Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now



Vintage Sports Movies: Paper Lion 9

Posted on August 13, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Harvard educated writer George Plimpton braved the world of the NFL in the 1960s.

Harvard educated writer George Plimpton braved the world of the NFL in th e 1960s.

In today’s world where Hard Knocks and other similar programs have made it easy for football fans to gain access into the huddle and locker rooms of pro football, it is hard to imagine a time when such access was not the norm. In the 1960s, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton went to great extremes to give fans a glimpse into life in the NFL.

When the book and movie Paper Lion came out in the 1960s, it was lauded for getting under the helmet of NFL players.

Plimpton, a Harvard educated writer who looked more like a math teacher than an athlete, was a master at experiential writing and combined his love of sports with a surprising fearlessness to create a number of great experiences and books.

He pitched to baseball All-Stars, got in the ring with boxing champions and in 1963 spent training camp as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions.

The ensuing articles and book gave readers a glimpse into the personalities of NFL players. Though the Detroit Lions were perhaps not one of the NFL’s “glamour” teams of the era, Plimpton brought to life the personalities of players including Milt Plum, Dick “Night Train” Lane (who had retired by 1967, but has a cameo appearance in the movie as a practice video operator), Wayne Walker and Joe Schmidt.

In 1968, the book was turned into a movie starring future M*A*S*H star Alan Alda as Plimpton.

The interesting thing about the movie is that instead of trying to stick exactly to the players and stories of the original book, it took the general concept, but used players and coaches available with the Lions in 1967.

By that time, future Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt had transitioned from an active player to head coach and defensive tackle Alex Karras, who as referenced in the book, but was suspended by the NFL in 1963 and therefore not at training camp, was back with the Lions and a prominent character in the movie. Read the rest of this entry →

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