From James Thurber to George Plimpton, literature has often focused upon the dreamer, the man who contemplates an imaginary moment in the spotlight. Plimpton, the late journalist and editor, made a cottage industry of living the dream of sports in baseball, golf, football, boxing and hockey. PAPER LION, his account of training camp with the Detroit Lions, is considered by many to be one of the classic sports books of all time.
A FEW SECONDS OF PANIC by Stefan Fatsis brings readers once again to the training camp world of professional football. It is a world far different from 1963, when Plimpton spent his weeks with the Lions. Perhaps it is that difference that makes Fatsis's account so remarkable. Any sports fan who recalls professional football in the 1960s, when there were 12 teams and the NFL played second fiddle to major league baseball, can only be struck by how far the sport has come in the past four decades. The differences are remarkable and superbly enumerated by the author.
To be precise, it was not George Plimpton who pioneered the writer as athlete. Paul Gallico of the New York Daily News entered the boxing ring against Jack Dempsey and golfed against Bobby Jones. Regardless of who established the tradition, through his writing Fatsis is clearly the heir to the throne once occupied by Gallico and Plimpton.
Plimpton was able to masquerade as an NFL quarterback because he was over six feet tall. In the present-day NFL only one position, kicker, is available to a man 5-feet-8-inches tall. It makes for interesting reading because looking at professional football from the viewpoint of the kicking game tells readers a great deal about the modern game.
At one time, NFL kickers were simply regular players who also could kick with a modicum of skill. Two of the all-time greatest kickers, George Blanda and Lou Groza, played regular positions as did Hall of Famer Paul Hornung. Even today, only one full-time kicker, Jan Stenerud, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of F