SI Vault
George Plimpton
October 11, 1976
Despite his imperfections, odoriferous or otherwise, the NFL's worst composite physical specimen is a Hall of Fame candidate
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October 11, 1976

Beware Of Flat-footed People With Garlic Breath

Despite his imperfections, odoriferous or otherwise, the NFL's worst composite physical specimen is a Hall of Fame candidate

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"What about hips?" I asked.

"Worst hips go to Don Shinnick," Curry said. "Shinnick did not have any hips. Do you know about him?"

"No," I admitted.

"He played linebacker with us on the Colts. He's practically a composite in himself. Shinnick had the worst body in the history of the world. His lower stomach protruded; his chest had fallen early in life; his shoulders sloped down to hairy arms that reached below his knees. He not only has this bad body, but, heck, he has a bad witness that he's now a defensive coach for the Oakland Raiders. But Shinnick did things day Gale Sayers of the Bears broke clear and was running for a touchdown, while Shinnick was in his normal position—seated on his rear. He was looking downfield, like a man on a beach staring out to sea. In the films you could see him; he raised his right hand very carefully and with his forefinger he fired at Sayers all the way down the field like this—Bang! Bang! Bang! That actually happened. The coaches ran the film over and over, unbelieving. Shinnick missed, though. Sayers went in for the touchdown.

"Another thing that happened...the year before I joined the Colts, Shinnick was in a game against the Atlanta Falcons. On this one particular play there was a turnover, a fumble or something, and the Falcons got the ball. They called a sweep, and immediately ran for about 10 or 15 yards. Shinnick was on the sidelines jumping up and down and screaming: 'Come on, let's go! Let's go! What's wrong? Let's go! Let's pick it up out there! Don't let 'em run like that!' Somebody finally said, 'Shinnick, they just ran around your side. You're supposed to be in the game! We're playing a man short.' "

Curry gave me a look. "The thing about Shinnick stories," he said, "is that you're better off telling lies about him because nobody believes the truth. Listen to this one. In 1968 we were in Yankee Stadium against the Giants. Shinnick had pulled a hamstring muscle—which was understandable because it was the only muscle in that body of his. But he had been healing for about four weeks, and Don Shula wanted to give him a little play so he'd be ready for the playoffs. We were beating the Giants pretty bad. Shinnick didn't know he was going to be put in the game. With about four minutes left to play, Shula looked down the bench and he called out, 'Shinnick! Shinnick, get ready!'

"Well, Shinnick was standing there, having undone the belt buckle on his football pants and put the belt through his headgear—behind the bar of his face mask—and then buckled it back together so that he wouldn't have to hold the headgear. It was hanging there in front of him off his belt. He had a warm-up jacket on and he was eating a sandwich, standing there in the sun enjoying the game. When Shula began to yell, he stripped off his jacket. As he ran onto the field he was trying to get his helmet off the belt without dropping his pants in front of 63,000 people. When he got to the line, the Giants were just breaking the huddle. He got the defensive assignment from the middle linebacker, and as he lined up in front of the tight end, he discovered to his horror that he was still holding the sandwich in his hand. He turned and handed it to Roy Hilton, the defensive end. Roy turned next door and stuck it in Freddy Miller's hand. Why Freddy didn't just throw it on the ground, I don't know, but with one hand down in his stance, he reached out with the other to try to hand the sandwich to the referee. The referee stood there, you know, with his mouth hanging open. The play began, and I don't remember what happened after that. Maybe Freddy ate it."

"How good a player was Shinnick?" I asked. I didn't understand how anyone like that could survive in the NFL.

"It was crazy," Curry said, "but Shin-nick was usually among the leaders in interceptions, mostly because he was in the wrong place at the right time. A quarterback would read the defense perfectly, set up to throw where there had to be an open man, and there, as if a 12th player had materialized, would be the grotesque figure of Shinnick. He gambled and he improvised, but it paid off."

"What about stomachs," I asked. "Whose stomach would we have?"

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