clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Zim Goes to a Cornerbacks Anonymous Meeting

The coach has a problem, but he’s trying to get better

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Scene: A dingy basement of what looks to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran church or maybe a VFW hall. In the room are about twenty or so people, sitting on metal folding chairs, sipping on bad coffee. A tall, lanky guy with a scruffy beard and nondescript clothing stands at a podium at the front of the gathering.

‘Thanks for making it today. I’m glad to see each and every one of you, and you are all welcome here. Would anyone like to come up and share their story?’

The gathered people shift uncomfortably in their seats, avoiding eye contact, some with their arms folded. After what seems like an eternity, a lone figure hesitantly stands, in jeans and a short sleeved purple golf shirt.

‘Hi, and thank you, come right up,’ says the man at the podium, as he slips off to the side, motioning the man forward. The man in the crowd shuffles to the front.

He looks fairly unremarkable, mid-60’s probably, with a weather beaten face. Of course, everyone who’s here is beaten, in some way. Everyone is broken, trying to heal. The man now at the podium is no different.

‘Hello,’ he says haltingly, almost afraid to continue.

‘It’s okay, we’re all friends here. There’s no judgement, and what we say here stays here,’ says a kind, matronly looking woman in the crowd, encouraging him to share his story.

The man smiles, ever so slightly. It’s his first smile in what...weeks, months? Years, maybe? He finds a little more courage.

‘Hello,’ he says again, a little stronger. ‘My name is Mike, and I’m cornerbackaholic.’

‘HI MIKE’ the crowd replies in unison, their greeting echoing off the peeling paint on the cinder block walls.

‘’’s been one draft since I haven’t taken a cornerback in the first two rounds. And I gotta tell ya, it’s been the hardest draft of my life. But I’m moving forward, and I feel good.’

‘Mmmmm-hmmmmm’ says someone in the crowd.

‘It’s weird,’ Mike continues, ‘I never saw myself here, in this spot. Corners were just kind of a hobby for most of my life. I got introduced to them in high school, like I imagine a lot of you did. I was a quarterback, and I mostly avoided them, you know? But then I got to college, and I switched over to defense. I played linebacker, and just sort of got introduced to them more gradually. I guess that’s when I started my downward spiral, but I didn’t recognize it then.’

His voice cracks at the end, and Mike steps back from the podium as he tries to compose himself. The bearded man who opened the meeting walks up to him, and puts a hand on his shoulder.

‘Are you okay? If this is all you want to share, that’s fine. You can say as little or as much as you want.’

‘No,’ says Mike. ‘I’ll continue.’

‘After college, I just started getting in deeper and deeper with corners. It started on the periphery, but as I went farther into my defensive career, it just became more and more prevalent. When I got to Weber State, I was making more money than I had ever made, and they gave me a job where I did nothing but interact with corners all day. I became addicted...’

Mike’s voice trailed off, and his bottom lip started to quiver, ever so slightly. Several people in the group encouraged him, saying ‘it’s okay’, or ‘we understand’, or ‘we’ve all been there too’.

He paused a moment to regain his composure before continuing.

‘But at that age, no one thinks they’re addicted, right? I was young, good at my job, I had it all under control. I got a couple promotions to run entire defenses, even made it to the NFL, but I could never get that corner office, and that just fueled my cornerback addiction. Finally, I got my shot with Minnesota. By then, I knew I had a problem, but hey, I’m a man, I can stop drafting cornerbacks any time I want, right? I was pretty good at hiding things, at least initially.

My first draft, I played it pretty cool. I took three corners, but none until the sixth round. It was hardly noticeable, as everyone focused on my first two picks. Besides, I already had a guy I could mold on the roster, and as soon as we hit the field I put all my efforts into him, and those old habits came rushing back like they had never left.

I knew I was trying to put down a demon that wasn’t going to stay down, but my early job performance had given me a lot of leeway, and brother did I take advantage of it. In my next two drafts, 2015 and 2016, I went CB early, and it was intoxicating. It felt like old times, man. I was on top of the world again, and I was controlling IT; it wasn’t controlling me.

