Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Plimpton had previously pitched to a lineup of baseball stars in an All-Star exhibition, presumably to answer the question, "How would the average man off of the street fare in an attempt to compete with the stars of professional sports?", a question he chronicled a book about the experience, Out of My League . In Paper Lion, Plimpton joins the training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions, on the premise of trying out to be the team's third-string quarterback. (The coaches were aware of the deception; the players were not until it became apparent that Plimpton did not really now how to receive the snap from center.) Plimpton, then thirty-six, showed how unlikely it would be for an "average" person to succeede as a professional athlete. When finally inserted at quarterback for a series in a scrimmage conducted in Pontiac, Michigan, Plimpton managed to lose yardage on each play, convincing many in the crowd that he was a professional sports clown inserted for amusement purposes, not someone who was genuinely giving his best effort.
However, the book is probably less memorable for its stories directly relating to football than it is for its insights into the personalities of the players and the coaches. Figuring prominently in the book are linebacker Wayne Walker, quarterback Milt Plum, Dick "Night Train" Lane (an early black defensive star), and Lions coach and former star player Joe Schmidt, among others. The book launched something of a second career for Plimpton as a chronicler of the inside world of sports; despite having done so twice previously, in the baseball scenario mentioned above and by sparring with boxing great Archie Moore, it was this book, and the subsequent film into which it was adapted, starring Alan Alda as Plimpton, that made it possible for Plimpton to receive the access required to do books about other sports such as golf and ice hockey, and also to write two more football books. Later he performed other occupations, such as stand-up comic, in a series of television specials for ABC.
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