He had the aerosol can in his hand, and the shaving lather billowed out, and when he began to apply it to his face, a familiar, fundamental impulse stirred within him—the possibilities seemed enormous—and he began to spray the lather around, sprssssshhh, over his forehead and across his chest, and then down his arms and over the length and breadth of his 6'4", 245-pound naked body. And before the Earth had turned much farther, he had made of himself a pillar of white frosting, awesome to behold. And he looked in the mirror and saw that it was good. And because this was not something he would want to keep to himself, he ran outside the Sigma Chi house, at the University of Southern California, and down the street. And the cars on Figueroa Avenue bucked and jerked at the sight of him gliding among them. And as he turned and ran back, molting froth, Tim Rossovich chuckled inside, and he knew that he had done it again, and he was pleased.
The party was in an apartment at the Penn Towers in Philadelphia. The host's name was Steve Sabol. Not many seasons ago, when he was a fullback at Colorado College, Sabol called himself Sudden Death Sabol and sent out largely fanciful publicity releases on himself (SI, Nov. 22, 1965). Now he is executive vice-president of NFL Films, Inc., where his imagination is paying off at last, and he has become latterly famous for his free-form parties. The doorbell rang, and when the door was opened a man with a Fu Manchu mustache and an immense hedge of curly hair the texture of pork rinds stood in the doorway, not in shaving cream this time but in flames. Ablaze. On fire. Guests cried out in horror. "Oh, God, he's...." "Somebody do something!" The flaming man walked into the room, where Sabol and a guest knocked him to the floor and began beating him with blankets. The flames extinguished, Tim Rossovich got to his feet, looked casually around the room, said, "Sorry, I must have the wrong apartment," and walked out.
The lounge is on the Philadelphia Main Line, and he has become well known there. On his first visit he wore a sleeveless shirt with a big decal of a rose on the front, crushed vinyl shoes and a pair of vinyl pants with a sash. When the man at the door asked to see his I.D. card, Tim Rossovich bent over and bit him on the head. This night he had a cast on his arm, and he explained that he had broken the arm at the Philadelphia Eagles' practice that afternoon. The regulars commiserated with him, and soon they were discussing some minor point of football. Apparently incensed by what was being said, Rossovich began shouting and pounding on the bar with the arm on which he wore the cast. He swung it wildly about, striking and breaking a chair. He pounded it on the bar again. The cast splintered and began to disintegrate. Pieces of plaster fluttered silently down like snowflakes. The lounge grew quiet. Everybody was looking, stunned, at the exposed arm. Rossovich held it up, his face expressive of an epiphany. "I'm cured!" he yelled.
The stories are told—in locker rooms, at bowling lanes, over long-distance phones—by almost anyone who knows or has ever met Tim Rossovich and by Rossovich himself. Only those who feel insecure around him, like coaches who think his life-style is a threat to the Republic, try to keep his wondrous light under a bushel. Tim Rossovich eats light bulbs. He wears tie-dyed shirts and shower-of-hail suits, Dracula capes and frontier buckskins and stands on his head in hotel lobbies. Sometimes when he stands on his head his head is in a bucket of water.
September 19, 1971
The stories are endless. Tim Rossovich had this motorbike. He drove it onto a pier. He drove it off the pier. Splash! Tim Rossovich had this car. It was one of many cars that suffered beyond repair at his hand. He drove the fellows in the car to a pub to get a beer. In order to stop the car, he drove it into the wall of the pub. Crash! Tim Rossovich was sitting at a table where the conversation lagged. He was smoking a cigarette. Suddenly he was not smoking the cigarette. He was eating it. Chomp! Tim Rossovich was opening a bottle of beer. He was opening it with his teeth. Actually, he was having a bottle-opening contest with Mike Ditka, the tight end. It was no contest. Tim Rossovich had opened 100 bottles to Ditka's three when he began to drink the beer. Then he began to eat the beer glass. Crackle! Crunch! Mike Ditka withdrew from the contest.
Tim Rossovich was at a birthday party. He was bored. Beneath the slack, soft-eyed countenance the drumbeat started, swelled, stirred him. Do something, Timmy. He began to pace. He excused himself. He went into the bathroom, took off his clothes and with a mighty croak came leaping into the living room like a great bronze frog, did a ponderous flip and landed bare, uh, back in the birthday cake. Slumpfh!
