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Jim Murray

Sometimes, the Helmet Didn't Help

May 14, 1987|Jim Murray

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There was a full moon over Arizona this week. Not that any of the characters abroad in the hallways and watering places of the resort hotel at Gainey Ranch here needed it. These guys were born in a full moon. Dracula might have needed a full moon. These guys just need a full bottle. They take it from there.

They were all NFL quarterbacks, which is hardly an occupation for the rational, the predictable, the conservative, or even the common sensible.

Spending your life under the onslaught of a pack of homicidal behemoths with plaster of Paris for arms and mayhem in their hearts is no place for those in full command of their senses and the life around them.

These guys were the elite of their profession, and the formal title for their organization meeting here this weekend is, "The Quarterbacks." But the man who assembled them and has organized their annual party for the past nine years is a fun-loving promoter type named Ken George, who identifies them simply as, "The Crazies." The implication is, the helmet didn't always work.

To give you an idea, the late Bobby Layne is the patron saint of this organization, the man of whom this institution is the lengthened shadow. Unorthodoxy doesn't begin to describe the carrying on, which is two parts bibulous and one part social.

For instance, the Bobby Layne Memorial Award is given annually to the person or persons who display the most bizarre behavior, and last year the ex-quarterback who crawled naked to a third-story perch and sang his school fight song was only the third runner-up. The winner's exploit will be top secret till the statute of limitations runs out, or the victims recover.

The cast of characters--I use the term advisedly--is a Hall of Fame come to life, from the Giants' Charley Conerly, who looks more like a Marlboro Man than the Marlboro Man, to the relative newcomer like Sonny Jurgensen, who is said to have come to Arizona as it is the only state in the union where he can still get a driver's license.

There is a golf tournament of sorts connected with what they do here. Not a golf tournament in the sense the Masters is one, nor in the sense a member-guest or member-member at Bel-Air is one. This is a golf tournament in which the prizes are are given out before the field tees off. This is to eliminate cheating. Also to eliminate the boring post-tournament award ceremonies, and besides, Entrepreneur George points out, "The important thing in life is not to be good, it's to be lucky."

Starting times at this tournament are only suggestions. If you can't make it with the rest of your foursome, tee-off time is optional. "Starting times," suggests George, "are like trophies--they're for Babbitts."

Some say this was to accommodate the player (Billy Kilmer) who once left a wake-up call for 4 p.m., but it's actually because your score is also optional. Since the winners have been drawn out of a hat before play, you can keep score or not, as you see fit.

You can see this is a civilized way to run a sporting event which is so noncompetitive it's probably the nearest thing you will find in this country to a fox hunt, but it's refreshing for a bunch of guys who have spent their lives on the Chicago Bears' two-yard line. Anybody who spends his life in a face mask looking at Dick Butkus doesn't need more pressure.

The event has several sponsors but, unlike most events in which the bankrollers want billboards every four yards, sponsors of this event seem not at all sure they want to be associated publicly with it, at all. "It's the kind of thing you find on your doorstep with its formula pinned to it," explains George proudly. "We don't need publicity. They just slip the money under the door and beat a hasty retreat."

It has been claimed, due to the liquid nature of the festivities, that the Crazies don't really need a golf course, a shuffleboard would do. But it does fittingly have its own halftime show.

The winner of the first Bobby Layne Award was Bobby himself for when he engaged the entire Marine band and a M.A.S.H. unit to stretcher him into the festivities when it was on the island of Oahu. Another year, he hired a mariachi band for $500 to serenade the card players who in turn paid the group not to play. The musicians got $3,000 just for taking out and putting away their instruments, unplayed. Layne also got the squelch-of-the-year award in Hawaii one year when he was standing with the author, Dan Jenkins, when the quarterback Dan Pastorini threw a football up to the 12th floor. "Did you see that?!" exclaimed Jenkins. "He passed up to the 12th floor!" "I know," said Layne, "but the receiver was on the fifth."

The highlight is a moonlight golf tournament played on a course lit by chemicals by ex-jocks lit by spirits in nightshirts that, like them, glow in the dark.

The requisites for admission to this august company are simple: You must have been able to throw long and you must never to have left the field while you could still talk. Anybody who ever threw two passes in a row to a back behind or on the line of scrimmage is ineligible as is anybody who ever left a game while he could still make a guess as to the answer when the doctor shone a light in his eyes and asked "What's your name, son?" Rumor has it that when Paul Hornung took a stab one year and said "Bart Starr?" They made him an honorary Crazie (he and Frank Gifford and Doak Walker are the only nonquarterbacks).

The Crazies are a unique organization in that they don't yet have a charity connected with what they do (they're leaning toward liver transplants) but their motto is, whenever they meet, the moon is full--and so are they.

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