The credit belongs, said former President Teddy Roosevelt, to the man that is actually “in the arena.” TR’s main point in his famous speech is a simple one: if you have never actually done something, then can you really critique and comment on its essential attributes?
George Plimpton, and his literary endeavors, embody this basic idea. Plimpton is a true renaissance man. He is always throwing himself into the moment. Plimpton has done standup comedy at Caesars Palace. He has played for two NFL teams. He has tried his hand on the PGA Tour. He is, in his own words, “a professional amateur.”
The result of these explorations is a series of some of the greatest books on sports that have ever been written. Paper Lion, of course, stands out as the most popular and visible example. In my estimation, however, it is Plimpton’s Mad Ducks and Bears that is the greatest, most underrated sports books of all-time.
Originally, Plimpton thought that he was writing a book about offensive and defensive lineman. Then, the book evolved into a commentary covering things like champions who stay in the game too long and rookies that just can’t catch a break. Plimpton’s gift is that he is exploring some of the pressing issues in sports at the same time that he has you laughing aloud.
Some of the hijinks include staged golf tournaments gone wrong and incredible tales of rookie hazing. Without spoiling the book, it is classy humor that likely won’t make your Mom blush. Plimpton’s wit is timeless — and covers all generations. Hilarious has no age.
In addition, Plimpton touches on serious issues, like violence in the game and stories of gruesome injuries. He discusses knee-jerk treatment of players. He describes the emotion of Game Day. These issues are all still relevant today. Young readers also will enjoy hearing them discussed in the context of another era.
This book is a must read for any fan of football, a TR apostle that champions the “strenuous life” or simply a lover of books on sports. I count myself as all three. Mad Ducks and Bears offers important commentary on athletic issues of the day and humor that will appeal to readers of all ages. It is, in a phrase, a Plimptonian Classic.