The chronology of these events is unimportant. The perils of Tim Rossovich have a way of repeating themselves anyway. (Was it at the fraternity meeting at USC that he stood up to make a speech, spread his arms, opened his mouth and the sparrow flew out? Or was it at a team meeting of the Philadelphia Eagles? Probably both.) It is enough to say, in introduction, that Tim Rossovich was an All-America defensive end at USC, where he was famous for falling off sorority house rooftops, and is now on his way to becoming an All-Pro middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles, where he is known to have made death-defying leaps into the whirlpool tank in the training room. The whirlpool tank is roughly the size of a washing machine. Witnesses say it is a very hairy stunt indeed when the tank happens to be already occupied. Squish!
His friends in Southern California, where Rossovich lives in the off season, told him there was no such place as Philadelphia when he went east as a rookie three years ago, but they were confident that if there were he would put it on the map. Ron Medved, the Eagle defensive back, says that once you have experienced Tim Rossovich you can never forget him, that his (Medved's) 4-year-old son can pick him out of a program every time, squealing, "Rosso! Rosso!" Rossovich took the Medveds to Disneyland. He rode every ride. Three times he went through the haunted house, scaring people. "They thought he was part of the act," says Medved. "I've got a picture of him on the merry-go-round. What an expression! You never saw a guy having such a good time."
Medved recounts this conversation he had with Don Meredith, the TV announcer and reformed quarterback, in a shower: "Is it true," began Meredith, "that Rossovich—"
"It's true," said Medved, "and more."
"But listen," said Meredith, "did he really—"
"Whatever you've heard about Ross is true," said Medved.
"I'll be damned," said Meredith, and shook his wet head.
Rossovich is the first to admit that his reputation may have escalated in recent years. "Little things," he says modestly, "are built up to be greater than they are." But he does not deny any of it. Whenever the credibility of this episode or that is strained, it is usually a matter of mistaken locale. If it did not happen in one place, it probably did (or will eventually) in another. Rossovich says he is more subdued now than he used to be. As a star football player with responsibilities, including a wife and daughter, he says he is more mature. He sets fire to himself less frequently than you would think. "It is not something you do every day," he says.
On the other hand, Steve Sabol will tell you that Rossovich is actually expanding as a personality. Last spring Sabol tried to compress the essential Rossovich into a 25-minute film for national television. It so happens that Sabol has more than just a passing put-out-the-fire interest in him. He and Rossovich and Gary Pettigrew, the Eagle defensive tackle, have shared apartments in Philadelphia, charring the walls. Sabol has become Rosso's "second," always arriving in the nick of time to put out the fire. He found in Rossovich a kindred spirit, a character he could appreciate, there being still left in Sabol a lot of Sudden Death. ("One thing I can't stand," Sabol once said, "is not being noticed.") He enjoys talking about Rossovich almost as much as he used to enjoy talking about himself. He liked the cut of Rosso's tie-dyed clothes, his Emperor Ming glasses, his Aladdin shoes with bells on the toes. He also saw in Rossovich the football player he could only fantasize being at Colorado College—big, tough, talented.
Sabol says he decided on Rossovich for the TV show because of these things and because he felt Dave Meggyesy, the pro football dropout, had taken a cheap shot at the game in his book Out of Their League, and he wanted to make a film about a "contemporary guy—a guy with long hair who did far-out things but who was a believer in football and didn't think like Meggyesy." Some owners, he says, objected to the format. They were fearful of the image. "I told them what I had—Rosso on Manhattan Beach in California, leaping around, imitating a flamingo and making psychedelic candles in the sand. 'Psychedelic' scared 'em. I had to explain that these were candles, that Tim wasn't going to trip out on camera or anything. Some of them still didn't take it too well. What I needed was more than 25 minutes. I needed a couple hours."
The show was called The New Breed, but what it depicted in Rossovich was a breed apart. Credit Sabol. The Rossovich he portrayed (discovered!) was more than just a pretty flake. He was actually three Tim Rossoviches residing cooperatively in the large, sculptured Rossovich superstructure, which is topped by that singular Slavic head. (It has been pointed out that Rossovich is three-quarters Italian, and Yugoslav from the neck up.) These things saw Sabol:
Rossovich the football player is at all times fearsome. When he hits the tackling sled he drives it into the ground, punches it, kicks it. He literally throws himself at running backs, and into pile-ups. ("Ferocious," says Sabol admiringly.) He gets into fights on the field because he will not let up. He fights not only the opposition but his own teammates. Medved says Rossovich always has the offensive players teed off because to him there is no such thing as a dummy scrimmage. He goes 30 yards out of his way to get a lick in. Rossovich himself says he has fought them all—all the Eagle offensive linemen at practice at one time or another—but is at peace with them afterward because they cannot stay mad long at someone so adorable, and they know down deep he really loves them.
