kindergarten
portraiture. I don't know why one of us—in the latter stages of the session
particularly—did not reach out to crumble his doll. Perhaps it was in the air,
because toward the end someone came by and the dolls were packed carefully away
in a valise.
When I arrived
the room was beginning to fill. Team officials with briefcases sat down at
their assigned tables and spread out colored charts and a clutch of sharpened
pencils; NFL officials appeared, Commissioner Rozelle among them, who seemed to
know everyone, big hellos and handshakes. There were big, wide-shouldered men
from the scouting pools, ex-players most of them, who sat at tables at the rear
of the room, shucking their coats first thing, wearing short-sleeved shirts so
the heft of their bare arms was displayed. There were others—and I was among
them—who seemed slightly bewildered among these people: superfans for sure, I
decided, who had given up their weekends as I had to help their teams. I
introduced myself to some of them "—from Detroit," I said, "the
Lions," finding it a difficult thing to say with conviction.
I went to my
table with the Detroit placard on it and sat down. The chair was bright
leather, the color of a new pocketbook, and air-cushioned so it whistled
slightly as I settled into it. I picked up the phone and called the Detroit
office. The football doll bobbed in front of me. The brassy, friendly voice of
George Wilson, the head coach, now with the Redskins, came on the wire sounding
as though he were speaking up through a long pipe.
ready," I said. "The Giants have first draft choice, and they should be
selecting very shortly."
he said. " Bill Ford will be on the phone for us at this end. Call him when
the news comes through."
bought control of the Lions two years ago for $6 million—a high-order superfan.
When I was training with Detroit he would appear on the sidelines to watch the
scrimmaging, perched on a shooting stick, his small, blonde daughters flanking
him. As the ball moved on the field he would pick up his stick, trail it up and
down the sidelines after him, set it again and sit, staring out at his players.
He took particular interest in my own eccentric flailings in the Detroit
backfield as the last-string quarterback—he was not aware of my privileged
position—and I was told later he often described me to his wife over the dinner
table. "There's this one fellow," he'd say, shaking his head, "who
just isn't going to make it. They keep him on, though. I can't understand
I knew what Ford
was going to say when he got on the phone. "Hello, Bill," he was going
to say. "Hello, is that Bill Ford?" and I would laugh, if somewhat
hollowly, and say, "Sure, it sure is."
He calls me Bill
Ford because last autumn I made the mistake of using his name to make a
reservation in a small, fashionable Beverly Hills restaurant named La Scala on
an evening when Ford himself happened to be dining there. The team had come
into Los Angeles earlier that day, and in the evening a few of us began to
telephone around, trying for a good place to eat. La Scala was not accepting
reservations, they told me over the phone.
"This is Mr.
Ford," I had said suddenly (it's amazing to what lengths the superfan will
go on behalf of the team), "Mr. William Ford in town with the Detroit Lions
for the Rams game. A few of us..."