#StreamOfConsciousness Challenge: Book


reading books
photo credit: Super Furry Librarian via photopin cc

Note: I wrote this stream-of-consciousness post given the one-word prompt “book,” on the blog Life in Progress.

I have to finish this book, y’all.

It’s the one I’ve started and gotten further on than anything I tried to jot in a random steno pad. It’s about the NFL in the 1970s. And here’s the thing: I’ve interviewed former players for this. I’m going to tell the story, in their words.

Former Chicago Bears legend Gale Sayers returned my call for an interview, guys.

He’s the most famous player I’ve interviewed. He told me in vivid detail what happened when he blew out his knee against the San Francisco 49ers. Tommy Nobis, another Hall of Famer and the first first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons, was my first interview.

I drove to Falcons headquarters with an old-school tape recorder.

How much can a man remember from back then?

Tommy sat and looked down at his hands. “My playing days were a long time ago,” he said. “I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to remember.” This happened long before the hubbub over concussions and the long-term effects players suffered.

I pulled a stack of paper out of my bag and placed it on the table in front of him.

“Here are game results, season by season,” I said. “Just look at the scores, and tell me if you can remember anything about them.”

He picked up the stack, and a smile spread across his face.

Coach Norm Van Brocklin gave Tommy Nobis $100. “Go have some cheeseburgers with the guys,” he instructed.

Suddenly, memories came into full view. A Monday night football matchup with the Miami Dolphins, his rookie season. Tales of Norm Van Brocklin handing him a hundred-dollar bill and telling him to buy the boys some cheeseburgers while the team was on the road.

Other former players expressed similar concern with details, only to have endless tales to tell when they saw the scores on paper.

One player told me of the day a Detroit Lions wide receiver died after suffering a heart-attack on the field. Another player told me when they told him the Dallas Cowboys drafted him out of college, he didn’t believe them. At all.

Team trick kept one player from collecting pension

I sat in Sam Wyche’s living room to talk football.

I heard stories about shootouts in parking lots when the players took cover on the floor of the bus. One former Patriots linebacker told me a team put him on waivers several times during his career to avoid paying him his full pension upon retirement.

A running back turned tight end said when the Buffalo Bills traded him to the San Diego Chargers, he decided to drive his sports car cross-country rather than fly home.

When one player asked for a contract before he gave more details on his old team, the team dismissed him from the office.

I heard stories of Washington Redskins coach George Allen bringing in receiver Richmond Flowers, whom the Dallas Cowboys had cut. He drilled him all about the Cowboys playbook, but didn’t offer a contract.

When the player asked for one, he dismissed him without so much as buying him lunch.

A former Browns lineman told me of the night his team played on Monday night football, and his wife gave birth to their first-born son the same night. He showed up at the hospital with shaved ankles and the nurses all wanted to know what he did for a living.

Injuries, chants, and expansion drafts

I heard of Steve Largent’s humble beginnings. I learned of a Cowboys back who suffered a knee injury in his first game, and another in a future season opener that sidelined his career. He went to the Saints in the expansion draft only to become injured again.

“Here we go again,” he said of his final injury.

Former New York Jets backup quarterback Matt Robinson recalled the cheers of “We want Matt! Matt is that!” when starter Richard Todd struggled.

I’d comb through the previous year’s Street & Smith’s Pro Football Guide my dad handed down to me, memorizing rosters and schedules and stadiums.

See, when I was a kid, during fall and winter, the NFL was it. It superseded Star Wars and dinosaurs combined. I’d comb through the previous year’s Street & Smith’s Pro Football Guide my dad handed down to me, memorizing rosters and schedules and stadiums.

I could toss a white plastic football on my grandma’s roof as Roman Gabriel and haul it in as it came down as Jack Snow.

Players exhibited the ultimate in hospitality. Sam Wyche hauled out toys for my girls. One player bought my lunch in a coastal strip mall. Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure let me copy addresses and numbers of former players from this alumni directory.

No compensation for ‘intellectual property’

Former Colts center Bill Curry offered to write the book’s forward. Others, though, weren’t so gracious.

A former Kansas City Chiefs legend demanded I pay him for his “intellectual property.” No thanks. I’ll interview a teammate of yours. One former Falcons player wasn’t at him apartment at the scheduled time. And one legend’s son wouldn’t even let me near his dad.

“If he wants to tell any stories,” Johnny Unitas’ son said by phone at my interview request, “dad will write his own book.” Johnny U. died weeks later after suffering a heart attack in a health club.

Men like Duranko, and Wyche, who spoke with me at length despite a throat ailment that made speaking difficult, are treasured parts of this collection.

I need to finish this book, so that I can dedicate it to the man who granted me the best interview I’ve ever had the privilege to conduct. Former Denver Broncos lineman Pete Duranko, in advancing stages of ALS, consented to a phone interview for my book.

Men like Duranko, and Wyche, who spoke with me at length despite a throat ailment that made speaking difficult, are treasured parts of this collection.

Pete Duranko mentioned increasing difficulty with everyday tasks, such as buttoning his shirt and cutting his steak. He nonetheless retold colorful tales of Denver’s upstart rise in the 1970s, with colorful language and brilliant truths. This was my dad’s team, after all.

I hung up the phone, blown away

“Eli, let me know when you finish this project,” he said as the interview concluded. “I want to be the first to buy the book.”

I hung up the phone, blown away. What optimism in the face of a debilitating disease. One of my greatest regrets in this life is that I didn’t finish. Pete Duranko passed away July 8, 2011. I want to see this book in print and dedicate it to man who inspires me to this day.

Now you see why I have to finish this book, y’all.


This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday linkup, from Linda G. Hill’s blog, Life in Progress.

Here are the rules, as listed on her site. Won’t you join us?

  1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing, (typos can be fixed) and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.
  2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.
  3. There will be a prompt every week. I will post the prompt here on my blog on Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The’,” or simply a single word to get your started.
  4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours. Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top.
  5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read everyone’s! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later, or go to the previous week, by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find right below the “Like” button on my post.
  6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!
  7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.
  8. Have fun!

sayers quote

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14 thoughts on “#StreamOfConsciousness Challenge: Book

  1. Wow that is very cool! I will buy your book and hope that you will autograph it for me! That is so awesome Eli! Happy weekend wishes! Hugz Lisa and Bear

  2. I’m not much of a football fan, but I’m familiar with many of these names. I grew up in Chicago when Gale Sayers was playing, and I know of Tommy Nobis because of the work he does with the disabled here in Atlanta. It sounds like an excellent project and I look forward to reading it.

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