And not only is he very fierce, Sabol showed, but he is also very good. Against the Atlanta Falcons last fall Rossovich made six tackles in a row, and the film showed him to be a leader who exhorted his teammates ("Hey, that's a rip-off, man!" "Far out!" "That's dynamite!") and called his virulent intentions across the line of scrimmage: "I love you, man, but I gotta wipe you out!" The film showed him wiping men out.
The second part of Rossovich is even dearer to Sabol's heart. "Some guys play with abandon," he says. "Rosso lives with abandon. People turn him on. When the organ grinder goes, he goes. He'll do anything. He puts things in his mouth I wouldn't put in my hand. He was going to have a footrace with this guy. To get ready he drank a quart of motor oil. I didn't see it, but it must have been awful. He likes to 'hang out.' We do that a lot around Philadelphia, hang out. We were hanging out at Rittenhouse Square, where they were having a concert. He saw this big box a guy had taken a tuba out of. He dragged it out into the middle of Walnut Street, crawled inside and curled up. People stopped and looked in. 'How are you?' he said. 'I'm Tim Rossovich.' 'What are you doing in there, Tim?' 'Well, we had a tough practice today and I'm relaxing.' "
Sabol warms to the subject. His memory races with figments of Tim Rossovich in action, doing brain-rattling things, exhibiting cosmic insight.
"His life-style is beautiful. He sleeps four hours a night. On the floor. You think of someone sleeping, you think of them on their side or on their back. He sleeps face down, like a man ready for artificial respiration. He always points his head north, he says, so the magnetic waves can run through and revitalize him. The maid came in and found him lying there one morning, naked, face down. She thought he was dead."
When the Rossovich-Sabol-Pettigrew triumvirate lived together, Rossovich played Christmas carols "so loud you could hear them on the 12th floor. We lived on the 24th floor. He loves Christmas carols. He plays them in September. He has this great look. He doesn't walk, he slides. He has this thing about fragrances. He covers himself with body lotions. He was hooked on patchouli oil for a while. It made him smell like a cedar closet."
Sabol admires the terrific diversity in Rossovich's wardrobe. They try to dress in periods—Frontier Period, Cosmic Period and so forth. When they were going through their Rain-Dance Period, Rossovich carried a wand around. Sabol went with him one night when he was invited to talk to a Sun Oil group. "What do I say?" he asked Sabol. "What do I wear?" Sabol told him these were business executives. Sabol wore a suit. Rossovich wore overalls that said "Unidentified Flying Object" on the front, an electric tie-dyed shirt and shades. But he communicated. Somebody in the group asked him what the middle linebacker says in the defensive huddle. He turned his back, like an impersonator preparing an impression, and when he turned around he wore a savage look, and he shouted, "All right, let's go out there and knock their duffs off!"
"They loved him," says Sabol.
"Tim can imitate anything. He watches shows like Magilla Gorilla on television, and he can imitate them all, all the Creature Features. His favorite book is the Guinness Book of World Records. He says it's important to know what's biggest and best if you want to be the best. He wants to be the best middle linebacker in pro football. I ride him about it. I tell him he can't be as long as Dick Butkus is alive."
Sabol brought home a five-minute short that NFL Films made on Butkus, the one ministers and Boy Scout leaders objected to. Butkus tells in this film how he would like to knock somebody's head off and see it roll away. Rossovich loves it. He and Pettigrew look at it eight or nine times a week. "We put it on," said Sabol, "and some Rimsky-Korsakov on the stereo or Carmen, the march of the toreadors, and have a little wine, and it's like a light show. Rosso had the defensive team in to watch it the day they played the Giants last year. Made 'em watch it three times. The Giants were fated. They lost 23-20."
But it is the third Rossovich that was Sabol's special discovery. The third Rossovich was revealed to be a serious, articulate, sensitive young man who could offer in a breath a reasonable defense for his generation's preoccupation with its hair and at the same time his own keen appreciation of disciplines and values of football. If the positions seem irreconcilable, Rossovich did not find them so. He said he would love to have had a football coach like General Patton. "Patton would have been the greatest football coach," he said. He recited verbatim from the opening monologue of the movie Patton. He said making a tackle was a creative thing, that each man did it in his own style. He likened Butkus' to that of an ape. His, he said, was more cobralike.
