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For a change, it’d been a quiet winter. Charlene did whatever she did, which was nice in that she left me alone. Also, I didn’t have to hassle with my agent and the management of the Titans. I know the press loves to cover and prognosticate on how player’s salaries are agreed upon. For me, it was simple. When I renegotiated three years ago, I made it very plain to my agent how much I wanted. I wasn’t asking for the moon like so many of the kids coming straight out of college. Seriously, what is a twenty-two year old going to do with a five million dollar signing bonus and ten million for five years plus bonus clauses?
I’d seen plenty of teams pay the piper to acquire the number one unproven pick. And when the player did not pan out, the media masters would holler long and loud, bashing the team for selling the franchise on an unproven commodity. That fucker Hawkins was the worst, including the gurus on EPSN.
I laughed my ass off when Bum Reason signed “Johnny Football.” He was the press’ All-American pick. He led the Crimson Tide to a National Championship in 1984. He won the Heisman Trophy voting in a landslide and “fat boy” Hawkins was having male orgasms talking about the kid. So, how did it work out? He signed for two million up front and five years at six million—guaranteed! Know what Bum got in return? His namesake. I don’t think the arrows the Sioux let loose on Custer could have fallen faster. The kid was a bust from day one.
In his first quarterback camp, Coach Windsor wanted to see how the kid did under pressure. Usually the defenders stand around like stick men, waving their arms in the air as a distraction giving the new and old guys a mental check that there are no clear lanes when passing the ball. Well, Windsor told the line to rush. Johnny Football crapped all over himself when those monsters came running—literally. His white practice pants weren’t white anymore and to add insult to injury he was dubbed, “stinky pants.” I was so shocked our newly acquired franchise player couldn’t handle the mental pressure. Poor thing.
What a waste. He never made it to the preseason games and the last I heard he was sequestered in a rehabilitation center in Colorado. What a shame.
But ole blowhard Hawkins was Johnny on the spot; blaming ownership and the coaching staff for the failure. Not the teams’ failure, but his own, for looking stupid. How quickly he forgot all the praise he was laying on the kid and how stupid it would be if the Titans didn’t do everything in their power to make him a high priority. Well they did. It didn’t work out, but he couldn’t let it go. Someone had to pay. It wouldn’t be him; it’d be the lackeys who were conned into giving up the farm for untested talent.
Just thinking about it pisses me off. I hope I’m around to see him cut down to size one day.
I surfed through the two hundred cable channels attempting to find something of interest. Hard to believe with all those choices and twenty special porn channels I couldn’t find anything to watch. You’d think for $109.00 a month there would be some decent programming. My search was interrupted by the desk phone.
“Who the hell could be calling?”
“Jimmy, turn on channel five,” said Charlene.
“Because I said so.”
“God. That’s Hawkins’s channel. I don’t want to…”
“Then find another local channel, you idiot.”
“Alright, alright.” I settled for four. I could almost stomach Scott Davis.
* * *
“Folks, this is Scott Davis…” No shit. At least he knows who he is. “… your Irving Titan inside….” Shut up and get on with it! “…we are the first to break the story. Coach Steve Osborn has been fired.”
“What the hell did he just say?”
“That’s right folks. The new owner, Reuben Weitzman, has fired Coach Osborn. I have no words for this unprovoked rash move by the new ownership who have yet to be approved by the NFL owners. Folks, this is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed in my fifteen years of reporting. What did Coach Osborn do to be ousted like a load of dirty laundry? He came to the franchise in 1968 and took one of the worst teams in the league to prominence and a powerhouse. He brought two Vince Lombardy Trophies to our fair town along with five NFC Championships. Was it time for Steve to step down and hand over the reins to another younger more vibrant man? Perhaps. But folks, this is not the way we do business in Irving…” I’ll agree with that “…I’ve tried to contact Titan officials with no response. I only get a recorded message saying ‘There will be a press conference in two days with more details. Until that time, the switchboard is closed. Thank you and Go Titans.’ Sorry folks, but if Mr. Weitzman wants to embrace our heritage and fans, he’s going to have to do better than a recorded message. This is Scott Davis signing off.”
