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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
George Plimpton was the first, in the sports world, to employ "participatory journalism" in order to produce a story, or in this case a book. Over the years, Plimpton put himself in several different positions for the sake of his readers... hockey goalie... prizefighter... pitcher... he even tagged along on the PGA Tour. However, none of those really hit home on a large scale quite like PAPER LION, the story of Plimpton's trials and errors in training camp with the Detroit Lions prior to the 1963 season. It even led to a movie starring Alan Alda by the same name.

When PAPER LION was published in the mid-1960's, it was a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at professional football. Before the days of constant national television coverage, Monday Night Football, hour after hour of pregame shows, or the NFL Network, this book was truly the first look at what goes on before a season for the players that you'll be cheering for when fall rolls around. Plimpton's premise was that he was coming in as an unheralded rookie just trying to find a position to play, but it wasn't long until his secret was out.

The beauty of this book is that Plimpton was anything but an athlete. He came into this setting having never played a down of organized football in his life. That being said, the strides he made in a four week period were astonishing. Granted he wasn't going to make the team as a 36-year old rookie, but he certainly made progress leading up to his time in the intrasquad scrimmage. More important than the actual time on the practice field is the look he provided into the inner workings of the Detroit Lions program; the life in training camp after the day's practice had ended and everyone was back in their rooms or out on the town. As passionate as fans can be, some of them tend to forget that their gladiators of the gridiron have lives outside of the playing field. Reading about the lives of the Lions players, from the well known names of Alex Karras and Night Train Lane to the relative unknown players like Lucien Reeberg, adds a dimension to the league that went uncharted until this was published.

What makes this work so great is the fact that it is truly timeless, despite the fact that is was written 41 years ago, 4 years before the first Super Bowl! When it was first unleashed in the mid-1960's, PAPER LION was a great behind the scenes look at an NFL team in training camp. Now, a reader is treated to an amazing commentary showing the progression of professional football from then to now. Gone is the innocence and the flat out passion of those years, replaced by steroids and money hungry athletes. Are there players now who remind the reader of the players from that era? Look at Brett Favre. But that's become rare. If PAPER LION was being written today, Plimpton may have had an entirely new perspective. He may have been granted a roster spot because five different players were holding out for "contract reasons". He may have spent his time writing about unnamed players using illegal performance enhancers or engaging in other illegal activities, not writing about the team going out to a club for some dancing after practice or initiating the rookies with Fright Masks. My how times have changed. The offensive and defensive schemes have changed, and the overall attitude of the players has done a 180. Yet, football is more popular than ever.

It doesn't matter if you're a football fan that remembers that era of the game, or if you're a young fan taking a look back, PAPER LION is an enjoyable read for football fans and non-football fans alike.

Just don't try to imagine George Plimpton doing an endzone celebration dance. It just doesn't make sense!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2006
Back in the 1960s, writer George Plimpton began "covering" a variety of sports through participating on/with pro teams/athletes and reporting on it through books, magazine articles and TV specials.

Perhaps his most famous was in the early 1960s when he was "signed" by the Detroit Lions as a 36-year-old rookie trying to make the club as a third-string quarterback. Plimpton - wearing jersey number 0 - practiced with the team for one month.

His quarterbacking culminates with his appearance in a scrimmage where Plimpton calls a number of plays under game conditions.

The book leads the reader through the highs and lows of Plimpton as a player, along with great anecdotes on the teammates and coaches.

A reprint is slated for publication in September 2006. I hope the TV special on Plimpton's training camp and QB play gets dusted off during the upcoming NFL season. Anyone reading this inside that large campus in Bristol, Conn.?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2004
This classic book is the story of a "regular guy" who was allowed to try playing professional football (sort of) and lived to tell about it. Some stray notes:

(1) He wasn't really a "regular guy." Firstly he was someone who was in a position where he could actually get the opportunity to work out with a pro football team and get into an intra-squad game. And he could REALLY PLAY, a fact that is rarely recognized. It's not that he was exactly on the NFL level -- he wasn't. But, he was good enough that he could sort of play with those guys, which very few of us could, and good enough that the "real" players couldn't tell that he wasn't legit. (They didn't know his real story for a while.) They could tell he wasn't great and they didn't think he was going to stick with the team, but nobody thought he wasn't for real or that his presence was ridiculous. And this despite his being 35 years old, an age at which even most "real" players can't hang in there any more.