He said at the same time that at least some of his actions were attributable to his distaste for the stereotyped, slab-of-meat football player, and if he looked the way he did and impressed kids who identified with him that he was doing something positive, something meaningful, that would be worthwhile.
Sabol calls Rossovich a mind field which has lain fallow for years and is only now bursting into bloom. He cites a newly developed affinity for nature, Rossovich's "interest in organic foods, herbs and stuff," his vow to take up gardening. "He looks at the ocean and it's like taking vitamins," says Sabol. "Now he wants to study macrame, and he makes those candles. They're really beautiful." Off the field, says Sabol, Rossovich is so gentle you wouldn't believe it. "Everybody's scared of what he might do next, but he's never malicious. He's like a wildflower that wilts at the first breath of hot air. He'll turn from a fight like a little kid."
None of these characterizations came as a real surprise to the coaches who had Rossovich at Southern Cal. They often speak of him.
"Ah, old Timbo," said John McKay, the USC head coach, not long ago, shaking his head and smiling knowingly.
"A big puppy dog," said Assistant Coach Craig Fertig, shaking his head and smiling.
"A big boy, an intelligent boy, but above all, a mean boy," said McKay fondly.
"A very high threshold of pain," said Assistant Coach Marv Goux.
Goux said he had recruited Rossovich and had fallen in love with the Rossovich family, which lived a mile from the Stanford campus in Palo Alto. He said there were two other brothers and two sisters, and the parents were "the sweetest, straightest people you'd ever want to meet." Tim's grandfather on his mother's side had come over from Italy as a boy of 13 on the boat by himself. His father was a first-generation American success story: up from nothing to his own business, a fish and poultry market; he had also made profitable investments. His parents told Goux that Tim had been a very easy boy to raise, with only a few enlivening incidents, such as the time, at 10, he went through the windshield of a car and landed in the back seat and the day he rode his bicycle off the 12th row of the bleachers at the high school stadium. Goux said he became Tim's father confessor and kept the Rossoviches abreast of Tim's visits to the dean's office.
"Timbo actually was a very good student," said Goux. "He graduated with his class or a semester after. And he never, never cut corners on the football field. He was a leader. His senior year for us was a great year for him. Against Notre Dame he was fantastic. He blocked three passes at the line of scrimmage, forced a fumble on our three-yard line."
"But off the field, a big puppy dog," said Fertig. "You see a picture of a group up to something and there he is in the background, that great face gazing over the heads of the others."
Goux said he would never forget the scene in the Student Union Building when Tim had to appear before a student-faculty discipline committee to explain some of his actions. "There he sat, in the middle of this panel of guys in horn-rimmed glasses, them waving their fingers at him and him very contrite, very apologetic, promising to behave."
Fertig said they knew Rossovich was no ordinary anomaly when as a freshman he put dents in all the lockers by ramming them with his head.
"He was trying to prove a point," said Goux, as if to explain a natural chain of events. He said it began the summer before, when Rossovich was swinging on a rope over and into the Russian River near Palo Alto, competing with friends for a $40 pot. The object was to see who had the guts to land nearest a rock cliff. Rossovich assured himself of victory by crashing flush into the rocks. He said he knew he couldn't get any closer than that. But in triumph he sliced up his elbows, and a few days later when he dived into a contaminated fish pond at a USC fraternity party he developed an infection. He went into a coma. For four days he was incoherent. In the hospital he threw chairs and smashed a television set. The doctors told him to lay off football for eight weeks.
But when Rossovich got out of the hospital he pronounced himself ready to go. To prove it to Goux, he ran across the training room and banged head first into a locker. "See? I'm fine," he said. "I see, but the doctors say no," said Goux. The scene was repeated almost every day after that, Rossovich ramming home his point, Goux wincing but unyielding. No locker was safe.
Over the succeeding years, Goux said, he became especially fond of Rossovich. He used to drop by the house Rossovich and a friend rented their senior year. There was always a wrecked car out front, he said, and a keg of beer inside, and sawdust on the floor for the fake fights they staged. "They were really artistic," said Goux, "bodies hurtling around and bouncing off the walls."
Goux took a visitor on an automobile tour of Rossovich's former haunts: the Sigma Chi house where he had eaten many a glass, the various buildings he had fallen off of. Goux stopped when he came to a one-story frame house on University Avenue, just off fraternity row. The house appeared to be falling apart. The shingles hung like dead leaves. Grass and weeds grew all around. A piece of an automobile lay in the yard. There was a sign, scrawled in red, nailed to the front porch: CURE VIRGINITY.
