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The Thart Heel Incident

By Mike Archbold, 17 June 2002

At halftime, several Washington players banged on lockers in exuberance and whooped it up as they entered the locker room. Husby's touchdown catch right before the half had made the score close, Oregon 14, Washington 7. Noise from the fans made its way inside.

Entering the locker room, Coyle looked over at Thart Heel and yelled, "Nice running!" Thart's cheek was still caked in blood and a tooth was missing. "I guess you must have just been nervous on those first two runs!" continued Coyle. "Is your face OK? You got hit pretty hard... you know your face looks awful! Did you see Waldo, the medical assistant?"

Heel answered, "Huh? What? My face?... I'm fine! I hope Dobie starts me in the second half. ^&*(! Oregon!" Heel bashed his arm against his locker.

Dobie, dressed in his long overcoat and chewing on a straw, entered the locker room and motioned for Coyle.

Coyle said to Thart, "You look great on that off-tackle play. I want to see another sweep, maybe a draw. Hang on, I have to go talk to Dobie," Coyle walked over to Dobie and a group of coaches, who were huddled up.

Dobie was writing something on a sheet of paper, as the assistants nodded their heads and made various comments. Dobie took a second to survey the locker room with his steely eyes and pointed to one or two of the players and continued the discussion.

Waldo, the medical assistant, was making the rounds, attending several players. He applied a couple of bandages, attempted to stretch various sore limbs, and gave a couple of players a dose of whiskey, which he called "tonic." 

"Waldo!" shouted Dobie, motioning him over. "How do we look?"

"Well," Waldo answered as he walked over, "not too bad. It looks like we have a broken nose, a bruised rib, a missing tooth, a few guys a bit whoozy, and several minor cuts. Everybody can play in the second half... oh wait, I think we have one guy with a broken leg... I have to look at it again." Waldo walked off.

Dobie, the assistants, and Coyle resumed their discussion.

"It's OK coach!" yelled Waldo. "He's just got a bad leg bruise! I'll give him some tonic!"

By now most of the players had settled down onto the locker room bench, some discussing strategy for the second half, and others leaning over with towels over their heads. Waldo continued to administer to several players. Heel was sitting bolt upright, his bloodshot eyes staring straight ahead, breathing rapidly, looking like a man holding back a temper tantrum.

Eventually, Dobie, who had finished talking to Coyle and his assistants, lit a fresh cigar, and stood in front of the team.

"OK, listen up men!" Several guys took towels off their heads and everybody directed their attention to Dobie.

"We had a couple of bad breaks there in the first half -- a lousy job by the officials and Heel was just a bit nervous to start off with. Other than that we're doing fine. I'm going to start Heel at halfback and safety for the second half."

Several players nodded in approval. Thart nodded and then issued an unrecognizable guttural sound, staring at Dobie through bloodshot eyes.

Dobie continued talking through a thick cloud of cigar smoke. "Oregon doesn't seem to have much of a passing game, so I'm going to bring in the linebackers more and there will be more blitzing. I think we can keep running off tackle, up the middle, and open up the pass a bit more."

"You guys keep playing hard and we're coming out of this with a win." Dobie paused... "NOW LET'S GO GET 'EM!" Dobie banged open the locker room door.

Washington charged out of the locker room and onto Denny Field. The fans were still excited about the late first half touchdown, and the crowd of several thousand greeted the team with thunderous applause, screaming, and yelling.

Since Oregon won the toss, Washington would receive the kickoff to start the second half.

As Oregon lined up for the kickoff, the crowd erupted. Dobie paced the sidelines, eyes darting across the field. Coyle was adjusting his helmet on the sidelines as Dobie grabbed him by the jersey and shouted instructions through the din of noise.

The official blew his whistle, cranked his arm in circular motion, and the Oregon kicker booted a clean, high kick, which was fielded by Mellville Mucklestone at the Washington 3-yard line. The second half was underway.

Heel had aligned himself in the kick-return wedge, which is the group of players that block the first defenders trying to tackle the runner and hopefully create a gap for the ball carrier. The wedge ran forward to about the 20-yard line as two Oregon players hurtled themselves into the wedge. Heel received a blow to the chest but charged into his man, getting some leverage, fighting furiously, and then threw him to the ground. Patten, in the wedge with Heel, plastered another Oregon defender, sending him sprawling backward. The wedge had held.

