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Searching for Daniel

One man’s chance encounter with an old acquaintance leaves him wondering, “why?”

Minneapolis, MN

September, 2021

Corner of 7th St and 12th Ave, about two blocks south of U.S. Bank Stadium.

The rain fell heavy from the sky, hitting his skin like drops of sulphuric acid. The young man tried to hide under an unfolded newspaper, but the water just soaked it, draping it on his head like uncooked pizza dough. Lightning flashed in the sky, blinding him momentarily. The low rumble of thunder roared through the damp night air.

He stood on the corner, scanning up and down 7th Street, wondering for a few moments where he could take shelter from the storm. The streets were empty except for an occasional taxi cab. Just then, a sleek, black sedan with tinted windows pulled out from an alley about a half-block away, the driver accelerating across two lanes towards him. As the car approached, the tall, gangly man in his mid-twenties saw that the heavy rain had overwhelmed the storm sewer and created a great puddle of water just in front of him. It was too late, however, and the black sedan roared through the water, further drenching him.

“Great,” the young man thought, “Just great.”

He wadded up the wet newspaper that he had been carrying and threw it towards an open dumpster, but it missed the dumpster and landed just a few feet away to the right.

The driver, sensing that the right thing to do would be to at least apologize, braked and pulled the vehicle to the curb. He put the vehicle in reverse, and backed towards the rain-soaked young man. Lightning and thunder danced all around. As the car approached, the driver put his window down and motioned for the young man to come closer. Again, lightning flashed, and the driver got a good look at the rain-soaked man’s face.

“Sweet Jesus! Daniel, is that you?” the driver asked.

“Who is that in the car? How do you know me? What do you want from me?”

“Daniel, it’s me, Kirk,” said the driver, “I haven’t seen you since… since…”

Suddenly, the driver felt an awkward silence wash over the two men like the rain that was pouring down.

“Since Green Bay,” replied Daniel, “You haven’t seen me since Green Bay.”

“Yeah, man. Back in 2018. W-What the heck are you doing out here?”

“I’m just taking a walk. You know, getting some exercise,” stammered the younger man while he pretended to stretch out his right leg, “I like to exercise in the rain like this. It’s really good for muscle memory.”

Kirk sensed that Daniel was lying. His tattered clothing suggested that life hadn’t been going well since the two had last seen each other. In 2018, the men had been teammates playing for the Minnesota Vikings. The team had signed Kirk to a mega contract to help them on their quest to win the franchise’s first ever World Championship. Daniel had been a rookie kicker that season, and the team had great faith that he could help, as well. Until one fateful afternoon in Green Bay, when the young man - with his face so full of hope and innocence - missed every one of his kicks, including two in overtime.

“Hey Daniel, it’s pouring rain, man,” said Kirk, “You really shouldn’t be out here, you’re gonna get sick. Why don’t you get in the car? I’ll take you wherever you need to go. We’ll stop, I’ll get you some hot coffee, get you warmed up. Whattya say, bud?”

“Nah, man, I’m good,” replied Daniel. “I’m, uh, I’m meeting a friend in a little bit. We’re gonna start up a thing. It’s a business. You know, selling and buying and stuff. We’re gonna make some money. And I have to meet him pretty soon.”

“Daniel. C’mon, buddy,” Kirk implored, “It’s quarter after midnight and it’s pouring rain. Just hop in the car, and I’ll take you wherever.”

While Daniel looked up and down the street, he caught a quick whiff of the Vanillaroma Little Tree air-freshener hanging from Kirk’s rear-view mirror. It smelled so inviting. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared down at the shoes on his feet. He desperately wanted to get out of the rain, and maybe taking the ride with Kirk could mean hot meal. He reluctantly agreed.

Daniel walked to the passenger side and reached for the door handle. His hand banged into the door, about six inches to the right of the handle itself.

“Nerves,” he thought as he looked down at his hand, “Those goddamn nerves again.”

Kirk reached across the passenger seat when he heard the thump, and pushed open the door. On the passenger seat was Kirk’s duffel bag and playbook, which he was bringing home to study. He grabbed the playbook and tossed it in the back seat. It ricocheted off the rear armrest and slid neatly into the seat pocket. He then grabbed his duffel bag and tossed it in the back as well. It fell softly upon the seat, and somehow the strap caught the seatbelt just enough to tug it over and buckle it perfectly in place. Daniel watched this, then turned and stared at Kirk in amazement.

“What?” asked Kirk, wondering what had caught his old teammate’s attention.

“Nothing, Kirk,” replied Daniel. “Nothing at all.”

“Make sure you buckle up, pal,” said Kirk, with a smile, “Y’know... Safety first.”

