Sabol warms to the subject. His memory races with figments of Tim Rossovich in action, doing brain-rattling things, exhibiting cosmic insight.
"His life-style is beautiful. He sleeps four hours a night. On the floor. You think of someone sleeping, you think of them on their side or on their back. He sleeps face down, like a man ready for artificial respiration. He always points his head north, he says, so the magnetic waves can run through and revitalize him. The maid came in and found him lying there one morning, naked, face down. She thought he was dead."
When the Rossovich-Sabol-Pettigrew triumvirate lived together, Rossovich played Christmas carols "so loud you could hear them on the 12th floor. We lived on the 24th floor. He loves Christmas carols. He plays them in September. He has this great look. He doesn't walk, he slides. He has this thing about fragrances. He covers himself with body lotions. He was hooked on patchouli oil for a while. It made him smell like a cedar closet."
Sabol admires the terrific diversity in Rossovich's wardrobe. They try to dress in periods—Frontier Period, Cosmic Period and so forth. When they were going through their Rain-Dance Period, Rossovich carried a wand around. Sabol went with him one night when he was invited to talk to a Sun Oil group. "What do I say?" he asked Sabol. "What do I wear?" Sabol told him these were business executives. Sabol wore a suit. Rossovich wore overalls that said "Unidentified Flying Object" on the front, an electric tie-dyed shirt and shades. But he communicated. Somebody in the group asked him what the middle linebacker says in the defensive huddle. He turned his back, like an impersonator preparing an impression, and when he turned around he wore a savage look, and he shouted, "All right, let's go out there and knock their duffs off!"
"They loved him," says Sabol.
"Tim can imitate anything. He watches shows like Magilla Gorilla on television, and he can imitate them all, all the Creature Features. His favorite book is the
Guinness Book of World Records. He says it's important to know what's biggest and best if you want to be the best. He wants to be the best middle linebacker in pro football. I ride him about it. I tell him he can't be as long as Dick Butkus is alive."
Sabol brought home a five-minute short that NFL Films made on Butkus, the one ministers and Boy Scout leaders objected to. Butkus tells in this film how he would like to knock somebody's head off and see it roll away. Rossovich loves it. He and Pettigrew look at it eight or nine times a week. "We put it on," said Sabol, "and some Rimsky-Korsakov on the stereo or Carmen, the march of the toreadors, and have a little wine, and it's like a light show. Rosso had the defensive team in to watch it the day they played the Giants last year. Made 'em watch it three times. The Giants were fated. They lost 23-20."
But it is the third Rossovich that was Sabol's special discovery. The third Rossovich was revealed to be a serious, articulate, sensitive young man who could offer in a breath a reasonable defense for his generation's preoccupation with its hair and at the same time his own keen appreciation of disciplines and values of football. If the positions seem irreconcilable, Rossovich did not find them so. He said he would love to have had a football coach like General Patton. "Patton would have been the greatest football coach," he said. He recited verbatim from the opening monologue of the movie Patton. He said making a tackle was a creative thing, that each man did it in his own style. He likened Butkus' to that of an ape. His, he said, was more cobralike.
He said at the same time that at least some of his actions were attributable to his distaste for the stereotyped, slab-of-meat football player, and if he looked the way he did and impressed kids who identified with him that he was doing something positive, something meaningful, that would be worthwhile.
Sabol calls Rossovich a mind field which has lain fallow for years and is only now bursting into bloom. He cites a newly developed affinity for nature, Rossovich's "interest in organic foods, herbs and stuff," his vow to take up gardening. "He looks at the ocean and it's like taking vitamins," says Sabol. "Now he wants to study macrame, and he makes those candles. They're really beautiful." Off the field, says Sabol, Rossovich is so gentle you wouldn't believe it. "Everybody's scared of what he might do next, but he's never malicious. He's like a wildflower that wilts at the first breath of hot air. He'll turn from a fight like a little kid."