Hope everyone enjoys this next installment, again thanks for the patience, I have been very busy lately.
I ran out of the door and called Alexis immediately. I filled her in during the cab ride. She called ahead and booked me on the next flight home, which was taking off in two hours. Even with the short wait, I wouldn’t get in until early the next morning.
I arrived at close to four in the morning, the airport was not very crowded. I made my way immediately to where the dispatch area was and hailed a taxi. He drove me directly to the hospital dropping me off at the front door. I went in, asked for some assistance at the help desk, they directed me to Courtney’s room. As I got out of the elevator, I looked down the hall one way, then the other. I saw Mrs. Timmons sitting on a chair in the hallway, her head in her hands. I slowly began the long walk down to her, my stomach was in knots. As I approached her, she looked up and saw me, jumped up and ran into my arms hysterically crying. She held on to me tightly as the emotion shook her body violently. I was still holding on to her when Mr. Timmons walked out of the room to see what was going on. I reached over with one hand and squeezed his, his wife still crying uncontrollably. He stepped around me, gently pulling his wife’s arms from me.
“Baby, it’s ok. Let Brian go see Courtney, he has come along way.”, he urged with a smile.
She reluctantly let me go, wrapping her arms around her husband instead. He motioned with a nod of his head for me to go into room. I took a deep breath, set my bag on the chair and walked into the room. Courtney was lying in the bed, tubes and wiring all over her. She appeared to be sleeping comfortably, a content look on her face. There was a chair sitting right next to the bed, apparently where her Dad had been sitting. I pulled it out slightly, sitting down and leaning over the bed. I reached out and took her small, fragile hand in mine, once again the tears running down my cheeks. Mr. Timmons stuck his head in the door, speaking very softly.
“Brian, we are going down to get something to eat, we have been here all night. We will be right back, the nurse will be checking in from time to time.”, he said.
I had been sitting there for maybe twenty minutes, just holding her hand, looking into her face. One of the nurses knocked on the door and let herself in quickly. She moved around to the opposite side of the bed, her eyes scanning all of the equipment to make sure it was still properly working.
“I’ll only be a minute.”, she said softly, a weak smile on her face.
I got up and moved over to the window, looking out over the city. I couldn’t help but think to myself, all of these people, all of these cars, it’s just a regular day for them. In here, my best friend was dying, out there, no one cared. The nurse finished up, then turned to me again, once again trying her best to smile.
“You have to be Brian, I have heard a lot about you.”, she said.
“Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Timmons are good people.”, I answered.
“Well yes, some from them. But most of it from her.”, she said, motioning to Courtney, “You’re all she has talked about since she got here, she adores you.”
“We have been through a lot together. She is my best friend.”, I answered.
“Well she should be waking up in a little while, I backed off the medicine a little bit.”, she said, patting me on the shoulder as she walked out.
I sat back down in the chair, once again taking Courtney’s hand, leaned back and closed my eyes, it had been a long night. I sat there for a few minutes, the sounds of the hospital behind me, until I felt her hand move in mine. I quickly opened my eyes, leaned forward slightly looking into her face. She slowly opened her eyes, blinked several time, then slowly turned in my direction. It took several moments for her to realize I was there, but slowly a soft smile spread across her mouth.
“Hey baby, how do you feel ?”, I asked gently, my hand brushing the hair out of her face.
“I’m …. better …. now.”, she whispered, weakly squeezing my hand.
I leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips, my hand softly stroking her cheek. The tears were pouring from my eyes, I felt so hopeless. She slowly lifted her hand, extended one finger and placed it across my lips.
“Shhhhhhh.”, was all she whispered.
I looked into her eyes, realizing that for the second time in my life, I was losing my best friend. First my Father, now Courtney. Even though I could see she was weak, her body overwhelmed by this terrible disease, inside she was still strong.
“Why aren’t ….. you at…. your camp…. today.”, she asked.
“I have to be here with you.”, I replied softly.
“No, you need… to…be there.”, she replied.
“I’m not leaving you again, never again.”, I whispered to her.
Even though she was pretending to be protesting, I knew she wanted me there. She smiled again weakily, then slowly drifted off back to sleep. I had just gotten myself composed again, when Mrs. Timmons walked back in. She placed her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Does she know you’re here ?”, she asked, softly.
“Yes mam. She was awake for a few minutes.”, I answered.
“Good.”, she replied.
For the next three days, I never left the hospital. We all took turns, eating, sleeping and praying, one of us always by her side. Sunday morning, the doctors told us, it was only a matter of hours. He told us, he could ease off the medication, allow her to wake up for short spells, let everyone say what they wanted, one last time. Her parents nodded to him, he told the nurse what to do. I decided to leave the room, let Courtney be with her parents, I knew they had so many things they wanted to tell her. I walked down the hall, caught the elevator down to the first floor. I went into the cafeteria and got a cup of coffee and sat down at one of the tables. I had been down there for maybe an hour, when Mr. Timmons came walking in, you could tell he had been crying.
“She just fell back asleep. You need to go up there shortly, make sure you’re there when she wakes up again. She was asking for you.”, he told me.
“Yes sir.”, I replied.
As I got back to the room, I told Mrs. Timmons that her husband was down in the cafeteria. She told me she would go down for a minute, grab some coffee, then be right back up. I sat down in the chair, once again taking Courtney’s hand in mine. I had been there for maybe fifteen minutes when the doctor came back in, checking on her. I could tell from the look on his face, he was concerned. He looked over at me and smiled, doing his best to ease my pain.
“So you’re Brian Stevens huh ?”, he asked.
“Yes sir.”, I answered.
“How does it feel to be drafted in the first round ?”, he asked quietly.
“I would trade it all right now sir, to make her healthy.”, I answered.
He didn’t say a word, he patted my shoulder and walked out. As I looked back down at Courtney, I saw she was awake. She had this smile on her face, it was like the old Court, the smile I knew.
“I love you….Brian. And..I know…you meant that.”, she said in a whisper.
“I love you too Courtney, I always have.”, I admitted, between tears.
By now her parents had quietly walked back into the room, although I hadn’t realized it. I could see Courtney’s eyes begin to droop once more, I had so much more to say.
“Remember ….what I told you…the day..you left ?”, she asked, her eyes open wide again.
I nodded to her that I did, I saw a sudden cynical look cross her face. She weakly should her head back and forth.
“No…you don’t.”, she ribbed.
I closed my eyes for a second, just to make sure I had the words right, I had never really forgot them. I leaned over and kissed her softly on the lips, once again brushing her cheek. I looked directly into her eyes and I softly held her hand with both of mine.
“If you must go, then I wish you love. You’ll never walk alone.
Take care my love, I’ll miss you love.”, I answered, her eyes alive for the first time since I arrived.
I heard her mother begin to cry behind me, at that moment, I realized they had returned. They had been there the whole time, but it didn’t matter.
“You did……remember….. all this time……”, she replied.
“Yes, all this time.”, I responded.
“Brian, remember those words. Go, live your life…..but remember, you…will never walk….alone, I’ll be with you baby….I love you.”, she finished, exhausted.
She smiled weakly and pulled her hand from mine, wiping the tears from her face.
“Brian, I need….my Mom and ….my Dad now.”, she pleaded.
I got up from my chair and turned to her parents, both of them were in tears, the pain was unbearable. I walked past them and out to the hall, where I slumped down in the chair. I was out there for maybe twenty minutes, when I saw the nurses running down the hall in my direction. The pushed hard on the door and ran in, I knew, she was gone. Several minutes later, her parents walked out together, Mr Timmons supporting his wife. He stopped for second, looked down at me and smiled.
“We’re going to take her home now.”, he told me.
I went back down to the lobby of the hospital and called Coach Reed, it went through to voice mail. I left him a message, telling him what had happened. I hung up, just as Mr. and Mrs. Timmons were getting out of the elevator. They asked if I wanted to go back to the hotel with them, but I knew they needed to be alone. I thanked them, telling them I had to fly back to San Diego for practice tomorrow. I asked them to please call me and let me know when the funeral services would be, I wanted to be there. They agreed, they would do that, as soon as they could.
I arrived back on the west coast late that night, went straight home and fell asleep. When the alarm went off, it seemed as if I had only been asleep a few hours. I looked over at the clock, it was a little after eight in the morning. I got dressed and left for the practice facility, arriving a few minutes before nine. As soon as I opened the doors to the locker, a hush fell over the room. I walked in, past everyone to my locker, beginning to change for practice. Slowly everyone in the room began talking again, but at a much lower tone. No one said a word to me as we made our way out to practice. As soon as Coach Reed saw me, he pulled me to the side.
“Brian, I am so sorry for your loss. If there is anything we can do, please just ask.”, he offered.
“Thanks Coach.”, I answered.
I just went through the motions in practice for the next three days, my heart wasn’t in it. We were three weeks away from our first preseason game and I had taken a huge step backwards. As the days passed, my heartache turned to anger. Why had this happened, what was the purpose of following by all of the rules, only to have everyone you care about ripped from you. I was back at my hotel on Wednesday night when Alexis Clark called telling me she had my contracts in her possession, I needed to sign them as soon as possible. We set up an appointment for the following day at the practice facility.
I met her following practice on Thursday, signing all the documentation she had with her. She told me I needed to meet with both Cindy Taylor and herself later today after practice, concerning immediate investment and tax problems. I agreed to be at her office for four that afternoon. I went back into the locker room and got undressed, most of the team had already left the facility. As I came out of the shower, I noticed Josh sitting on the bench in front of my locker. As I walked over to him, he stood up, his arms folded in front of him.
“Hey Josh, what’s up ?”, I asked.
“Brian, I think we need to talk. Do you have a few minutes for me ?”, he asked.
“Sure.”, I replied.
“Look, I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through right now. I was thinking of you last night, about what you went through in high school losing your Dad. Now this with your girlfriend, I can’t even imagine how I could handle it.”, he started.
“What I do know is, you have spent your entire life to get to this moment in time. You are living a dream that every little boy in America thinks of in his lifetime. I know right now, you think it’s a nightmare, I would probably feel the same way.”, he continued.
“It seems that way.”, I answered.
“Brian, I watched you practice today, in fact a lot of people were watching you. Honestly, after what I saw today, if I had to make a snap judgement, I would cut you without hesitation.”, he said.
The last statement jolted me to reality, I had never been cut from a team, not once in my life.
“I can’t tell you how to handle what has happened. Honestly, I have no clue how I would react. I have been with my girlfriend Angie for close to eight years. I can’t imagine life without her.”, he added.
“Brian, you mentioned to me that your Dad and Courtney at different times in your life, were both your best friends. The only question I have to ask you is, if they were truly your best friends, would they want you to throw away everything you have worked for, to simply mourn them ?”, he asked.
“I don’t know Josh.”, I replied softly.
“Again, I don’t mean to come across as an asshole Brian, I really don’t. No one can tell you they understand what you’re going through, because they can’t. What I am asking you, is to turn it all to something else. Take the heartache, the sorrow, the tears, the lonliness and turn it into anger and passion.”, he asked.
“I just feel so empty Josh, almost as if I have nothing or no one to play for.”, I choked back.
“Play for your Father, because he would want you to. Play for Courtney because she would want you to. Play for yourself, because it’s what you have to do.”, he urged.
“I’ll try Josh.”, I answered.
He looked me square in the eyes, extended his hand and took mine, his grip firm and tight.
“That’s all anyone can ask of us Brian. That we try. Anything I can do for you, anytime, day or night, you call me.”, he offered.
“Thanks Josh, I appreciate it.”, I answered.
I left the facility a few minutes later and drove over to the agency’s main office where I had a meeting schedule with Alexis. I arrived thirty minutes early and was shown to the waiting room, where I sat down and tried to relax. I kept going over what Josh had told me, about what Courtney and my Dad would want me to do. I knew he was right, but it didn’t help. I just had this hole inside of me, one that I thought could never be filled. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, Alexis came into the small lobby and asked me to her office. She was once gain, very professionally dressed in a beige dress with a matching high heels. She didn’t have a hair out of place. She asked me to sit down and she walked around her desk to her seat. She rearranged some papers on her desk, moving them aside, grabbing a folder with my name on the face. She reached over, pressed the intercom button on her phone, talking to her secretary.
“Would you please tell Ms. Taylor we are ready for her now ?”, she asked.
She sat down, opened my file and sorted out the documentation in front of her. Less than five minutes later, Cindy Taylor, who I had met during my first meeting with the agency came into the office. I stood up to greet her as she walked over.
“Hi Brian, it’s so nice to see you again. Congratulations on your new contract.”, she said, shaking my hand.
“Thank you Ms. Taylor, Alexis did a good job.”, I replied.
We sat down and Alexis began to give me my copies of my contract, a detailed deion of my contractual obligations to the team, and finally the fee’s that the agency would receive for their management services. That was the most eye opening document of the group. If I played out my entire contract, the agency itself would take almost eight hundred fifty thousand dollars out in service fees. In addition, Alexis would be paid a one time, ninety four thousand dollar fee, immediately from my signing bonus.
What was intriguing though was the breakdown page of my contract. Their were numerous incentives built in to my contract, any of which, if I achieved could significantly raise my salary. I would receive a bonus if I started in over seventy five percent of games played in my first two years. If I was selected to the Pro Bowl, another bonus was achieved. If I ended the season leading the league in any category, another bonus would be paid. Although any of these goals were highly unlikely, they were there.
Lastly, but most importantly, was the financial breakdown on how the monies would be paid to me during the next few years. This is where Ms. Taylor came in, she was the expert on financial planning. She began to ask me a few questions, in order to see what needed to be done.
“Have you opened any bank accounts so far Brian ?”, she asked.
“No mam, nothing.”, I replied.