The last Oregon player trying to break the wedge was caught off balance and sent to the ground by Grover Winn. Muckelstone cut sharply, after clearing the wedge, with several Oregon defenders in pursuit. The crowd noise was deafening as Muckelstone juked one player, cut back, and was finally hauled down at the Washington 46-yard line.

The crowd was in a frenzy, as Coyle jogged out on the field, having received some final instructions from Dobie.

"Huddle up!" yelled Coyle. "OK, Dobie says to pass on first down. I'm going to look for you, Spargur, out in the flat. Everybody hold your blocks. Heel, watch the 'backers. I think they might be looking for you again. I need some protection. BREAK!" Washington jogged up to the line of scrimmage.

"Watch the pass!" yelled an Oregon linebacker. The Oregon linebackers were moving around, their eyes darting from one Washington player to the next.

"SET!".... "HIKE!" yelled Coyle.

Coyle dropped straight back and was looking downfield at the receivers. Spargur, the original target, was covered. Presley, the other running back, was pounding away trying to block the Oregon end. The offensive line held their blocks. Coyle hesitated. An Oregon linebacker yelled and sprinted straight for him.

But Heel was on him. The sportswriter flung himself in front of the Oregon linebacker who bounced off, spun around, and started chasing Coyle. Coyle left the pocket, hotly pursued by the linebacker followed by Heel.

Heel again had an angle for a block on the linebacker and slammed into him, hard, yet the backer again spun around and made straight for Coyle, now far out of the pocket.

Coyle, evidently seeing no one open, threw an incomplete pass over everybody's heads.

The official blew the whistle.

The Oregon linebacker took a cheap-shot at Coyle, hitting him from behind after the whistle. A flag went up.

Heel charged over to the Oregon linebacker and shoved him with both arms. "What the &^#$ do you think that was, you cheap-shot %$#@! What's your name &*(*&^!?"

"My name is Ricky Rule, you 'Mr. Pretty Boy'" said Rule.

Heel said, "Yeah?" "Take this you *()&^^!" Heel punched Rule in the face and the two fell to the ground scuffling.

"Break it up!" shouted the official, pulling Heel off Rule. "I'm only going to warn you two once, so more fighting and you both get kicked out," continued the official. "Now back off!"

Heel and Rule exchanged curses and got back into their huddles.

Back in the huddle, Sutton asked "Are you OK, Coyle?"

"Yeah. Listen up. Heel up the middle. No count. Snap when I tap you. Break!" Washington jogged for the line.

Coyle bent over the center as Oregon was sizing up the formation. Washington hiked the ball with no count, catching Oregon a bit off guard. Coyle backed up and gently handed off to Heel.

A big hole had opened up in the middle, as the defensive line had been held back by blocks. The linebacker, Rule, stood in front of Heel, and all Heel had to do was make a quick cut to either side of him for an easy 5-yard gain, most likely 10.

Instead, Heel lowered his shoulder and made straight for Rule, who charged at Heel. The two met--hard--Heel driving his shoulders straight into Rule, and Rule, tilting backwards as Heel had the edge of momentum, fell on his back, amidst screams from the crowd. Heel charged straight over him, planting a cleat his stomach that left him writhing in pain, clutching at his stomach. But the other Oregon defenders were quick, and dragged Heel down after 5 yards.

The hitting was ferocious. Again and again Coyle sent Heel up the middle, off-tackle, a sweep, anything. Not bothering to cut, Heel repeatedly flung himself like a madman into Oregon defenders, legs driving, crashing into a one, with three or four or more finally dragging him down. Washington advanced... 30-yard line... 20-yard line... 10-yard line.

Washington's men had unstoppable surge and the momentum, while Oregon's were hanging their heads, sucking for air.

Meanwhile, Dobie yelled instructions to his players, puffed on his cigar, and waved his two-sheet rolled-up game-plan.

The crowd went crazy--men pounding each other's backs, many drinking openly from their flasks. The noise was incredible.

Finally it was 1st and goal from the Oregon 5. Coyle called "Huddle up!"

