Beyond Golf — 23 April 2020 by Bob Sherwin
Halftime in America: Behind the Curves

(America is a one massive captive audience right now, an uptight bundle singularly focused on the gigantic global threat that is everywhere, but no one can see it. It’s new territory for all of us, as we don’t quite know how to react, behave, advise or respond.

Gaining perspective while still in the middle of the virus spread is challenging. As a sportswriter by trade, our practiced instinct is to jot down thoughts and form opinions as events unfold. Think of this resulting piece as product of a composition class: What I Did On My Summer Pandemic Vacation.

When buddy Jim Street and I, two former baseball writers, started golferswest.com 10 years ago, we wanted to write about golf but also included a ‘Beyond Golf’ category for writing projects such as this.

Writing coaches also always advise to write what you know. So here, a sports parody of sorts, a blend of fantasy and fatuous fake news based on my frame of reference and imagination. The tale centers on the machinations of the nation’s most powerful college football program. Totally fictional, of course.)

ANGST AND LOATHING IN WEDGIELAND

No one alive 12 years ago could remember a time as afflicted for the Flying Wedges, the once-mighty, once-proud college football powerhouse then at the nadir of their competitive existence. Considered the greatest program in all the land, it had fallen into a desperate state, stripped of
prominence, prestige, and place among the major powers.

The Flying Wedges, so named for their reputation of slicing through opponents, were left depleted by inept coaching, ill-advised play-calling and negligent advance scouting. That all contributed to humiliating defeats to vastly inferior opponents.

Unfortunately, as the program eroded so did the fan base – the Wedgies. Fans split into two opposing factions, suspicious and hostile to each other, perennially dissatisfied, and unable to agree on the proper vision for the program.

Everything was cratering when suddenly a different kind of coaching candidate appeared, changing the entire complexion. His name was Enos and he didn’t look like us. He didn’t talk like us. Some didn’t consider him one of us. He had no previous head coaching experience but taught the game at the highest level, understood the playbook, and had a steady hand. No-Chaos Enos.

The Wedgies were over their heads with excitement in the hope that Enos could restore their lost pride and reputation. However, members of the school’s oversight college, the Selectors, rigid guardians of school traditions and ever wary of outsiders, never warmed up to him. Privately,
many believed he lacked the necessities to be in charge. They cast doubt on his background and refused to disavow specious rumors regarding his intelligence, work ethic and even place of birth.

Yet his Wedgie supporters propelled him to the head coaching post, and he didn’t disappoint. Enos surrounded himself with a skilled, knowledgeable staff. The players improved, victories increased, and gloom declined. The program turned around within a year and enjoyed its longest
stretch of success in school history, earning Enos a second four-year contract along the way.

Enos’s staff was especially effective in handling the program’s three most persistent rivals, the Swines, ZikaNauts and the always dangerous Ebola Bears. These baleful opponents each arrived in Wedgieland with an infectious animus to wreak havoc. But Enos was ready, tactically
containing each opponent by denying any advances through the air.

However, time-honored traditions set down limits on how long any coach could serve. No matter what was left unfinished or where he was in the program, on a certain date the head coach would max out after two four-year terms. It was part of the school’s charter set forth by the founders,
unwelcomed but honored by Enos supporters.

BEHOLD: THE ‘BIG FAT LYER’

His replacement arose from as unlikely a place as Enos and rode a similar populous wave. Hailing from Upper Crust, N.Y., his successor was known as The Chief, so called because he fancied himself as a take-charge guy. And he liked Native American names.

The Chief took a most unconventional pathway to this preeminent of college football positions. He had been a successful entrepreneur as a Bavarian-style pretzel maker, using his father’s large inheritance to turn it into a small fortune. Regarded as tasteless, half-baked and hard to swallow,
the Chief developed a unique baking process using an excessive amount of lye on the oversized pretzels. That earned the affectionate nickname, Big Fat Lyer, a moniker that has followed him throughout his life.

The Chief astutely parlayed his self-acclaimed pretzel success along with his strangely appealing God-given gift of malice into a popular national television program. He hosted the weekly Horse and Pony Show. His role was largely at the rear end. The lasting contribution of the highly rated
TV gig was reinforcing the privileged status of the white stallion, making the breed great again.

The Chief immediately endeared himself to the zealous wing of the Wedges’ fan base, appealing exclusively to the anti-Enos partisans. In fact, he publicly berated Enos, claimed he was “left with a mess,’’ and diminished all that Enos had built, which whipped his fanatics into a white-
hot frenzy.

While polls never reached even 50 percent approval for The Chief and most questioned how his irrelevant credentials could translate into a successful football coach, the Selectorial College, with the final word, cleared the path for The Chief’s takeover.

It did not take long before unwarranted media scrutiny put The Chief back on his bone spurs. The Chief used his best words to respond, confidently countering, “I know more about offense and defense than my (field) generals will ever understand.’’

He said he also knew more than anyone about lawsuits, taxes, rocket science, sea urchins, petting zoos, tomography, and French literature, 1710 to 1757. No one had ever heard a man such as this, as if predestined.

As it happened, the Chief took over the program from Enos late in the fourth quarter against bitter rival IS State, which had been terrorizing the Flying Wedges for years. IS State had run out of time and territory when The Chief put on the headset for the first time. He authorized the final
play and naturally was self-congratulated for the victory.

It was a triumphant start to his tenure, although tarnished by two matters of grave importance. The Chief claimed that his opening-day crowd was bigger than Enos ever had and that his predecessor had nefariously wire-tapped his headset to steal classified game information. Neither charge could be verified, though The Chief said, “I’m told by everyone that it’s true.’’ So thus, it was.