“Ok, we will get that done today, I will go with you.”, she started.
“In addition Brian, for now, I suggest we open an annuity, that way be can take a huge chunk of your signing bonus, invest it without paying the taxes now. You will be responsible for those taxes later, but after you retire and you’re in a much lower tax bracket.”, she continued.
“The annuity I have been using has out performed most stock portfolio’s over the last decade. For now it’s basic but it will work. As time passes, I will help you diversify your assets so your future is well planned. Too many players today, spend a decade in the business, they retire and they’re broke.”, she cautioned, “You have to watch your spending Brian.”
“I understand, I’m not one who spends much money anyway Ms. Cindy.”, I answered.
Alexis then handed me a check for two million dollars, it was staggering to look at a check with that many zero’s on it. Alexis then suggested I go with Cindy and begin the necessary arrangements I had to make. We stopped briefly at Cindy’s office, she grabbed her brief case and a few other items, we left the building and headed straight to the main branch of the largest bank in San Diego. Cindy was close friends with the bank president, who immediately welcomed us into his office. Cindy explained what she had recommended for me, he then began to prepare the right accounts. We opened a checking account depositing four hundred fifty thousand dollars as the initial deposit. The bank then wrote me thirty bank drafts in the amount of fifty thousand dollars each, which would be used to open the annuity later in the day. He also immediately issued me a credit card with a fifty thousand dollar limit. In addition, he gave me fifty thousand dollars worth of traveler’s checks to help me get settled with living expenses. I then endorsed the signing bonus over to him, business was concluded. We then drove over to the investment house Cindy had used for the past few years. They opened a one million dollar annuity immediately, making those funds non-taxable. We then placed the other five hundred thousand in a money market type account which could be moved around as needed, if and when the need came. Which that done Cindy drove me back to PSA and back to Alexis’ office.
“You guys are all done already ?”, she asked.
“Yep Alex, he’s squared away for now. Next is getting him into permanent housing, a vehicle and the basic necessities.”, she replied.
I thanked Cindy for all of her efforts, she gave me her card, telling me she would be in touch as soon as all of the paperwork became formal, giving me notarized copies. I sat back down with Alexis to go over a few more details. She informed me that my base salary would be roughly a little over three million dollars a year. I would get paid every two weeks during the season, my last check would come two weeks after the season was over. My two week paycheck would be roughly four hundred ten thousand dollars, I would receive eight of those per year. Any bonus money would be due after the end of the season or playoff’s, if we went that far. By this time of the day, my head was swimming in numbers, it was far too much for this small town boy to comprehend.
I had practice the following day, so I thanked Alexis and left her office, heading back to the hotel. I grabbed a quick bite to eat, cleaned up and went to bed about eight that evening. I slept right through until the alarm went off the next morning. I got up quickly, dressed and drove over to our training facility. As I drove there, I thought about what Josh had said to me the day before, I was determined to try and remain positive. I dressed quickly, and made my way out on the field, stretching with the rest of the team during warm ups.
For the first time, since I had been here, the starting offense went against the starting defense in one on one situations. As was customary Billy Huber started with the first group on offense. The drills were maybe twenty minutes in, when Coach Reed gave me the nod to take Huber’s place. As I entered the huddle and tapped Billy on the shoulder to leave, he gave me one of his patented nasty looks and growled.
“Watch that safety when you drag the middle rookie, they will take your head off.”, he said, pointing to the strong safety on the other side of the line.
The safety nodded to Billy and pointed to him as he jogged off the field. Now this was full contact drills, however with that said, no one was hitting all out this early in camp. I basically paid him no attention as I bent over into the huddle. Josh called several running plays, all away from me, so I had little responsibility other than to look for a “hot” read . A hot read was simply a blitzing linebacker, safety or corner on my side, that could come free untouched and run the play down from the back side.
I was maybe ten plays into my set when Josh called my number in the huddle.
“Ok guys, here we go. Strong left, shift right, Jet twenty post, X overload, on three.” he barked.
The play he called had three options available. I was the primary target. I would line up on the left side of the line, run twenty yards down the field, then break to an open spot in the middle. If I was covered, we had a running back circling out of the backfield on the right for a swing pass. We also had our left wide out running a streak or line pattern straight down the sideline. As we broke formation, I trotted to the line, I glanced into the secondary. They looked to be in a
two deep, or over and under package. What this basically meant was the two corners matched up man with the outside recievers, the safeties would cover anything middle level, with the linebackers picking up the swing routes.
Josh came to the line, he began his progression of cadence. If at anytime, he saw something he didn’t like, or a coverage shift, he could change the play by calling out “Kill, Kill, Kill”, then call an audible. Josh was well experienced, he was considered one of the top players in the league. He stuck with the called play, I came off the line well, no one made any contact. At fifteen yards up the field, the free safety crept up, noticing the back swing out. The strong safety stayed deep holding his ground. That left a ten yard cushion right in the middle of the field, which is where I cut and broke hard for. Josh saw it open at the same time I did, as I snapped my head back to the line of scrimmage, the ball was already airborne. Josh had thrown me open, I extended my hands, the ball was right on target. I snapped the ball from the air, pulling it quickly to my body, that was the last thing I remember. Seconds later, I was laying on the ground, my head spinning, a sharp pain in my jaw. Apparently someone had leveled me, I was completely unaware of who had hit me. As the fog began to clear, I heard player’s shouting at each other. The trainer’s were out there checking me, everyone standing around looking down or talking. I shook off the trainers and got up, getting my feet back under me. Josh was still jaw jacking with the safety who had leveled me.
“Chris, that’s chicken shit man. We ain’t three deep yet. You pull that shit again, we gonna have problems.”, he yelled.
“Fuck you Josh. I’m just letting the rookie know this is the big time. He can’t hack, let him watch from over there.”, he snapped back, pointing to the bench.
“Bullshit, you’re trying to help your boy Billy, because you know he can’t hack motherfucker.”, Josh screamed.
I stepped in between Josh put my hands on his shoulders and gently starting walking him backwards.
“It’s ok Josh, I’m fine man. He just taught me a valuable lesson. I will be ready next time, sorry I dropped it.”, I told him.
“Fuck him, Brian. That was cheap and he knows it.”, he answered.
We went back to the huddle and ran another succession of plays, none of which called on me to catch the ball. Finally we came to the red zone part of practice, where the offense was on the twenty and had three plays to score. We lined up for the third play, which was scheduled to be a double out to the left side, the running back on the five yard line, the wide out at the back of the end zone. I was lined up on the right side, my job was to take the free safety and try to get him to bite on me in the middle of the field. As Josh barked out the cadence, the defense suddenly shifted. The free safety moved to our left showing blitz, the strong safety, who had just leveled me came up and matched me one on one. Josh immediately recognized the mismatch.
“Kill, Kill, Kill. Double Slot Right, X Fade Right, Jet Left, 62 Combo on same.”, he shouted.
He had just changed the play. I would now take the strong safety hard to the corner, Josh would hang the ball up on one of my shoulders, whichever was opposite the coverage. Josh was still pissed about Chris laying me out.
The ball was snapped, the wide out posted in front of me at the five, I cut hard off his shoulder for the corner. I had the safety right off the cut, he was beat. Josh lofted the ball high for the rear pylon, I timed it perfectly went up and pulled it down getting both feet in bounds with no problem. I think Josh was more excited than I was after the score.
Josh ran into the end zone, slapping me on the helmet in excitement. He turned and laughed at Chris, who just moments before had taken a cheap shot at me.
“Hey Chris, next time you try to play at that height, maybe you better get some oxygen. But then again, if you can’t hack, the bench is over there.”, he laughed and pointed.
Three plays later, I beat Chris again, this time on the back end line dragging across. By now the veteran was livid, he was being embarrassed by a rookie. Coach Reed now yelled out to Billy Huber, who had been standing on the sidelines now for a good half hour.
“Huber, you better get in there now. Obviously Williams can’t cover Stevens. Let’s see if he can stay with your old ass.”, he growled.
Although Coach Reed had said nothing about the cheap shot earlier, this was his way of saying he knew what the two of them were up to, and he didn’t like it. I spent the rest of practice on the sidelines watching about a dozen more plays. Coach dismissed us, some players headed for the locker room, others began walking to the fans. I followed the latter, Josh was walking right next to me. He put his hand on my shoulder, almost like a big brother would do.
“It’s good to have you back Brian. You made some big league catches out there today.”, he said.
“Thanks buddy.”, I answered.
We reached the fench area as hundreds of fans were holding out items ranging from footballs, jerseys, pictures, and posters, all screaming for autographs. Josh was no doubt the fan favorite, everyone wanted his signature. Several people did hand me various items to sign, which I did so with a smile. Several people welcomed me to town, telling me they were excited watching me play. I thanked each of them individually, staying there until no one else had anything for me to sign. I looked around and the only two left out on the field were Josh and I. I tapped him on the shoulder, told him I had his pads, and began walking back to the locker room.
I showered and had began to dress by the time Josh came back in from the field. He walked past me and winked at me, pausing for just a second.
“You’re a class act kid. Never walk away and leave a fan unhappy. They pay your salary, without them, none of this is possible. Always be the last to leave, if you can. Good job, Brian.”, he said, softly.
The rest of the week passed quickly, after Saturday’s practice I decided to call Mrs Timmons, certainly by now, they had to have made final arrangements for Courtney’s funeral. I was driving back to my hotel when I called, her Dad answered the phone quickly.
“Hey Mr. Timmons, it’s Brian. I was just calling to see…uh, what are the arrangements… and when ?”, I asked.
“Brian, I was going to call you later today. I’m glad you called.”, he said.
“Remember that last time in the room, when Courtney told you she needed us, when you walked out ?’, he asked.
“Yes sir, I do.”, I answered.
“Well her last wish was…….”, he began, I could tell he was getting emotional.
“She asked that we not put her in the cold ground alone……she asked that we cremate her, that way she could always be with us, here at home.”, he choked out.
Once again, I felt the tears stinging my eyes, but I knew Courtney, and that made perfect sense.
“I understand Mr. Timmons.”, I replied, softly.
We should receive her ashes tomorrow or the day after. You’re welcome to come by here the next time you’re in town, if you feel like doing so.”, he offered.
“I will sir.”, I promised, hanging up.
I was torn about how I felt at that moment. I had wanted to say goodbye to Courtney, one last time. Even though seeing her in a coffin was not that last image of her I wanted in my mind, somehow I felt cheated. But if that was Courtney’s last wish I had to respect it.
We were off Sunday, had a morning practice only on Monday, we were done by noon. I placed a call to Alexis , but she was out to lunch. She called me back about an hour later, she had just received my message.
“Brian, what can I do for you ?”, she asked, pleasantly.
“Alexis, I was wondering if you knew anyone in real estate ? I was debating on what to do , but now since Courtney is gone, I doubt I will spend much time back home. Sooooo….. I guess I will need a permanent place here.”, I said.
“Brian, once again, I am so sorry about Courtney. I can’t imagine how you must feel.”, she said, sincerely.
“Thanks Alexis.”, I replied.
“Actually I do know someone out here who is in real estate. He got me my condo, I like him a lot, he is a no nonsense guy.”, she informed me, “You want me to call him for you ?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”, I asked.
“Not at all. By the way, how is camp going ?”, she asked.
“It’s going fine. I still have a lot to learn though.”, I answered
I had no sooner hung up with Alexis, when I received a call from Cindy Taylor telling me all of my paperwork was back and ready to be picked up. I swung by her office, picked up all of my papers and permanent checks. I drove down to the bank, rented a safety deposit box, placing all of the documents inside. On the drive back home, I once again decided to stop in and look for a new car. As I past the dealership, I happen to see a very nice Cadillac Escalade parked out front in the display area. I pulled into the dealership and parked, making my way to where a dozen or so of them were parked.
As I was peering into the windows of the different vehicles, a well dressed salesman approached me from behind.
“Nice aren’t they ?”, he asked.
“Yes, they really are.”, I answered.
The vehicles were absolutely gorgeous, but so was the sticker price, some of them coming close to eighty thousand dollars. No way I was going to pay that much for a vehicle. I had just gotten to the second row when I noticed an all black version, beautiful chrome trim, with a saddle colored, wood grain trimmed interior. He must have noticed my reaction to the vehicle, he quickly moved over to me.
“Go ahead, get inside, have a look.”, he offered.
I opened the driver’s door, and slid into the driver’s seat. It was a little tight, I began to reach under the seat for the adjustment bar.
“No, no. Right here, these buttons control the seats.”, he stated pointing to the side of the seat.
“This model has fourteen position front seats, with memory settings, all leather, French stitching. It has a ten speaker premium sound system with 5.1 surround sound. It has DVD monitors in the rear of both front seats. Built in GPS, phone and media center standard. Seats as well as the steering wheel are heated in this model.”, he started.
“This has a 403 HP, 6.2 Liter engine, with Magnetic Ride Control, which adapts to rode conditions. It’s quite a vehicle, none like it out there.”, he ended, “I could make you a great deal on this one.”
“I don’t know, that’s a lot of money.”, I said, pointing to the sticker.
“I could do much better than that, if you’re really interested.”, he answered.
We talked for a while longer, I asked him what time he was getting off. He replied that he would be there until eight that evening. I thanked him and told him I might be back. He gave me his card, his office and cell phone numbers on it. As I drove off the lot, I called Alexis again, this time she was available.
“Alexis, I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass.”, I started.
“Brian, that’s why I am here. What’s up ?’”, she answered.
“Well I just left the dealership, I was looking at a vehicle, but I’m not sure, it’s a great deal of money.”, I told her.
“Brian, you have agreat deal of money.”, she replied, laughing, “But I understand what you’re saying.”
