15 September 1963 / Chicago

Last week I spoke with Mr. George Plimpton about his experience with the Detroit Lions. Though I find him to be barely literate and below average in his ability to eat multiple bratwursts (I encountered him in a bar in the Yorkville section of Manhattan) he sparked an interest in a sport with which I had only passing familiarity. During my college days, I had been far too young and erudite to concern myself in the sporting life enjoyed by most of my ivied classmates. But I imagine that if I had become involved with such things, I would have been, at ten, the youngest quarterback in Columbia's history.

I was especially surprised to find that there was a "professional" football league. I made the flawed assumption that this is a league composed of doctors, lawyers, and architects. This is not the case. These men are paid to play this game and DO NOTHING ELSE. I decided that I must see this.

I must have mentioned this to my friend, Sun Ra, at the weekly Japanese tea ceremony we both attend in Chicago's Portage Park because this morning he phoned to invite me to see the "Bears" play the "Redskins." While I was sickened to discover that such a crude slur is used as a team's name, it was in keeping with what I had learned about the sport: that it was a game fueled entirely by hate.

Before entering the stadium, Sun and I walked around the parking lot to take in the "tailgating" that precedes these games. The smell of mustard mixed and burning hair that wafted off hundreds of portable grills reminded me of the time I spent in a Moroccan tannery. But the fans were lively bunch and they hailed us. Not, as I thought at the time, because of their fondness for my intellect or Ra's music, but because they mistook our clothes for the costumes of devoted fandom. I’m so used to seeing Sun Ra's many colored garments that I hardly take note of them, and it was sheer chance that the cloak I wore had a bear's head fastened to it as a hood.

Despite a small delay because of my unfamiliarity with the concept of "tickets” we took our seats just in time for the “kick-off.” The initial excitement I felt as the crowd cheered the ceremonial kicking soon waned. I felt as though I were watching a choreographed reenactment of the Axis invasion of Russia, of which I had already seen Balanchine mount a much superior production. I wondered if he was coaching one or both of the teams.

I did my best to match the energy of the crowd, thinking the key to enjoying the game lay not in staring at the giant men run into each other, but in letting forth as many primal screams as one's larynx and forehead veins allowed. But it was to no avail. Sun Ra busied himself with a series of hot dogs, and my mind began to wander back to some oddly shaped pebbles my rock tumbler produced the other day.

Then it struck me! It was not spectatorship that had peaked my interest in this game. It was participation! I, like the fey Plimpton, would quarterback for one of the teams!

Our seats were just feet from the bench of the Chicago Bears, so I began shouting at the coach. I informed him that I would be playing for the rest of the game. I took his non-response as tacit consent and ran onto the field. This was it! From every section of the fan's seating, I felt the energy of the assembled dullards pour into my body. My hyper-able presence on the field immediately broke the game from its monotonous structure and transformed it into an exciting free-for-all of confused faces and hurried attempts to keep me from the ball! Soon security guards rushed onto the field. They tried to tackle me, also joining in the game. "YES!" I thought, "Don't be content to watch the game! BE the game!" Football truly is a game of the people.

Soon nearly everyone had joined the "professionals" on the field and they followed me as I lead them in erratic circles. I had become the quarterback to all! Then, in one dizzying crush, what seemed like the entire weight of all of the thousands in attendance fell upon me and stole the consciousness from my body. When I awoke, I found that Sun Ra had already taken my "footballed" body to the car and safely delivered me home. While I enjoyed today, I do not think I will need to repeat the experience.