"It's the same as when Timmy lived there," said Goux. "Exactly the same."
"Ah, that Timbo," said Craig Fertig. "He was a legend."
"He was already a legend when I met him," said Mikey (for Michel) Rossovich, "and he was only a sophomore then. My girl friends were shocked when I told them we were engaged. They said, 'You must be crazy!' They said, 'Don't do it!' "
Smiling, she passed around glasses of iced tea in the living room of the Rossovich home in Manhattan Beach—a leggy, striking brunette in bare feet and short shorts and a T shirt. Two-year-old Jamie Rossovich sat in the middle of the orange-on-orange rug, engaging in her own exclusive conversation. Tim Rossovich sat on the big billowy sofa, dressed only in green shorts with PHILADELPHIA EAGLES embroidered in an arc on the left leg. He said it was his California uniform. His hair, down to his shoulders, was parted in the middle, and he stroked it with both hands. Stephen Stills blared on the stereo and a parrot named Pancho made clicking noises as he chewed a newspaper in his cage.
"I think a lot of it was jealousy because he did things other people only dream of doing," said Mikey. "Some of the things he got blamed for weren't even his fault, but he had a reputation, and he was a little impulsive."
"He jumped out the window of my sorority house one night. He wasn't supposed to be there, of course, and he heard the security guards were coming. Ran right through the room where my sorority mother, Clemmie, was playing cards and dived head first out the window. The room was on the second floor. I don't think Clemmie even looked up. She knew him pretty well. He'd done $200 worth of damage to a brick wall out front driving in to see me one night."
"I missed the turn," said Rossovich.
"I came running into Clemmie's room looking for him. 'Where's Timmy?' I said. Clemmie pointed to the window and kept on playing cards."
"I landed in a tree," said Rossovich. "Put a hole in my leg. Here." He pointed to a purple mound on his left leg. There were other scars.
"It was a bad week for me," he added "I fell off two roofs and set fire to myself jumping over a car."
Jumping over a car?
"Well, we used to set fire to cars. We'd buy these old cars for $25, Mike Battle [who played for the Jets] and a few of us, and we'd set 'em on fire or we'd drive one to a big intersection and everybody would jump out and pound it with sledgehammers and saws and things. Sigma Chi was a crazy house. We used to collect bottles in a truck and go back to the house and have bottle fights in the halls. Always seemed to be about six inches of broken glass on the floor and two or three guys at the health center getting stitched up. We were like gunfighters. Every new guy comes to town has to make a challenge. We had a guy announce he was going to sleep for two weeks straight. He did it, too. He woke up just to eat and go to the bathroom."
What about falling off roofs?
"Somebody was always walking around somebody's roof. One guy used to dress up all in black with a clerical collar, and he'd take a bottle of Southern Comfort up on the roof and preach all night. I fell off the third story of the SAE house on my back on a concrete walk. I don't remember exactly why I was up there. My elbow dug into the ground next to the concrete and broke my fall. I was lucky."
Sigma Chi was eventually put on social probation for a number of reasons, Rossovich said, including filling the elevator of the Manix Hotel with water ("when the door opened, swoosh, into the lobby") and piling furniture in the living room of the Theta Chi house and for kissing a passing female motorist, a Mrs. LaFranch, against her wishes.
Rossovich said he had been a party to most, but not all, of these activities. He said the school authorities were aware of his tendencies. He had got to know the dean of men. He said they had been introduced his freshman year, when he walked out onto an eight-inch ledge at the dormitory and stood there. Naked. In broad daylight. He had just come out of the shower, he said.
Why did he do it? the dean asked.
"It was a windy day," said Rossovich. "It seemed like a good way to dry off."
Rossovich's house in Manhattan Beach is two blocks from the beach, where he sometimes runs with Adrian Young, an Irish-born Eagle linebacker who has been his close friend since their playing days at USC. The Rossoviches socialize with the Youngs and communicate on the same wavelength. Adrian's wife Pamela once meditated 13 hours straight in the basic yoga position. They also play volleyball on the beach, and Tim makes his candles there, and often, he says, he just goes there to think.