“I have never bought a vehicle alone, I guess that sounds sad huh ?”, I stated, trying to hide the embarrassment in my voice.
“Look, I am leaving here in a few minutes, I don’t mind going with you, at least I can give you a second opinion.”, he offered.
“You don’t mind ?”, I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Brian, you just paid me almost one hundred thousand dollars, no I don’t mind.”, she replied.
She agreed to pick me up at my hotel in less than an hour. I drove back to the hotel, cleaned up a bit and was waiting for her as she pulled up at the front entrance. I climbed in the front seat, closing the door, thanking her once again for her time. As usual she was impeccably dressed in an all maroon business suit, stockings and heels. We drove over to the dealership, pulled in the parking lot and got out. The salesman from earlier recognized me from inside the showroom, he came out and made his way over to me quickly.
“Hi, this is my friend and agent Alexis, I hope you don’t mind , I asked for her opinion.”, I told him.
“Uh, no….that’s fine.”, he answered nervously, looking her up and down, then glancing at the new BMW we had drove up in.
“Show me the vehicle you’re talking about Brian.”, she asked.
We walked over across the lot to where the Escalade’s were lined up. I led her down the aisle to where the one I had looked at earlier was parked. I opened the door and she eased her way into the vehicle. She looked it over carefully, then turned to me with a smile.
“This is really nice Brian. Have you drove it yet ?”, she asked.
“No, not yet.”, I replied.
“Well, let’s drive it. See if it rides as well as it should.”, she stated.
“I’ll be right back with the keys.”, the salesman told us.
He hurried off in the direction of the showroom to get the keys. Alexis got out of the vehicle and stood next to me.
“If you like it after we test drive it, give me a wink. Let’s see how well I can negoiate another deal for you.”, she said, smiling.
The salesman returned, handing me the keys. I got in the driver’s side, Alexis climbed into the front as well, the salesman got into the back. As I followed the salesman’s predetermined route, he constantly pointed out the extra features this vehicle had in it. It had the Platinum Package, as he called it, which upgrade the interior by close to ten thousand dollars. I had to admit, this was a gorgeous vehicle, the seats were softer than most sofas I had sat on. The instrumentation package was so technical, it was overwhelming at first. The sound system was incredible, it had a total of fourteen speakers located around the cabin. I was just about hooked as we pulled back into the lot. The salesman got out, I handed him the keys back, he asked us to follow him back to his office. On the way back, he made a fatal mistake, one that I never noticed, but Alexis sure did, right away.
“You know, someone ordered this vehicle with just about every option available, but when it arrived it had the wrong color interior, it was our fault. So we had to order them another vehicle, you’re really getting deal.”, he stated.
Alexis tapped me on the shoulder and winked, at the time, I just didn’t get it. We moved inside to the salesman’s office, we were quickly joined by another man who was introduced to us as the general manager. He shook both of our hands, then turned to me sitting on the end of the salesman desk.
“So what do we have to do to get you into that vehicle today ?”, he asked, with a sly smile.
I hesitated trying to appear to be business savy, which was a joke, I was far from it. Alexis however, reveled in negotiating, it was her world.
“What you have to do is make us an offer we can’t refuse.”, she said to him calmly, with no hesitation in her voice.
“Well you know, this is not your ordinary Escalade on the lot, this has just about every option imaginable. You can’t walk on any other lot in town and find this car.”, he replied, smiling smugly.
“Yes, I know. It’s a special order vehicle you got stuck with. In addition, you’re not going to find many people walk onto this lot willing to pay eighty grand for an SUV.”, Ashley countered.
“Oh we will move it, sooner or later.”, he shot back.
“Well price it right and it will move tonight.”, she countered.
The two jawed back and forth for close to fifteen minutes. Alexis wanted him to throw out an opening price, he kept asking what we were willing to pay. Finally he saw he was getting no where with Alexis, he decided to play along.
“Tell you what, I’ll let you drive it off right now, tax, title and license for seventy eight, five.”, he offered.
“I bet you will.”, laughed Alexis, “But that isn’t about to happen.”
“Well then, where do you see the price coming in at.”, he said, sarcastically.
“More like sixty five.”, she said, no expression on her face.
“Sixty five ?”, he huffed, “I have more than that in the car.”
“Look, I tell you what, I bend a little. I’ll go seventy five even, but that’s my bottom line. I am breaking even at that number.”, he offered.
As I was sitting back watching these two negoiate, with my money, none the less, you could definitely see who had the upper hand. Alexis reached across and tapped me on the shoulder, I turned to her.
“Brian, at seventy five plus, I can get you into a BMW 7 Series, loaded. Let’s call the guy who sold me my 550.”, she offered.
I shrugged my shoulders, she pulled out her cell phone, scanned a few numbers then pressed dial. It took several minutes, but she finally was able to talk to the salesman she had dealt with.
“Hi Gary, this is Alexis Clarke, how are you ?”, she asked, “Good listen, I am here with a client, we are looking at a vehicle. What I am wondering is, what would it take to get him into a BMW 7 Series, basically loaded, and what do you have?”
She listened intently for a few minutes, no expression on her face. The salesman and the general manager were hanging on her every word. She finally wrapped up her conversation, tossing her phone back into her purse.
“Brian, for what they are asking here, you can get a Series 7, loaded for a few thousand more.”, she informed me.
“You’re talking two completely different vehicles Brian.”, the salesman chimed in.
I looked back at Alexis, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I think she sensed it right away.
“Look, let’s go over and look at the BMW, drive it, if you would rather the Escalade, we can come back tomorrow.”, she offered.
“Sounds good.”, I said.
Both of the men made one last pitch to sell us the Escalade, stating that they could probably go down a little more on the price. I thanked them, promising them I would keep it in mind. We climbed back in Alexis’ car, drove across town to the dealership she had bought her vehicle from. She quickly found her salesman, they greeted each other with a quick hug. She then introduced me to Gary, asking him to show me what he had available. I followed Gary down the aisles of vehicles, until we came to several 750 Li Models. My eyes immediately went to the Sapphire Metalic Black Model, with the low profile performance tires and the gorgeous chrome recessed wheels. I walked over to the driver’s door, opened it to find a champagne interior, trimmed in wood grain. As I slid into the driver’s seat, I was surprised to find how comfortable the seat was once I adjusted it back.
We took a quick test ride, I knew within the first block, this was one fine machine. By the time, I made it back to the lot, I wanted this car. We went into the office and Alexis helped me negoiate a really nice deal considering the stocker price on the car. I asked Gary if I could return tomorrow with a check, he agreed saying he would have the vehicle cleaned and ready to go.
Alexis dropped me off at my hotel, I thanked her for all of her help. I woke early the next morning, went straight to early morning practice, finished up then headed to the hotel. I called Gary at the dealership, he informed me they had completely detailed the vehicle it was ready to go. I told him I still had a rental, so there was no way I could pick up the car right then. He quickly offered to drive to my hotel and pick me up.
About two hours later, I pulled out of the dealership in my first new car. I went back to the hotel, called the rental service, telling them they could pick up their SUV at anytime. They promised to have someone over by five, which they did. That night as I laid in bed, I shifted gears and started thinking about a permanent place to live.
We started practicing twice a day the week before our first preseason game. I was getting my fair share of repetitions, but it was clear so far, Billy Huber was still the starter, but it was closer than he wanted it to be. One thing that greatly helped me, everyday after practice Josh would spend time with me explaining various coverages that were being used, showing me how to exploit them. He was basically showing me what he looked for when he scanned the field, if he could get me in the same frame of mind, it would make things a lot easier. Every day after practice, we spent at least an hour to an hour and a half, working on everything from basic route running, to knowing when to break off a route and adjust to the ball. One thing we practiced religiously was the back shoulder throw. Josh was good at it, add my height and jumping ability, it was next to impossible to defend. Several times during our extra sessions, I noticed Coach Reed watching from the large glass window in his office over looking the field. I’m not sure what he actually thought about what we were doing, he never mentioned a word to me.
We had our first preseason game at home in our stadium against Chicago, it was a sloppy game on both sides. I was in the lineup for a total of eleven plays, I had one reception for eight yards. I missed at least four blocking assignments, and missed a blitz pickup that resulted in a sack. I came out of the game learning one thing for certain. To play at this level, with the speed and size of the players, you had no time to think. If you weren’t prepared to instantly react, the opportunity was over.
The following day at practice, we watched the game film from the day before, then met with our position coaches and coordinators. I received my fair share of criticism, but it was well deserved, I had an awful game. We practiced hard the rest of the week, then flew to Miami on Thursday for our game that weekend.
We played somewhat better than week one, I felt I had improved somewhat on my blocking, I had three catches for a total of thirty four yards. I was still having problems adapting to the unbelievable speed of the game at this level. Several times after a catch I turned up field, it appeared I would have room to run. Just that quickly a defensive player would close the gap and make the tackle. I had a total of eighteen plays in all, but we still had lost two in a row. I knew it was only preseason, but I could tell no one was happy.
We arrived back home early Sunday morning, we had the rest of the day off. I got back to the hotel, took a short nap, then called home and talked to Ashley for close to an hour. It was during my talks with Ashley I would miss being home, sometimes I felt so alone here. I then walked down the block to the small restaurant , grabbed a quick bite to eat, then walked back to my hotel. I had just walked back in the door when my cell phone rang, I answered it right away.
“Brian, this is Alexis, are you busy ?”, she asked.
“No, I just got back from lunch.”, I replied.
“Something has come up, I thought maybe you might be interested. A girl who lives in the building has accepted a temporary job in Spain. She will be gone for two years, but she is coming back. She wants to keep her condo, she is looking for someone to sublet it until then.”, she started.
“She is very nervous about letting a real estate agent find someone, it’s a really nice place. She mentioned it to me, I told her about you, if you’re interested she would be willing to talk to you.”, she continued.
“It’s basically furnished, you wouldn’t need much, other than your personal belongings, maybe a few dishes or so. Anyway, that’s it, just thought I would throw it out there to you.”, she ended.
“Sounds interesting, I have even started to think about finding a place yet and honestly this hotel room is getting old. How much is the rent, do you know ?”, I replied.
“She is asking thirty five hundred a month, but I think you could get it for less if you’re really interested.”, she answered.
“I would like to see it, when would be a good time ?”, I inquired.
“I’ll go talk to her, then call you back.”, she responded, hanging up.
Thirty minutes later Alexis called me, telling me that I could meet with her neighbor today, she seemed very receptive. She also added that she would be leaving the country in less than two weeks, so she was going to have to turn it over to a realtor soon. I took down the address, cleaned up, dressed and drove over to the complex. It was a very nice area, all upscale units, mostly young professionals it appeared. The condominium complex was gated, and very private. It had it’s own large pool, spa and weight room. Every unit had two private parking spots, both were covered. I called from the parking lot to let Alexis know I was there, she told me to hang on she would be right down. I got out of my car, leaning against the side, looking around. Two young women were leaving the pool area walking towards me, both very attractive. They were both talking back and forth quietly, both looking my way. I heard a my name being called over my shoulder, I turned to see Alexis walking towards me. She was dressed in tight black shorts, a white tank top, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. This was the first time I had been around her in anything other than a business environment. I know I had to appear to be staring, but she was absolutely mind boggling. You could definitely tell she had been an athlete her entire life, the training showed. She had a small waist, strong shoulders and muscled arms. But her lower body was even more incredible. She had the best set of thighs I have ever seen on a woman. The definition and symmetry of her legs were amazing.
“Hey Brian, glad you could make it. Come on I will take you up to Jessica’s place.”, she said, waving her hand for me to follow her.
She turned and headed back in her original direction, I was right behind her. She looked as good walking away from you as she did coming towards you. She had a great ass, high and firm. I could tell she spent a lot of hours in the gym, this was a body that had to be maintained. I followed her up to the second floor of building two, made a sharp turn then down an open breezeway. As we passed unit number 204, she tapped on the door quickly and turned her head in my direction.
“This is me here.”, she stated.
I continued to follow her two more doors down until we reached unit number 208, the last on the corner of the building. She lightly tapped on the door, it opened quickly. A very small framed woman, who appeared to be in her early forties, stood in the doorway.
“Hey Jess, this is Brian Stevens, the guy I told you about.”, Alexis told her neighbor.
“Hello Brian, why don’t you guys come in ?”, replied the woman.
I followed Alexis into the condo, I closed the door behind me. The small entry hall led to a very large, open floor plan. There was a large main room, which was separated from the kitchen by a large bar area that had four stools on one side. The kitchen was extremely spacious, all the appliances were stainless steel.
“So Brian, Alexis tells me your new to San Diego. You play football here ?”, she started.
“Yes mam, I do. It’s my first year.”, I replied.
“How do you like it out here so far ?”, she inquired.
“I’m not sure really, I think I’m still homesick.”, I laughed.
She began to basically tell me everything that Alexis had told me about her situation. She worked for a large corporate giant, she was being sent to Spain to open a new office, staff and train the workers. She would be gone at least twenty four months, possibly a bit longer. She loved her condo, didn’t want to sell it, but basically she was in a tough spot. The condo board would not allow her to leave it vacant, but they would also have to approved any tenant she sublet to.
“Before we go any further, let me show you the rest of the unit.”, she said.
I followed her to the master bedroom which was huge and beautifully decorated, with an incredible master bath adjoining it. There were two other smaller bedrooms, one she had as a guest room, the other was an office. The unit was close to twenty five hundred square feet, it was extremely clean and well maintained.
“So what do you think ?”, she asked, as we made our way back into the main room.
“It’s very nice Ms. Jessica, I really like it.”, I answered.
“Please, no need to be so formal, call me Jess.”, she asked.
“Forget it Jess, this boy was raised old school, he is not like these young guys today.”, she laughed.
