Who Watches the Walkthrough?
by Mike Tanier with apologies to Alan Moore
RORSHAN'S JOURNAL, MARCH 2009
Horse carcass on Interstate 70 this morning. Another dead horse, still getting beat. This league is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.
They put us out to pasture years ago. They said we were too old, too powerful. So instead of Super Coaches, they followed the ways of Internet billionaires and wunkerkind coaches with peach fuzz. Now the whole league stands on the brink, staring down into the hell of free agency run amok and a year with no salary cap. When the world needed us, the Super Coaches caved in: They retired or compromised or moved to the front office to become fat cats.
All but me. I may have been fired, but I refuse to compromise, to surrender.
Last night, someone tried to kill an old man in Illinois. The media is baffled. I know the man's identity. He was the Chicago Chin, a former Super Coach. As I investigated the case, all I could say was "Hrrmmm." I must warn the other Super Coaches.
In a run-down apartment outside San Diego...
Niteowlenheimer: Hello? I hear someone. Who's there?
Rorshan: It's me, Marty. I helped myself to an uncooked can of beans.
Niteowlenheimer: You scared me, Rorshan. So, um, why are you here?
Rorshan: Chicago Chin was attacked last night. Someone is trying to get rid of Super Coaches. Any of us could be next. I think we should team up and investigate.
Niteowlenheimer: I don't think so. I am not a Super Coach anymore, if I ever was one. Frankly, I feel ... impotent ... nowadays. Too many memories. Earnest Byner. Marlon McCree. They haunt me when I sleep.
Rorshan: Hrmm. If someone is killing Super Coaches, sleep will be even harder for you. Farewell, Marty.
Niteowlenheimer: So many memories...
In a top secret lair in South Florida...
Tunamandias: Jeff, Tony, prepare all of my televisions. I must watch 50 of them at once. Tune to all the ESPN networks, FOX Sports, and NFL Network. Also tune to Home and Garden Channel, Golf Channel, and Fine Living Network, because my exceptional brilliance allows me to glean trends from all of these media outlets. You can even tune to CBS, if you want, though that doesn't help me much at all.
(Beside him, a freakish, genetically mutated cat purrs.)
Tunamandias: Steady, Wildcat. I know we will have a guest soon. My first impressions from watching all of these televisions: a sense of panic and confusion, of overspending and poor planning. Dan Snyder spent $100 million on Albert Haynesworth, as I predicted. The market is in flux. For the short term, I will stick with my original strategy by signing Gibril Wilson. In the long term, once my elaborate plan has been enacted, I will have no need for minor free agent transactions.
Rorshan: I thought the Smartest Man in the NFL would know I was coming.
Tunamandias: I anticipated your arrival and told security to let you in. Now what did you want to tell me?
Rorshan: Someone is attacking Super Coaches. I think you could be next.
Tunamandias: Nonsense. I am not a Super Coach anymore. I am a team president, an executive. No one would have anything to gain by trying to hurt me.
Rorshan: No one had anything to gain by attacking Chicago Chin, either. But perhaps your security and mutant feline can protect you. Farewell, William.
Tunamandias: Easy, Wildcat. Rorshan is dangerous, but he is a threat that we can manage.
Interlude: A Street Corner in Manhattan...
News Vendor: We oughta nuke this salary cap and start over. I mean, that's just my opinion. But I'm a news vendor, damn it. I look things in the face. It's my job to keep an eye on these spoiled brat athletes and the playboys who blow millions on them. It's all going straight to hell, inna final analysis. You listening, kid? Stop reading that pirate comic book.
So many lost souls were consigned to oblivion on that Pewter Freighter. Young men's lives ruined, the prime of their lives torn from them, all because of a captain whose name echoed in terror across the bayside communities: Yellow Jon.
News Vendor: This is crazy, I tell ya. All of these free agent signings. Now there's even crazier news: someone wants to have all the free agents meet in Times Square at noon for a special conference. It's typical NFL: some media circus to drum up excitement in the offseason. It will probably tie up traffic for days. Who needs it?
Those who met Yellow Jon trembled in his presence. They say he resembled a demented children's doll, that his temper could make the sea itself boil. Still, the promise of wealth and opportunity caused otherwise sensible men to cleave to him. Yellow Jon had some success years ago, leading a ship and crew assembled by a more noble captain. Sailors of all temperaments were fooled by this fleeting success: scoundrels like Jerramy the Dropper and saints like Warrick the Benevolent. All of them cast their lots aboard the Pewter Freighter.
News Vendor: It sez here that Bill Parcells, Tunamandias himself, organized the Free Agent Conference. I like that guy, I trust him. He did the right thing when all the other old Super Coaches kept trying to hang on. I'm glad most of the rest of them are gone, and I hope they find that creepy Rorshan guy from Denver. Talk about a guy who wore out his welcome. And that one up in New England, he's the creepiest of them all.
The Freighter was seaworthy, and it always sailed from port smoothly, fooling a crew that anticipated easy success. But Yellow Jon's method of piracy was insidious and complex. Some said that it took three years plying the sails to master the currents of the West Coast as he navigated them. By the time young seamen learned the ways of the Pewter Freighter, their backs were broken and their ACLs torn.