"Listen up. I'm going to fake a pass and run the draw to Heel, giving him the ball. You guys, we've got to sell the pass for this to work. Break!" Washington ran up to the line of scrimmage.


Coyle dropped back to pass, the offensive line looking like they were pass blocking, and the receivers went out in ruse pass patterns.

Heel was pretending to block the defensive end, but he could feel the linebackers watching him. Coyle pumped a fake pass and laid the ball gently in Heel's stomach.

Oregon didn't buy the fake pass, charging forward.

"AAAAHHHHHHH!" screamed the hell-bent reporter as he charged into a mob of Oregon tacklers at the 7-yard line. The first Oregon tackler hit him and bounced off, flying backwards. Another came up from the side and grabbed his jersey. Heel spun, then plastered an off-balance Rule again, knocking his helmet off. Still more Oregon players flung themselves at Heel. Legs churning, screaming, swearing, Heel crashed into the remaining Oregon players who finally managed to spin him around.

Coyle stood behind him, and alertly, Heel lateraled back to him. Coyle looked into the end zone, then fired a bullet pass to Husby, who pulled it in for a touchdown.

The Washington players jumped up and down as Oregon gamely jogged to the sidelines after the extra point, the score deadlocked at 14-14.

The last play had whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Some fans threw their game programs up in the air after the wild lateral-pass-TD play. Most of the men appeared to be smoking, drinking, and generally causing mayhem.

Amidst the thunderous roar, Washington kicked off: a high spiral, which Rule caught at the 20-yard line. The Washington players, lead by a cursing, screaming Heel, instantly collapsed the Oregon wedge, causing Rule to back step, unsure of what to do. His face bore the look of a man confronted by a pack of wild dogs. Instantly he was mobbed and buried at the Oregon 16-yard line.

The Washington fans screamed and yelled with everything they had. The noise level was deafening. As the Oregon men lined up, they appeared confused, and the official threw a delay-of-game flag, which incited the crowd even more. The Washington players jumped up and down.

On 1st and 15, Oregon attempted a sweep to the left, but the  blocking collapsed for a loss, which added more fuel to the bedlam in the stands. 

In the Washington defensive huddle, Coyle called for attention. "OK men, rush everybody. Oregon needs 20 for a first down. Full red-dog blitz. Break!"

The Oregon offense broke the huddle and lined up for the play, the bedlam in the stands appalling.  

"Set!" screamed the Oregon quarterback, but a tackle jumped off-sides, backing them up another 5 yards. They huddled, then lined up again. This time the Oregon center simply hiked the ball, since the noise from the stands was deafening. The quarterback dropped back to pass back in his end zone, and his receivers went out on their routes.

The Washington blitz was on. Heel crashed through the line from his safety position, sending his knee into an Oregon tackle's face. The tackle grabbed his face and fell over. Coyle bashed into the center and sent him sprawling, with all the linebackers and the remainder of the secondary following into the Oregon backfield.

Backed up in his own end zone, the Oregon quarterback raised his arm back to pass, but Mucklestone crashed into one side of him and Pullen hit him from the other side. At the same time, Herman Anderson pounded his arm, popping the the ball loose. Thart Heel, the erstwhile sportswriter, fell on it.

Touchdown Washington. Washington led 21-14.

Dobie gathered his players on the sidelines together in a huddle and was shouting instructions at them against the din of the Denny Field mob. He appeared more animated than usual, sometimes addressing individuals, other times addressing the group. Washington broke the sideline huddle and lined up to kick off.

The Washington kickoff was a beautiful spiral that was fielded by Oregon on its 5-yard line. Washington again charged through the Oregon wedge, but the Oregon runner took off speedily to his right, losing some of the Washington defenders.

Washington reacted quickly, chasing the Oregon runner to the right and closing in for the kill. Suddenly the Oregon runner blindly lateraled to another Oregon player racing in the opposite direction: A reverse, that took Washington by surprise!

Caught against the grain, Oregon managed to blindside a number of Washington defenders. One Oregon player smashed his elbow into Heel's ribcage, causing him to double over with pain. Incredibly, Heel stayed on his feet and gamely tried to follow the Oregon runner, but it was too late. The reverse had worked and there was no way to stop an Oregon touchdown. Heel fell down near the 50-yard line in severe pain, clutching his ribcage.