“Well if you want it, it yours, provided the condo board accepts you. I’ll need you to sign an agreement that if any of my furniture or appliances get damaged or destroyed, you will be responsible for them. The rent was going to be thirty five hundred, but I am fine with three thousand even, if you agree to stay until I return.”, she stated.
“That’s fine with me mam.”, I said, shaking her hand.
“Oh, I’m not sure you noticed but theres no TV here. I don’t own one, I never watch it. I do have the cable hookup right here, you will have to buy your own.”, she laughed.
“That’s fine Ms. Jessica.”, I replied.
“By the way, just how big are you ?’, Jessica asked
“Almost six foot seven, about two hundred sixty five pounds.”, I replied.
“Oh baby, the girls around here are gonna go crazy over you.”, she laughed.
We all went down to the main office for the complex and even though it was Sunday, there was someone taking care of the office. Jessica secured the necessary paperwork to present to the board on my behalf, we then walked back out to my car. I promised her I would drop the papers off the following day after practice, so she could get everything going.
“Wow, that’s a beautiful car Brian.”, she said, admiring my new purchase.
“Thanks Ms. Jessica, Alexis knew the dealer, she’s a big help.”, I replied.
The following day, we returned to practice, once again watching film and having our individual meetings. The days were becoming regimented, much like they were in college. We had one day a week off, we practiced every day, then three hours in the weight room. The trainers had changed some of my routines, some changes I liked, some I did not. During that week of practice, after our day was over, I would see Josh head up the stairs while everyone else left the facility. Finally after the second day, I had to ask.
“Where you headed to Josh ?”, I asked.
“Study hall, wanna come ?”, he smiled.
His answer got the better of me, I was intrigued by the mystery.
“Sure, I’m in.”, I replied.
I followed Josh up the stairs to the second floor, down another long hallway to a door marked private. He unlocked the door with his key, opened the door, flipping on the light switch. I walked into a large room, there were three large sofa’s in a U shaped formation, with a small table in the center. There were at least five remote controls on the small table. Against one of the walls there was a huge narrow table that had six high back leather office chairs tucked up under it. There was a set of cabinets on the other wall, which housed a large microwave, and a huge refrigerator. There was a small bathroom in the back of the room.
“This is my office.”, laughed Josh.
Josh began to explain to me, what it takes to play quarterback in this league. After practice was over every day, he spent an additional three to five hours breaking down footage of the opponents defense both on live film and overhead photos taken during the entire game. By doing this, he could try to understand what coverages they would try and play based on our formations. He could also see exactly how they lined up against a certain formation, then by snapping pictures every two seconds, see the movements they made prior to the snap of the ball. By this time, I guess he could tell by the look on my face, I was a bit puzzled.
“Look, let me show you something, it will explain itself. Sit right there.”, he said, pointing to the sofa.
He inserted a disc into the machine on the wall, above it were four huge flat screen TV’s arranged in a square shape. He walked over to the table, chose a remote then pressed play. I immediately recognized the footage as our past game against Miami. As he fast forward the film, I noticed each play was filmed from two angles. One high behind the offensive line, the other high above both the offense and defense. You could go back and forth and see different angles on each play we ran. The discs were edited so that only our offensive series were on these discs. He quickly found the play he had been looking for.
“Ok, now I want you to watch this. The play was Quad, Dual Trips, Jet Left, 18 Post Right, Vertical 88, 20 Seam Short.”, he started.
“Ok, here you are right here, now come show me where your route takes you.”, he commanded.
I walked over and pointed to where I was aligned in the Jet Left formation, my number 89 visible as I was in my stance. I drew an imaginary line up the field ten yards, then broke across the middle of the field between the two safties. I then turned and looked at Josh, knowing that I had given the right answer.
“The answer is right, but the result was wrong. You’re beginning to think like Billy, you have one assignment period. If it happens fine, if not , oh well.”, he scolded.
“I don’t get it Josh.”, I answered, “That’s where I belong.”
“Wrong rookie, this is where “we” belong.” he said pointing to the end zone, thirty yards away,” Now watch the play carefully as I move it forward.”
He began flicking the remote control, one frame at a time, his eyes riveted on the screen. Just as I approached the spot on the field where I would make my break inside, he froze the picture.
“What do you see now ?”, he asked.
“I’m about to make my break to the middle, drag underneath the 88 slot.”, I answered.
He pointed to the coverage by the defensive backs, especially the strong safety and linebacker, who were both no more than five yards from me. He explained that they were in a three level base coverage. That the linebacker was under my route, the strong safety over me. While if I made a clean break, I might be open for a moment, I missed the big picture. He explained that whenever I had no outside route called on a drag, I had to watch what the strong safety was doing with his feet. He started the tape again, clicking a few frames at a time. As soon as he started it, I saw the free safety moving forward slowly, his feet shoulder width, heels up. As soon as I made my break, he closed on the middle of the field rapidly.
“Here’s what you missed. See our back here, five yards up the field below you. Both the linebacker and the safety who you think are covering you, both blow their assignments. You are already over the top on the backer, you have him beat. Now here when you break, the safety is already committing himself our running back. Instead of cutting in front of him, getting him off the hook, right here, you take him deep. It’s six points baby.”, he finished.
He kept running the play over and over, back and forth. He was right. The safety who was supposed to have me over the top, left me for a moment when he saw our running back swing out of the backfield. Had I not cut in front of him, he would have moved further up the field. I should have cut my route off and went vertical, it would have been either a long gain or maybe a touchdown.
“I see it Josh, but what if I cut my route off, and you throw the ball to where I am supposed to be going ?”, I asked seriously.
“Then we both fuck up, maybe it gets picked.”, he answered, “But there are six to ten times a game when the defense completely blows their coverage. If you can exploit it two to five times, you will win almost every time.”
“I guess I understand.”, I replied.
“No Brian, you never guess. You want to be one of those guys down there, the ones who just go through the motions, fine. You do exactly what you’re told, every time. You wanna be great ? Then you put in the extra work, you do the time in here, in the weight room, out there.”, he said, pointing to the field.
“You want to be just another Billy Huber ten years from now, scared to death some snot nosed rookie is going to take your place ? If you do, get the fuck out of here, don’t waste my time.”, he said, loudly.
He set the remote down gently on the table, walked over to me, putting his hands on my shoulders. His face relaxed, a warm smile crossing it.
“Brian, I can’t promise you anything. But I know this, athletically, you’re the mosted gifted tight end, I have ever played with. You have great hands, you have no ego, you’re willing to learn. Learn the right way, work your ass off, I promise you, it will pay off.”, he said, softly.
Over the next three hours, we watched film of our next opponent, he took notes, every now and then pointing out what the defense was doing. The more I watched, the more you noticed little subtle differences, which individually didn’t mean much, but put together made a huge difference. Finally at almost six that afternoon, he shut off the DVD, tossed the remote to the table.
“Let’s go home. Here is your copy of their defense, here’s mine. Go home and study.’, he told me.
I did as I was told for the rest of the week, I studied film after practice with Josh, I studied film of other tight ends, what they did. I looked at thousands of pictures of formations, over and over.
We had our third preseason game scheduled in Detroit, it was customary for the starters to play close to three quarters, this was their tune up game. Next week in our final game, they would take only a few snaps, no one wanted to get hurt the week before the regular season started. We held true to form, Billy played most of the game, I had maybe five snaps, I didn’t catch a pass.
The following Monday, we cut down from eighty players to sixty five. It was sad to see guys cleaning out their lockers, their hopes and dreams, at least temporarily placed on hold. What it also meant was that the players left would be getting more reps, the days would be longer.
By now, practice had become the offense against the defense, everyone was getting a little anxious, we were tired of hitting on each other. Several times already this week, players had to be separated. I was beginning to understand some of what Josh was teaching, I could sometimes see what the defense would do before they did it. But I was no where near, where I needed to be. We were winding down practice on Monday, we had maybe ten plays left to run. We were simulating fourth down’s with medium yardage to go, basically game on the line type drills. Josh had called a trips right formation, which meant we lined up three receivers to the right side of the field. One ran a go route, which took him long down the side line, the second ran a hook fifteen yards up the field, the last ran a quick ten yard out. The fourth receiver lined up on the left, I was in the slot. He ran a deep post, I was supposed to run a fifteen yard out pattern. I was the check down receiver, which meant I was the last option, or if they blitzed, I became the hot read and ran a skinny post across the middle.
As we came up to the line of scrimmage, my eyes were down field, scanning the defense. They appeared to be in Cover Two or a Zone package. It appeared the strong safety and linebacker would be responsible for my coverage. With that understood, I knew my route would be the original out pattern, unless the linebacker crept up to the line showing blitz. As Josh began his cadence, the defense suddenly shifted, the safety slid over to the trips side, the linebacker on my side dropped eight yards into coverage. I thought I recognized what appeared to be man coverage on my side of the field, zone on the other. What that meant was that the linebacker would have me man to man. I snapped my head around to the center of the field to see what Josh was doing. He was already locked on me, his eyes in my direction as he continued to call cadence.
I looked down the line at the ball, last thing I wanted was to jump off sides being too eager. The ball was snapped, I came off the line clean, Just a few short steps up field, confirmed the linebacker did indeed have me one on one. I drove hard up the field, at the ten yard mark, slowed and began a lazy turn to the outside. The linebacker bit, taking a full step and a half up the field. I planted my left foot hard, then accelerated up the field, leaving him two steps behind. At twenty yards, I glanced back to the line of scrimmage, the ball was already out of Josh’s hand. He led me perfectly, I never broke stride, the play resulting in a forty yard touchdown, no one came close.
“Jesus H. Christ , what in the living fuck was that ?”, Walt Carmichael, our defensive coordinator yelled, “Who the fuck was supposed to be covering the kid ?”
As I trotted back to the huddle, you could see the excitement in Josh’s eyes. For the first time, he saw the fruits of his labor pay off, I actually read the same thing, at the same time he did.
“That was a big league read baby.”, he said, patting me on the ass.
Walt was still out of control, ranting and raving at his defense, our Head Coach Joe Stanton, finally called off what was left of the remaining few plays. As we started off the field, I could see Coach Stanton was reading Coach Reed the riot act about something. As we headed to the locker room, Coach Reed called out for both Josh and I, to join him.
“Who in God’s name, called that adjustment just now. Please tell me it was an audible, that I didn’t hear Josh.”, he barked.
Being the rookie, I knew I place, I kept my mouth shut. Josh looked at me with a smile, then turned back to Coach Reed.
“It was an adjustment we both saw at the same time Coach, the rookie made a big time read.”, he said.
I knew from the little time I had been at this level, receivers broke off their routes all the time. I’m not sure what Coach Reed was after, the fact that we made the adjustment, or the fact we pulled it off so well. Either way he turned to me, ready to give me hell.
“So what you’re saying is, baby face here, barely a month in his pro career, makes an on the fly adjustment, on fourth down , with the game on the line ?”, he asked.
“Yep Coach, that’s pretty much it.”, Josh replied.
Coach Reed turned to Josh pissed because he answered so quickly. He turned back to me pointing his finger in my face.
“You get the fuck out of here. I need to talk to him for a minute.”, he shouted.
“Yes sir.”, I said, trotting off the field, glad to be clear of the shit storm.
By the time I hit the locker room, everyone was already undressing, hitting the showers. The mood was definitely somber, the locker room was unusually quiet, By the time I was about ready to hit the shower, Josh walked back in the locker room. He passed me on the way to his locker, he winked at me as he walked by.
I showered dressed and left the facility, stopping off at Ms. Jessica’s to drop off the rental agreement papers, and a check for the first six months rent. She informed the condo board had already accepted me as a tenant, although it would be on a probationary basis. If everything went well for the first three months, I would be confirmed. Jessica, told me she was removing her personal items the rest of the week, I could move in Saturday morning, or anytime there after. She handed me the keys, wishing me good luck.
The following day after practice, Coach Reed asked to see me in his office. He offered me a seat as I walked in, closing the door behind me. He sat on the edge of his desk, he appeared to be a bit nervous.
“Brian, all in all, I am extremely pleased at the progress you have made. I had no idea, you have been spending time with Josh in the film room, taking film home at night with you. Right now, honestly, it’s a toss up between you and Huber, as to who I would start. I going to play you quite a bit Saturday night, here in our last game, before our season opener.”, he stated.
“Thanks Coach, I appreciate it.”, I answered.
“Don’t thank me, you will be playing with all backups mostly. But I need you to work on your run blocking, it’s the weakest part of your game. That is the only reason Huber will start ahead of you, he does a little bit better job. You’re a good kid Stevens, sometimes I think a little too nice.”, he said, “If I could put Huber’s ego in your body, I would have an all pro.”
He dismissed me and I exited the complex, trying to sort out just what he meant by his last remark. Billy Huber, while a long time pro, was by all accounts, an arrogant asshole. Did he really want me to become like him ? That night at the hotel, I studied film on the New York team that we would play Saturday night.
True to promise, the starter’s played about three offensive series on Saturday night, then hit the benches. Different combinations of backup’s played the majority of the game, all desperately trying to make their final bid to secure a roster spot. I had a decent game with five catches for sixty seven yards, although I had been overthrown once in the end zone, it would have been a touchdown if Josh had been in the game.
I showered , then dressed making my way out of the stadium to my car. Several hundred fans were still waiting around to see the players as they left the complex. I signed autograph’s for a few minutes, making my way along the steel barricades. I finally made my way to the end of the barricades, then out to the parking lot. That night in my hotel room, I gathered up what was left of my personal belongings in a pile.
