Sleep doesn't come easy when you're on the run and in hiding, retreating from a victory you thought was well in hand only hours before. It doesn't come at all, actually. The only thing that comes are brief periods of less exhausted, and the troubled mind is forced to rest and not think of things one can't stop thinking about.
But even then, the mind still wanders, races, ponders...Ponder...roll out to the right, throw three yards on 3rd and 11...punt team wanders out.
//Wakes up screaming, sweating, and terrified, hands shaking
I awoke from a state of less exhausted and looked in the dingy, dirty mirror. A mirror in a nameless bathroom in some well hidden bunker, void of natural light and hope. The fluorescent light tube flickered, intensifying a headache that never really went away, once I thought about it for a second or two. I ran my hand across my four day old beard stubble, and stared at the bags under my vacant, hollow eyes. As always, I thought back to the retreat. The horrifying, mind numbing retreat.
It was long, hard, and bitter--humiliating, actually, all the way back to Louisville. I wasn't part of Napoleon's Grand Army of The Republic retreating from Moscow, or the German Third Army under Field Marshall Von Paulus in Stalingrad...but could it have been worse?
It was right there. We were at the gates of TCF Bank Stadium, victory so close. So close it was within our grasp, and we all felt it. But just like that, Zimmer's counterattack caught us off guard, crashing into our flank, and all we could do was fall back. And just like that, Mankato became our Stalingrad, our Moscow. I don't remember all of it, just the mind numbing thoughts that run through a man's head when he's been defeated on the battlefield, and the images that won't go away no matter how much alcohol you use as an eraser. The screaming, the film watching, the look of faces of your buddies, asking questions you don't have the answer to, and might not ever find no matter how long you search.
"Why? Why did they pick Matt Cassel to start?"
"I don't know", I said to my reflection, snapping back to reality. I sighed, and ran my hair through my head. Looking for answers, finding none. Damn, was I tired. So exhausted.
And then, of course, the phone rang. THAT phone. Four people in the world had that phone number, and calling it meant only one thing. The Underground was stirring.
"The ducks of Brooks Bollinger are flying."
"Kelly Holcomb," I replied.
My mind raced. Focus, man...Bollinger...flying...damn I hate these coded messages...I really need to remove the underwear tag on the waistband because MAN IS IT SCRATCHING...focus...message.
I dialed the number I had committed to memory and protocol dictated. Although the Bridgewater Underground was crippled at the Battle of the Preseason, we had regrouped in the weeks since. Out spirits, and our Rebellion, had been damaged, but not destroyed. Momentarily undone, yet undaunted in our quest.
"The ducks of Brooks Bollinger are flying."
"Steve Dils" was the expected and received response.
It's happening again. My heart was racing, mouth going somewhat dry. Wait, that was my hangover, and might explain the headache too. I made a mental note to exile to Green Bay the next rebel that hijacked a Grain Belt truck.
Stuff's worse than warm piss on a cold day.
But how...what was going on? Well, the answer was obvious, but it still hit me like a bolt of lightning. We were gearing up for another battle, and this time, it would be different. Lessons have been learned, the enemy is weaker, their defenses are down, and they seem to be vulnerable. I quickly threw on my uniform--Studwell throwback jersey, purple and gold zubaz and bloused boots, and headed to the intel briefing.
I got to the briefing room, and it was a buzz of activity. I found our intel officer, and he started briefing.
"Look, it's worse for them than we imagined. Their infantry was crippled overnight about a week ago, so they will not be able to take and hold ground. At least not anymore than two or three yards at a time. We have it on good authority they're going to employ Leroy Hoard tactics against New Orleans."
"If they need three..." I started, but the intel guy finished for me...
"...they'll get three. But if they need seven, they'll get three."
Wait, no infantry? They had the best infantry unit in the business. What the Hell?
"Yeah, details are still coming in, and sometimes one report contradicts another report less than 12 hours old. All we know right now is that their infantry unit shot themselves in the foot, with a bazooka. Gonna be out awhile. The only troops they have left to mount a ground offensive with are the equivalent of a National Guard supply unit and a junior ROTC color guard. One can get you a couple things, just not nearly everything you need or when you need it, and the other one looks good, and might turn into something one day. But right now? Just a baby faced kid that's probably never fired a weapon in his life."
Holy shit. So that meant...
"Yeah", the intel officer said, anticipating my question. "they're going to have to rely on the Cassel Air Force to carry them, it looks like."
As we looked at each other somberly, nodding our heads in silence, I quickly became aware of what that statement meant, and the enormity of the situation started to lay out in my mind. We had all witnessed the destruction and devastation that strategy had brought to Kansas City. I have relatives that live there. Well, used to.
Before Kansas City pinned their hopes on the Cassel Air Force, that is. Facts and legend had fused in to one, and talking to the Kansas City survivors it's hard to tell what was real and what was just hyperbole. But we do know one thing--the Cassel Air Force imploded, and Kansas City became a football Chernobyl.
The loudspeaker crackled.
"FORMATION IN THE VALHALLA FILM ROOM, FIVE MINUTES"
We made our way to the film room, and the buzz was palpable. Gone were the thoughts of the last few weeks; we were on the verge of a new era, and we all sensed it. It was going to be different this time...
Before us, our commander walked out, ready to go, eyes ablaze.
"Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Teddy Bridgewater Undergound, you are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of Minnesota are upon you. The hopes and prayers of people everywhere that want a good quarterback march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the the shitty quarterback machine, the elimination of wounded ducks thrown into oppressive defenses of the NFL, and security of a legitimate passing game in a Vikings offense.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 2014! Much has happened since the Cassel triumph of training camp. The New England Patriots have inflicted upon the Vikings a great defeat, in open battle, man-to-man. Their defense has seriously reduced Minnesota's strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our film sessions have given us an overwhelming superiority in arm strength and accuracy, and placed at our disposal great reserves of fully inflated footballs to practice with. The tide has turned! Vikings fans of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty Bud Grant upon this great and noble undertaking.
So as I sign off for now, heading down the road, our Rendezvous with Destiny awaits. The Teddy Bridgewater Underground is ready to meet our fate, whatever that fate may be.
Van Brocklin's will be done...we'll see you in Valhalla.