The score was evened at 21 - 21. A hush went over the crowd as Heel tried to stand up, but fell down quickly. Two players assisted Thart over to the sidelines.

"Waldo!" yelled Dobie. "See what happened to Heel on the double!"

Waldo raced over to Heel, who was holding his ribcage and balancing himself against the bench. Waldo looked serious. "Does this hurt?" asked Waldo as he pressed Heel's ribs. "AAAAHHHH!" came the answer from Heel.

"I think you broke a rib, Thart, you're out for the game." said Waldo.

"Just let me rest for a minute, Waldo," said Heel as he slumped over on the bench.

Dobie motioned over to Waldo. The two met on the sidelines, as Waldo was pointing to his own ribcage in the general area of Thart's injury. Dobie glanced quickly at Heel. He then grabbed a player, issued an instruction, and sent him into the game.

The two teams waged a brutal battle. First Washington, then Oregon, each driving deep into the other's territory, both failing to score. Several players left with injuries. Punts were exchanged, and the third quarter came to an end. The fourth quarter dragged on in a stalemate, the score still tied. Both teams would repeatedly threaten to score, only to be stopped short.

The clock read 4:00 minutes left, and Oregon had the ball, driving. The ball rested on the Oregon 45-yard line. Washington had called for a timeout and Dobie was issuing instructions to his players in a sideline huddle.

Heel, sitting on the bench, his face caked in blood, missing a tooth, and clutching his ribcage, called out to Waldo.

"Waldo, come over here," Thart wheezed. Waldo walked over.

"Give me some of that tonic. I'm going back in," said Thart as he winced in pain.

Waldo looked at him. "I can't do it Thart, coach's orders."

"Waldo, please, I've got to get back in. There's only four minutes left. What difference could it possibly make?"

Waldo hesitated, looked at the clock, and gave Thart a swig of whiskey.

"Don't you dare tell Dobie," Waldo muttered.

Heel managed to get off the bench, straighten himself up, and walk over to the sideline huddle, where a heated discussion between Coyle and Dobie was taking place. The conversation hushed when Thart walked into the huddle.

"I'm ready to go back in coach," said Thart.

Dobie's steely eyes seemed to penetrate Heel's soul as the men in the huddle were silent. Dobie looked over to Waldo, but Waldo had his back turned, pretending to be busy.

Dobie quickly said, "OK, Heel go back in for Devine." Dobie turned and continued to talk to Coyle.

The timeout ended and Oregon resumed its drive. Both teams were playing ferociously, but the Washington defense was buckling. Again and again it seemed Washington had Oregon stopped, but Oregon was able to convert -- twice on fourth down -- and drove deeper into Washington territory, desperately trying to break the tie and win. Heel was holding his own, but he was bent over between plays and sucking air.

Oregon now had the ball on the Washington 10, with 0:12 remaining. The crowd was yelling, but in a sporadic fashion punctuated by specific howls.

Oregon ran an off-tackle play which netted 8 yards, with both Coyle and a battered Heel dragging down the Oregon runner at the 2-yard line. Oregon called timeout with 0:02 left on the clock. The crowd noise diminished to a quiet grumbling.

The exhausted Washington defense huddled up. Coyle spoke up.

"Men, speaking as captain, I'm really proud of how you played today. It's been an honor to play today with all of you. We can stop Oregon here and at least get out of this with a tie. A tie is better than a loss. Everybody blitz on this play. I can't believe Oregon would try a pass from here. We're better off sending everybody in. Break!"

Heel wobbled over to his position, awaiting a blitz to stop an almost certain Oregon run.

Suddenly the crowd came to life as Oregon broke the huddle. Everybody in the stands stood up, and the noise increased in volume from to low to high--an incredible crescendo.

Oregon jogged to the line of scrimmage and fell into position.

"SET!" screamed the Oregon quarterback, eyeing the defense in all directions. Washington was moving around, eyes darting, feet planting.

Heel the sportswriter wasn't buying this. Something was wrong. He'd seen too much NFL footage, too many games to believe this quarterback had made up his mind, run or pass...