The following morning, I loaded my car with my things, checked out of the hotel, then drove across town to the condo. It took only three trips up the stairs to bring what little I had into the unit. True to her word, Ms. Jessica had cleared the unit of all personal items, linens, bedding and such. I suddenly realized, I had to go shopping right way. I checked the refrigerator, it was empty other than three bottles of water. I decided to go grocery shopping as well.
For the first time in my life, I went to the grocery store alone, responsible for all of the purchases. It took me over two hours to get out, my basket was overflowing to capacity. I got home and starting hauling the bags up the flight of stairs. On my last trip up, I saw Alexis coming out of her unit as I passed by.
“Hey, you moved in ?”, she asked.
“Yep, trying to hurry up and get the things I need. Next I have to go get towels, sheets, pillows and stuff like that. I don’t have a clue as to what I need.”, I laughed.
“Well look, I am headed over to have lunch with my friend Paige, how about after lunch I help you out ?”, she offered.
“Alexis, I can’t keep asking you to do everything for me.”, I replied.
“You didn’t ask, I offered. See you in a few hours.”, she laughed, heading in the other direction.
I went inside, organized all the groceries in the different cabinets, then made a quick bite to eat. One thing I immediately knew, I needed a TV bad, I was bored to tears. I called back home and spoke to Ashley for a few minutes, she as well was on her way out to see some friends. Just a minute or so after I had hung up with her, there was a knock on my door. I got up, opened the door to see Alexis and a very attractive blonde hair girl standing there.
“Hey Brian, this is my friend Paige. Paige, this is Brian Stevens.”, she said, making the introductions, “We are both going to help you spend your money.”
“Sure, why not. Come in please.”, I offered.
Both women entered the condo, Alexis leading the way. She had a small tablet in her hand, with an ink pen in the other. She walked through the unit making notes on the colors and décor of each room and what was needed. After about ten minutes, she told me she was ready to go. I locked up and headed down the stairs following the two women. I unlocked the car as we approached it, Paige made her first comment of the day.
“Holy crap, that a nice ride.”, she laughed.
“Thank you.”, I replied, getting in.
Alexis led me a few miles away to a store that specialized in linen and bedding. We got out, I grabbed a shopping cart at the entrance and followed the women into the store. We made our way over to section where the bath towels and wash rags were. I there learned that you had to have both guest towels and regular towels. The guest towels were out for display only, the regular towels you would use daily. They both went back and forth over the color of the display towels for both bathrooms. They finally settled on both sets, then turned to me.
“How often do you want to wash clothes every week ?”, Alexis asked.
“With my schedule now, maybe once, twice at the most.”, I replied.
“Well then we better get you at least a dozen bath towels and wash cloths.”, she said.
We did the same routine with the kitchen towels, sheets, curtains, pillows and comforter sets. I noticed several people giving me smiles, I guess I was sort of comical pushing this loaded basket around behind the two attractive women. Another thing I noticed about Alexis, she never bought cheap, it was almost always the best they had. By the time we checked out, I had spent close to fifteen hundred dollars. I stuffed the trunk of my car with the bags, putting the remaining ones on part of the back seat, making sure Paige still had enough room. We drove directly back to the condo, they both helped bring all of the purchases inside. As I was pulling everything out of the bags, I guess I looked pretty confused.
“Alexis, I think Brian may need some help decorating, shall we ?”, Paige giggled.
“I think so Paige. I bet he doesn’t know a Duvet from a defensive back.”, she laughed.
I pretended to once again look through the large bundle of items on the sofa, then back at the women.
“Well I know there is no defensive back here, at least.”, I replied.
The two women waved me off and quickly went about their work around the condo. Within a few hours, I have to admit, the place looked really nice. Everything they had purchased went so well with the colors of the room, I was really impressed. They helped me stack the extra towels and things in the linen closet, the place was really coming together. I felt that I owed the both of them for all of their help today.
“Can I take you two ladies out to dinner, it’s on me. I owe you both big time.”, I asked.
The two women looked at each other in an unusal way, then Alexis turned to me.
“Maybe next time, Paige has to get home.”, she answered.
Once again, I thanked the ladies for all of their help and promised to take them to dinner the first chance we could all make it. I looked at the clock, it was still only five in the evening, I had time to go buy a TV. There was a huge electronics store only minutes away, I drove there in less than five minutes. I settled on a large flat screen with a matching stand, the salesman told me it was the best in the store. I arranged for them to deliver it Monday afternoon as late as possible. That way I was sure to be back from practice.
Monday morning’s started off with a team meeting, then we broke down into offensive and defensive groups. Coach Reed went over Sunday’s game plan, what we would try and exploit, their strength’s and their weaknesses. We were opening on the road against Oakland, a division opponent, kickoff was noon on Sunday. Because the game was against a division opponent, it made it all the more critical. We practiced hard all week, the team had definitely become sharper, things were beginning to mesh. Now that Billy was named the starter, he seemed to back off of me somewhat, although we barely spoke. I did get some work in with the first unit, although it was mostly in goal line situations, where my height was effective against the shorter secondary. I called Mr. Timmons on Saturday, to see if the game would be televised there locally, he said it would not. We talked for a while, I could tell he was still grieving from the loss of his child, as I was. Everytime we would start talking about the past, suddenly before mentioning her name, one of us would abruptly stop. He wished me well and we hung up.
I arrived at the stadium roughly about nine o’clock Sunday morning, it was amazing at the crowd already on site. One entire parking lot was tailgating, while vendors were setting up there wares near the various entrances to the stadium. I showed my identification to security and was allowed to enter the complex. When I got into our locker room, maybe a dozen or so players were already there, the trainers were working on them. Since I had made the transition to offense, I didn’t require near the preparation that I had in prior years.
Around ten thirty, the trainer taped my ankles and wrists, I then began to dress for the game. I was completely done and joined the players out on the field warming up. Sometime about thirty minutes to kick off both teams returned to our locker room. Coach Stanton gave his game day speech, trying to prepare us emotionally and mentally for the next three hours. We then went into position groups for a last minute mental review.
Soon the game had started, I was officially a pro football player, although I had not gotten a single snap yet. I paced the sideline for a while, then rode the stationary bike to keep loose, then made my way to bench. By halftime, we had a 21-7 lead, we were running the ball extremely well. During halftime, back in our locker room, our coaching staff went through their adjustments. As I was listening to the coaching staff, I saw a permanent marker laying on the floor in front of one of the lockers. I bent over, picked it up and was twirling it in my hand. Suddenly out of the blue, I snapped off the cap, writing a large letter C on the palm of one hand, a large T on the other. I tossed the marker back into the bottom of the locker, then looked down at my hands. If I caught a pass, Courtney would help me hold it. I was quickly brought back to reality, the entire team had gotten up and was heading back out on the field.
The second half started slow for us, Oakland adjusted and we were having trouble running the ball. Several of our receivers dropped simple passes, we blew a few golden opportunities. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 24-17. We had a decent drive going late in the fourth quarter with maybe five minutes left on the clock, we were at our opponents fourteen yard line. Josh had called a time out was on the sideline talking to both Coach Stanton and Coach Reed. After several seconds of discussion, Coach Reed motioned for me to come over. I got up, grabbed my helmet and quickly joined them.
I followed Josh into the huddle, Billy trotting off the field none too happy. While he had caught a couple of passes thus far, I knew it was killing him. Josh leaned over and called the play, which was a screen pass away from me. I simply had to make sure no one came on a blitz, not giving Josh enough time to sell the play. With no one lining up on my outside shoulder, I could now help out the right guard with his man. We ran the play but it was ineffective gaining only two yards. It was now third and eight, we had to get to the two yard line, or we would have to settle for a field goal. We went with a three receiver package, with me on the right side of the line again. Two receivers went left, one right on my side. The play was designed as a pick play on the left, hoping the inside receiver could screen the outside receiver’s man, breaking him open. The wide out on my side would break deep into the end zone, then drag across the middle deep along the back endline. I again was responsible for a blitz, if no one came, I would be running an out pattern near the goal line.
We lined up in formation, Josh began his cadence looking at the play clock. Josh was great about getting us to the line quickly, he liked having time to make adjustments before the snap. As I scanned the defense on my side, their cornerback was locked on our wideout man to man. The linebacker was settled in at about the five yard line, the strong safety right on his outside shoulder. As Josh progressed through the cadence, the strong safety was slowly moving across and up the field toward the line of scrimmage. Just as Josh was about to snap the ball he was maybe three yards of the center’s head.
“Kill, kill, kill. Twenty eight, Twenty eight, Hold Set, Even Jet Right, delay, giant.”, he shouted, pointing first at number 28, the safety who was showing blitz, then putting his hands together over his head.
What he was doing was keeping us in the standard formation and play option he had called, with the hold set verbage. However he added a wrinkle with the Even Jet, Delay Giant call. What that meant is, with the safety creeping up, I would probably be covered up with a linebacker. If that happened off of the snap, I was to take him into the back corner of the end zone, and possibly look for fade pass, up high. As we set back into formation, I took a deep breath, this could be it. I looked up at the linebacker in front of me, he was squared up, his left foot back slightly, guarding against a corner route.
The ball was snapped, I exploded off the line colliding with the backer head on. I was able to get my hands under his pads for a second, pushing him back hard. That was enough for me to break off and start in a direct line for the corner. I snapped my head back over my shoulder, the ball had just left Josh’s hand. I turned back and looked for the back of the end zone, it was only four to five yards away. I knew it was going to be close, the ball was thrown extremely high and to the outside. With only maybe ywo yards left to the end line, I planted my left foot hard in the turf, stopping my momentum. I planted my second foot, then went up, as high as I could trying to attack the ball at it’s highest point. As the ball was approaching, I felt the linebacker get up, his shoulder and left arm in between my arms. The ball was even higher than I anticipated, I was only able to get a couple fingers from each hand on the ball. As I began to pull the ball in the linebacker leaned into me, pushing me backwards. I concentrated on the ball, securing it in both hands, pulling it into my body. I knew I would be close to the back of the end zone, so I stuck the toes of both of my shoes straight down made contact with the ground then falling backwards out of bounds. I landed flat on my back, the impact taking my breath away. I lay there for a moment, turned and looked at the official who had both of his hands lifted over his head. I had scored my first touchdown, in my first game.
I got up, taking the ball with me towards the center of the end zone. I knelt down right in front of the goal post, my head down for a moment. I then stood slowly, pointed up with both hands, then kissed the palm of each hand on the letters I had written. I trotted off the field, ball in hand to the congratulations of my teammates. No one was happier for me then Josh, he was the first to hug me. I looked over at Coach Reed who just nodded in my direction, a smile on his face. I handed the ball to one of our managers, he cut a small piece of white medical tape off the roll on his belt, stuck it to the ball and wrote the number 89 on it. I would get it back after the game. I looked up at the large screen on one end of the stadium, they were replaying the score over and over. After seeing just how little of the ball I was initially able to touch, I was even surprised, I held on to it. Several players were coming over to me, slapping my shoulder pads, congratulating me on my first score. As I was itting there looking down at my hands, both the C and the T beginning to fade, I had to believe Court was with me on that catch. The game ended 31-17, we had our first win of the season. I showered and dressed quickly, I was asked to answer a few questions during the post game interview. I waited as the coaches all went through their question and answer sessions, then watched Josh conduct his interview. I was amazed at how professionally he conducted himself, both on and off the field. Someone in the media asked him abut the last touchdown he threw, the one to me. Without hesitation, turned and waved me up to the table. I walked up to the table and sat at the chair next to him, a microphone on the table right in front of me.
“Now even though it was probably as good a pass that could be thrown in that situation, I guess the rookie did ok in holding onto it.”, Josh told him media, the room exploding in laughter.
One reporter near the front got a jump on all of the others, booming his questions first.
“Brian, how does it feel to catch your first pro touchdown, and just how high up were you ?”, he asked.
“It feels good sir, really good. As Josh said, it was a perfect pass, anyone could have caught it. And it was a little high, but no big deal.”, I answered.
Josh leaned over and put his arm around me, leaned over and kissed me briefly on the cheek, the room again laughing hysterically. He leaned back into his chair, leaning into the microphone.
“This is why I love this kid. No one else on this team could come close to pulling that ball in, he says it was a little high. This kid is going to be special people, remember I said it first.”, he laughed, getting up and slapping me lightly on the back.
I answered a couple of more questions, then scanned the room, no one else’s hand was up. I started to get up, when I saw a female reporter for one of the major sports channels raise her hand and stand up.
“Brian, you played defense in college, that’s no secret. You caught your first touchdown today, explain to me what the sequence of events meant after.”, she asked.
I sat there stunned somewhat, I never expected anyone to ask this question. I thought for a second, everyone’s eyes were on me.
“After the touchdown, I went to the goal post and knelt down thanking the Lord for allowing me to get to this point in my life. I then pointed up to heaven, to the two people I have lost in my life …………, “ I was struggling to get it out.
“My father and my best friend……I put her initials on the palms of my glove. That’s why……..after I ……. I just kissed them. I’m sorry, thank you.”, I said, getting up and leaving the podium quickly.
I could hear people still shouting questions, as I left the room. One of the trainers patted my shoulder as I walked out of the door. We left the stadium soon after, we were home late that night. We were scheduled to be back at our practice facility the next day to watch film, we would be off on Tuesday, then begin to prepare for our home opener against Tennessee.
The following day the mood was light around the practice facility, it was always nice to win. We met as a team, then broke down into groups and watched film. We were released shortly before one o’clock, we were not due back until Wednesday morning. I arrived back at my condo around two o’clock. I was a bit sore in my lower back, probably due to the awkward way I had landed on my spine in the game. I put on shorts and a tee shirt and walked down to where the hot tub was located near the pool. Since it was still every afternoon, most of the tenants were at work, I had the place to myself. I soaked in the tub for close to thirty minutes, then swam in the pool for a while. The water was nice, the temperatures were in the low eighties. I was laying out on one of the recliners near the pool, when I noticed that people became arriving home, I am guessing it must have been close to three o’clock , several people waved hello, I returned the gesture, most appeared just wrapped up in their own lives to notice. I decided to head back to my unit, since I had the TV being delivered a short time later. I closed the gate to the pool area and was headed to my condo when a young woman came around the corner, beach towel in hand. I almost ran head long into her, I had to stop short.