(2) However, from the book it is clear that there were times that the players regarded his utterances as ridiculous, without there being any indication that Mr. Plimpton realized it. I wonder if he ever did. A good example is some of the things he was prattling about on the bench during the intra-squad game.

(3) This book is perhaps the first such intimate portrayal of the life and routine of pro football pre-season camp.

A great and classic book. Thank you, Mr. Plimpton, and rest in peace. And by the way you really could play football.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2008
Hopefully there is a worthy biography of the late George Plimpton coming soon but in the meantime, the Paper Lion is a great place to start. Alan Alda played Plimpton in the movie adaptation of this book and that should give you some sense of its humor and playfulness. It is a very enjoyable read and evokes a different time (the pre-radical 60's), place (NYC, etc.), lifestyle (Ivy League "preppie" before the word preppie entered the larger lexicon) and era in professional sports (pre-tattoo, dreadlocks and the need for drug tests). Plimpton, who was very slight and not overly athletic, eventually had a series of these books where he put himself in the midst of large, skilled professional athletes with predictable results. He was looking for a good story and hoping to come out alive - he achieved both. If you enjoy humor and have even a mild interest in sports, you will like this book very much.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2000
Plimpton's book, which was made into a boring movie starring Alan Alda, is a great read for anyone who has ever dreamed of playing professional football. Plimpton joins the Detroit Lions and gains access into a world that few have ever entered. The book is full of humorous anecdotes and interesting insights about what goes on during football training camp. His exploits culminate with his playing in a live scrimmage in front of thousands. While his skill as a player never develops much, his skill as a writer is clear. Although the season happened 30 years ago, and many of the names and characters will not be recognized by the average fan, the book is timeless. I highly reccomend it to anyone who has more than a passing interest in football.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2006
Long before ESPN cameras and behind-the scenes television programs, George Plimpton went out on a mission to the magical world of the NFL, looking to bring back an original insight on the dream life of a professional football player. In Paper Lion, Plimpton arrives in Michigan for a month of training camp and a preseason scrimmage with the Detroit Lions, having brought a suitcase of clothes, some cleats, and a minimal trace of athletic ability. Though he was not a very skilled or successful member of the Lions, his role is an essential one for us as readers. Plimpton does a marvelous job of painting the picture of a profeesional football player with vivid details and intriguing technique, most notably simile. He details aspects of the training camp with clear references for the everyday reader. This helps explain feelings and strategies such as the Lions' kickoff coverage: " the downfield rush was straight, like a ruler sweeping crumbs off a table." (178). Plimpton also captures the emotions of the players during camp and reproduces them through simile as well: "When a player was hurt in a scrimmage, the others seemed to point their backs pointedly...as if an injury were communicable, like mumps." (194). Another example comes on page 253 when he compares the physical toll of football to "Bronco riding." These details and relatable comparisons are what help Plimpton to bring the reader into the setting and let him experience training camp as if he too were wearing shoulder-pads.

While Plimpton does an excellent job of depicting the setting and emotions that go along with training camp in the NFL, at times he seemed a little too out of place. Plimpton was a writer for Sports Illustrated and thus should have a keen sense on sports and what the players go through. However, there were times in the book where he approached the situation as if he had come from another planet, rather than a different occupation. Such is the case on page 180 when he asks a running back: "do you close your eyes when you run for the middle of the line?" As a sportswriter and an intelligent person it would seem that he would know that a professional athlete would keep his eyes open and not shy away from the contact of the line in a game situation.

George Plimpton's Paper Lion is a great read as well as an entertaining passageway to the world of sports. Plimpton's ability to accurate scenes and vividly detail characters makes a reader feel as though he has not so much holding a book but in fact his own personal uniform on the Detroit Lions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2005
Every sports fan, at some point in their life, has wondered what it would be like to live in the game and play amongst its stars. George Plimpton, original editor of The Paris Review and a pioneer of "participatory journalism," takes his readers on a revealing, albeit slightly outdated account of life as a professional football player in his best-selling book, Paper Lion.

Plimpton's strength lies in his ability to connect the reader to any situation he presents. Plimpton, with barely any previous playing experience, deftly conveys the frustration in watching supremely talented athletes accomplish tasks that seem impossible to nearly everyone else. Page 49 has an especially strong example, when Plimpton watches Hall of Fame defensive back and punter Yale Lary warm up.