Or so I thought.

I was going to take a corner again in 2017, until my boss and owner basically had an intervention, although they didn’t call it that. They said they were worried about the offense, and they took two players from that side of the ball before they let me pick a defensive guy, and they said in no uncertain terms could it be a cornerback.

Man, I was pissed. I didn’t see it then, but they were trying to help, to see if I got the message. I played along, and we went 13-3. I laid off the CB addiction, threw myself into my work, and we had a hell of a run. Once the season was over, I said all the right things, and looked at all the right film, and told my boss that I was on board with getting an offensive lineman in the first round. Cornerbacks had pretty much become an afterthought, and I thought all of that was behind me.

But I remember my latest episode, the one where I realized I needed help, like it was yesterday.

One night, the night before last year’s draft, to be exact—it had been a particularly long day, as we had been looking at guards and tackles on film. We had settled on one or the other, and our months of work had finished up. I was getting ready to leave, and out of the corner of my eye...I just saw it sitting there, on my desk. It was a CD-ROM that was simply labeled ‘CB video’. Everyone had been really careful around me—didn’t talk about going out and scouting CB’s on the road, no one watched video of them while I was in the room—but there it was.

All I had to do was walk away. And I didn’t. I couldn’t. I could kick my own ass, but I failed. Was it because of the long hours I had been working? I don’t know. I do know I had been telling myself lies for over a month, though. Things like Tom Compton being a pretty decent player, or—and this was a real doozy—I convinced myself that Mike Remmers would make a good guard.

Whatever the excuse was, well, I used them all. I kept staring at that CD-ROM, and telling myself I could just ‘look at one player, that’s it.’ My mouth went dry, I started hyperventilating, and I broke out in a sweat. One became two, which became three, and the next thing I know, it’s 4:30 in the morning, I’ve watched CB footage of college players going back to 2003, and I’d been texting my favorite ex-CB Deion all night long.

I was in no condition to draft, but after years of living with this, I knew I could hide it, at least long enough. When the draft started, I’d leave the draft room every couple of minutes, using classic excuses—need to talk to a prospect, getting a call about a trade—and no one any differently. That’s how good I had become at lying, at living a lie.

When we came on the clock, I feigned another call and left the room really quick. I told my boss I think it’s a trade down offer, and to wait just a few minutes before calling the pick in. But I went outside, and called our guy in the draft room.

The rest, as they say, is history. When I walked back in we were picking the CB, and my boss and his boss were just staring at me...and I knew that look of hurt and betrayal. I had seen it a hundred times before, I had never cared before, and I didn’t care now. I knew what was best! I AM IN CHARGE! My addiction didn’t control me, man. I’m different!

Everything fell apart once my CB addiction was exposed for the world to see, though. My job performance really slipped, and our company fell out of favor with a lot of people; I had really damaged our reputation. Once the season was over my boss brought in a new guy to run the offense, and he carries as much weight as I do with draft picks now. This year we don’t even have any CB video on the premises, and they’re not going to let me have a phone on draft night. If I don’t turn things around, I might lose my job, and because my boss has covered for me, he might lose his.

So yeah, rock bottom? I’m here.’

Mike didn’t even realize that at some point he had grabbed the podium with both hands, and had been hanging on to it like a life jacket in the middle of the ocean. He let go all of a sudden, like he had grabbed a live electrical wire, and rubbed his hands against his pant legs, like he was wiping away years of pain.

He stood there awkwardly, not sure what to do next.

The group leader came to the podium, and started slowly clapping. One by one, the ragtag collection of people joined him, and soon, everyone was clapping and cheering for their new friend Mike as he began his CB-free life.

‘Mike’, the group leader said, ‘before you sit down I have something for you.’

He held out what looked like a poker chip, and gave it to Mike. Mike examined it, flipping it over a couple times. On one side was the saying ‘One Draft’, and on the other it said ‘One Draft At A Time.’

Mike held the chip aloft as the clapping continued. He had tears in his eyes, and he knew that this wasn’t the end of his CB-free draft journey.

It was just the beginning.