Daniel grabbed the seat belt, tugged the strap and stretched it across his body. He reached down to buckle it, missed to the right, and crushed the cup of Supermom’s coffee that Kirk had in his cup holder, spilling coffee all over the center console of the car.

“Aw, shit, man. I’m sorry. Lemme get that wiped up for you,” said Daniel as he tried to clean the mess up with his tattered coat sleeve.

“Stop,” implored Kirk, “please! You’re getting your… your… nice, uh, nice coat… thing… full of coffee. It’s, uh… you’re going to stain it.”

But by that time, Daniel had already soaked up most of the coffee with his sleeve. Kirk helped him buckle the seat belt, pulled the car back into the street and accelerated gently, masking the three hundred-plus horsepower under the hood. He made a left turn onto 11th Avenue, and another left onto 8th Street and headed towards the on-ramp to southbound I-35W.

“Wow, man,” said Daniel, “this is a really nice ride. I thought you were a minivan guy?”

Kirk chuckled.

“Yeah, well, this is the car I got for winning MVP of the ‘Bowl’ back in ‘18. It’s OK, I guess,” he replied, trying his best to sound humble. “So, what’s your story, man? Where have you been?”

“Oh, I dunno, here, there,” replied the former kicker, “Remember when we played the Packers that one year? When I missed those kicks? What year was it? 2017? 2019?”

“2018,” said Kirk, “it was, uh... it was 2018. The only season you were on the team. The season we won it all.”

“Was it? Aw, man, I forget sometimes. You sure?”

“Yeah, Daniel. It was 2018.”

“Well anyways,” Daniel continued, “we get back to Minneapolis and Coach, uh… man, what’s his name?”

“Zimmer,” said Kirk, “Head Coach Mike Zimmer.”

“Yeah, Zim! Great guy! Anyways, Zim says to me, ‘Daniel, I know that you’ll never miss another kick for my team. Wanna know how I know that? Because I’m cutting your gangly ass right now, and I don’t ever want to see you in my building again.’ And you know Zim, man. He’s always joking around with the fellas, so I’m all ‘yeah, Zim, you don’t mean that. You’re just playin’. And Zim gives me that look - you know, the look he gives you when you really screwed something up?”

“I - I guess I don’t know that look,” said Kirk, “He’s never given me a look like that. I mean, I guess I don’t think he ever did?”

“Yeahhh, you know,” said Daniel, needling his former quarterback. “That look that says ‘I’m cutting your gangly ass right now, and I don’t ever want to see you in my building again. THAT look.”

“Huh,” replied Kirk, “I don’t... Y’know what? It doesn’t matter. So anyway, keep going with your story.”

“Yeah, man. Well, so Coach tells me that, and I head out the door that night to go home. The next morning, I come to practice and there’s three big security guys standing at the door. They make me hand in my playbook and sign a piece of paper saying that I won’t ever set foot on Vikings property again.”

“That sucks, dude,” replied Kirk, feeling sympathy for his ex-teammate.

“Yeah. So, here I am,” said Daniel.

“Wait, whaddya mean, ‘here I am’?” asked the former MVP.

“Yeah, so, here I am,” said Daniel, grinning a fool’s grin.

“You mean to tell me you’ve been out on the streets of Minneapolis since that morning?” Kirk asked, astonished, “Where have you been living?”

“Oh, dude, I have a pretty sweet place. It’s kind of down by the Stone Arch Bridge.”

“Whew!” replied Kirk, grateful to hear that his old teammate was alright, “You’re in one of those condos overlooking the river. Nice!”

“Yeah, bro! Yeah. Oh, wow, haha. Naw, man. I’m not in one of those condos. Those are pretty rad, though, aren’t they? No, I’m like closer to the Stone Arch Bridge.”

“Closer? Like, how close?”

Daniel stopped joking around and lowered his head. He couldn’t hide the truth any longer.

“Bro, I actually live in a box under the Stone Arch Bridge. I mean, it’s not really a box, it’s more of a crate. Or, three parts of it are an old crate, and the top is a piece of metal that I found on a construction site. Sweet view, though, man. Really rad!”

Just then, Kirk saw the glow of a Bakers Square sign, and pulled the car off the highway.

“Let’s get a bite to eat, should we?” he asked.

“Oh, man, you don’t have to do that,” replied Daniel.

“Naw, really. I’ll buy.”

“OK, well if you insist, hey - My casa is Sue’s casa, right, man?” Daniel replied, eager for a hot meal.

Kirk wasn’t sure what Daniel meant by that, but he pulled the car into the lot anyway, and the two men went in. The wait staff recognized Kirk immediately, and gave him his favorite booth.