"The sea is just so big, so massive," he said, lounging on the sofa. "I can go there and feel so at peace. When I can't solve things I go there and when I've had a fight with my wife or something. I think, 'What am I going to do with my life? With myself?' I haven't decided everything. I'd like to have $100,000 in the bank just like anybody else, but to have enough for the things I want is all I really care about. I'd like to contribute something. Adrian and I are going to open a boys' camp at my folks' ranch in Grass Valley. Give kids a chance to see nature, a place where they can throw a pass in the morning and milk a cow in the afternoon."
Rossovich drained his tea glass and jiggled the ice around.
"I have goals. I strive every day to achieve my goals. Some things are out of reach. I'll probably die first. One goal I have is to be completely at peace, to have the kind of peace—like in the movie about Shangri-la."
"Yeah, with Ronald Colman. I saw that movie on the Late Show the other night. Wouldn't that be wonderful? To live 300 or 400 years and be completely at peace?"
Rossovich was up from the sofa, pacing, smoothing his hair with both hands.
"I live my life to enjoy myself. I can't explain things I do much beyond that. I have more energy than I know what to do with. I can't sit around. I get bored. A lot of what I do is silly, trying to cheer other people up, to cheer myself up. To be funny. To get attention. That's probably the best reason, to get attention."
His visitor said he had only heard of people eating glass, that he'd never seen it done. Rossovich took the empty tea glass and bit down through the lip. The glass shattered. Faint pulverizing noises could be heard as he chewed on it perfunctorily. Mikey screamed. "Timmy! I've been saving those glasses!"
"I'm willing to experience things," said Rossovich. "People should be willing to experience as much as they can. People should be able to do what they want without being concerned what others might think. If everything is right, if you are at peace with yourself, you shouldn't have to hassle others. Problems are caused by people not being willing to understand each other. No one listens. The son doesn't listen to his father, the father doesn't listen to his son. I think we're fortunate to have a good rapport on the Eagles. Some guys are maybe 10, 12 years older, really veterans, but we talk all the time. I had a talk with Jerry Williams [the Eagles' head coach] about my hair. He listened. He didn't agree, but he listened.
"I respect authority. I've never been fined for anything. My objective is to be a good football player, not make waves. So I'll get my hair cut." He felt his hair. "Some of it. The hair will grow back, the money won't. I'm subdued now, just thinking about it."
He sat down on the couch, subdued.
"I don't know who set the 'image' of football, but I don't think there should be an image. It shouldn't matter that a guy wears a brown shirt with a brown tie or his hair long. What matters is what you say and do. All long-haired people don't protest and blow up buildings. I don't think a guy in the stands should be able to say, 'That player's got a crew cut. He must be good.'
"Meggyesy was wrong to knock football. Some things are dehumanizing, the childish way you're treated, but that's no reason to knock football. Everything about football can make you a better person. Teach you to react better to crises. Teach you responsibility. To be level headed. To make split-second decisions.
"It is brutal at times, of course, but that's part of it. I'm more physical than I should be, but it's a physical game. I like to hit people when I'm on the field. If I can't make the tackle, I turn around and knock somebody down. I see somebody loafing and I bring it to his attention by knocking him down. He's the enemy. Hit the enemy. That's what it's all about. Next time he'll be more alert.
"I used to like the specialty teams for that reason. A lot of hitting goes on on a kickoff. You can get some good licks in. The harder I hit people the better I like it. When you hit a guy and he hits the ground hard, and his eyeballs roll, and you see it, and he looks up at you and knows you see it, then you've conquered him. It's a great feeling. I would love to do that, to put the quarterback, the halfback and the split end out of a game. Just the game, not the season. They have families, too. But I wouldn't feel guilty about that.
"But I don't go out there just to beat up a guy. I play to get respect, for myself, because you have to believe in yourself. And for the respect of my teammates. I have great respect for them. I don't know if my teammates love and respect me as much as I do them, but I want them to feel I put out for them.
"For me to hear a teammate say, 'Good job,' is more important than fans yelling or sportswriters writing about me. They don't realize what you do for a team. You break your fingers. You bleed. That's the thing about football that Meggyesy missed, the thing about working together, being together.
"I think a lot about the game. Anything that's physical, that you can excel at, can give you more excitement than anything. More than if you've closed a big deal or made a killing in the stock market. Physical victory over anything is so satisfying. A guy who makes a million dollars, a big businessman, will idolize somebody like a football player. The guy's richer, smarter, can do more things, but there he is asking the football player for an autograph. It embarrasses me because they shouldn't feel that way, but they do. It's football. Meggyesy writes about it, but he didn't really get it. And all he did was change his field. He's still competing in a cutthroat game. He's competing now with other booksellers.
