Quick Takes


    Mine is a sports website, but I’ll digress a bit here. Yesterday was the birthday of my all-time favorite entertainer. I toast Frank Sinatra every December 12, and yesterday was no exception. Hard to believe that he’d have been 92.


   Ellen Fenton advised me that she read my article last week on Julius Erving and loved it. Why? Because she grew up with Dr. J. in Roosevelt, Long Island, N.Y. She also added that he is absolutely a class gentleman in every respect.


    I’ve written plenty about Leonard Little and O. J. Simpson and others re: how they beat the so-called justice system. There was some justice in the Michael Vick federal trial. He’s not out of the woods yet; a Virginia state trial is set for April 2 for the sicko.


    It is an obvious statement of fact that Bobby Petrino is classless for walking out on the Atlanta Falcons this week. This is not his first early exit before the expiration of his contract. Nor is Petrino the first guilty culprit in sports (it’s a long list), namely the premature breaking of a contract in good faith by a coach, manager, etc. And it will continue to happen in the future unless these selfish coaches who don’t give a damn about their commitments are forced to buy out their contracts if they want to walk early for whatever reason.

    All contracts have different stipulations, but I am assuming that the Falcons would have had to pay Petrino a ton of bucks to buy out his multi-year contract had they canned him this week. If teams have to honor those contracts financially, then the coaches should be forced to do the same. And that’s precisely how I would word the contract if I were hiring a coach, college or pro, or I wouldn’t hire him period. My term for it is “financial reciprocity.” 


Story of the Week



    George Plimpton was a favorite of mine. He was the quintessential sports fan. Most of us talk a good game; Plimpton did it! His sports accomplishments were not Hall of Fame stuff, but his efforts were at the very top of the list. I thought you’d like to read the following as carried by the Associated Press on 9-29-03 about this truly amazing guy.


NEW YORK (AP) — George Plimpton, the gentleman editor, literary patron and "participatory journalist" whose fumbling exploits included boxing, trapeze-flying and, most famously, quarterbacking for the Detroit Lions, has died at 76. Plimpton died Thursday night at his New York apartment, his longtime friend restaurateur Elaine Kaufman said Friday. She had no information on the cause. "Friends were almost always happy to see him because you knew he was bound to improve your mood," author Norman Mailer said Friday. "What fine manners he had! Few could give a toast or tell a story with equal humor."


Praised as a "central figure in American letters" when inducted in 2002 into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Plimpton was beloved among writers for The Paris Review, the literary quarterly he helped found in 1953 and ran with boyish enthusiasm for 50 years.

The magazine's high reputation rested on two traditions: publishing the work of emerging authors, including Philip Roth and Jack Kerouac, and an unparalleled series of interviews in which Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and others discussed their craft.

Plimpton also enjoyed a lifetime of making literature out of nonliterary pursuits. He boxed with Archie Moore, pitched to Willie Mays and performed as a trapeze artist for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. In his book Paper Lion, he documented his punishing stint training with the NFL's Detroit Lions in 1963.


He acted in numerous movies, including Reds and Good Will Hunting. He even supplied his voice for an episode of The Simpsons, playing a professor who runs a spelling bee.

A native of New York, Plimpton was born into society — diplomat's son — and was a Harvard man with an upper-class accent.


But the public knew him better as an amiable underdog, towered over by the giants of sports and other professions. Much of his career served as a send-up of Hemingway's famous credo, "Grace under pressure."


Starting in the 1950s, when he began his vocation as a "participatory" journalist, he practiced the singular art of narrating panic. In a culture where millions fantasized about being movie stars or sports heroes, the lanky, wavy-haired Plimpton dared to enter the arena himself, with results both comic and instructive.


During his stint with the Lions, he was allowed briefly to play quarterback during a scrimmage. He remembered the crowd cheering as he left the field after a series of mishaps.


"It verified the assumption that the average fan would have about an amateur blundering into the brutal world of professional football," he wrote. "The outsider did not belong, and there was comfort in that being proved."


Just days before his death, Plimpton reunited with 40 Lions to mark the book's 40th anniversary. "We had a good time last weekend. I got to roast him a bit. I told him how he was a light in my life," said former Lions star Roger Brown.


Plimpton's other books included Bogey Man and Out of My League. He could also take credit for at least one memorable fictional character: Sidd Finch, a baseball pitcher of unprecedented gifts (168 mph fastball) and unlikely background (reared in the mountains of Tibet). Finch was portrayed so vividly by Plimpton in a 1985 Sports Illustrated article that many believed the man really existed.


The Paris Review remained more respected than read. The subscription base was rarely higher than a few thousand and the bank account seemed to descend at will. At one point in 2001, Plimpton reported, funds dropped to $1.16.


A 50th anniversary celebration had been scheduled for Oct. 14 in New York, with Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut among the guests. A spokeswoman for The Paris Review said no decision had been made on whether the event would take place.


"Like probably a hundred other writers, he started my career. I always felt the greatest debt of gratitude," said Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, who recalled that The Paris Review ran excerpts of his first book, The Virgin Suicides.


Over the summer, Plimpton decided to write his memoirs, signing a $750,000 deal with Little, Brown and Co. "I have a lot of life left to go, but now is the time to think about it and put something together," Plimpton told The Associated Press at the time.


Plimpton seemed to know everybody: writers, actors, athletes. He had deep connections to the political world, dating back to childhood, when Adlai Stevenson — the two-time presidential nominee — was a family friend and Jacqueline Kennedy a debutante he would see at dances.

Plimpton maintained a light touch in his work, but he knew tragedy firsthand. He was a volunteer with Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and was walking in front of him as the candidate was assassinated in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel.


"I had my hands around his neck," he recalled in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press, referring to gunman Sirhan Sirhan, whom he helped wrestle to the ground. Plimpton turned his head away as he spoke, his clear voice turned foggy.


He sailed with John F. Kennedy, played tennis with former President Bush and rode on Air Force One with President Clinton. He witnessed a baffling encounter between Richard Nixon and Casey Stengel, when the president wanted to talk baseball and the former baseball manager wanted to discuss banking.


Sports was the common bond between Plimpton and politicians. He knew the current President Bush from his days as owner of the Texas Rangers and chatted with him shortly after Election Day 2000, when the outcome was still in doubt.   


"He wanted to talk about Sidd Finch," Plimpton recalled. "I thought that was rather odd."

Plimpton was married twice: to Freddy Medora Espy, whom he divorced in 1988, and to Sara Whitehead Dudley. He had four children.


Last Week’s Trivia


    Who holds the record for the most grand slam homers in one season? When? In 1987, Don Mattingly of the N. Y. Yankees hit six grand slams to set the single-season mark.


Trivia Question of the Week


    Who won the NFL’s first regular season overtime game? When was it? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.