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THROWN TO THE LIONS
George Plimpton
August 06, 1973
In July 1971 the author arrived at the Baltimore Colt training camp at Western Maryland College in Westminster with what he recalls as "an enormous sense of foreboding." Once more he was going to be a quarterback. When he was with Detroit in the summer of '63, Plimpton led the Lions for five plays in an intrasquad scrimmage. Those misadventures were celebrated in the bestseller "Paper Lion." But then the whole thing was his idea—and seemed more of a lark. This time it was the idea of a television producer. And this time he was going to quarterback the Colts in a special series of four plays at the halftime of an exhibition game against his old teammates, the Lions. The Lions were unamused, and revealed to Plimpton was another—more real—level of the game. The following is an excerpt from a journal of his month with the Colts. It is part of his pro football book, "Mad Ducks and Bears," to be published in November by Random House
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August 06, 1973

Thrown To The Lions

In July 1971 the author arrived at the Baltimore Colt training camp at Western Maryland College in Westminster with what he recalls as "an enormous sense of foreboding." Once more he was going to be a quarterback. When he was with Detroit in the summer of '63, Plimpton led the Lions for five plays in an intrasquad scrimmage. Those misadventures were celebrated in the bestseller "Paper Lion." But then the whole thing was his idea—and seemed more of a lark. This time it was the idea of a television producer. And this time he was going to quarterback the Colts in a special series of four plays at the halftime of an exhibition game against his old teammates, the Lions. The Lions were unamused, and revealed to Plimpton was another—more real—level of the game. The following is an excerpt from a journal of his month with the Colts. It is part of his pro football book, "Mad Ducks and Bears," to be published in November by Random House

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MY HELMET, PART I
The first day has been predictable—going through the medical tests, getting weighed and being outfitted. The football accouterments were laid out in piles on the gymnasium floor. I spent a lot of time with the helmets, hoping to find one that was snug and could be drawn on and off without my ears suffering excruciating pain. But there must be something wrong with the conformation of my head. I had the same trouble at Detroit. The only solution will be to put on the helmet at the beginning of practice and not take it off until the end, which means that it is going to get hot in there, and the sweat will drip into my eyes, and I will hear everything as if it were coming through a wire mesh.

THE FRIGHTENED VIOLIN TEACHER

Today I left my playbook on top of a filing cabinet in the classroom rather than hefting it back to my room. When I came in for the evening class it was gone. I looked behind the cabinet where it might have fallen, and it was not there, and I sat down feeling low, envying everyone else opening and shutting the big blue books with the Colt insignia on the front, and putting play sheets in and snapping the big clasp rings shut. Coach Don McCafferty made a few announcements and then he looked in my direction and inquired, "Where's your playbook?" I mumbled that it had disappeared. A few of the players in the front of the class had turned in their seats to look at me. McCafferty held up my book. It had been "found," he said, by one of the coaches, and that would be a $50 fine.

I could have protested, I suppose, or made a flip remark, but the playbook is traditionally such a serious symbol in the football fraternity that it was best to let the matter drop. The book was passed back to me. It felt good to have it again—the security blanket—it meant you truly belonged. When a player was cut from the squad, the first request of him was to hand in his playbook, a gesture as awful and ceremonial as the ripping off of an officer's epaulettes when he is being cashiered on the parade ground.

In fact, my own book was not worth much. The average book has 200 or 300 different plays. The Baltimore coaches had only entrusted me with six sheets describing and diagramming half a dozen plays I might be attempting.

In truth, it is difficult to gauge how helpful information of this sort would be to the opposition. Karl Sweetan, who was a Detroit back-up quarterback for a while and was then traded around, winding up with Los Angeles, tried to sell his Ram playbook to the New Orleans Saints for $2,500. He was caught at it, but officials declined to prosecute the case because it became too difficult to determine the value of a playbook.

I remember meeting Sweetan when I went back to visit the Detroit players during one of the training camps. He had the reputation of having a very lively private life, much like Bobby Layne's. One lunch Sweetan tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would do him a favor. "Sure," I said.

"Could you carry a tray of food down to the boiler room of Page Hall?"

"A tray of food?"

"If they see me carrying the food out of here, they'll be suspicious. But you can get away with it. They'll think you're carrying the tray back to your room."

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