From time to time, we'll select stories — old and new, sports and otherwise, relevant and merely sublime — that we urge you to read for one reason or another. Today: Dave Meggyesy, linebacker, author, poisoner of our young youth, union man.
"Still On The Outside," by David Remnick (Sports Illustrated, Oct. 5, 1987)
Suggested readers: All ye prisoners today of want and/or Weber Grills.
But after years of getting over football and then ignoring it, Meggyesy has returned to the game, a prodigal son not so much chastened and humbled as intent on making football a thing worth caring about. For the past six years he has been the western director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), a union man who spent the first week of the strike in the San Francisco and Washington offices explaining issues to players, gathering support from former players as well as other unions, and offering whatever help possible to the pickets. "Some of them are being very creative on the lines," he said with relish, referring to an incident in Cincinnati in which quarterback Boomer Esiason lay in front of a bus carrying the scab players to practice, and to one in Cleveland in which striking players drove cars at three miles an hour in front of the bus that brought in the substitute players. It took the bus about 20 minutes to go just one mile.
Meggyesy is remarkably well preserved. He's 45 years old, trim, muscular and as clean-shaven as a plebe. Gone are the beard and the sleeveless T-shirts and the scruffy boots. Meggyesy wears an alligator shirt and jeans around the house and a tie when business calls.
But for the photograph on Patrick's wall, there's hardly a clue in the Meggyesy house of Meggyesy's incarnation as No. 60. No trophies, no plaques, no game balls. The modest house is what you might expect of a nostalgic, educated flower child. A visitor passes under a front-door sign that reads: MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH. Back issues of CoEvolution Quarterly are piled in a corner. In the small backyard, there are lemon trees, birds of paradise and the thick wine-smell of roses. By the picnic table, Meggyesy's wife, Stacy, is breast-feeding their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Erin.
Meggyesy twists open a beer and says, "The truth is, I've never been a big fan of the game. I probably didn't watch a game from the time I wrote the book until 1977. The only way I got back into it was I started working as a carpenter, and on a Sunday I'd take a break and watch a football game. I watch now because I know guys who are playing and I admire their abilities, but I've never really understood the whole fan vibe.
"Being a professional athlete was so strange. The real beauty of the experience is the actual play, the exhilaration of it, physically and emotionally. But because you have fans, millions of fans who get so crazy about the game and feel so deeply about it, you have all these secondary and third-level industries surrounding the game-the press, especially. You have people dissecting your every move and thought. It would be so amazing if the experience were for its own sake. But 10 minutes later there are microphones all over the place, and everyone wants you to explain things: 'Why did you screw up?' 'Why did you hit that hole instead of the other one?' 'How does it feel?' And you have to respond to all these people who never knew the first thing about what it feels like. It's not necessarily wrong, it's just so strange and removed from what could be the purest kind of experience. It's like making love and having to explain it to someone every time."
Photo of a picketing Boomer Esiason via the SI Vault's Andy Gray