This story was originally posted by Cowdog in our forums, but it is simply too good to not be promoted up to the main blog. It’s not often that fans get to hear the stories of the inside workings of their favorite team from the players themselves and in their own voice, but that’s exactly what Cowdog has done for us. It’s an exceptional piece of writing and well worth the time it takes to read. Be forewarned, there is some salty language, but nothing that would earn more than a PG rating in today’s world. Enjoy. — Alpha
“Damned gray day on Lake Ontario.” I said to myself wheeling the rental into Greenwood Cemetery. Great Lakes fog carrying luggage of cold and damp had incorporated the little harbor town of Wilson.
“ At least we had a pretty one yesterday, “ spoken through the shroud, and to the shrouds that may have been listening. Yesterday, I had laid to rest, the coach’s wife. Ten years of a fifteen round Joe Frazier-like fight, and the heavens decided to toss the towel into the ring.
The cure got her. What had killed the cancer had killed my mom. The radiation devoured the bad seed and not quite full, nibbled on her smorgasbord style, a little of this, a little of that, for years.
Standing over the coach and now my mother at his side, I bid farewell with a melancholy born in the knowledge that I would not be passing this way again until the passing of another, an uncle, an aunt, in time.
Driving away from the grounds, I needed a pick-me-up. I cut the radio on. Full blast.
It was a ninety-minute drive down to my boyhood town and a promised meeting over some drinks with a couple of old high school teammates. From there, it was on a plane back home to California.
About 20 miles out of Wilson, I had just wrapped up my back beat version of steering wheel drumming to “ Sympathy for the Devil “ when the car speakers issued a notice:
“ This just into our newsroom. A Lear jet departing from Orlando, Florida, bound for Dallas, Texas is flying off course and bearing northwest. Attempts to communicate with the craft have proved negative. Believed on board the Lear jet is golfer Payne Stewart. We will update this story as we receive more information. Again golfer Payne Stewart is believed to be a passenger aboard an unresponsive aircraft currently flying off course. ”
The station cuts to commercial.
“ Oh, damn, “ I lip whispered, and my musical lift was replaced by a two hundred pound weight and the hum of rubber on the I-90 pavement.
“ OK, we’re back and we have received some additional information regarding the flight believed to be carrying professional golfer Payne Stewart. Apparently, an air force F-16 has intercepted the Lear jet over Missouri at altitudes of 46,000 feet. The F-16 pilot has made a visual inspection of the Lear and reports that there are no signs of movement in the cockpit, and the craft windows appear to be iced…..”
“ Oh no. Oh Bo.” The pit in my stomach was verbalizing. I had to pull off.
Pulling a heater out of its pack, I stood there on the shoulder of the New York State Thruway. My eyes, glazed, gazed out in the direction of the ghost plane. It wasn’t the October, Western New York sky that was before me though. No, it was January, over the Pacific Ocean sky. It was another phantom flight being sought out in Déjà vu living color. I tossed the half smoked cig, and I felt like throwing up.
I’m not really sure how long a time was spent in that roadside vacuum and I really don’t remember what triggered the body to get back in the car and on the road again. Driving by rote, my mind became a Cuisinart food processor of memories and emotions.
This particular recipe called for 1 cup mom, 1 cup dad, 2 teaspoons. “ My life “, 1 teaspoon unfolding air drama, 1 tablespoon twenty year old incident, and a pinch of salt for the open wounds. I had been looking forward to having a few with old friends this day, but as town drew nearer, the anticipation flew farther.
When I made the outskirts of town, among the sprawl of grape vineyards (the agricultural lifeblood of the region), an inevitable announcement purged its way over the radio. The Lear carrying Payne Stewart had crashed on the plains of South Dakota. Not wanting the plane to die a lonely death, an F-16 had followed its downward spiral to the very end.
I found that strangely comforting.
Minutes after the bulletin, I was in the old hometown, downtown, all three blocks of it. With the rental parked, I put my hand on the door lever and gave myself a pep talk. “ Awright, Dan’o, lets go have a good sit down with Mick and Jake. Toss some back and get out of this funk. It’s over, let it go. “
Of course, it wasn’t over. Opening the door and crossing the threshold into Coughlin’s pub, there to greet me were a half dozen TVs forwarding images of Payne Stewart. I stood by the door, fixated like the eyes of the dozen or so patrons at the bar, glued to the tube. It was Mick who first noticed.
“ Hey Dan’o. I knew you’d make it! Come on we left one open for ya. “ He pointed to an empty bar stool between Jake and himself. I walked over to them feeling a little better already. After man hugs all around, I sat down.
“ Hey you guys, thanks again for coming up to Wilson yesterday. You know it meant a lot to me.”
“ Forget about it, man. It was Marguerite. What would you expect? “ Said Mick.
“ Yeah, D,”piped Jake. “ It was Marguerite. Whatcha havin’? I got the first. ”
I wanted a Jameson, neat. Jake hailed Big Tim behind the bar with my request. Mick glanced up at ESPN. The sound was on. “ You know about this yet?”
“Yeah, I had the radio on.”
Big Tim set my Irish down. “ Danny, good to see ya’. Sorry about your mother. She went through some stuff. Helluva fighter wasn’t she? This is on the house. In fact, your money’s no good here today.”
“ Thanks, Timmy. You know you were her favorite behind the bar.”
The three of us toasted Marguerite and raised our glasses to our lips, but my ears pricked. Actually my eyes caught Len Berman on the tube first, mouthing “. ……can’t help to recall a similar…..”
