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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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"O.K.," he said. I could tell from the way he drawled it out softly that the big Auburn back had been high on their own list. Detroit was looking for a heavy, hard-running back.

Detroit's position was 11th in the first round and, with each team allowed an hour to make its choice, it was long past noon, and 10 good players later, when our turn came and the phone rang on my desk with Detroit's pick.

"Tom Nowatzke," Bill Ford said. "We're picking Tom Nowatzke." The connection was poor and the name arrived as a blur.

"Once again," I said. "How do you spell it?"

There was a humming of laughter at the other tables, and I had to cover an ear to get the swatch of consonants in the name straight. I wrote it down and took my slip up to the podium, and he was announced by Commissioner Rozelle.

Not long after, Nowatzke himself came in with a Detroit official. He was in New York to receive an award. I looked at him carefully. If he had been a draft choice for another team I would have been impressed enough—a personable-looking athlete with the power indicated along the width and line of his shoulders—but a first draft choice for Detroit, I thought, my team, should have been a titanic figure, carrying away the door in his hand as he entered the room, just by accident ripping it off the hinges, apologizing then, bobbing his head not only to apologize but to clear the ceiling, and when he got to the lights, the interviewer looking up at him nervously, he would take the stick microphone to say into it, "Well, gosh, folks," and it would snap in his hands like a twig.

But then not long after Nowatzke's departure my enthusiasm for all things Detroit began to flag. The hours stretched on endlessly. The rounds in the draft (20 altogether) moved slowly, each team using its allotted time to the limit to make sure through its network of representatives and "hand-holders" that its choice would sign his contract. It was apparent the session was going to last long into the next day. Football itself began to seem distasteful, epitomized by the ex-players from the scouting pools wandering about the room in their shirtsleeves. The long hours seemed to have no effect on them. The super-fans, slouched wearily at their tables, all seemed scraggly, a sheen of beard appearing on their faces as the night went on, and the dawn came finally, and the sound of traffic began to drift up from the streets. One of the representatives gave a slight groan, and stretching out on the floor next to his table he slept with his phone on his chest. The scouts grinned and pointed at him. They were from the New York- Green Bay- St. Louis- Cleveland-Baltimore scouting combine (there are three such pools in the NFL), and every once in a while one of them would be called to a team table to advise the home office Baltimore, say—at the table just in front of me, and the scout would amble up, humming, with a stiff loose-leaf notebook with colored tabs along the side, and when he sat down the air cushion would whistle shrilly under him. He would say to the coach on the other end of the phone:

"Hey, baby. Who? Bailey Gimbel?" He would refer to his book. "A real fine kid, this boy. Big! Oh, run to 260, still growing, quick as a cat—oh, he'll do the 50 in under six, for sure, in gear. And attitude, he's got an attitude you don't have to worry about, real beautiful attitude. Hard-nose."

That was the gist of it—longer, of course, the patois rich, with the emphasis always on speed ("in gear" had nothing to do with a shift of speed but with racing in football togs), "hands" came into it always ("he's got a great pair of hands") and always height and weight. In the early hours of Sunday morning, my attitude sour and indifferent, with nothing to do, even the television sets with their soap operas dead in the next room, the place quiet, I found myself working up a plot to call the home office, whispering sharply into the phone as follows: "Bill, this is...ah, Bill. The scout group here has been talking about a real good kid—not drafted yet..."

"What's that? What?"

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