News Vendor: Yeah. Inna final analysis, I'm a little terrified of Doctor Foxboro.
In a top secret laboratory in Massachusetts...
Doctor Foxboro: It is 30 seconds from now. Rorshan is sneaking through the back door to surprise me.
Fourteen months ago, David Tyree catches a football against his helmet.
Twenty years ago, I am at the first meeting of the Super Coaches as an invited guest of Tunamandias.
It all happens simultaneously for me, for I have transcended the construct of time, and the need for clean or fashionable clothing.
Rorshan: Doctor, I think someone is trying to get rid of Super Coaches.
Doctor Foxboro: Rorshan? You surprised me.
Matt Cassel: How could he surprise you? You just said that he was coming 30 seconds ago.
Doctor Foxboro: Twenty years ago, the Super Coaches are meeting. The Chicago Chin is mad.
Chicago Chin: The whole freakin' system is out of order. The players are making too much money, and they keep demanding more. The owners are a bunch of panty waists. I don't see any way to save this damn league.
Niteowlenheimer: We can try. Maybe if the league institutes a hard salary cap, plus a profit sharing system, it will help level the playing field. Then, the players will be able to negotiate a fair pension program. That's why all the Super Coaches have gathered here. We have the Texas Tophat and the Water Mammal, Racer Joe and the Squonk, and some new guys: Rorshan and Doctor Cleveland. We are all on the same page here. Take a look at this chart.
Chicago Chin: Don't you get it? It takes more than that. Someone needs the real power and real vision to, I don't know, get rid of all the free agents for a year or two. Then the guys who really love the game can play for the fun and excitement, not just to get rich. It makes me so mad I just want to light your stupid chart on fire with my cigar.
Texas Tophat: Son, that ain't right.
Squonk: (Sniff) The chart! He worked (sniff) so hard on it. I need a tissue.
Matt Cassel: Did you just time jump again? It confuses the hell out of me when you do that.
Rorshan: I know you are powerful, doctor. You have the ability to see everything that is happening everywhere in the world. But this threat may be bigger than all of us.
Doctor Foxboro: It is 14 months ago. David Tyree is catching a football against his helmet. My tenuous tether to humanity is severed.
Two months ago, Tom Brady is yelling at me.
Tom Brady: The franchise tag? You are franchising Matt Cassel? He will make more than me this year!
Doctor Foxboro: I am only protecting our interests.
Matt Cassel: I didn't want you to find out this way.
Tom Brady: Oh, you just wait, Matt. Wait until you are old and have a bad knee. Wait until you lose a Super Bowl. Then you will look at him and see that he is still the same, and he has his eye on the next young quarterback who can help him win games. Bernie told me this would happen. Bernie told me this would happen!
Doctor Foxboro: Five seconds from now, Rorshan asks me for help.
Rorshan: Even if you don't want to help investigate this crime, you can at least provide me with some of your surveillance footage. Maybe if we knew what happened the night of the attack on Chicago Chin, we could make progress.
Doctor Foxboro: Two days from now, I am walking through Times Square. The buildings are rubble. At my feet is a torn Cardinals jersey, number 13.
Fourteen months ago, David Tyree is catching a football. Plaxico Burress is celebrating a touchdown. Humans are no more interesting to me than single-celled organisms.
Twenty years ago, Chicago Chin is burning a chart with a cigar. Tunamandias watches the scene intently.
Two months ago, Tom Brady yells at me. Eric Mangini is gone. Romeo Crennel is gone. Charlie Weis. Josh McDaniels. None of them have any success without me. They are all tainted somehow. Tainted by my presence, perhaps.
Matt Cassel: Hello? Anybody home, Doc?
Doctor Foxboro: Rorshan, this surveillance tape may help you. I am going to Mars.
Interlude: On a street corner in Manhattan...
News Vendor: We're headed for Armageddon, I tell ya. Did you see this? Doctor Foxboro left for Mars! And all the free agents are heading for Times Square for a big shindig tomorrow. It makes no sense. Even the guys who signed contracts will be there. Kurt Warner, Albert Haynesworth, Ray Lewis, all the big stars. All the free agents have committed except one. You payin' attention, kid? That pirate comic costs money, you know.
Pity the poor souls on that Pewter Freighter! The first mates had it worst of all. One, a fresh-faced lad named Chris, was the son of a great captain. So chastised and derided was he by Yellow Jon that he attempted to pilot the ship through a storm despite a ruptured spleen. His innards filled with bile, but young Chris sailed on, fearing the lash of Yellow Jon. But it wasn't enough for the accursed ship's master, who claimed the mate wasn't tough enough.
Chris' replacement was a grizzled sailor named Garcia, who was keen of mind but frail of body and big on ambition. Garcia dared to question Yellow Jon, who went so far as to imprison the mate in the brig for a spell. But Garcia was the best first mate Yellow Jon could find, so he was released, and the Yellow Freighter won several battles up and down the coastline.