"I said I had goals. My basic goal right now I think is achievable. I want to be the best middle linebacker in pro football. If I worked hard at it, played as hard as I could, did everything possible and still wasn't considered the best, I would be at least partially content knowing I did all I could. But there would always be that doubt—did I go far enough? Maybe I'll never know."
Mikey brought in another round of iced tea and cautioned him to keep his teeth to himself. She said she was making beef Bourguignon for dinner, the Youngs were invited, and she needed money to get wine. She said her personal preference was that Tim cut it a little shorter, so that it stood out around his head rather than hanging like sausages.
Tim made a face and swore. When she had gone he was quiet for a while. Then he said, "We're thinking about adopting a child. You know, there are a lot of kids in this world without homes."
The Philadelphia Eagles' training camp at Albright College in Reading, Pa. is like football training camps everywhere. The players live in a college dormitory (neat, cramped rooms), eat in a college cafeteria (nutritious food bereft of flavor), practice on an adequate small-college field and at night sample the inadequate small-town night life. The place the Eagles tend to go in Reading is a bowling alley called Heister Lanes, which has a lounge and, most evenings, a group of musicians.
Tim Rossovich is a regular at Heister's. He is, apart from the group, the only real attraction. He can usually be found hovering by the cigarette machine, a beer in his hand and a contemplative look on his face, watching, watching. One night a group of schoolteachers came in and took three tables. Rossovich, lingering nearby, watched as they had the tables shoved together. Then, when they were seated and conversing, he glided over and fell full-length across the tables, face up, and announced, "Do whatever you want to me, ladies."
Rossovich is the most popular Eagle. Photographers hound him. Kids with autograph books chase him. Grown-ups sit in the sun behind the ropes at Albright Field and scan the roster sheets looking for his number. "Which one is Rossovich?" "I gotta see Rossovich."
He is not hard to find. He is the one who seems always to do things out of tune, as though an ordinary push-up or a sit-up or a run through the ropes had undiscovered facets. Coaches do not object to this because he is not malingering. His enthusiasm, if unorthodox, is genuine. Jerry Williams believes Rossovich "would practice all day and night if I wanted him to." Williams converted him from defensive end to middle linebacker last fall. Rossovich said it was like a tonic, the change, "like an offensive guard being told he was going to play quarterback." He threw himself into the job. Literally, of course.
Otherwise, his coaches would just as soon not talk about Rossovich, as though to admit knowing too much would somehow discredit the game. They adopt a kind of "exactly which freak are you talking about?" tone. "No, I wouldn't know about that." "No, I never saw him do that, I don't really pay that much attention." "Well, yes, I suppose you would say he's a character, but you know how rumors are." They cannot always ignore him, though. At lunch in the dining hall the other day he leaped up from the table with a letter he had been reading, held it up and shouted, "Sexual distraction! Sexual distraction!" Then he grinned and disappeared. At those times there is nothing to do but laugh with everybody else.
Both Rossovich and Young, after some soul-searching, reported to camp this fall with less hair and found that Williams wasn't going to let them room together again. There was still plenty of hair left to be admired, but Young, who had grown a bumper crop touring Europe in the summer, felt especially bereft. "Adrian's the serious type," says Rossovich.
They both have their hair cut by a blonde named Cissie who works in a bikini in the bathroom of a house in Reading. Not long ago Rossovich sat on the edge of the bathtub below a sign on the wall that said "BATHROOM" as Cissie trimmed Young's hair for the second time. The first trim had not quite satisfied Williams.
"At least it's out in the open now," said Young testily. "It's a dictatorship. I can accept it this way. No more pussyfooting around, saying, 'Hair is irrelevant.' But this business of changing roommates...."
Cissie said she hated to cut Adrian's hair, it was just so nice. She snipped at it gingerly. With each strand that fell to the bathroom floor, Rossovich let out a moan.
"Surgery," he said. "Major surgery. This is hurting me more than it hurts you, Adrian."
Cissie said she had cut six ounces of hair off Rossovich's head a few days before. It was traumatic, she said. She raked it up and put it in a bag. Rossovich said he was going to fashion it into a scalp and wear it on his belt.
"What I really wanted to do once they made us cut it off was cut it all off," he said. He said he had a beautiful new, light, velvet tie-dyed monk's robe with a hood, and that he was going to spring it on the dining room some night, and it was going to be dynamite. He would come into the dining room, the cape on and the hood up, all huddled over like a supplicant. Then at the right moment he would whip off the hood and reveal—a polished bald head! Cissie had put the damper on it. After exploring the scalp beneath that beautiful crowd of curls Rossovich calls his "Jewish natural," she discovered that he had a head only a mother could love. "It comes to a point," she said.
