Paper Maniax (singular)
By George Plimpton
Some forty-some years ago, I joined the training camp of the Lions football collective of Detroit to test my mettle against the NFL's best and brawniest. Thereafter, I put pen to paper and recorded my fascinating and hilarious misadventures in a prize-winning tome that sold under the turgid yet clever sobriquet "Paper Lion." You've certainly read it, or are reading it now. Well, mademoiselles et gentilhommes, life has a funny way of perambulating back unto and upon itself. For not six months ago I received a call on my ear-talk machine inviting me to attend the training camp of something called the Memphis Maniax of something called the "XFL." I knew nary a jot about this fledgling league, but just as I once leapt from a hot air balloon to retrieve Audrey Hepburn's hat, and once leapt from a moonrover to retrieve Audrey Hepburn's space hat, so too did I leap at this opportunity to retrieve this proverbial Audrey Hepburn's hat and return it to proverbial her, or whatever.
Hairs had turned from blonde to grey since last I donned boot and strap to furrow and plundle the grork gznurr fleem. Excuse me, my typewriter jammed since last I played football. I arrived in Memphis on a sweltering summer afternoon. You no doubt remember my last trip to what Truman Capote called "America's Sussex," from my twenty-five part Esquire profile of me1. I had rehearsed for my XFL quarterbackerie by practicing my three-step drop in front of a cheval-glass in my solarium, and was feeling more than a little not unprepared. So I jogged onto the field, and knelt down in my very first XFL huddle.
The response from my fellow Maniax was nothing if not high-spirited. "Who the fuck is this faggot?" opined one fellow, the avoir-du-pois of whom could not be un-described as "Brobdignagian." A verbal tugs at war was afoot, and I was equal to the task. I reminded my interlocutor that he was no longer in the safe confines of his Princeton eating club. We all had a good laugh, and there was much cursing, and I took the opportunity to call my first playthe ol' Statue of Liberty!
My cohorts lined up, and as I settled under center I felt a twinge of panic. But I steeled myself with the knowledge that the play I had called had once served my Andover crew well against the Groton Eleven (helmed at the time by the upstart sophomore who would later not go on to be unknown as Nelson Rockefeller!). So I threw caution to the wind, looked about, and called for the snap.
I awoke a fortnight later, and according to my medical charts I had been hit so hard in the sternum that all of my ribs had fused together. My medicin informed me that once the respirator was removed, in order to breathe I would have to stick my open-mouthed head out the window of a moving car. C'est la guerre! As a journalist and a sportsman, it would take more than "the worst injuries this hospital has ever treated" to keep me from the greensward of the gridiron! For I was a Maniax (singular) for life!
Two semaines later: "You're not on this list, buddy," said my good friend Duane, head of Maniax security, who was guarding the practice area with his trademark tenacity. Four hundred dollars and a hasty but dare I say attentive handjob later, ("Faster it is, good sir!"), that oversight had been corrected, and I was back on the pitch with my fellow Maniax. Rendered hors de combat by what Coach Brown called "Stop calling me coach, you picklesniffer," I spent the next few weeks focussing my still considerable energies on observation. Thus I was even better able to appreciate this collection of gas-lot Johnnies, paid a lamplighter's wage for the game they loved.
My closest friend became Lawrence Gronk, who, like his father before him, had been a professional convict, but was now living every boy's dream: turning his steroid-induced rages into $1,000 a week before taxes. I will treasure always the memories of his athletic prowess, as well as the rib injuries I mentioned earlier.
The Maniax were also blessed with a toothsome cadre of siss-boom-bah spouting sirens in spandexXFL cheerleaders! Locker room gossip had insinuated that some of these pom-pom Persephones were wont to let you "fuck them in the ass for an eighth of a gram of coke." Never one to disdain a well-turned ankle, and after much gleeful encouragement from my comrades-in-arms, I one day entered into that even more difficult jeu, the game of love. Screwing my courage to the sticking point, I sauntered up to one fair-tressed demoiselle d'avignon, and sallied forth with an offer of box seats to that night's Tannhauser. Unfortunately, her evening's dance card was full, in the form of a busload of Japanese businessmen. O, cruel world, the XFL!
Alas, all excellent and poignant forays into participatory journalism must come to an end. And so too did mine into the XFL, when, after several months of standing on the sidelines amidst my adopted teammates, cheering on their successes and lamenting their defeats, a large Samoan defensive tackle shouted aloud in his ancient and noble tongue and tried to murder me with his teeth. So I returned home.
I was not the best quarterback the XFL will ever see, but I was, if I do say so myself, the worst. Surely that counts for something.
1. "Paper Me," Esquire, 1957-59.
George Plimpton is the author of "Paper Lion" and "Paper The Celestine Prophecy." He currently lives in hospital.