They gathered last weekend, old men now, remembering the good times when they played together with the Detroit Lions and met George Plimpton, this writer from Harvard who wanted to go to training camp with them.
It seemed like a good idea to get together, 40 years after the author wrote his book, a chance for the old teammates to see each other again.
And then on Friday, they learned of the Paper Lion's death.
"It was shocking," defensive lineman Roger Brown said. "We had a good time last weekend. I told him how he was a light in my life.
"I'm glad our paths crossed in 1963. It was the best camp of my life. It was good to see him and the others. It shows how valuable and fragile life is. I am shocked that he's gone."
In his book Paper Lion, Plimpton documented his punishing stint training with the Lions, which included playing quarterback during a scrimmage.
The reunion brought tackle Alex Karras back to Detroit for the first time in years.
"I am very grateful that we were able to share the Paper Lions' reunion," Karras said in a statement. "George was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word - loyal, funny, a good friend. He was my hero and I will miss him."
Last Sunday, linebacker Carl Brettschneider sat with Karras and Plimpton in a private box watching the Minnesota Vikings defeat Detroit 23-13. He remembered how Plimpton pulled for his team, which has fallen on hard times.
"I told him, "George, we've got to catch the bus,' " Brettschneider said. "He kept saying, "One more play. If the Lions score and recover the onside kick and kick a field goal, they win.' That was George.
"It's a shocker. At least we had the reunion and that good time together."
Guard John Gordy sat with Plimpton at the team banquet, remembering that training camp and how the Lions welcomed this most unusual rookie.
"It was just a delight," he said. "I don't know that there's another person who could have done what he did and be accepted the way he was. He helped us through the drudgery and monotony of training camp."Plimpton's work
- Out of My League, 1961
- Paper Lion, 1966
- The Bogey Man, 1968
- Mad Ducks and Bears, 1973
- The Shadow Box, 1977
- The Curious Case of Sidd Finch, 1987
- The X Factor, 1990FILMS
- The Last Days of Disco, 1998
- Good Will Hunting, 1997
- Nixon, 1995
- L.A. Story, 1991
- Little Man Tate, 1991
- The Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990
- Volunteers, 1985
- Reds, 1981
- If I Ever See You Again, 1978
- Rio Lobo, 1970
- The Detective, 1968