“Oh I am so sorry.”, I exclaimed.
“It’s ok, I wasn’t paying attention.”, she replied, “You’re new here ?”
“Yes, I sublet a unit in building two hundred.”, I replied.
“Oh you’re in Jessica’s unit, you’re the football player ?’, she asked, her eyes widening.
“Yes I am.”, I answered.
“Well, I am Helen, welcome to the buidling.”, she laughed, walking off.
The TV arrived about an hour later, the delivery people hooked everything up perfectly, within the hour I finally had TV. True to what the salesman had told me, the picture was magnificent. It must have been close to seven o’clock in the evening when I heard a knock on the door. I got up, opened the door and found Alexis standing there.
“Hey, I just wanted to stop over and congratulate you on the touchdown yesterday, it was quite a catch.”, she smiled.
“Thanks, I appreciate it. Would you like to come in ?”, I asked.
“Sorry, I have a meeting with a client this evening, some other time maybe.’, she replied, walking off.
“Sure, thanks again.”, I responded, closing the door.
The next few weeks rolled on rather quickly, we were playing well only having lost one game thus far. We sat tied for the lead in our division, everything was going well. I was still relegated to a part time player, mostly around goal line situations, I had caught several more passes, but had not scored since the first game. Billy had been playing well, he deserved to be ahead of me at this point. He had scored several times thus far this year, I think the competition was doing him good. I was always one of the first to congratulate him on a big play, something that always seem to catch him by surprise, no matter how often it happened. He had just caught a touchdown in week four, when he came over and sat down next to me. For a second, you could cut the tension in the air with a knife. I looked over at him, his eyes were looking down at the turf. Finally he spoke, it was not what I expected to hear.
“I was wrong about you kid, I’m sorry. The fact is I was afraid, when we drafted you in the first round, as a tight end no less, I thought my days were numbered. But in fact, as my wife told me just the other day, you make me better. So, what I am trying to say is, I hope you can forgive an old man for treating you like shit. I am truly sorry.”, he finished.
“It’s not a problem, consider it forgotten.”, I answered, shaking his hand.
From that moment on, Billy and I got along well, he became a friend, but more importantly, he worked with me instead of against me. He taught me a lot of the little details that I needed to know, he taught me things that the coaches couldn’t, especially about blocking.
Going into week five morale was high, we were playing good ball, our next opponent would be Atlanta, it would be a road game. We left town on Friday and flew to Atlanta for Sunday’s game, road games were always tougher. You didn’t sleep in your bed, you didn’t eat your normal meals, your schedule was just screwed up. We had a late game that Sunday so we knew before we kicked off, a win would put us in first place in our divison, our rival had just lost.
We scored an easy, quick touchdown on a long run giving us the lead at 7-0. Halfway through the first quarter, we were up 10-0 and driving again. I was standing on the sidelines watching the defense, as I always did, trying to get a feel for what they were doing. We had just crossed the fifty yard line, Josh was picking them apart. On first down he dropped back, threw a perfect hook route to Billy. Billy caught the pass and was turning up field, when the linebacker hit him head on, driving him backwards, his knee on his plant foot buckled. He collapsed under the large defensive player, both hands immediately clutching his left knee. The trainers sprinted out onto the field, along with the team physician to check him out. Coach Reed motioned me over to him, Josh had already walked over to the sideline.
“It didn’t look good from here guys, I think he’s out. Brian, I need you to step up son, it’s time.”, he said looking in my direction.
I ran back out onto the field with Josh, stopping where they were loading Billy onto the cart to take him back to the locker room to be checked out. He reached up and took my hand in his, his grip firm and tight.
“Don’t get comfortable rookie, I’ll be back.”, he said, a smile on his face.
“I hope so.”, I replied to him, winking.
We huddled up together, the ball was now on the thirty eight yard line. Josh leaned forward, his face was more serious than usual.
“I want that fucker that took Billy out, if we get to run to his side, somebody blow him up, if you get the chance.”, he started.
“Sixty two, trap right, double zoom, fire left.”, he called.
Several plays later we were on the twenty one, it was third and eight. They had been sitting in cover two for the last few plays, Josh had a feeling they may come with the heat on this play. He let me know in the huddle if he saw either of the outside linebacker’s creep up, he would call shift. I would move to that side, looking like I was going to block him, but I would release him. I would then run a quick post behind him and in front of the safety.
Josh was right, but it was the linebacker on my side who came up strong, right on my outside shoulder. As Josh barked cadence, he pointed to the linebacker number fifty six who had moved up. I then pointed to him and back at Josh as if I saw it, I would pick up the block. I then looked in the middle of the field at the free safety who slid over away from me once I motioned the blitz pickup.
On the snap, I laid a shoulder into the linebacker to slow him down for a second, then released him, ran five yards, looked inside the ball was there just out in front of me. I pulled it from the air quickly, tucked it inside my body and turned up field. The free safety squatted at the ten, bracing for the impact. I accelerated and made absolutely no attempt to avoid him. I hit him head on as I was taught as a youngster, to simply run through him. He went down hard on his back, reaching up with both hands trying to grab anything he could. He managed to catch the top of my left foot causing me to stumble forward, but I quickly regained my balance and crossed the goal line. Once again, I went to the goal post following my ritual from the first score. I picked up the ball and carried it off the field with me, this one was sweet.
Later in the game I scored again on a broken play, Josh just tossing it up high to me in the back of the end zone. We left Atlanta with another win, but it was bitter sweet. Billy had sprained his knee, he would be out at least four to six weeks. We arrived back on the west coast close to midnight, we were due back for film in the morning.
I got into bed sometime after one o’clock, the alarm went off far too soon. Thankfully with arriving late the night before, the coaches cut film and meetings a bit short, we were dismissed by noon. I was battered and bruised, exhausted from no sleep, I spent the rest of the day in bed, sleeping through until early the next morning. I got up early Tuesday morning, ran a few errands and was back home by ten o’clock in the morning. I was sitting in the hot tub by the pool, when my phone rang. I answered it quickly, it was someone was the team’s office.
“Is this Brian Stevens ?”, the female voice asked.
“Yes mam, it is.”, I answered.
“Brian, this is Linda Kelley, I work in public relations for the team. I have received a request for a personal appearance, I wanted to pass it on to you.”, she said.
“Ok, what do you need me to do ?”, I asked.
She went on to tell me that this was not a team organized event, it was a call from a private individual, requesting my time. Since all she had was a number, I asked that she please call my phone back and leave it on my voice mail. She did as I asked a minute later, I would wait until I got back up to my condo to call and get the details. I swam a few laps in the pool to cool off, then headed upstairs. After getting dressed I checked voice mail, copied the number she had left and hung up. I called the number back immediately, it was a local number. It took several rings before the call was answered, the man appeared to be out of breath.
“Hello.”, he panted.
“Hello sir. My name is Brian Stevens, I had a message from our front office to call this number, about an appearance ?”, I asked.
“Oh my God, I never really thought you would get the message.”, he answered.
“I just got it about an hour ago sir. How can I help you.”, I asked.
There was a long pause at the other end of the phone, like perhaps the man was trying to think of the right words to use.
“I am calling about…… my son….. Um, he is in the hospital right now….he’s not…well he’s really sick. Anyway, you two have the same name….. well except his is B-r-y-a-n. Well he has always been a big fan, but you’re his favorite player. And last week…after you scored the second touchdown, we could….barely contain him.”, he said, his voice choked with emotion.
“Wow, I already have a fan.”, I replied.
“Yes you do. Anyway I was wondering….. If you’re not too busy….maybe you could…stop by the hospital for a minute or so. It would mean the world to him…well to us. My wife and I.”, he asked, sincerely.
“I would be more than happy to sir. I practice during the week, I am usually finished by one o’clock in the afternoon. Weekends are usually rough right now during the season.”, I replied.
“How about Friday evening, maybe five o’clock or so ?”, he asked.
“That should be fine sir.”, I answered.
He went on to explain to me that his son was at Chidren’s Hospital in town, he gave me the floor, room number and the full name. I promised to see him Friday evening at the predetermined time. I was sitting around the condo a few hours later watching TV, when I remembered what Alexis had told me during our early meetings. She had asked that any and all requests for appearances be cleared through her office. I picked up the phone, scanned the numbers then dialed her.
“Hey Alexis, thing is Brian, you have a minute ?”, I asked.
“Of course Brian, what can I do for you ?”, she replied.
I explained to her what had happened hours earlier with the phone call. I told her that I had committed to the appearance without thinking about what she had told me, that I was supposed to check in with her. She went on to explain what she meant by appearances was anything that I would be compensated for, public appearances, autograph signings or endorsements. Anything like a personal visit was totally up to me, as long as it didn’t interfere with team policy, which she confirmed, this would not. I thanked her for her time and hung up.
The rest of the week drug by, I was still somewhat sore by the time Friday rolled around. We had practiced hard that week we would be playing Kansas City at home this Sunday at noon. We were favored by six points, it was a game that, if we played well, we should win. I got home Friday after practice, showered then dressed to go downtown. I left the condo about four o’clock, then drove downtown to the hospital. I had a rough time trying to navigate the parking area, I finally made my way into the garage structure across the street. I made my way across the street into the main entrance of the hospital, then to the elevators. I rode up to the fourth floor, I was alone. The doors opened, I stepped into the hallway looking both ways. On my left I saw a large circular nurse’s station, several young girls seated behind computers. I walked over to the desk, leaning on the counter as the young woman typed.
“Can I help you ?”, she asked, without looking up.
“Yes mam, I am here to see Bryan Butler.”, I replied.
She stopped typing and looked up quickly, she was quite attractive. I could tell she was immediate startled at my size, she pushed back sharply in her chair, standing up.
“Are you family ?”, she asked.
“No mam, my name is Brian Stevens, the boy’s father asked me if I would come by and see him.”, I replied.
By now the second nurse had turned around and walked up behind her co-worker. She nudged her gently in the back causing her to turn and look at the other woman.
“He’s the football player Mr. Butler told me about.”, she said, smiling.
“Oh alright then. I can let you through in about fifteen minutes. One of his parents has to be here, they usually get here about five thirty. You can sit there and wait if you would like.”, she offered, pointing to a large sofa aginst the wall.
I took a seat leaning back relaxing, watching the non stop activity that went on at this area of the hospital. Nurses, doctors and other worker’s constantly back and forth, checking charts, talking on the phone, going in and out of the rooms. About ten minutes later a woman approached the station, you could tell she was a regular visitor.
“Hey Jenny, how are you today honey?”, she asked the young nurse.
“I’m great Mrs. Butler, thank you. Oh, Bryan has a visitor.”, she replied, pointing in my direction.
I stood up slowly, as the woman approached me gingerly. She slowly extended her small hand to mine, her handshake was soft and feminine.
“It’s so nice of you to do this for Bryan. I …. I can’t tell you….how much this means to us.”, she said, her eyes filling with tears.
“It’s my pleasure mam.”, I answered.
She went on to tell me that Bryan was seven years old, battling his second bout of leukemia in as many years. Treatment appeared to be working but this was a disease that was so unpredictable. She told me he had just underwent several treatments over the past few days, so he would still be feeling somewhat weak. I followed her slowly down the hall to the last room on the right, where she slowly pushed the door opened.
In the bed laid a small frail boy, he was extremely pale. There were several tubes attached to his arms, monitors on other parts of his body. He had blue knit cap on his head, it appeared he was completely bald under the hat. As I approached the bed, his eyes were closed, he was sleeping peacefully. As I looked at the small child, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of heartbreak, thinking about my Courtney, how much I missed her. The boy’s mother leaned over, kissing him gently on the cheek. The boy’s eyes opened, a weak smile formed on his lips.
“Hey sweetheart, how are you feeling today ?”, she asked.
“I’m ok… Mom.”, he answered.
“Guess who’s here ?”, she asked.
The boy slowly turned his head towards me, his weak smile turning into a huge grin. I smiled back at the child, stepping forward and shaking his small hand, very gently, making sure not to disturb any of the medical attachments.
“Hello Bryan, I’m so glad to meet you. Someone from the team office called me and told me I had a fan. Well , I have never had a fan before, so since you’re my first, I just had to come meet you.”, I told him.
The entire time I was talking to him, the smile just kept getting bigger and bigger. His mom laughed out loud at my explanation, knowing what in fact had actually happened. I pulled the chair up to the bed, sat down and leaned forward.
“So tell me buddy, why am I your favorite player ?”, I asked.
The young boy, turned to his mom as if he was searching for an answer, she nodded her head towards me as much as to say, tell him. The young boy turned his head back towards me, I could tell he was nervous.
“Cuz your name is ….is the same as mine, and uh…you jump real high… then you catch the ball.”, he said, slowly each phrase independent from the previous.
“Well we do have the same name, you’re right. I do try and catch the ball, but sometimes I do drop it.”, I said, winking back at him.
“I only …. saw you drop it….once.”, he smiled.
By this time the boy’s father had made his way into the room, he walked over and shook my hand thanking me for taking the time to come see his young son. I went back to my conversation with the young boy, I began asking him questions about himself. After a few minutes, we were getting along really well, like we had known each other for a long time. I had heard his father ask his wife, if she had eaten yet today, to which she answered she had not. I turned to the two of them, catching them unaware.
