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A Few Seconds of Panic - A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL

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In Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis infiltrated the insular world of competitive Scrabble players, ultimately achieving expert status (comparable to a grandmaster ranking in chess). Now he infiltrates a strikingly different subculture-pro football. After more than a year spent working out with a strength coach and polishing his craft with a gurulike kicking coach, Fatsis molded his fortyish body into one that could stand up-barely-to the rigors of NFL training. And over three months in 2006, he became a Denver Bronco. He trained with the team and lived with the players. He was given a locker and uniforms emblazoned with the number 9. He was expected to perform all the drills and regimens required of other kickers. He ws unlike his teammates in some ways-most notably, his livelihood was not on the line as theirs was. But he became remarkably like them in many ways: he risked crippling injury just as they did, endured the hazing that befalls all rookies, daily gorged on 4,000 calories, and slogged through two-a-day practices in blistering heat. Not since George Plimpton's stint as a Detroit Lion more than forty years ago has a writer tunneled so deeply into the NFL.
At first, the players tolerated Fatsis or treated him like a mascot, but over time they began to think of him as one of them. And he began to think like one of them. Like the other Broncos-like all elite athletes-he learned to perfect a motion through thousands of repetitions, to play through pain, to silence the crowd's roar, and to banish self-doubt.
While Fatsis honed his mind and drove his body past exhaustion, he communed with every classic athletic type-the afable alpha male, the overpaid brat, the youthful phenom, the savvy veteran-and a welter of bracingly atypical players as well: a fullback who invokes Aristotle, a quarterback who embraces yoga, and a tight end who takes creative writing classes in the off-season. Fatsis also witnessed the hidden machinery of a top-flight football franchise, from the God-is-in-the-details strategizing of legendary
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