Welcome to the first edition of Fiction Friday, a potential new semi-weekly feature on Gator Clause. This week, I chugged a bottle of NyQuil, spun in my office chair 25 times and typed until I passed out. This is the result:
IT'S THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL, and Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is in his hotel room, nervously pacing back and forth with a protective boot on his left foot. He’s just been ruled out of the game because of a sprained ankle, an outcome that had been planned for months. That was Step 1 of a devious plan. Step 2 is due any second.
There’s a knock at the door, and Maurkice hobbles over. “Who is it?” he asks.
The reply comes from a gruff but familiar voice. “Housekeeping.”
Maurkice opens the door, and in walks Temple football coach Steve Addazio, dressed as a maid and pushing a large laundry cart filled with towels and a snorkel popping out of the top. Suddenly, the pile of towels bursts into the air to reveal Florida center Mike Pouncey, wearing a Steelers tracksuit and boot. He climbs out and grabs Addazio and Maurkice for a bearhug.
“We don’t have much time,” Addazio says in a whisper, breaking up the emotional moment. “Mike, you know what to do. Climb in Maurkice.”
Maurkice steps into the laundry cart and is covered with towels. Addazio pushes him out of the room to an elevator, which he takes to the below-ground parking garage. Maurkice pops his head out.
“Coach, where do I go? I’ll have to lay low so know one figures it out.”
“Don’t worry,” Addazio says. “I have a guy for that.”
A black Thunderbird with tinted windows is idling a few feet away. Addazio gives a quick whistle, and the driver’s door opens to reveal former Oakland Raiders center Barret Robins.
“You’re in good hands,” Addazio says. “If anyone knows how to hide a center before the Super Bowl, it’s Barret.”
Maurkice walks to the car and turns back toward Addazio, holding back tears.
“It’ll all be OK,” Addazio assures him. “This is the only way. We’ll be back together soon.”
BACK IN THE ROOM, Mike is startled by another knock at the door. “Maurkice, open up. It’s Benjamin.”
Mike cautiously opens the door to find Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, dressed in his “Drink Like A Champion Today” t-shirt.
Roethlisberger enters quickly. He’s scratching the back of his head and talking a mile a minute.
“Hey man, I’ve gotta go take care of something real quick down the street. No big deal, you know, just the usual, but I wanted to make sure you remember what we talked about. If anyone asks where I was between 11 and 11:30, you say…”
Mike is clueless. “Uhh. What?”
“Playing Mario Kart with you,” Ben says, frustrated. “Come on man, you’ve got to keep this stuff straight. Linemen protect the quarterback, remember? All right, I’m gonna roll. Before I go, could you grab me a beer out of your mini-bar? Mine’s empty.”
Mike reaches into the fridge and pulls out a beer. He tosses it toward Ben, but it misses by several feet and shatters against the wall.
Mike shrugs, and Ben leaves shaking his head.
THE MORNING OF THE GAME, Mike wakes up and heads to the team breakfast. Upon entering the banquet room, he’s startled by the man standing just inside the doorway.
“Whoa!” Mike exclaims. “Coach Meyer brought in Bill Belichick one time, but this is a real celebrity speaker! Dude, you’re awesome on House, and I thought you kicked ass in The Program.”
“Yea, yea, whatever Maurkice,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin says. “I’ve never heard that before.”
Mike rebounds from the mistake in time to remember his mission.
“Hey, coach. I woke up this morning and my ankle was totally fine! I think I can play.”
He lifts Tomlin off the ground and stands on his left foot to prove his point, and the coach is mystified. Before he can ask about the recovery, Mike hands him a plastic container with a crude, hand-drawn label that reads “Vitamin Addazio.”
“I just took two a day since the injury, and it healed right up. One of my college coaches developed the formula. He’s really a miracle-worker.”
Tomlin takes the bottle and walks away puzzled, and he puts Pouncey back in the starting lineup.
IT"S MIDWAY THROUGH THE SECOND QUARTER, and the Steelers have yet to test the Packers’ secondary, preferring instead to pound the ball with running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall has already picked up 65 yards and a touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 7-3 lead. He has his team driving again, but Roethlisberger is antsy with the lack of glory. For the first time all game, he audibles and steps back into the shotgun, a move Mike and Addazio — in the stands dressed as a hot dog vendor — have been waiting for.