Early in his reign, The Chief used a brilliant tactic to out-fox his critics. He worked out a wink-and-nod support agreement with the Marching Band. Devoid of diversity and critical thinking, it was the ideal medium to enhance his grandeur and preserve the well-born school traditions.

The fiercely loyal band practiced just one formation, lockstep, and played just one note. The members played that note so shrill, so often and for so long that his followers came to believe it was the only music that existed. Anyone marching to a different drummer would be condemned
as ‘fake blues.’

TROUBLE WITH A FOUR STAR

The Chief’s rapid success, however, did not come without controversy. Eager to enlarge his program, he was accused of illicit recruiting encroachments. There were at least 23 separate incidents of hands-on violations. An investigation revealed that the intrusions were not with
conventional four- or five-star recruits but inexplicable forays with random candidates on airplanes, disco dance floors and an occasional beauty pageant.

A secret audio tape also surfaced that provided graphic details of The Chief boasting about his high-handed tactics. But he dismissed it as no more than ‘‘locker room talk.’’

Another incident that created a storm of controversy was an onerous quid pro quo between The Chief and a then notorious four star. However, his personal attorney stepped forward to take full responsibility and is now serving time in Covfefe Prison.

The handful of 300 to 400 allegations and dozens of jailed associates only deepened his supporters’ admiration and empathy. The Chief cried that he was the most victimized head coach in the history of the country. He confirmed that no one disagreed.

“Don’t believe what you see,’’ he assured his partisans, “believe what I’m telling you.’’

BEHIND THE CURVES EARLY

The daily chaos and controversy took a backseat to this defining moment in the program, the climatic and decisive Maga Maximus XLV clash. So important, so bigly, the game needs Roman symbols.

Everything’s on the line for this mega encounter, including The Chief’s all-important contract extension in November. A loss would put his pursuit of another four-year deal in jeopardy and leave a lasting stain on what he alone believes is his unimpeachable legacy.

The Flying Wedges’ opponent, the Cosmic Curves, had been unheralded and even unknown just six months earlier. They had reached this confrontation by laying low every foe wherever the game was played.

The Chief’s unusual coaching style, relying on his gut rather than scouting reports, finally caught up to him early in the first quarter as his Wedges fell behind the Curves, 21-0, before most of the fans were safely in their spaces. Fearing he’d be blamed for being so woefully unprepared, The Chief assured everyone that the deficit “will be down to 15 and within a couple quarters is going to be down to close to zero. That’s a pretty good job we’ve done.

“Like a miracle, it will disappear,” added The Chief, a man known for his deeply religious followers.

But the Curves were undaunted and kept up the assault. They shredded the Wedges’ front line, pouring through even the smallest openings. It was so punishing that the Wedges players soon ran out of facemasks and other protective gear.

The Chief’s son-in-law, who had failed as offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and bus driver, was still taking up space as the equipment manager. He refused to issue any more equipment, saying “it was our stockpile’’ needed for next season. So, the players were forced to
make facemasks out of the handles on the Gatorade jugs.

As the first half progressed and the Curves continued their relentless infiltration, The Chief grew more agitated on the sidelines. He was given little assistance from his assistants, now down to a chosen few because of unfilled staff vacancies. His top advisor who he had entrusted with the
game plan, seemed locked in a catatonic stupor with a bemused smile and 100-yard stare.

TIME TO ‘OPEN IT UP?’

Finally, he found reliable counsel from an unexpected source, Dr. Fluci, the respected team medical advisor. He had been around the program for several decades and based his advice on proven methodology.

Dr. Fluci told The Chief to completely wash his hands of the old game plan and switch to the spread offense. He pointed out that the wide receivers needed better spatial distancing to get open and was critical of the O-linemen’s continuing hands-to-the-face penalties.

Even though the advice ran counter to his instincts, The Chief put his name on the changes and the momentum began turning. They still trailed by plenty, but the Wedges were starting to flatten the Curves.

Interviewed just before entering the locker room at halftime, The Chief said he took no responsibility for the first-half debacle but insisted on total authority in the second half. Using 17 minutes of his allotted 30-second sideline interview, he placed the blame on Enos, who departed a mere three years earlier, on the sport’s governing body for its favoritism toward the Curves and on windmills.

“Everything we did was right. Nobody’s ever done a job like this,’’ The Chief said after a second commercial break. “It’s something that we have tremendous control over.’’

As he headed up the tunnel, The Chief turned and shouted, “we’re going to open it up,’’ assuring that the whole playbook would be in play in the second half.

Hearing that, Dr. Fluci warned that opening it up was a premature and irresponsible reaction and could result in a repeat of the first-half fiasco. He believed it was a panic move. The Chief denied it, saying he would know if it was a panic long before anyone else.

The Wedges did get one break from a halftime decision, albeit slightly controversial, when school’s athletic director Bart Soulless accused the referees of collusion. Based on his intelligence, which was difficult to quantify, the AD cited a dozen improper penalties by the whistle-blowers that favored the Curves. By his authority, he reversed their decisions and ruled all the Curves first-half points never happened. Wedges were winning!

As Scott Baio’s Glitz ’n Glamour Halftime Show finished up, it was time for the Wedges and Curves to square off again for perhaps the most consequential second half in the game’s history. The Chief was determined to open it up, at all costs. Dr. Fluci implored him to stick to the
revised game plan. Two strong-willed personalities embroiled in a power struggle. How would it play out? We can’t even imagine.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 49th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 15 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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