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The Thart Heel Incident, Part Two
By Mike Archbold, 10 June 2002 (edited by Rich Linde)

Thart Heel and Gil Dobie walked through the office door straight into a chaotic mass of people. The sun shown brightly. In the distance, beyond some trees, a sparkling lake shimmered.

"Lemley! Orvin! Stop fighting and follow me!" shouted a pretty women at two children scuffling just in front of Dobie and Heel. Dobie sidestepped and motioned for Heel to follow him through the mass of people.

"Pardon me," said Dobie as he edged his way between two men dressed in suits and smoking cigarettes. One had just tucked a small flask into his jacket. "Hey coach!" shouted one of the men to Dobie as he quickly cut through the pair. "What's your prediction for today's game?!"

"Loss," replied Dobie flatly as he walked briskly away.

"Give 'em hell coach!" one yelled, laughing as he gently slapped his friend on the back and took out his flask again and took a swig.

Thart appeared to be in a state of shock. His vision was focused straight ahead and he walked stiffly behind Dobie through the excited mob. Several more people yelled encouragement at Dobie, who simply nodded and continued leading him up a small incline towards a gymnasium.

"Coach," said a man, dodging fans as he ran towards Dobie. He was dressed in what looked to be a makeshift baseball uniform, one consisting of baggy pants, a vest that appeared to be from a three-piece-suit, small shoulder pads, and cleats. "We've been wondering where you were."

Dobie and Heel managed to make their way over to the man. "Coyle," said Dobie, "I'm a bit late, as I was detained. Did you bring last night's game plan?"

"Here it is," said Coyle, eyeing Heel as he handed Dobie two sheets of paper. "There are some reporters hanging around the entrance. You might want to use the back entrance."

"Thanks," replied Dobie. "Head up to the locker room and I'll be up in a moment."

Wee Coyle ran off toward the locker room, while Dobie ushered Heel over to a roped-off segment of grass.

"I haven't got much time, Heel," said Dobie. "Here's what's going on. There is Denny Field and we're playing Oregon today." Dobie pointed towards the field, where some kids were trying to rake rocks off its surface. "It looks like we've got a huge crowd today. You get to play some halfback and maybe a little defense for us. Go in the through the front door of the locker room. I have to go around back or I'll get trapped by those reporters. Go to the second locker from the end and you'll find your uniform. Take these two sheets and study them. Here's another sheet with our offensive plays diagrammed. We usually only use five or so. The defensive schemes for today are on the second sheet. Give me back the plays after you have studied them. Any questions?"

Heel's shoulders drooped as his mouth appeared to be forming a reply, but he said nothing, looking completely bewildered.

Dobie studied him. "Don't worry. You'll get back to your office and nobody will know you've been here. You won't be harmed. Here's the plays." Dobie handed the sheets to Heel and awaited a reply while he lit up a new cigar.

Holding the game plan, Thart appeared to be in a trance. "I just... maybe that clerk slipped something into my coffee and I'm in some kind of dream..." he sputtered to himself, still white as a sheet and bug-eyed.

"I have to get going, Heel," Dobie said. "I have to greet the university president and say hello to the Oregon coach. Don't forget to give me back the game plan after you've studied it. I'll see you in the locker room in a few minutes," Dobie said, as he made his way into the electrified mass of fans.

"Remember," called out Dobie, "You said you knew everything about football!" A hint of a smile crossed Dobie's face as he disappeared into the mob.

The locker room was fairly quiet, excepting a few Washington players who engaged in small talk. No one smiled. The players adjusted their shoes, shoulder pads, and some looked nervously at the clock. "Let's go after them today, Wand," one player muttered as he put on his leather helmet, adjusted the chinstrap, and took the helmet back off. "Hell yeah," said Wand. "Let's let 'em have it Husby."

Heel, the intrepid sportswriter, had evidently found his uniform and managed to put it on. He appeared to have regained some composure as he was studying the plays carefully.

"Hey, fella," said a player to Heel. "Are you new here? Transfer student? My name is Grover Winn."

Heel looked up from the game plan and improvised an answer. "Uh, I transferred in last week... I might get to play a little halfback today. Thart Heel's the name. Nice to meet you." The two shook hands.

At that moment a hush came over the locker room as Dobie emerged from the far, back entrance. Dressed in a black overcoat, he appeared to tower over the group as he made his way to the front of the group. He put out his cigar. The team looked at him attentively.

"Today is the biggest game of the season," Dobie stated flatly. "Maybe the biggest game of your lives." His steely eyes glancing at each player in turn.