“Jimmy. Jimmy? Are you still there?”
Forgot I left Charlene hanging. “Yeah, I’m still here.”
“What do you think?”
“I think Coach Osborn got screwed. I don’t know how this clown…”
“That clown is your new boss. Like it or not, he now owns you.”
“The hell he does. The NFL owners haven’t…”
“Voted approval of the sale? Jimmy, sometimes I wonder how you are able to run a complex offense and have no brains off the field. The sale is going through. The NFL knows one thing, the Titans are this country’s team whether they’re winning or losing. No other team can put butts in the stadiums like they can. You either love them or hate them. And a whole lot of people still love those boys, no matter how bad they are.”
“You wouldn’t know it by the crowds we’ve drawn over the past two years. What are we averaging? Twenty thousand a game and struggling to stay on the networks radar?”
“Jimmy Stone. Shut up and get wise! Change is coming and you better get on the wagon!” <click>
Well, that went well. Wonder what blowhard’s saying?
I flipped to channel five to hear his sign-off. “…this is a great day for Titan football. This bold move by Mr. Weitzman is paving the way for greatness. And remember where you heard it fir…”
“Enough of that shit. I will remember where I heard it second.” I had to laugh with my own joke. With Osborn gone, what other changes are in store?
Two Days Later
It was the talk of the town. You’d have thought Jesus Christ himself was coming to the press conference. I mean people from all across the state and country descended on Irving like locusts. Folks, it’s just a press conference. It’s not like we won the Cold War. Since I was the starting quarterback, I was summoned by one of Mr. Weitzman’s subordinates to be in attendance. They wanted us to present a united front with the new ownership and the, to-be-announced head coach. I hated these functions. Seriously, I could be at Baby Dolls having a free lunch and checking out the local talent with a Crown and Seven.
* * *
The ad-hoc media room was abuzz as the local press descended on the once-proud building. All of the top boys and a few national reporters were invited to the spectacle. It was obvious Mr. Weitzman wanted to make a favorable impression. Behind the podium, to the left and right hung the two Super Bowl pennants, strategically placed behind the glass encased Vince Lombardi trophies. They were flanked by the NFC Championship flags. Video clips ran in a loop, documenting past glories. Inspirational music and narration added to the hype. It was in every aspect a true show.
Every writer was throwing out their expert opinions and assumptions concerning the team you either hated or loved. If one listened long and hard enough, based on all the comments, the Titans, under the guidance of Mr. Weitzman would soon be adding to the collection of flags and hardware.
A few of the national reporters were noticing two things were missing. The old films of the team never showed a clip of the fabled coach and there were no players present, except me.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank everyone who has come today.” He motioned for the music to fade out. “I have an announcement and then will field a few questions. One, in the interests of the team moving forward, I am releasing Coach Osborn from his head coaching duties. The man replacing him is no stranger to this illustrious group of men and women. He is the reigning number one collegiate coach in the country. His ascension through the coaching ranks is well known and well documented. Every team he's been involved with has shown marked improvement. Please welcome Coach Marshall Jankowski to the Irving Titans.”
The gasps in the room were deafening.
He strode to the podium wearing the mask of a conquering hero.
“Thank you for the introduction, Mr. Weitzman.” They shook hands for the first of many photo ops. Instead of being bombarded with the sounds of cameras flashing and whirring, the air was greeted with cheap Polaroids clicking, evicting the vile pictures.
“Let me assure everyone in this room and those who will be watching the evening broadcasts, WE will bring this storied franchise back to prominence. A lesser coach would be intimidated by the accolades adorning this room. I am not. I have been in the trenches and won. I have taken shambled organizations and built them into powerhouses. I am the right man for the job. Also, let me discuss....” before he could get another word out, George Grossman from the Daily Oklahoman threw out a question. “Coach Jankowski, congratulations on your promotion and National Championship. Do you think the OSU faithful would agree with your assessment in rebuilding their program? After all, when you left, didn't the NCAA hammer the University with sanctions after the slush fund scandal surfaced?”
