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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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In Hamlet there is a fine, tempestuous-moment when Laertes comes home to court to find his father, Polonius. skewered and deceased, and his sister, Ophelia, out of her mind and mumbling that owls are bakers' daughters—and, outraged, Laertes cries out: "To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!" etc. and we know the young nobleman has had a change of heart toward the court and does not feel as he did.

I've had allegiance on my mind recently in regard to the Detroit Lions football club—which may seem a matter apart, but the history of my concern, the suffering and strain I've undergone on behalf of the team, is not far from being, to use another phrase of Laertes', "a document in madness." The difficulty is that, unlike Laertes, I am unable to rid myself of my enthrallment. The autumn now approaches, and once again I can feel the stirrings, knowing that the fever will break out in a few more days and that as usual my commitment to the Lions will be absolute and agonizing.

I don't even live in Detroit. My condition stems from an experience a couple of years ago when I played briefly with the Lions as an amateur quarterback during their training (SI, Sept. 7 and 14, 1964). From then on, the fortunes of the team became my own. I suffered from afar that season as injuries crippled the Lions and the team had an inconsequential record. Once that autumn, sitting in a waterside caf� in Bellagio on Italy's Lake Como, I came across the weekend scores in a copy of the Paris Herald, and when I read that the Lions had lost a game I rose in anguish out of my chair absolutely stiff with grief, my knee catching the edge of the table as I came up and toppling it over in a fine cascade of Perrier bottles. Last year—though I vaguely hoped the passage of time might ease the frenzy of autumn Sundays—I found that my emotional concern had not been tempered at all. The team had another difficult season (7-5-2), and Sundays were hardly bearable.

The Detroit players themselves are aware of my commitment, and I suspect it amuses them. They put it to the test from time to time. I see the team play when I can, and last year I dropped into their locker room at Franklin Field, Philadelphia—traveling down from New York to watch them play the Eagles in a preseason exhibition game—and when I walked in, already worried about the game, holding up a hand, calling out, "Hello, hello, hello," glad to see everyone, George Wilson, who was then the coach, spotted me and, grinning, said: "Get that man into uniform, quick." Any citizen with his wits about him would have replied that he was sitting up in section 24 with an attractive girl and friends waiting for him, and beer was going to be sipped from paper cups while the players pushed and heaved in the heat (the temperature was in the high 90s). But I presented a pleased, vacuous grin, willing to do anything they told me to do and, what's more, they did outfit me, Friday Macklem, the equipment manager, scrabbling around in the big team trunks and coming up with a uniform of sorts. He didn't have a jersey with zero on it, which is what I wore during my participation with the Lions the year before, but he had a spare with the number 30. This was George Wilson's number when he played on the great Chicago Bear teams with Sid Luck-man and Bronko Nagurski. Wilson ran alongside me as we trotted out onto the field, and he warned me not to dishonor it. I never knew what Wilson had in mind—the Lions were likely to do anything, being pranksters of a high order—and I sat nervously on the bench during the game, knowing that if they ran up the score the temptation would be to run me in as quarterback for one or two plays (I knew three or four, and Wilson kept asking me if I had them straight). My sense of allegiance being what it was, I would have trotted in, mumbling perhaps but shuffling out toward them, seeing the helmets turn to watch me come, and I would have done what I could. As it was, they put me at the quarterback's table with the phones to the coaches on the rim of the stadium, and they would tell me whom they wanted to talk to, and I would motion to the player and he'd come to the table. The game was close, and since I thought the girl must be wondering what had become of me, I showered at half time and returned to my seat in the stands.

"Where have you been?" my friends asked.

"I've been down there on the bench—suited up," I said, just right, the voice absolutely perfect. "You didn't see me?"

"G'wan," they said.

"Whataya mean?" I cried out. "I was No. 30."

"Ah, g'wan," they said.

"Whataya mean, 'g'wan'? I was down there." I was furious. "You didn't see me on the phones?"

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