"We've got a pretty big crowd today. I think I saw Bagshaw and Flaherty in the stands. The mayor is here. I know a lot of you have family and friends here too. Oh, by the way, we've brought in a new guy this week, Thart Heel, who might play a little halfback today," said Dobie.

Dobie's face became a definition of a frown. "It might interest you to know," scowled Dobie, "that I was walking near the Oregon players as they were warming up. I heard one of them say it was going to be a cakewalk for them and be over at halftime. Maybe they were right the way you mugs fumbled through practice last week!"

Several Washington players grumbled.

"Another Oregon player said we'd been beating up on high schools, and now we wouldn't know what to do with a real team like Oregon. He said he wondered if we might be forfeiting before this thing is over!" yelled Dobie.

More Washington players grumbled loudly and a couple of players cursed. "Oregon can &*()^ that," said one, and another nodded approval.

"I heard another Oregon player said you guys were a bunch of 'pretty-boys' who don't know how to hit. He said you guys have nice, clean, tidy uniforms, and are a bunch of yellow cowards ready to run home and cry to your mothers!"

The Washington players started grumbling and cursing louder, and hitting each other on the shoulders, some starting to stand up.

Dobie kicked the locker room door open, and the team whooped and yelled as they ran out of the locker room towards Denny Field.

As Washington ran out on the field, towards the sidelines, they were greeted with thunderous applause from the local fans. Oregon ran out onto the field a few moments later, amidst scattered applause from some of the fans who made the trip; there were grumbles from Washington fans.

Having accepted the situation and challenge, but still nervous in appearance, Heel walked up to Dobie and handed him the game plan. Dobie nodded to him and scrutinized the game plan, saying "Wait until I tell you when to go in." Thart's face went blank. Dobie looked over at the Oregon bench as his eyes darted from Oregon player to player, sizing them up.

Following the National Anthem, Oregon won the toss, and elected to receive the kickoff, which they advanced to their own 25-yard line. A couple of running plays netted but 5 yards. On third and five the Oregon quarterback attempted a bootleg and was thrown for a five-yard loss.

Washington advanced the Oregon punt to their own 40-yard line. The first play was an off-tackle run, but Oregon read it and stopped Washington at the line of scrimmage. The next play fared a little better as Washington ran a sweep for 7 yards. It was third and three.

Dobie grabbed Heel by jersey. "Go in for Devine. Run the 20-Dive. That's straight up the middle. Just take the hand-off and run with it."

Heel ran from the sidelines into the huddle, saying "Devine out, run the 20-dive." Coyle looked at Heel suspiciously and called the play, then the team broke the huddle. Heel had evidently studied the plays well enough to line up in the right spot, but he still looked nervous and bewildered.

"Set!" screamed Coyle. "HIKE!"

Coyle backpedaled and handed off to Heel, who took the ball, froze and shouted, "That defensive line exhibits all the ferociousness of a group of girl scouts --"

An Oregon defender broke through a block and dove at Heel's legs, knocking them out from under him. With Heel's legs splayed helplessly in the air, an Oregon defender crashed onto his back, and pounded his face into the small, sharp rocks of Denny Field.

The Oregon players jumped up and down, exchanging profanities as Heel lifted his head from the rocky surface, suffering a facial cut on his right cheek. No matter how much they raked the surface, there always seemed to be a bed of small rocks somewhere on the field. And some of them were jagged.

Several Washington players looked at each other, wondering what was going on. "Hey, Griffiths," asked one player, "where did this 'Heel' guy come from?" "I don't know," came the reply, "Care to ask Dobie?" Both the players shook their heads.

After exchanging punts, Washington got the ball back on its own 30.

Again Dobie sent Heel into the game at halfback, even though he was bleeding from the cut on his cheek. On 1st and 10 Coyle called a sweep around the right end, with Heel to get the ball a second time. As the team broke the huddle and lined up, Heel could hear a murmur come from the crowd as they saw him in the backfield.

Coyle took the hike and lateraled to Heel, who started to run to the right and then froze and shouted: "A group of French maitre d's would exhibit more --"

One Oregon defender slammed into Heel's side and another  smacked him head-on, one hand stripping the ball, the other side-swiping his chin, the force of which knocked off his helmet and jarred out a front tooth. He hit the ground with a thud and the ball flew high into the air; an alert Oregon player grabbed it and raced into the end zone, all of this to the delight of the few, exuberant Oregon fans in attendance.

Behind by a touchdown, the Washington players looked  bewildered. Coyle blurted, "What the hell is Dobie doing with this Heel character?!" A couple of Washington players helped Thart to his feet, carried him over to the sidelines, and then let go of him; weak-kneed, he fell to the ground as if were a sack of potatoes. Blood dripped off his chin and he was missing a front tooth.

