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.
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.
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.
you been?" my friends asked.
down there on the bench—suited up," I said, just right, the voice
absolutely perfect. "You didn't see me?"
mean?" I cried out. "I was No. 30."
g'wan," they said.
mean, 'g'wan'? I was down there." I was furious. "You didn't see me on