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Seventy-five yards more
By Richard Linde, Posted 24 May 2003

A flash of lightning and a clap of thunder awakened him. Rain cascaded off the roof of the mansion, flowing noisily in the gutter near the bedroom window. He'd arrived, the apparition that appeared on the most tempestuous, stormy nights. The smell of cigar--his calling card--permeated the bedroom.  As usual, he’d be down in the den, only this time he'd have a different message.

Next to him, his wife slept soundly. Not wanting to wake her, he crawled easily out of bed, stepping onto the soft, gold-colored carpeting. Then after wrapping himself in a purple woolen robe, he shut the bedroom door, walked down the long, circular stairway and headed for the den.

"God, help me," he muttered, wondering why he'd ever taken the job at Washington. "The whole town is nuts."

Gilmour Dobie sat in Rick Neuheisel’s leather chair, his feet propped on the mahogany desk. His half-smoked cigar, some of its ashes dirtying the surface of the desk--as well as his corduroy pants--brought a frown to Neuheisel's face. Contrasting sharply with the handsome coach, the craggy-faced veteran smiled at him, showing uneven, yellowed teeth, and then took a swig from the bottle of Jack Daniels he’d just opened. A small lamp on the desk provided most of the light in the large room.

"Top of the morning to you. Next time, knock before you come in."

“Knock! You come into my home uninvited, plop your wet clothing in my leather chair, drink my whiskey, put your feet on the desk, and ruin the top of it with your cigar droppings, hot ashes…and…”

“Calm down, pretty boy. Everything will be the same as it was before I got here. What are these?” The unbeaten, former Washington coach had been perusing Neuheisel’s Washington Football Media Guides.

Neuheisel looked embarrassed, almost blushing. “Media Guides. I go over them from time to time.”

“The pages are worn and thin, especially the player sections. Instead of coveting your players by night, you should be kicking butt on the field by day. The worst thing that ever happened to this program was putting numbers and names on uniforms. Fancy, candy-assed sissies are what they are, not football players. All of them are fat.”

“It’s…it’s…a different game now. And I have to put a name to a face when it comes into my office.”

"I'll give you names to call them, the ones I used," he puffed. "Imagine carrying these damned things around all day." Suddenly, he hurled the media guide he’d been reading across the room. It landed in the fireplace, and its hot embers, still remaining from an evening’s roaring fire, slowly caught it fire.

"That'll put a name to them." Dobie’s voice was raspy and gravelly sounding, as if he needed to clear his throat. Mostly likely, the effect of smoking cigars, along with drinking whisky straight from the bottle, had led to his demise, the young coach pondered.

As if reading Neuheisel’s mind, the intemperate Dobie continued, “there isn’t a coach worth his salt who hasn’t drunk whiskey by the gallons and smoked cigars by the bundle. The Bear and Whisky Jim for starters, and now Price." He hesitated, as if measuring his words, "your grandfather ever cut shingle bolts in the woods for a living?

“No, he was a lawyer, as are my father and I.”

 "Bryant, Phelan and Price never passed a bar they didn't like, no pun intended. After cutting down a tree and gulping from a bottle, ‘tis the smell of whisky on wool in the wetted wood that makes life better understood.”

“Enough of the repartee, what’s on your mind, Dobie?”

“Don’t you ‘repartee’ me, sonny. Save your fancy words for your mouth-piece-ambulance-chasing friends. Let’s get down to business. You need a measly 75 yards more on the ground per game this season to save your hide, doubling the number from last season, right?”

“Right, it’s double or nothing as far as my job goes. Expectations run high this season. The Tyee members are vultures, ready to tell Barbara to give me the heave ho.”

“First thing, damn it, is not to take any more orders from that woman, hear?”

“Yes, sir,” Neuheisel replied, setting sail to the set of Dobie's jib, for he was not one with whom to skirmish. Neither was Admiral Hedges, he thought, thinking of his clandestine meeting with Terry Donahue. Demanding forthrightness and honesty from her swabs, she'd figuratively knotted his head with a belaying pin for his act of deceit, resulting in a slight, unnoticeable twitch of the right eye.

“Whoever heard of a woman running a football program? Holy Jehoshaphat, she's from USC--a spy in your midst. Hedges is as bad as that Sorenstam woman, maybe worse. Both of them overstep their bounds.” Dobie gave a nervous, corrective laugh, as if his wife could hear him spout off from the next room. 

“Get on with it.” The young coach was growing impatient with the old man's blarney, and he was stirring up old memories hard to sleep by.

Suddenly, the fire in the fireplace surrendered darkness to light, illuminating their shadows on the wood-paneling behind Dobie.

“Here’s your 75 yards. When Pickett’s inside the opponent’s 20 have him run the ball more often than he did last season. And instead of taking a sack, have him off and runnin'. That gives you 15 yards more per game. He was losing that much last season.

“Yes, sir.” Neuheisel pawed his thinning blonde hair, unconsciously moving long strands from the back to the balding front of his head. Suppressing a smirk, he turned it into a cough.

“Now, have him option the ball off to Alexis, like Tuey...ah...zoo…like Marques did in 2000.”

“Yes, Tuiasosopo. 

“Don’t you correct me, you son-of-a-bitch?”

“Yes, sir.” Neuheisel stood at mock-attention, his shoulders thrust back.

“That’ll give you 30 yards more. That’s 45 yards more per game. The other 30 come from Cozzetto and his offensive line. They’ll open bigger and better holes for James, Sampson and Singleton. Cozzetto has promised me that.”

“I told you to stay away from Dan and the other coaches. I’m calling the police.”

“They’ll lock you up, not me. They’ll think your nuts,” Dobie breathed in a fiery voice. “I’ll not be here when they come; nor will any traces of my presence.”

Suddenly, the old man vanished, along with the cigar smoke, the ashes, the Jack Daniels and the fire in the fireplace. The media guides took their rightful place on a bookshelf.

Staring at the ceiling, Neuheisel spoke softly, "Lambright told me this job carried baggage. Damned smirk on his face, always smirking now when he sees me. Hedges has chained me to the job, and I don't dare tell her about Dobie."

As if driven mad by Dobie's repeat visage, the Washington coach doubled his fists, raised them towards the coffered ceiling, and danced around his desk while singing a verse to the chorus of the fight song:

"So, Heaven help the foes of Washington,
They'll tremble at the feet of our mighty runners.
Cozzetto, Alexis and Pickett,
I'd already thought of them;
Since I'm no sticky wicket,
Don't bother calling again.
So victory's the cry of Washington,"

Laughing hysterically, he headed for the stairway, but stopped short as the house lit up brightly. A few seconds later, a thunderous explosion rocked the mansion, turning him about abruptly to stare incredulously at the open door of his den.

Appearing from nowhere, a photograph--spinning like the blades of a helicopter--floated down from the ceiling and landed on the surface of the desk. Dumbstruck, his face turning ashen, the young coach walked back into his den and picked up the photo. It was a photograph of Annika Sorenstam.

There words were inscribed.

“WINNERS HAVE GUTS; SORENSTAM'S GOT GUTS”

He repeated those words softly to himself and Dobie's message became clear: Pickett, Alexis, Cozzetto...and Sorenstam. An epiphany from Gil Dobie about a courageous woman who had captured the hearts of those who follow the world of sports.

Seventy-five yards are but half of a nine iron for Annika. It's her bravery, dedication and heart that count.

-------------------------

The story is dedicated to Pfc. Jessica Lynch, and to all of the men and women in our armed forces.


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