Washington and Oregon crashed into each other. The Oregon quarterback took several paces to his right and faked a handoff to an Oregon back who was met hard and dropped at the line of scrimmage.

The Oregon tight end broke into the left of the end zone.

The Washington players gasped as they realized they fell for the fake run...all players that is, except Thart. He read the play perfectly, the only Washington player left in the secondary.

The pass was rifled to the tight end. Heel lunged at the ball, getting a piece of it, knocking the ball precariously up in the air, while barely keeping his footing. The Oregon tight end lost his footing and fell down.

But the ball was dropping straight down into the waiting arms of the tight end, lying in the end zone!

Again Heel lunged and this time spiked the ball wildly up in the air. An alert Coyle caught the ball deep in his own end zone, surrounded by Washington and Oregon players.

"RRRUUUNNNN!" screamed Heel.

Pandemonium broke out. The crowd noise was deafening. Somehow Coyle made it out of the end zone without being tackled, but several Oregon players were in wild pursuit. Washington made some shuddering crack-back blocks, and Coyle managed to swerve his way out to midfield.

Coyle crossed the fifty, zig-zagging his way through crushing blocks and desperate tackle attempts from Oregon. Still he advanced, the crowd noise deafening, but many Oregon players were in hot pursuit, and all the cross-field running had allowed a number of Oregon players to regroup near their end zone, evidently in a desperate attempt to stop Coyle from scoring.

Coyle ran full bore into the remaining Oregon players at about the Oregon 5-yard line. One Oregon defender crashed into Coyle straight on, with his helmet smacking straight into the football, hitting the ball so hard that it flew back into the shocked arms of a teetering Thart Heel at the Oregon 25-yard line.

The hit had whirled Coyle completely around.

Heel froze, holding the ball in disbelief. He had only a split second to decide what to do with Oregon players coming from all directions -- a tie score and no time on the clock!

"DROP KICK!!!" screamed Coyle just before he was pan caked by an Oregon defender.

Heel hesitated for a split second, then gently tossed the ball down to the turf in front of him, and booted it as hard as he could in the general direction of the Oregon goal post.

It was a hard but terrible kick, straight into the Oregon defenders. One Oregon player wildly waved his arms to try to grasp it, but missed. A second player made a leaping dive at the ball, and also missed. The ball finally ricocheted off the helmet of a third player, blasting the ball up in the air like a skyrocket.

The ball zoomed up, end over end, and seemed to hang forever as the everyone held their breath watching it spin wildly. Then it began to drop -- in the direction of the Oregon goal post.

The football clanked off the right upright, spun down, hit the crossbar, and fell through. Good!

Heel let loose an enormous grin, dropping to his knees. Coyle jumped up frantically in the air as the Washington players seemed to either be laughing, swearing, or falling down like so many drunkards. Fans swarmed the field, some picking up Heel, carrying the bleeding, yelling, swearing, screaming, smiling Heel to the center of the field. He seemed to disappear into the adoring mob of Washington fans. At the top of his lungs he screamed: "VICTORY!!!!!!!"

Meanwhile, the Oregon players slowly walked off the field amidst the mayhem. At the opposite end of the field, in the Washington end zone, a stunned Ricky Rule, the Oregon player, slowly walked off the field.

A Washington player rushed up to him, patting him on the shoulder.

"Good game. Better luck next time, sport."

Dobie was trying to make his way through the mob back to the locker room, taciturn as usual. A reporter ran up to him.

"Coach! What a game! Any comments for the paper?!"

"No, I'm more worried about next week's game," deadpanned Dobie, lighting a fresh cigar.

He wearily looked up at the scoreboard.

Washington 24
Oregon 21

The images in the crystal ball began to flicker and fade, and several moments passed.

An image of Thart Heel of the Post-Lobotomizer came into focus. He appeared to have his tooth back and his face looked fine. He was leaning back in his chair.

A young clerk peeked his head in the door. "Excuse me Mr. Heel," said the young clerk. "Do you have any more orders for today?"

"Hey, Jeremy," said Heel. "What do you say we go out and play some catch?"

The crystal ball finally went completely dark. Neither the gypsy lady nor I said anything. I thanked her and walked back outside. It was becoming dusk now, but still warm, a nice June evening.


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


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