“Hey Mom and Dad, why don’t you two go get something to eat, Bryan and I will hang out here until you get back.”, I offered.
“Are you sure ?”, the woman asked.
“Yep, we will be fine. If we get lonely, we will call in a few nurses, huh buddy ?”, I asked, winking at Bryan.
“Yea Mom….. You guys go eat.”, he laughed.
His parents left the room with a bit of hestitation, we resumed our conversation quickly. In the next forty five minutes I learned the true meaning of courage. This tiny child had been battling this disease for most of his life. He had spent the last three months confined to this hospital room. He made it very hard for you to even imagine you had any problems, much less entertain the notion of feeling sorry for yourself. There was a knock on the door, a very pretty blonde nurse came in, walking around to the boy’s side of the bed. They knew each other well, he quickly acknowldeged her presence.
“This my new friend…his name is Brian too…he plays football on TV.”, the boy said excitedly.
“He’s on TV ?”, the nurse asked, an astonished look on her face.
“Yep, he’s really good too.”, he added.
I had to laugh at his last comment, this small child was truly my biggest fan in this town. As he turned his head back in my direction, his nurse began checking all of his equipment, take readings, this I figured was her ritual. As she was wrapping up her duties, his mother and father came back into the room, walking to the foot of his bed.
“So how are you guys getting along ?”, his father asked.
“Doing good sir. He is quite a little man.”, I answered.
“We can’t thank you enough for taking the time out to see him. It’s really generous of you.”, his father said.
“I had to come as soon as I found out I had a fan. I mean, do you realize he is my very first fan ?”, I asked, trying to act as serious as possible.
“Am I really you’re first fan ?”, Bryan asked.
“Yes you are. This is my first vist to anyone, since I have been out here.”, I answered.
“Wow.”, he said, grinning ear to ear.
“And since you are my first fan, that entitles you to another visit, plus you get something signed for your collection. So what do you think you would like autographed ?”, I asked.
The boy thought hard for close to a minute, then a smile returned to his face. With all the sincerity in the world, he asked for the item he most wanted signed.
“When you catch a touchdown on Sunday, can you sign the ball and bring it to me ?”, he asked, innocently.
“Oh is that all you want ?”, I laughed.
“Yep, that’s it.”, he replied.
“Well Bryan, I tell ya what. I won’t catch a touchdown in every game, it’s just not that easy. But I will promise you, the next one I catch, you will get the ball.”, I answered.
“You promise ?”, he said, frowning slightly.
“I promise buddy.”, I responded.
His parents followed me outside of the room, once again thanking me for taking the time to come and visit their child. His father shook my hand, letting me off the hook for a return visit. He insisted I had done more than he had hoped for, coming back was not necessary.
“Are you kidding me. My fan wants a game ball, he gets a game ball.”, I answered.
I drove back home, but that night I had trouble sleeping, I couldn’t get the young man I had just met, off of my mind. I know it took over an hour for me to fall asleep. The next morning we had our customary meetings, we then went through our last walk through before the game tomorrow. After practice was over, we were dressing in the locker room, I mentioned my vist with Bryan the day before to Josh. He found it quite amusing that I had promised my new young friend, I would score for him. I explained I didn’t have much of a choice, I was put on the spot.
I arrived early the following morning, I was in the stadium before nine o’clock. I hit the field dressed in just shorts and a tee shirt and began to warm up on my own. Slowly players began arriving, soon I was catching passes from one of our backup quarterbacks. At about ten thirty, I headed back to the locker room to get taped up and dressed, by the time we were set to kick off, I was a raving lunatic.
We got off to poor start turning the ball over on two consecutive possessions resulting in a 10-0 lead for our opponent in the first quarter. We had cut the margin to 13-7 by halftime, but we still were not playing well. The mood in the locker room was tense during the break, we were not used to playing from behind.
We opened the third quarter with a nice drive, I caught two passes for decent gains, before we stalled out and settled for a field goal. We narrowed the lead to 13-10, early in the third quarter. The score stayed that way for the rest of the quarter and early into the fourth. With about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, Kansas City kicked another field goal extending their lead to 16-10, forcing us to have to score a touchdown to win the game.
We struggled on the next drive, twice having to convert on third down to keep the drive alive. We were at our own forty five yard line, there was less than five minutes to play. While we wanted to score, we also wanted to leave as little time on the clock as possible, because a field goal could beat us. We ran several more plays getting the ball inside of their forty, there was 3:10 left on the clock, Josh signaled a time out, he trotted to the sidelines. After a lengthy television time out, he returned to the huddle, a series of plays were called in case we had to go with no huddle. On first and ten, we had a screen play called, the defense read it well, Josh had to leave the pocket, running to his left. I immediately broke off my crossing route, reversed field and worked my way clear around the fifteen. He threw a dart that cleared two sets of defender’s hands, right into mine. I took my eyes off the ball for a moment, to see how much room I had to work with, that was all it took as the ball dropped to the turf harmlessly.
“Damn it.”, I screamed at myself, while thousands, groaned in unison.
I returned to the huddle my head down, I couldn’t look at anyone. Josh took control of the huddle as always.
“You can’t drop those rookie, get your head in the game.”, he said, calmly getting his point across.
We ran two quick plays getting the ball to their twelve yard line, before taking our second time out of the half. Again Josh and Coach Reed met for the entire timeout, discussing what they wanted to try. There was exactly 1:22 left on the clock, we were exactly where we wanted to be. Josh called three plays in the huddle simultaneously due to the fact that the first play was a draw play, we were hoping to catch them looking for a pass. It was a short gain, to the nine, the clock was running. On second down, I was running a fade into the corner, this was going to be my chance to score, if their was one. The play went off, I got doubled up, there was no opportunity for Josh to get the ball to me, he threw it out of the end zone, to kill the clock. We had twenty eight seconds to go, one time out left.
We knew we would huddle up, run a play, if we didn’t score, we would immediately call time out, then try one last gasp on fourth down. We had a double pick play called, with a max protection package in for Josh. I was lined up on the left side, one wide out was outside of me. I would come off the line and run a short out, breaking at about the two yard line, then fading into the end zone. The wide out on my side would come right off my shoulder with a crossing route, hopefully using me to shield his defender and get open. We were keeping the running back in for added protection in case of a blitz.
The play went off as called, I came off the line hard, cut sharply at the one, then held my ground, looking for my wide out. Apparently something had happened, he was late getting there. I knew the only chance he had was for me to vacate the area and let Josh try to throw him open inside. I quickly pushed off my back foot and headed for the back of the end zone, clearing a passing lane. Josh already had his arm cocked, I saw the ball moving forward as our receiver cut through my field of vision. I stopped just about two yards shy of the back end line, deep in the end zone, watching the ball in flight. I immediately knew it was going to be high, and slightly behind our receiver. I set myself squarely, the safety leaving me to attack the ball in flight. Our reciever, the cornerback and safety all arrived at about the same time. The ball hit our receiver in the hands, careening off to my right, high in the air toward the corner of the end zone. I was anticipating a high throw so I was already moving in that direction. I accelerated with everything I had, my eyes locked on the tumbling sphere. I knew I might get close, but I was going to have to lay out. With one final push, I dove straight out, my arms extended fully, my eyes still locked on the ball. My hands arrived a split second before the ball, one palm under the point, the other on the side. My body then slid across the turf, rolling to my right, still clutching the ball between my hands. I was lying flat on my back, I had the ball extended straight up in the air, the crowd was deafening. As I sat up, I saw the back judge and the side judge talking quickly, then the back judge signaling incomplete pass. I jumped to my feet, sprinting full out stopping inches from the back judge.
“No way ref, that’s six. It never hit the ground.”, I yelled.
“The point of the ball touched the ground son, sorry.”, he yelled back.
I turned violently towards our bench, using my hand to reach inside of an imaginary pocket, tossing the challenge flag. Over and over, I dramatically made the motion in the direction of Coach Stanton for him to challege the play. He finally reached into his pocket, tossing the flag to the turf in front of the referee. The referee picked up the flag, walked over to Coach Stanton handing him the flag, listening briefly to his argument. He then turned towards the home side of the field, turned on his microphone addressing the crowd.
“San Diego is challenging the ruling on the field of an incomplete pass.”, he finished, clicking off his microphone, and headed to his viewing camera located at about the ten yard line.
I still had the ball in my hand, pounding my chest repeatly as I approached the sideline. Everyone was watching the big screen on the north end of the field as they repeatedly ran the play over and over, attempting to get the best view of what happened. On two of the shots they had, it looked really close, but nothing was clear cut. But then they threw up a third look, taken from the end zone camera, which showed my hand, palm up, under the nose of the ball. When that view was shown, the crowd erupted in unison. Josh walked over to where I was standing, leaning into my ear.
“Damn boy, I really thought it hit the ground. You caught that huh ?”, he asked.
“Damn right I did.”, I answered, slapping his helmet.
But no matter what I thought, the crowd thought, or what was called, there had to be irrefutable evidence to over turn the call made on the field. It was after all, called incomplete. Several minutes passed, the crowd was growing anxious, the referee still under the hood, making sure they made this call correctly. Finally the referee threw the hood on the camera back, trotting back to the center of the field, his face a blank slate, no evidence of what was to come.
“After further review, the receiver’s right hand was under the ball, he then maintained possession, the ball never hit the ground. The ruling on the field is a completed pass, touchdown, San Diego. They will not be charged with a time out.”, he said, his arms extended above his head.
The roar was deafening, everyone was mobbing me at once, slapping and hugging me. The referee was trying to restore order, there was still a few seconds left on the clock, we would have to kick the ball back to them. I trotted off to the field to our bench, the ball tucked tighly under my arm. As I sat down on the end of the bench, my heart was racing. Coaches and players were still coming up congratulating me on the catch, the crowd was still out of control. We kicked the ball down the middle of the field not allowing them to set up a decent run back, the game was over, the teams headed to midfield to shake hands and talk. After several minutes, I made my way back into the locker room, the ball still firmly in hand. I placed it at the top of my locker, and began to get undressed. Little by little, the team and coaches returned, Coach Stanton began his post game comments to the team.
Once again, he congratulated us for never giving up, having the tenacity to play well with the game on the line. He felt that this could be one of the best teams in the league, provided we kept playing like we had thus far.
“Where is Stevens ?”, he asked loudly.
Everyone pointed to where I was sitting in front of my bench. I stood up slowly, most of the room cheering loudly. He signaled to one of the trainers who tossed him a ball from the game.
“I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out who gets the offensive game ball today.”, he shouted, tossing it to me.
“Thanks Coach”, I replied.
He then gave out the defensive game ball to one of our linebackers, Sam Lucas, again everyone cheered. As was customary, the trainer picked up both balls from us, they would be hand painted, with the date, team and score of the games, as well as our name placed on the panels. It was my first game ball, it meant a lot to me.
I sat back down and began to get undressed, one of our media people came up and asked me to be present at the post game conference, the press would want to talk to me. I showered quickly, dressed and made my way to the conference area. As I approached the side of the stage, I could see Coach Stanton was still answering questions. I saw him glance over in my direction, then back to the media without missing a beat.
“Coach, what was running through your mind while you waited for the ruling on the field after Stevens’ catch in the end zone ?”, one of the reporters asked, “Did you really think he caught it ?”
“Actually, yes I did. After seeing how demonstrative he became after the catch, knowing what type of kid he is, I knew that at least, he believed he had caught it, which was good enough for me.”, he responded.
Coach then waved me up on the stage, telling the press they needed hear it from the horse’s mouth. I pulled the chair out next to Coach Stanton and sat down, before I could look, questions were being yelled out. I pointed to the older man in the first row, who had his hand up.
“Can you tell us what was going through your head during the catch ?”, he asked.
“Geez, let me see…… I didn’t see what happened to Marvin initially, but as I squared to the outside, I saw he was late. I figured the only shot he had to get open was for me to clear out, let him run the quick slant, so I did. I saw the ball in the air, it looked like it was going to be high, so I drifted a little deeper. I was lucky, the ball came off in the same direction I was moving. I really just got lucky.”, I replied.
I pointed to another reporter who followed up quickly with another question.
“Brian, you have been really low key since arriving here, what was all the emotion about after the catch ? , he asked.
“I got lost in the moment, I guess.”, I answered.
The woman next to him, quickly stood up before I could even finish my previous answer.
“Brian, I have learned that you promised to catch a touchdown for a young fan , is that true ? Is that why you were so emotional ?, she asked, a sly look on her face.
I though quickly for a second, how in the hell could she possibly know that, I had told anyone but….
“No mam, I’m not sure what you are talking about. I was just excited.”, I answered, vowing to get even with Josh later.
Coach Stanton saw I was getting a bit uneasy with all of the attention, so he leaned back into his microphone and took control of the meeting. I got up quietly and slipped off the stage as Coach continued to answer questions. I made my way out of the locker room area, out of the tunnel that led to the player’s parking lot. Before I was even close to the exit, it was obvious the amount of fans that had gathered. As soon as I exited, I could hear my named being yelled over and over. I set my bag down and began to sign autograph’s, one by one an assorted array of items being handed to me. I took each one, signed it quickly without looking up, handing it back, only to receive another. As I was signing a plastic drinking cup from the stadium, I heard a woman’s voice right in front of me.
“I love you Brian, will you marry me ?”, was the comment.
I looked up to see a very attractive young woman, maybe in her mid twenties holding a full size San Diego helmet in her hand, She extended the helmet to me, with a smile.
“Must be my day, I make a lucky catch, then a beautiful woman wants to marry me.”, I laughed.
I signed the helmet handing it back to her, she thanked me, then snapped a picture with her phone. I signed a few more autograph’s then finally made my way to the parking lot. I pulled out, on to the highway, then headed home. It was maybe about seven o’clock in the evening when I got home, I was beat. I climbed the stairs to the condo, pulled out my keys, beginning to unlock the door.
