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In the mid-'60s, Plimpton joined the Detroit Lions at their preseason camp as a 36-year-old rookie quarterback wannabe, and stuck with the club through an intra-squad game before the paying public a month later. The result is a literary masterpiece about professional football that not only elevated the art of participatory journalism to an art form, but also remains one of the most insightful and hilarious books ever written on the game. The Detroit Lions agreed to permit Plimpton-wearing Number 0-to join them for four weeks of training camp, and to culminate his apprenticeship by calling a series of plays in an intra-squad game in Pontiac Stadium. No holds are barred in this memorable, on-the-field look at football and how the professionals play it. Naturally, Plimpton didn't make it as a football hero; he barely affords himself a dignified account of his performance on the field, which is just as well. What remains is an enduring classic of professional football as it looks to a first-string writer trying out as a last-string quarterback.
"Finally, George Plimpton's Paper Lion joins a growing body of first-rate writing about sports; one thinks frequently of Norman Mailer on the fights, Updike, and Mark Harris--but even then I have a reservation. Much as I enjoyed Plimpton's book, I can't help feeling guilty, like having been to a movie on a fine summer's afternoon. An earlier generation of American writers had to test themselves not against Bart Starr and Archie Moore, but the Spanish Civil War and the Moscow trials. In Europe, Isaac Babel, looking for a change, rode with the Red Cavalry. George Orwell went to Wigan Pier and ten Catalonia. Koestler came out of Spain with his Spanish Testament. This is not meant to be an attack on Plimpton, but on all of us, Plimpton's generation and mine. One day, I fear, we will be put down as a trivial, peripheral bunch. Crazy about bad old movies, nostalgic for comic books. Our Gods don't fail. At worst, they grow infirm. They suffer pinched nerves, like Paul Hornung, or arthritic arms, like Sandy Koufax."
Mordecai Richler, New York Review of Books, 2/23/1967
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