“Hi, Kiiirrrrrk,” said Wanda, a fifty-something waitress with a chainsmokers voice. “How are you tonight, honey? What can I bring you and your friend to drink?”

“I’m great, Wanda. I’ll have a large Milk.”

“With a few ice cubes in it?” asked Wanda, knowingly, as she fluttered her eyelashes.

“Aww, you know me too well. I do like my milk super cold. Wanda this is my friend Da-”

Under the table, Daniel kicked Kirk’s booth. He had meant to kick Kirk in the shin, but missed to the right. The sound of his toe hitting the booth echoed throughout the restaurant.

“David. I’m David,” interrupted Daniel, lying to Wanda about his name.

“Well, nice to meet you, David. Any friend of Kirk is a friend of ours. What can I bring you to drink?”

“The same,” replied Daniel.

Wanda headed towards the kitchen to retrieve the drinks.

“What was that all about, Daniel?” whispered Kirk as he leaned in close, suddenly alarmed by Daniels behavior.

“You don’t know what it’s like, man,” said Daniel, his eyes now squinted together tightly, “If these people recognize me, I’m a dead man! I’ve been on the run since after the regular season that year.”

“What are you talking about, man? No they won’t.”

“Do you know what it’s like to be the one person who prevented the Vikings from having the first ever perfect season?”

“Nobody cares about that, Daniel,” Kirk insisted, “Vikings fans were just happy that we won it all that year. They don’t care about a stupid tie against Green Bay! C’Mon!”

“Oh they cared, bro. They cared. After you guys won it all, I couldn’t even go in to Fantastic Sam’s for a haircut! Do you know how humiliating it is to be turned away by Fantastic fucking Sams!?”

Daniel’s eyes darted away as Wanda approached with the drinks.

“Are you two gentlemen ready to order?” she asked as she gracefully set the glasses of milk on the table.

“Could you be a dear and give us just a minute, Wanda?” asked Kirk.

Wanda sauntered off, and Kirk turned his attention back to Daniel.

“This is crazy, Daniel. You mean to tell me you can’t even get a quality haircut at a reasonable price because of some stupid missed kicks?”

“Not a chance. After that year, I couldn’t even go in to Olive Garden without getting nasty looks. The server would bring me my first bowls of salad and breadsticks and I’d never see her again. I ruined the perfect season, Kirk. People don’t just forget that kind of thing.”

Kirk leaned back in the booth and drew a long breath. He rubbed his temples, and leaned back forward.

“Man, let’s just eat quick and we’ll get out of here. You can stay at my place tonight, and I’ll give you a little money to help you get back on your feet.”

Kirk waved Wanda to the table, and ordered his food.

“I’ll have two eggs, over easy, hash browns and dry white toast,” said Kirk.

“Same,” added Daniel.

The men sat in silence, and as they waited for their food, Kirk replayed the Vikings’ historic 2018 season in his mind. Maybe Daniel was right. After all, the tie in Green Bay was the lone blemish on the team’s 2018 record. The Vikings had steamrolled through the regular season, getting better each week, until they became an unstoppable force.

Soon, Wanda returned with the plates, and they began to eat. The food was the best that Daniel had tasted since the days when he was still playing professional football. He opened a tub of strawberry jelly and slathered it all over the golden brown toast. He closed his eyes as he took a bite.

Kirk glanced up from his meal to see that the right side of Daniel’s face was smeared with sticky red jelly. He dipped his napkin in his water glass, reached across the table and cleaned it off. His generosity made Daniel a bit choked up, and the young former kicker wondered for a moment what might have been, had he made those kicks so long ago.

Kirk paid the bill, and as the two men left the restaurant, Daniel crashed face first into the aluminum door frame. Kirk caught him as he fell backwards, moved him one step to the left, through the door, and out into the night.

The next morning, when Kirk woke up, Daniel was gone again. One lonely footprint every six feet or so in the dewey morning grass on the right edge of the sidewalk was all that he found.

For the rest of his life, Kirk would wonder about what happened to Daniel after he disappeared that morning. Every couple of months, he would drive his black sedan along West River Parkway, checking around the Stone Arch Bridge for signs that Daniel was alive. He would occasionally leave a note taped to the park benches in the area, or ask a passerby if they’d seen a tall, gangly man living in the area. But nobody ever did, and sadly, the notes were never answered.

***None of this will probably happen in 2021. As of this moment, it’s all make-believe. However, should any of this actually happen, I want full credit for scooping the story, and any potential glory that comes with it. But none of the controversy. That’s why SBNation hires teams of lawyers.