Paper Lion, published in 1966, is a non-fiction book by prominent American writer George Plimpton.
In 1960, Plimpton, not a professional athlete, arranged to pitch to a lineup of baseball stars in an All-Star exhibition, presumably to answer the question, "How would the average man off of the street fare in an attempt to compete with the stars of professional sports?" He chronicled this experience in his book, Out of My League.
To write Paper Lion, Plimpton repeated the experiment in the National Football League, joining the training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions on the premise of trying out to be the team's third-string quarterback. The coaches were aware of the deception; the players were not until it became apparent that Plimpton did not know how to receive the snap from center. Plimpton, then thirty-six, showed how unlikely it would be for an "average" person to succeed as a professional football player. When finally inserted at quarterback for a series in a scrimmage conducted in Pontiac, Michigan, Plimpton managed to lose yardage on each play, convincing many in the crowd that he was a professional sports clown inserted for amusement purposes, not someone who was genuinely giving his best effort.
The book is memorable for its insights into the personalities of the players and the coaches. Figuring prominently in the book are linebacker Wayne Walker, quarterback Milt Plum, defensive tackle Alex Karras, cornerback Dick "Night Train" Lane, and star player (head coach in the movie) Joe Schmidt, among others.
Prior to Paper Lion, Plimpton had pitched to major league baseball players and sparred with boxing great Archie Moore, but the success of this book, which was later adapted into a 1968 film starring Alan Alda as Plimpton, helped launch a kind of second career for Plimpton as an everyman athlete. Plimpton followed Paper Lion with books about golf and ice hockey, as well as two more football books.
In 2008, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joined the NFL's Denver Broncos as a kicker. His story, which has been compared to Paper Lion, is told in A Few Seconds of Panic.