"It was always frustrating to watch the ball soar into the air from Lary's foot, and then to try and do it yourself - which suddenly imbued the ball with a lead center, replacing the life that was in it; it was like punting a large dead bird in comparison. I envied the kicker's skill. It seemed so simple."

Anyone who has ever played football knows exactly what he is talking about, and Plimpton seems to bring out these reactions often. Countless times, Plimpton narrates from a fan's perspective, and readers will immediately understand and more fully interact with the memoir because of his descriptive writing.

However, some might be put off by the very formal tone of the piece, which at times seems a bit excessive, even for a Harvard graduate:

"My credentials as a football player may not have been of the first order. But I kept assuring myself that the purpose of my participation in professional football was not to represent the skilled performer but the average weekend athlete" (10).

Yet, Plimpton balances the sometimes awkward language with believable dialogue and straightforward images.

But perhaps most importantly, Plimpton is able to colorfully detail many stories throughout the memoir, and reveals personal sides to players that fans would otherwise never be able to see. For anyone who has ever cared about football, or just sports, this book is a must-read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2005
George Plimpton-founding editor of The Paris Review and regular writer for Sports Illustrated-wonderfully portrays life as an NFL quarterback in his memoir Paper Lion. Many journalists try to keep some distance between themselves and the story that they cover. In his career, Plimpton took journalism to a different level, developing what is known as "participatory journalism." Besides playing quarterback, Plimpton pitched against Willie Mays, boxed Archie Moore, and played in a PGA tour event.

What he did best in this book, though, is change a memoir from a first-person narrative into a story that came alive like a novel or another work of fiction. Plimpton's descriptions of, and interactions with characters-cornerback Night Train Lane, general manager Edwin Anderson, receiver Gail Cogdill, defensive lineman Alex Karras, among others-are so precise as to bring the reader into the room alongside the football player and him. His creation of Lane's character is the best:

"Train was easy if occasionally puzzling to listen to-his voice high and friendly; if something serious was on his mind the tone became gentle and curiously poignant. He had an odd habit of lengthening one-syllable words into three [...] He was likely to slap suffixes on the ends of words, such as `captainship,' so that his sentences were rich (138)."

One of Plimpton's most admirable qualities is that he tries to connect with readers and make them feel comfortable from the start of the book. Some readers might argue that Plimpton, because he is a sportswriter, can successfully join any professional team he wants; he believes just the opposite, writing on page ten, "My credentials as a football player may not have been of the first order."

The author seems to have selected the perfect scenes to tell his story. In addition to all the anecdotes about specific players, Plimpton recounts bus rides to and from exhibition games, team dinners, daily workouts, and evenings spent relaxing with teammates-giving fans a chance to take a look back at part of football history. This book was outstanding in its era (1963), and it certainly is a classic in sports literature.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2003
I rcently re-read this book, a tale of George Plimpton's Walter Mitty fantasy of playing professional football in the mid-1960's. I had read it before as a teenager in the 70's, and I was struck by how well it has held up. The references are dated, and I got a chuckle when he wrote about Detroit's new modern terminal, which of course now is almost 40 year old. The book, though, speaks to a different time in pro sports, when working a job in the off-season was typical and when big linemen weighed in at 250 pounds. Plimpton's goal was to show the everyday fan what it was like to be part of a pro footbal team and to write about his experiences in a real game. The closest he came was a inter-squad game in Pontiac but his journey is what makes this book so much fun. Plimpton is a terrific writer and the access he got into the Lions organization was incredible. He really lets us see the trials of training camp, and he does a great job of showing us the players as individuals with dreams and fears. This is a quick and easy read and a perfect gift for anyone who followed football "back in the day" or those fans of todays stars, who might marvel at what a simple game it used to be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2004
The book Paper Lion i thought was excellent. George Plimpton achieved his dream and made the reader really understand what it is like ot be a professional football player in the mid-60's. The only difference is now football has change dramatically. All you ever hear about is the biggest football players(exceeding 300 pounds, and the media covering their every move. The book really showed me the lifesytle back in the 60's, everyone was a lot more laid back and lived a simpler life. In this book Plimpton told a lot of side stories that I thought were very funny, like the player who forgot his helmat and ran on the field, or how he practiced all by himself at the park. Over all I think this book is a good read that any football fan will enjoy no matter where they live
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