Mr. Weitzman was prepared for this. He moved to the podium, motioning to two men in the back. They flanked Grossman.
“Gentlemen, I did not hire Mr. Jankowski to be grilled with frivolous questions concerning the past. No! It’s time to move forward and begin a new path of understanding and cooperation. In the future I would be pleased if questions and comments would be more directed to the issues at hand and the problems we currently face. That is not to say we won't address issues as they surface...” he waved his hands dramatically in the air. No one saw Grossman escorted out of the room. “...and make light of themselves. Until that time, let's again welcome and congratulate Coach Jankowski and wish him well.”
Channel Five News Room
Skip Hawkins couldn’t wait to break the story to his beloved fan base. No one could remember the last time he spent the whole day in the newsroom, prepping for a story. It took his producer and sound man just under an hour to splice the fifteen second clip together. For the next three and-a-half hours, Skip kept rolling and rolling the clip, looking for support and opinions on the masterpiece. After an hour of his chest pumping and prodding, everyone was ready for him to take a Valium, leave, or shut-up. Several felt all three would be appropriate.
“This is Skip Hawkins bringing you all the exclusive news concerning our beloved team, the Irving Titans. Today, the new owner, Reuben Weitzman made it official; Osborn’s out and Jankowski’s in. Well, I don't have to tell you how relieved I am with the news. Mr. Reason should have done this a long time ago. But no, he held onto the past and refused to take actions which would benefit the team and the fans. I, for one, have been saying for years it was time for a change at the top. Many of you disagreed with me. Today's bold action has vindicated me and my followers. Yes, this is the change we've been waiting for and none too soon. Another year under the helm of Osborn, and I guarantee we would have seen nothing but another disastrous and embarrassing season with the former coach. The team is now on the right track. Out with the old and in with the new. Yes sir folks, I predict our glory days are only a kick-off away. And remember, you heard it here first.”
Jimmy threw a half can of beer at the wall.”Charlene, I can't believe that arrogant ass just fired the most beloved sports figure in town, next to Robert White. I bet if he had the chance, he'd try and get him deported.”
“Jimmy that might be the case, but it doesn't change anything for you. You still have to perform. If not, you're gonna find your butt kicked to the sidewalk with the rest of the staff.”
“What other staff?”
“Lasso is out. So are Gil, Howard and Ralph. Mr. Weitzman wiped the slate clean.”
“Wait, how do you....On second thought, I don't want to know.”
“That's my Jimmy. A little slow at times, but still trainable. Now, what you say to Charlene releasing some of that energy you are about let go to waste?”
Channel Four news room
Scott Davis’ broadcast was much more subdued. He wasn't enthralled with the new owner or the direction the team was taking. Like many, he knew sooner or later Steve would be released and the reins handed over to a younger man, but not like this. He gave throwing out his trash more thought than Mr. Weitzman did when it came to firing Coach Osborn—a whole lot more. His broadcast focused on the good Osborn did for the Titans and the great players who graced the community over the last twenty plus years. It was an impressive resume and Scott covered it all. He finished up his broadcast by calling all the Titan faithful and the city to give their beloved coach a proper send off.
One week later
“What are you going to do?” asked Jankowski.
“What would you suggest?”
“A full parade for the son-of-a-bitch. It’s the only way to placate the masses.”
“I thought about that, but the city’s already beat me to the draw. They started drafting up plans before Davis finished his commentary.”
“That’s not good.”
Weitzman strummed his fingers on the table contemplating the situation. “No it isn’t. But being a faithful follower of sports for the last twenty years, I can use this to my advantage.”
Jankowski furrowed his brow. “How?”
“Let them revel in the glory days. Let them remember how great the franchise used to be. Let them fill their minds with images of grandeur. If they keep those memories burning, it will make our jobs a lot easier.”
“Reuben, you’re still a sly old fox aren’t you?”
He replied with a crooked smile.
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