George Plimpton died a little over 10 years ago. If you've read any of his books, you already know that he may have been the most interesting man in the world. He was a magnificent writer, whose participatory journalism approach offers readers a glimpse into the life of a man that was living the dream, one paragraph at a time.
I would have loved to get a drink with him and talk about not only writing about professional sports, but playing them.
In 1966 he published Paper Lion, in which he played for the Detroit Lions. Somehow, Plimpton convinced editors and the Lions that it was a good idea for a writer to go through an NFL training camp. Of course, a camp in the 1960s was nowhere near what the league is like today, but Plimpton not only talked himself into the dressing room, but he got on the field.
What was it like to play in an NFL preseason game? With little/no qualifications?
Plimpton went back to talk about his "football career" with a couple would-be teammates - Alex Karras and John Gordy - in Mad Ducks and Bears. Karras, aka "The Mad Duck," would die nine years after Plimpton. He lived a hard, fast life and his body suffered for it; Karras was one of the 3,500 players that sued the NFL in 2012 because of the long-term health impact playing football has on its players.
What if Plimpton had lived to see the deterioration of Karras? How would he have approached a book like Mad Ducks and Bears with the knowledge that his friend was destroyed physically?
In Shadow Box: An Amateur In the Ring, Plimpton may have put himself in more physical danger than he did in Paper Lion; this time, he would step into the boxing ring against light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore. He got his tail whipped pretty well in the fight, but survived to write a masterpiece.
WTF was he thinking?
Later, in Open Net, Plimpton played goalie for the Boston Bruins. The Bruins let him on the ice during training camp, and even let him see action in a preseason game... only after he signed a waiver that removed any/all accountability for Plimpton's health from the organization.
Again, WTF was he thinking?
In The Bogey Man, he didn't put his body in grave danger, but he did make an effort to play professional golf.
Plimpton's books stole my imagination for days when I was younger. The idea of an average, ordinary guy talking himself into the lineup for an NFL or NHL team, even if only for a preseason game, seemed like daydreams come true.
I would have loved to ask him what - if anything - was left on his bucket list. Maybe coaching the Dallas Cowboys?
What didn't he try?
What was tougher - the playing, or the writing?
The hard part about sharing a drink with Plimpton is he probably would have talked his way behind the bar, and would have been serving me while we talked.
If you haven't read any of Plimpton's work, you've been missing something.