How much do you know about the Detroit Lions’ legends of old? Here are some of the best behind the scenes stories from George Plimpton’s ‘Paper Lion’.
Last week, I gave a review of George Plimpton’s ‘Paper Lion’, which chronicles the author’s participation in the Detroit Lions’ 1963 training camp. Plimpton (sort of) practices with the team and quarterbacks one disastrous series in the annual intra-squad scrimmage. As the book’s main character, that’s honestly just about all that Plimpton has to offer.
The real flavor of ‘Paper Lion’ comes from the behind the scenes world of pro football that the author gains access to during his stint with the team. This glimpse into a bygone era (an era of legendary personalities, strategic oddities, two separate leagues, and winning Lions teams) is what makes it a worthy read.
Obviously, all of the figures in the book had wrapped up their careers long before I was born. I’m guessing that very few of them are still living. Even so, I read enough books about the NFL while growing up that most of the big names are familiar.
While I have mixed feelings on the book itself, some of the anecdotes that humanize these legends of the game and evoke a very specific period in the sport’s history are too good for me to pass up. Here are some of the highlights:
- Arrested for drunk driving during offseason, but protests from fans got him out of being suspended by the league. Apparently, they put enough pressure on the officer that he changed his official report. In the officer’s revised version of events, he claimed that he “might have mistaken Layne’s Texas drawl for drunken stammering.” Say what you will about Roger Goodell, but I don’t think Johnny Football could have pulled that one off today.
- His idea of hazing rookies was forcefully ordering them to get pizzas for him. This scene seems straight from ‘Leave it Beaver’, but apparently Layne would jab his finger into an unsuspecting rookie’s chest and demand, “I want a pizza pie, boy, and I want it fast!” Golly gee!