Though many prefer Summer, I am among those who revel in is successor – Fall. Call me nostalgic, even romantic, but give me sweatshirts, cider mills and Friday night lights. To be sure and with regard to the latter, sports is what really drives this nostalgia as pennant races near and the crack of pads and marching bands in the distance echo in the air once again.
The late author George Plimpton was a master of encapsulating this love of the games in his many books, which detailed his exploits moving from behind the scenes to between the lines. Every year at this time I read his tome on pro football, “Paper Lion” where he ‘joined’ the Detroit Lions for camp and pre-season as the team’s “last string quarterback”. Published in 1966 and featuring the exploits of legendary player/characters Alex Karras, Dick “Night Train” Lane and others, Plimpton provided us with a never before seen behind-the-scenes look at the game; before “North Dallas Forty” and long before HBO’s “Hard Knocks” (or even ESPN)!
On my recent vacation I also re-read one of his few fictional athletic accounts that many at the time though was anything but. “The Curious Case of Sid Finch” began as a Sports Illustrated story in 1985, detailing a devoted student of “yogic mastery” and New York Mets pitching phenom with a reported 165-mile fastball. Though published on April 1st, the piece generated national buzz (fueled in large part by participation by the Mets) a book and a standing among the top April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time.
‘Finch’ is the type of fun deception that will most likely, in the world of the Internet, and unlimited access to information, never be perpetrated again. ’Lion’, on the other hand, allowed us for the first time to eat in the player’s cafeteria, leaf through a playbook and strap on a (for Plimpton) ill-fitting helmet. Perhaps it is why I like to go back and re-read both books, almost seasonally, as they, like my memories of youth and sports, harken back to a simpler time – where incredible stories could be told, albeit with something still left to the imagination.