Dobie glanced at Heel, as he managed to get up and stumble towards him. "OK, you don't have to go back in. You gave it a try, that's all I can ask. Waldo, patch him up."

The medical assistant, Waldo, looked him over. "Aha... uh-huh... well, well, well, this doesn't look too bad. A little cheek scratch and a lost tooth. Pretty minor. I can get that bleeding stopped. Here, take a drink of this tonic."

"What's the tonic?" asked Heel.

"Why, that's whiskey, of course," replied Waldo.

"Give me that towel!" demanded Heel. "What kind of barbaric game is this?!" he shouted, walking back to the sidelines and waving off the 'tonic'.

Thart Heel applied the towel to his bleeding cheek and began watching the game. The hitting was ferocious on both sides. Washington had managed a drive deep into Oregon territory, but it was repulsed and Oregon still held a touchdown lead and was driving.

Dobie's concentration was intense. He would grab one player, issue an instruction, and watch carefully, constantly moving his eyes, puffing on his cigar, glancing at the game plan, and pacing back and forth.

Oregon broke the huddle, lined up at midfield and ran a sweep in the direction of the Washington bench. As the  Oregon runner cleared the line of scrimmage and headed up field, a Washington defender, running at full speed, took aim at him. But an Oregon blocker clipped him from behind and knocked him down. No flag. A second Washington player appeared to have the Oregon back wrapped up, but he slipped out his grasp, cut back across the grain, and was gone.

Oregon led, 14 - 0.

"What the hell was that?" muttered Heel. "Hey! You idiot ref, didn't you see that clip?" screamed Heel. Dobie glanced over at Heel and back at his game plan.

"You *&^*(* idiot %$#@ ref!!!" screamed Heel. "ARE YOU BLIND???!!!" Evidently all the events of the day were catching up with Heel.

Heel started to pace back and forth, fuming. "That *&*( ref, I don't believe this." Heel's face turned beet red, as he hurriedly paced back and forth, and then walked straight over to Dobie.

"Put me back in the game," he said quietly, staring at his coach.

"Forget it, Heel. I'm already behind by a deuce. I can't risk it."

"I SAID PUT ME BACK INTO THE &^&&*(&*& GAME YOU CANTANKEROUS, RIDICULOUS, CIGAR SMOKING CHIMNEY!!!" Several Washington players, standing nearby, looked stunned, but stood mute.

Dobie looked at Heel carefully. "OK, Heel, go in for Devine again."

Washington was faced with a 3rd and 4 at their own 35, as Heel ran into the game, amidst boos from the crowd. In the huddle, Coyle called for a pass.

"Give me the ball," Heel demanded.

Coyle replied, "No, I'm captain --"

"GIVE ME THE ^&%$# BALL!!!"

Coyle glared at Heel and called the play, an off tackle run to him.

Some of the Oregon players laughed at the sight of Heel, as he lined up in the backfield again. After the snap, Coyle handed him the ball, while the nonchalant Oregon defenders stood in their positions and awaited his arrival. Cursing bloody murder, Thart charged full bore into them, buried a shoulder into the first man, drove his legs like pistons, and then after spinning off another defender, dove for a 5-yard gain. Planting the ball on the ground, Thart sprung to his feet, and ran to the huddle. First down.

The Washington fans applauded politely.

Back in the huddle, Coyle called the same play in the opposite direction. The Oregon players seemed stupefied by Thart's presence, and the sportswriter turned mad-dog made the most of it. After charging through the line of scrimmage, he cut sharply to his left and made the first defender miss. It took three three of them to bring him down after a five-yard gain. Second and five. More applause from the Washington fans.

Back in the huddle, Coyle spoke. "OK, they'll be looking for Heel off-tackle again. I'm going to fake it to Heel and hit Husby on a post pattern. Break!"

"SET!" screamed Coyle. The Oregon defenders were cheating in toward the line of scrimmage, evidently suspecting another play with Heel off-tackle.

"HIKE!" Coyle faked a handoff to Heel, who immediately charged into the Oregon defenders and was buried. Oregon had taken the fake, and Coyle unleashed a perfect spiral to Husby streaking toward the post, all alone.

A roar went up from the Washington crowd as Husby scampered into the endzone, making the score 14 - 7 Oregon.

Heel jogged over to the sidelines, past Dobie, who nodded to him and continued to stare out at the field.

The gun went off, and the first half was over.


Copyright 2002 Michael P Archbold
All references to persons living or dead are fictional. The character of Thart Heel has no relation to any real person. Mike can be contacted at jazzbox@w-link.net

Edited by Richard Linde

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