Author Stefan Fatsis had already tested the limits of his brain after taking on the game of Scrabble for his book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. With his background as a sportswriter, Stefan thought it was time to test the limits of his body. Jean talks with Stefan about his experience spending a summer training with the Denver Broncos and his resulting book, A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL.
As a sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, Stefan had written extensively about the NFL, but when he decided to embed himself with a team to get firsthand experience in the league, he ran into some resistance. "This is the most secretive sporting business that we have, frankly," he says. "[The] NFL is very closed. Everything is regulated; journalists are kept at arm's length."
At last, Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos, gave Stefan the green light to spend the summer of 2006 in training camp with his team as a placekicker. "This really was first and foremost a journalistic exercise," Stefan says. "I wanted to get inside this business. Even the best writers, I think, often don't get at the core of what these leagues truly are and how they operate as businesses and as, emotionally, workplaces too."
Training camp was intense, and Stefan says he did begin to improve as a kicker, but when he actually dressed with the team and had the chance to kick before a game, he panicked and botched two attempts to make a practice field goal. "The players sort of one by one came up to me and said, 'Now you understand. This is what pressure is. Take the pressure you just felt and multiple it by 25 or 50 or 100, and that is what we feel every day,'" he says.
In fact, Stefan says there is constant pressure in the NFL to be perfect or the best, a feat few accomplish. "If you are lucky and good, maybe you hit the lottery and get the payday," Stefan says. "Most players don't." Now that his experiment is over and his book is published, Stefan says he sees the NFL and its players in a totally different light. "I think I have a better appreciation for what athletes do, what performance is about," he says.