WHITHER GOEST THOU, ERIC MANGINI, IN THY SHINY CAR IN THE NIGHT?
Two years in Cleveland. The family trips to the Galleria mall downtown. The office where you met Mike Holmgren for a final time. He spoke to you about Al Haig, you were barely listening, the snow was falling outside his window. You were thinking of Brian Daboll, with whom a lifetime ago you once drank 12 beers in a Flats bar, hats on your heads, anonymous in the din. Later that night you found a bodega open. You bought a tin of chew and sat on the curb like teenagers, eating Andy Capp salsa fries, drinking canned High Life and speaking about the AFC North. The police officer writing the ticket recognized you and called a cab. Good luck coach, he said, and opened the yellow door for you, Cuban music blasting in the night.
You were thinking about Brady Quinn, who you knew at first sight had no business on an NFL field. Of Derek Anderson, who just couldn’t seem to get it, and the time when he admitted he had no idea what a zone cover was, that he just throws it to the open guy. Now you think of the drunken voicemail from Bill that you didn’t save and he doesn’t remember – he said you had some pair of balls, then sadly he said to never lose your way – that you can never, no matter how hard you try, find your way back, and he hung up. The next day you laid the groundwork to trade Kellen and Braylon, with no regrets.
The evening sky in Berea, late night and full of stars heading to your car, no one else awake. The sound of Rob snoring audibly from a basement window, sleeping on a blanket of crushed chips, and lined-notebook paper covered with pen drawings of strange defenses. The time you told your team at halftime against Pittsburgh that you were going to lock the door, and if they lost they were going to have to drive home in pads. How good it felt to beat Pittsburgh – you thought if this is it, then it was worth it. The locker room jubilant afterward.
Holmgren still talking, now about George Washington. You drop in a chew and try to grasp the tangent he is on, you wonder if the plowman has come to your house yet – maybe you will shovel yourself today. You think of the time in New York Brett had started a snowball fight in the parking lot; the season soon derailed by the same arm that nailed Penny from HR in the shoulder with a snowball. You think about the Patriots game, two weeks planning, no sleep, Bill stunned afterward, eyes staring though you and into the void. Then the Jets game – if only, that was the season you think. You shake Holmgren’s hand, it was good you say, I am glad to have set the table, and I will always be a Cleveland Brown. You pass a few players in the hallway – it’s business, but you can tell that this season meant something to them, they thank you – they all look you in the eye like men. You call your wife and let her know you’ll be home soon. Just enough time, you think, to hang out with the boys before supper.
The Cleveland Browns. You were a ball boy here once and then you came back as the head coach. You built something here. You built a team that a town could be proud of, the team you always imagined, a team that was almost there. As you pull out of the gates a man walking his dog yells to you, thanks coach. You smile and say thank you, you turn the radio up loud, then louder, roll the windows down letting in the cold. The Cleveland Browns, you think. You were the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Foot down hard on the gas, you let out a joyful yell, and proudly thunder into the starry night.