Both Karras and
Gordy came around to my New York apartment to hear the tapes played back. The
effect on them was quite different. Karras was still in football at the time.
So the sounds—that shredded roar of the crowd, the little tinny music in the
background, the whistles, the thuds, the signal-calling—were as uninteresting
to him as a phonograph record of barnyard noises might be to a farmer. So he
stood at the window and watched the big tankers easing up the East River toward
float by?" he asked.
so," I said. "I've never seen any. Traditionally, most of them are out
fitted in cement boots so they go to the bottom quick and stand there."
Karras said, "look close the next time you see a bunch of floaters going by
and you'll see they're all old washed-up football players. They can't afford
cement boots. And they'll all be linemen." Karras stared moodily out the
window down at the currents. He sighed. "Quarterbacks and tight ends die
comfortably, in big beds, and the Irish setter is whimpering on the other side
of the door, and someone is mowing the great lawn outside the big mansion. But
the linemen give it up in these little rooms in poor sections. They wake up on
a cot in a room the size of a closet and they look at their pushed-in kissers
in the little minor, and they pull their old football jerseys with the number
on the back out of the bottom drawer of the beat-up dresser, and they put them
on and go up to the bridge there. What's the name of it?"
Triboro." I said.
And they drop off the Triboro and float down here." He leaned forward.
"There goes one. That's Ed Glurk, number 70, good journeyman tackle for the
Eagles in the 50s. Always was a nice guy. Look how he rides nice and high in
the water. Just behind him, that's Al Woekowski...good Polack kid who played
guard for the old Yankees. He's got his jersey on inside out. Look at him turn
in the water. He always had classy moves. Now who's that coming along
next?" His voice rose in mock excitement. "Why, is that John
Gordy...that old has-been from the Detroit Lions...number 75? Why I do declare
I believe it is...."
said Gordy. He was hunched over the tapes. He turned the volume upon the
machine. The roar of the crowd in Yankee Stadium shivered in the room. For
Gordy, out of football for a season, the tapes re-created scenes for which he
had such nostalgia that the muscles began working in his throat and I thought
he was going to start crying. Afterward, he took the tapes and edited a
composite for his own use. I thought of him, occasionally, sitting in his small
New York apartment (he had left his family in Detroit and was involved in the
bitterness of a divorce action), playing his tapes, the volume up on his tape
machine, lost in the re-creation of that bitterly cold December afternoon in
What did it give
him? I once asked.
Oh, it took him
back. "But the main thing," he said, "is that I am in awe of
myself. I think, 'Jeez, what it took to go through that.' I'll tell you
something. It makes me proud."
"Do you play
the tapes a lot?" I asked.