Rossovich took a visitor up to his dormitory room to show him the new cape. Adrian went down the hall to his room to read his mail. Rossovich's new roommate, he said, was one of the more conservative guys on the team, a soft-spoken nine-year veteran lineman named Don Hultz who is a Tennessee deputy sheriff in the off season. Hultz wears his blond hair close-cropped. He gives off an aura of wholesomeness. Young's new roommate, Guard Jim Skaggs, is similarly conservative. "I think they want us all to rub off on one another," said Young. (Coaches never stop trying.) He said the first night Rossovich went to his room there was a Bible on the bed.
Rossovich showed his visitor the new cape. Hultz was lying on his bed reading a magazine as Rossovich modeled it, prancing around, swirling the cape.
"How do you like your new roommate, Don?" Hultz was asked.
"Well, I heard a lot of bad things about him," said Hultz, "but so far he seems to be all right."
"I really haven't warmed up to this camp yet," said Rossovich ominously. Hultz looked up from his magazine, not quite sure how to interpret the remark.
Young was in the room now. He began baiting Hultz. "What would you do in your town if I were to drop in with my hair looking like this?" he asked. "Would you arrest me?"
"You'd be a suspect," said Hultz, grinning.
"What if we were both there, me and Tim, and you caught us talking to a 16-year-old girl?"
"You'd be watched very closely," said Hultz.
"Ah, bull, Don, knock it off, will you?" said Young. They laughed, Hultz with less feeling than the others.
Over at his bureau, Rossovich was going through a spectacular array of atomizers, decanters and plastic bottles, his store of lotions and perfumes. He picked up an aerosol can and began to spray the room. "Strawberry scented," he said. "My new favorite. See all these great things? Body lotions, sachets." He read from a label. " 'Carolina Strawberry Sachet.' Great stuff. I use them all. They keep my body beautiful."
As he and Young went out the door of the dormitory, Rossovich turned, cupped his hands and shouted up the stairs: "O.K., you guys, see you later! We're going to get another haircut now!"
Adrian Young said as far as he was concerned Rossovich enjoyed his lunacy more than a normal man should, and that it was becoming a question of how deep the engagement went. "Did I tell you what he did the second day of camp our rookie year? Our second day. We were lying in bed, worn out, and he started one of those endless give-and-take things: 'How far would you walk through such-and-such to do such-and-such to so-and-so?' Then I gave him one, and it went back and forth. Finally I got tired and pretended I was asleep.
" 'Adrian,' he said. 'Adrian.' I didn't answer. 'Adrian.' He got up and began to pace the floor. 'Adrian. Adrian.' He paced back and forth, back and forth. Pretty soon there were guys yelling down the hall for him to shut up. He kept pacing. Then—listen to this—he got up on the dressers that line the wall over there and began pacing again, bending his head to keep from hitting the ceiling. All the time he's saying, 'Adrian. Adrian.' Guys were pounding on the door. I couldn't take it anymore. I said, 'All right, Tim, what the hell do you want?' 'I just wanted you to answer me, Adrian,' he said and got down and crawled into bed. 'Good night, Adrian,' he said. Now I ask you, are those the actions of a sane man?"
Finally, there is the dream.
"I have this dream," Tim Rossovich says. "I've had it more than once. It's always the same."
"It's the Super Bowl. We're in it, and the game is almost over. So far I've made every tackle. Every single tackle in the game! Everybody is going crazy. My teammates, the coaches, the fans. So excited. I'm excited."
"We're ahead by a couple of points, but they're down near our goal, and their quarterback rolls out on the last play of the game. I don't know who he is. His face is empty in the helmet. But I get to him just as he nears the goal. We meet head on. The top of my helmet rams into his chin and goes right through his head. His head explodes and comes out the two earholes of his helmet. We both go down—"
He flops down on a couch. Flump!
"—the quarterback dead on the field, me mortally wounded. But I get up and begin to stagger off the field. Millions of people are cheering. 'Rossovich! Rossovich!' It's the greatest game and the greatest crowd ever. Millions of people. I'm reeling as I come off. I give them one last regal wave—"
He waves feebly but regally.
"—and collapse to the ground, dead. I feel myself floating, floating up to Heaven. Happy. Forever." Ahhh!