“Hey Brian, I saw the end of the game. What a catch.”
I turned and looked over my shoulder, Alexis was standing in the doorway of her unit. Apparently she had heard me pass her door just seconds ago.
“Oh thanks Alexis, right place, right time.”, I answered.
“Hey after you get settled, why don’t you come over, have a glass of wine or something ?”, she asked.
“Sure, why not. Be over in a bit.”, I responded.
I went inside, unpacked my bag, and tossed the laundry into the hamper. I quickly checked email, I had one message from Coach Mike back home, congratulating me on the catch. I replied to him quickly, then made my way over to Alexis’ place. I knocked softly on the door, she opened it quickly.
I stepped in, she closed the door behind me. As I looked around, it was immediately apparent, we had the same floor plan. But I could also tell right way, Alexis had worked very hard on her condo, it was beautifully decorated. She offered me a seat on the large, beige sectional sofa against one wall. She quickly asked if I wanted a glass of wine, she either several to choose from.
“I’m not much of a drinker, do you have any kind of juice maybe ?”, I asked.
“How about orange juice ?”, she replied.
“That would be great.”, I answered.
She turned and walked over to the kitchen, pouring my juice, her a glass of wine. She was wearing a pair of very short cotton shorts, with a large tee shirt, at least two sizes too big covering them. I just couldn’t help but noticed her legs, especially her thighs. They looked smooth and silky, but extremely firm and strong. I made sure to look away as she returned to the room.
We sat and talked for a while, she wanted a play by play recount of the game, even though she had apparently watched it. As we talked, she asked me about how my visit had went, the one I had called her about. I recalled to her my meeting with Bryan and his parents, my promise to him, and the fact that I was going to go back sometime this week. She reached over and grabbed my hand softly in hers, her face warm and glowing.
“You’re a good man Brian, I know I haven’t known you long, but it’s not hard to see.”, she told me softly.
I felt electricity shoot through my body, a result of this gorgeous woman’s hand resting on mine. She must have sensed something from my reaction, she pulled back slowly and leaned back into the sofa.
“Thank’s Alexis, that’s nice of you to say.”, I answered.
She asked me when I though I might go back and try to see my new little fan Bryan. I told her I was thinking of Tuesday evening, being it was my day off. She mentioned, if I didn’t mind of course, she might like to accompany me there. I assured her I didn’t mind, I promised to call her when I had more details.
We had our standard meetings Monday , followed by game film, medical treatment for the player’s banged up, workouts for those who were not. I left the facility sometime around two, stopping on the way home to get groceries. On my way into the grocery store, I passed a newspaper machine, the front page was visible through the window. At the top of the page were the headlines “ROOKIE REAPS REWARDS”, with a picture of me making the catch in yesterday’s game. I had to smile thinking of what my Dad would say, if he could see that. I made a note, to buy a few on the way back out, send them back home. As was customary, I spent way too much time trying to find things in the store, but eventually I made my way to the check out lines. As I was standing behind the person checking out, I was placing my items on the conveyor. A older man in the aisle over leaned forward and spoke to me.
“That was quite a catch yesterday son, I can’t tell you the last time I enjoyed a game as much as that one.”, he said.
“Thank you sir.”, I answered.
As I stepped up to the register, the young woman looked up at me a smile on her face.
“You’re number eighty nine ? Brian….ummmm…..”, she asked.
“Stevens, yes mam I am.”, I laughed.
“Oh sorry…..”, she giggled, “I saw the game, that was awesome.”
“Thanks.”, I said, still putting items on the conveyor.
I finished up, grabbed a few newspapers, then loaded my car with the items. I made my home, unloaded the groceries, then sat down and relaxed in front of the TV with a sandwich. Sometime around seven o’clock, I called Ashley, I knew she should already be home.
It took a few rings, but she finally answered.
“Hey Ashley, how are you ?”, I asked.
“Hey hotshot, I’m ok I guess. I saw the game Sunday, you were fabulous.”, she replied.
“Thanks, but it was more luck than anything.”, I responded.
We talked for a while, catching up on each others lives. Toward the end of the conversation, she mentioned to me that she and David had quit seeing each other. I think she was waiting for me to make some kind of comment that I was glad, but I wasn’t about to do that.
“I’m sorry to hear that Ash.”, I told her.
“How about you, seeing anyone up there ?”, she asked.
“No, it’s been all business since I arrived, haven’t had time for much else.”, I answered.
We finished up our talk, Ashley did mention that she would like to possibly fly out to see me during her Christmas break from school. I told her that sounded like a great idea and to let me know so we could make arrangements. I spent the rest of the evening watching TV, I went to bed about nine o’clock that night.
I woke early in the morning, drove down to the practice facility and got in my work out. I went back to the locker room area, making my way to my cubicle. I began shuffling through the boxes at the bottom of my locker. I found a new pair of receiver’s gloves, and a skull cap in the team’s colors with the team logo on it. I put the two items in my bag, closed my locker and started to make my way out of the facility.
Although we were only issued four game jersey’s, two home and two away, the same with pants, gloves, caps, socks, tee shirts and cleats were given to us in case lots of twelve. I had at least a dozen pairs of cleats and probably twice that many pair of gloves in my locker. As soon as they began to run low, the equipment manager replenished them.
I left the facility and made my way back to the condo, I arrived home a bit after ten o’clock. I called Bryan’s father on the phone, making sure it was alright with him that I stop by and see his son. He informed me that both he and his wife had a meeting right after work at the bank, but that I was more than welcome to go there at five, he would make a call to the nurses at the station, telling them to admit me. I thanked him and hung up.
I rested on the sofa for a while, ate a late lunch , then called Alexis at her office. She was in a meeting, so I left a message with her secretary telling her what time I was going to the hospital, to please call if she still was interested in going. I was about to leave the condo, it was close to four thirty, when Alexis returned my call.
“Hey, I just got free, I’m on my way there, wait for me, I would love to go with you.”, she said.
“Ok, no problem.”, I replied.
Alexis knocked on my door a little before five thirty, she had already been home and changed. She was wearing tight jeans, a tank top and black high heeled boots. She really looked good, but then again, she always did. Since she had just driven clear across town from her office, I offered to drive to the hospital, she readily accepted. We arrived at the hospital shortly after six, I parked in the lot and grabbed my small duffel bag, and escorted Alexis across the street into the hospital. We rode the elevator up to the fourth floor, then made our way down to the nurse’s station. I immediately recognized the young blonde nurse from my previous visit, she smiled and walked over to us.
“How’s he feeling today ?”, I asked.
“Pretty good, he is getting stronger every day, he only has two treatments left, then he can go home.”, she answered, “You can go on in.”
“Thanks.”, I responded.
We walked down to the end of the hall, I gently knocked on the door and pushed it open. He immediately turned his head towards me, a huge smile crossing his face. He pushed himself up on the stack of pillows he was lying against, adjusting his blankets.
“How’s my number one fan today.”, I asked.
“I’m doing good Brian.”, he answered.
“Bryan, this is my friend Alexis, she wanted to come meet you too.”, I said, introducing her.
“Hi Bryan, its very nice to meet you.”, Alexis told the young boy, shaking his hand gently.
We both sat down in the two chairs that were available next to the bed, I set the bag down next to my feet. He was still dressed in his hospital gown with his blue knit stocking cap on his head. I could sense he was kinda nervous, maybe it was because Alexis was there. I decided to try and break the ice a bit. I reached down into the bag and pulled out the team skull cap, in light powder blue, with the team logo on the front of it. I held it up in front of him, so he could see exactly what it is.
“Bryan, since you’re my number one fan, you can’t keep wearing that cap you have on, you have to wear mine.”, I said, handing him the stocking cap.
“This is yours ?”, he asked, in amazement.
“Yep, it is.”, I answered.
He quickly pulled off the old blue knit cap and tossed it on the bed. As I had suspected, he had very little hair on his head, I had heard treatments could be brutal. Suddenly he realized that he had exposed himself for the first time to strangers, he quickly tried to pull the stocking cap I gave him onto his head.
“Here, let me help you buddy.”, I said, adjusting the tight cap so that the team logo was directly in the front middle of his head.
I reached down in the bag again, pulling out a pair of receiving gloves, again in team colors, opening the package and handing them to him.
“Now you have to put the gloves on.”, I told him.
“Whoaaaaa, I get gloves too.”, he asked, his eyes wide and bright.
“Yes sir. All receivers wear gloves now, that’s the exact pair, I wear.”, I responded.
He was comical as he tried to manuever his small hands into the really large gloves. With some help from Alexis, he finally managed to get them on, then pull the Velcro strap as tight as he could. Just at that time, both of his parents came into the room.
“Mom, Dad, look what Brian brought me.”, he shouted, holding up his hands, then touching his head, “This is the stuff he wears in the games.”
“Oh my goodness, what a gift.”, his mother said, leaning over, kissing him gently on the cheek.
I introduced both of his parents to Alexis, they received her warmly, thanking her as well for taking the time to stop by. They both moved to the sofa against the other wall and sat down, it looked as though they had a rough day. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to see your small child battling such a tough disease. Finally the young child brought us all back to reality.
“Hey Bryan, I knew you would catch a touchdown for me.”, he said, very matter of factly.
“Oh you did. Well I tell ya what buddy, I got really lucky on that one.”, I replied with a laugh.
“Nah, I knew you had it all the time.”, he laughed.
We talked for a little while more, then Bryan’s father asked if he could speak to me outside for a moment. I got up and followed the tired man outside into the hallway, he leaned his weight against the wall, life was beating him down.
“I want to personally thank you for everything you have done for my son. It’s good to see that infectious smile on his face again. We just found out today, it appears he is in remission for time being, we are so relieved.”, he said.
“That’s great sir, I am so happy to hear that.”, I replied.
“It’s just in time too, I have missed entirely too much work, we have used our entire savings so one of us could always be here with him. I have medical insurance, but it just doesn’t cover the intangibles. And we are blessed, we live only two hours from here. I can’t imagine other families that have to rent apartments so they can be near their children.”, he added.
He went on to tell me about other parents he had met since Bryan had been coming here, people who had suffered unbearable financial hardships, just trying to keep their child alive. We finally heard the little boy yell for us to come back in the room. The boy’s father wiped the tears from his eyes, took a deep breath then led me back into the room. I walked abck over to the chair where I had been sitting, leaned over and picked up the bag. Vistor’s hours were over in ten minutes, except for immediate family, I prepared to leave.
“Bryan, before I go, I have one more thing to give you.”, I said.
“What’s that ?”, he chirped up, another wide grin on his face.
I reached into the bag and fished out the brown leather ball, holding it out to him.
“This is the ball I caught at the end of the game, it has not been out of my sight since the touchdown. I want you to have it.”, I said.
He quickly snatched the ball from my grasp, like he thought I might change my mind.
“Oh no Brian, he can’t accept that, that’s entirely too much. That ball is a part of history, it belongs with you, for your son one day. Please take it back.”, his mother said, standing over him asking for the ball.
“The ball is where it belongs Mrs. Butler, besides, I can’t take it back, it’s already personalized.”, I replied, “See there.”
Bryan turned the ball slowly, finally to the panel that I had carefully and neated inscribed. She began to read it out loud.
“THE CATCH - SAN DIEGO 17 KANSAS CITY 16”
TO MY FIRST REAL FAN - BRYAN BUTLER
WHO TAUGHT ME WHAT THE WORD COURAGE AND WARRIOR MEAN
She hesitated a bit, then looked up at me, tears in her eyes. She simply mouthed the words “Thank You”, to me, I smiled at her in return. I extended my hand to my little friend, who shook it quickly, clutching the ball in his other.
“I’ll be back again buddy, if you check out before then, your Dad has my cell number, call me.”, I said, softly.
Alexis reached over and shook the boy’s hand as well, telling him how nice it was to meet him, especially since he was my biggest fan. As we turned to walk out of the room, I heard Bryan’s voice over my shoulder.
“Hey Brian, is Alexis your girlfriend ?”, as only a niave child could ask.
“Bryan, that’s not the kind of question you ask someone son.”, Mrs. Butler quickly said cutting him off.
I looked over at Alexis, I could see she was slightly taken back by the question. I looked back at my new friend.
“Alexis is my agent, Bryan. She handles all of my business deals, and yes she is a very good friend, but she is not my girl friend.”, I answered, with a smile.
“That’s too bad, she is very, very pretty.”, he answered.
On the ride back, Alexis couldn’t restrain of talking about my little friend, what heart and spirit he had. She told me she completely understood what had attracted me to him in the first place. I went on to tell her about the discussion I had with his father in the hall, about the financial strains that these situations put the families in. As we got closer to the condo’s, Alexis suggested we grab a bite to eat, since neither of us had eaten yet. We stopped at a small Chinese Restaurant near our condo, grabbed some takeout, then went back to my place and ate. Over dinner, Alexis metioned that since I had enjoyed spending so much time with Bryan, perhaps I should think of starting a foundation to help families of kids suffering from different forms of cancer.
As she explained, the foundation could help families with the expenses that their regular medical insurance just didn’t pay for. It seemed like a great idea, I asked her if she would be willing to point me in the right direction to perhaps get something like that started. She promised me she would look into it, then get back to me.
We hit the midway mark through the season, we were 7-1 and sitting atop our divison. Things were going extremely well with one exception, the injuries were starting to mount up. We had already lost two starters for the season, with several other being listed as day to day.
We went on a two game road trip, splitting the two games, one win , one loss. We now at 9-2, five games left to play, with us holding a two game lead in the division. Every game would now be critical, home field advantage was critical in the playoffs.