I set my still full glass down knowing what was coming next. I was sure that thousands were transported back in time, just like I was about an hour ago standing on the roadside. It was just a matter of time until somebody broached it.
“ What’s wrong D?” Mick asked. I didn’t answer, except to hold up a traffic sign hand.
“……. former college football coach, Bo Rein.”
Jake grasped my shoulder and said, “ Bo Rein. Hell yes, Bo Rein. I remember that! You played for Bo Rein! Mickey, Dan played for Bo Rein at N.C. State! “
“He played for Holtz.”
I grabbed my Irish whiskey and drained it. Tasted just right, went down like Niagara Falls and emptied just beyond the whirlpools of the lower river. I ordered another round from Big Tim and lit a smoke while Mick and Jake were trying to decide who I played football under.
“ Yeah, Mick, but Rein was on the staff. Don’t you remember him? He died in a plane crash like Stewart’s. Jeez, that’s eerie. Only he ran out of fuel over the ocean. Never found the plane. Right, man?”
Right, Jake. Bingo. Knocked the kewpie doll right off the shelf. “ Yep. 1980. He was at LSU then. Never coached a single down. Legend has it that the mystery plane flew right over State on the way out to sea.”
Timmy set the next ones down and I took a wash. “ I really loved that guy.”
“ Hey, didn’t he play baseball, too? “
“ AAA with Cleveland, Jake. Drafted by the Colts, too. I’ve been thinking about him since I heard this on the radio. He was cool to be around. He was intense, but fun. Had this idiosyncrasy when he was making a point. He’d rub his palms together real fast, like a guy trying to make fire with a stick. Sometimes it was difficult to concentrate on the message he was giving, ‘cause you couldn’t take your eyes off his hands!”
That brought some laughs. Laughs felt good. Bo liked to laugh. Big hearted, Bo Rein, laughs. He didn’t take any shit though.
“ I remember this one time…well look. Practices were always held on separate ends of the field. 1st and 2nd team offense with the scout squad D on one end and vice-versa on the other end. The only time we’d work together as an entire unit was special teams. That was done at the end of the day, like clockwork on Wednesdays and Thursdays. At the proper time, Holtz would…oh, here’s something ya must know about Lou, if I haven’t told you before. At 5’6”, 140lbs., horned rim specs and white cap, he didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure. But let me tell ya brothers, Holtz was one scary little man. He could bring a 6’5” lineman to tears…and did! Hell, even to this day, I jump up in the middle of the night dodging a clipboard.
Anyway, this day I’ve been thinking about was a special teams day. As always, when it was time, Holtz in his white cap, the rest of the staff wore red, blew his whistle and stuck a hand up with that come hither boys wave of his. Like cows, the team came home. Funny, you could always tell when the herd was on the move. Flapping shoulder pads for cowbells.”
I took a sip and continued, trying my best to recall the field exactly like it was that day.
“ So here we are, herded to the sideline waiting for Lou’s command to line it up. “Line it up!” But we really can’t. We can’t ‘cause Bo was still out there midfield trying to make a fire with a stick and engaging roughly a quarter of the kick return unit. From the speed of his hands rubbing it was obvious there was a point to be made and Bo was going to make it. “Hey, Bo! Line it up.” He emphasized the word Bo, but Holtz got no response. This was new. The herd was a little disturbed, you know, maybe some nervous mooing, too, ‘cause we could plainly see that Bo had finally succeeded. He’d started a fire!”
More laughs. “ So Holtz is getting pissed.”
“ Yeah, Mick, really pissed. And what happened next stopped us mid cud chew and left our cow jaws agape.”
I took a long sip and held it for a little bit.
“ Like I said, Holtz was pissed, we were uneasy and Bo was still carrying on. Then with big time lisp spit flying, Lou yells, “Bo! I said line the goddamn thing…” Before he even got the last word out, Lou swiped a ball off the ground and punted that thing squarely into Bo’s ass from three feet out. “…Up!” We would have stampeded right then and there had we been able to move our legs. Time stood still. Then it slowly started itself back up again.
The piston palms turned to fists first. Then came the face turning the same shade as the hat. No, check that. It turned purple. Simultaneously, the jugulars morphed into stretched dock rope. The slow motion pirouette was classic. The stare man, the silent stare made the brim of the white hat droop ‘til it was pointed at the grass. It made the white hat turn in the other direction. The stare made the white hat float away, way away, off the field away.”
“ Holtz left the field? No man, no way he left the field.”
“ He left the field, Jake. On Marguerite’s grave, he left the field.”
“ So, what did you guys do, what did Rein do after that?”
“ We didn’t do shit. Unless you count paralyzed flappers and snowball eyeballs as doing something, we didn’t do shit, Mick. I suppose we waited, and you know what? So did the assistant coaches, except Bo. Nope, it might have taken a half-minute or so for him to reconstitute, but he did, pretty much in reverse order. By the time he made that ballet thing to face us, the stare had been replaced by a little relaxed smile, purple was tan again, and the dock ropes were coiled onboard.”
I waved for Timmy and when he came over, I flipped him two twenties, made him take it, asked for another round, and requested music over TV saga sound. “ Good idea Dan’o, done.”
“ So what happened next?” Mick asked me over Jimmie Hendrix.
“ We kicked Clemson’s ass that Saturday and accepted a Peach Bowl bid that night.”
“ No, man, on the practice field.”
“ Oh…well, once we saw the palms of his hands reintroducing themselves to each other we knew it was all good. We lined the damn thing up.”