Ben calls for the snap, Mike takes aim at his chest and lets it fly, knowing his natural snapping motion will carry the ball at least seven feet off-target.
Roethlisberger scrambles back to recover the ball for a loss of 13 yards. Mike smiles to himself, and Addazio can’t help but grin.
Five of Mike’s next 11 shotgun snaps go much the same way, with one being recovered by Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson and returned for a touchdown.
Maurkice, watching the game at a bar with Spanish commentators in Tijuana, knows everything is going according to plan.
WITH 3:32 LEFT IN THE FOURTH QUARTER, the Steelers trail 24-20 and begin a drive they hope will end in Super Bowl glory. Mendenhall marches them inside the Green Bay 10-yard line when the two-minute warning hits, and they huddle on the sideline around Tomlin.
Roethlisberger’s stats are pedestrian: 4-of-9 for 33 yards and an interception, which Woodson made one-handed in the back of the end zone before breaking seven tackles on a zig-zagging 109 yard run and somersaulting over Ben at the goal line for another score (Note: OK, I have to be honest. Woodson was a childhood hero of mine, so I couldn’t resist).
It hasn’t been the night Roethlisberger had hoped for, and the presence of hundreds of police officers inside Cowboy Stadium has him on edge. Now is the time for him to take charge, and he audibles out of hand-offs on three consecutive plays from the 7-yard line, instead throwing passes that all end with diving breakups by Woodson.
After the third, Tomlin rips off his headset and tosses it in disgust. He’s being hijacked by his quarterback. Addazio, now dressed as a police officer protecting the Steelers sideline, hands Tomlin his headset and a piece of advice.
“Put Mendenhall to Roethlisberger’s right in the shotgun and call a pass play,” he whispers before retreating into the shadows.
Tomlin realizes it’s the perfect solution and calls in the play, which Roethlisberger happily relays to his teammates. Mike again takes dead aim at Ben’s chest and snaps the ball with his usual form. It comes out spinning sideways toward Mendenhall, who snatches it and runs toward the end zone while Roethlisberger watches in horror and disbelief. He runs over Packers linebacker Clay Matthews at the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left.
SOAKED IN CHAMPAGNE, Mike Pouncey stands at his locker surrounded by reporters. The questions come from all directions.
“Maurkice! Was your ankle bothering you during the game?”
“What was wrong with your snaps tonight?”
“What was it like having Omar Epps on the sideline?”
In the most crucial part of Addazio's plan, Mike addresses the questions.
“Well, my ankle was totally fine, to be honest with you,” he says, explaining the benefits of “Vitamin Addazio.”
“And my snaps were just a little off. Coach Kugler decided to make some changes to my mechanics right before the game, and I guess it was just that. But that last play went as planned. My college coach, Steve Addazio, taught me to read the linebackers and snap to the running back to catch the defense off-guard. It went exactly how I wanted it to.”
“Oh, and me and Ben Roethlisberger were playing Mario Kart last night from 11 to 11:30,” he says before walking away from the throng.
AS THE DUST SETTLES from the Super Bowl win, Tomlin comes across his center’s interview with the media. He’s furious at his offensive line coach, Sean Kugler, for tinkering with Pouncey before the game and has already made up his mind to replace him.
He makes an early morning drive to Philadelphia, where he meets with the man he's convinced is both a supernatural healer and offensive genius.
“Look, Steve, I know you just took over here at Temple, but we have to have you on our staff,” Tomlin says. Then he drops the line Addazio and the Pounceys have been waiting for since they hatched this plan — the question that would finally reunite them.
“What’s it going to take to get you to come to Pittsburgh?”
Addazio pauses for a second and answers, “You have to let me choose our first-round draft pick.”
Tomlin nods, and Addazio allows himself a wild-eyed cackle.
Editor's Note: To the best of Gator Clause's knowledge: Steve Addazio has not concocted a plan to reunite himself and the Pouncey twins in Pittsburgh, and Ben Roethlisberger has been a model citizen while in Dallas. The stuff about Woodson is totally going to happen, and my apologies to Barret Robbins, but I couldn't resist.