News Vendor: The only free agent who hasn't responded to the Times Square invitation is a two-bit tight end named L.J. Smith. Can you believe it? No one can even find him to interview him. How the hell does an NFL free agent disappear in March?
Garcia and the others soon learned that Yellow Jon's plans led only to ruin. As winter loomed, they desperately laid siege to town after town, but each opponent rebuffed them. The captain's fleet-footed shock troopers, Galloway the Once-Swift and Cadillac the Ever-Injured, attempted to surprise opponents with speed, but they were too old, too spent from years of piracy. The crew of the Yellow Freighter lost four straight battles, their ranks decimated by the constant violence.
News Vendor: The worst development is that all of the Super Coaches are back in the news. That big guy who got attacked turned out to be the Chicago Chin. Remember him? Those guys were great in their day. Coach Squonk, always crying when he won. The Texas Tophat, dressed perfectly on the sidelines. They should know when to call it quits. There's a rumor on NovaExpressTalk.com that Niteowlenheimer plans a comeback, and that he's working hand-in-hand with Rorshan. What's this world coming to?
As sunset came, there was little sign of the Yellow Freighter's crew. Brave sailors like Warrick and Derrick disappeared into the coastal forests, happy to escape. Yellow Jon was beset by enemies on all sides. As they closed upon him, he bared his teeth and snarled. "You cannot defeat me, for I am immortal! One year in exile, and I shall be back, with a new ship and a new crew!" Alas, even as the mob had him drawn and quartered, they knew it was true: Yellow Jon would one day return to terrorize the high seas.
News Vendor: Even Tunamandias is getting weird. He just invested in a toy store that makes lifelike baby dolls. What kind of investment is that for a football guy? If you ask me, all of these things are connected, somehow.
In a Hovercraft, high above Miami...
Rorshan: You decided to help me. That was wise.
Niteowlenheimer: That evidence you got from Doctor Foxboro was frightening. Play the tape again.
(Rorshan presses a button on the console. A frightened man appears on the screen, talking on a cell phone.)
Chicago Chin: I'm really scared, man. He's got a bomb. He's got a dupe who is going to set it off, some clueless guy no one would suspect. I wanted to change the business structure of the league, but not like this! Not like this! Tunamandias has gone crazy! Wait, who's at the door? Ricky Williams! How are you doing? What the ... ouch! Help! Help!
Rorshan: Who is he talking to?
Niteowlenheimer: Peter King. King was about to report about this, but ... well, Brett Favre retired the next day.
Niteowlenheimer: Do you think he's involved somehow?
Rorshan: No. I just say "Hrmm" a lot.
Niteowlenheimer: OK. It doesn't make sense to include Herm Edwards in a diabolical scheme. Uh-oh, when I pulled Marty the Blimp out of mothballs, I forgot to set the on-board clocks.
Rorshan: Not a problem. I have a Swatch.
Niteowlenheimer: It's not that. Marty the Blimp thinks it's January. Nothing I create works properly in January.
Rorshan: Yes, your well-known Achilles' heel.
Niteowlenheimer: We're going to crash into Tunamandias' headquarters. Grab something heavy.
Inside the top secret Miami bunker...
Tunamandias: Gentlemen, how good of you to drop in.
Niteowlenheimer: Give up, Bill. We know you attacked Mike, the Chicago Chin. We know you have some kind of bomb. Turn yourself in.
Tunamandias: It's too late, Marty. Look on television. The Free Agent Conference is starting.
Niteowlenheimer: What do you have up your sleeve?
Tunamandias: Something so brilliant, neither you nor your unhinged friend could possibly have pieced it together without the help of my old protégé, Dr. Foxboro. You see, the only way to save the NFL is to destroy all of the free agents. They are all in one place now, all of the richest, most successful players in the NFL. Their agents are also there, as well as the biggest media hogs among the owners. Once my bomb goes off, they will no longer be a problem.
Niteowlenheimer: You are sick, Bill! Tell us where the bomb is!
Tunamandias: Hiding in plain sight, Marty. After the explosion, everything will be different. With fewer stars, teams will cut ticket prices so ordinary fans can go to games. Fewer agents mean fewer holdouts and less prima donna behavior. The shock will bring the union and management back to the table. Out of fear, they'll extend the salary cap and profit-sharing plans. It will be the dawn of a new era. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Rorshan: On the television: That player over there is holding a baby. Suspicious.
Niteowlenheimer: That's the bomb, isn't it Bill? The bomb is disguised as a baby.
Tunamandias: Yes. That player thinks he is holding a baby, but he's just a pawn. As soon as that baby hits the concrete, kaboom.
Niteowlenheimer: You think you are so clever, but you're not. That's an NFL tight end. His hands are his livelihood. Do you think he'll just drop an infant on the ground like some talentless klutz?
Rorshan: Marty? That's L.J. Smith.
Niteowlenheimer: Oh shit.
One day later. The rubble of Times Square. Two figures suddenly blink into existence...
Doctor Foxboro: Thirty seconds from now, I pick up Kurt Warner's jersey. Two days ago, I tell Rorshan about what happens two days from then, which is now. Twenty years ago, I cut Bernie Kosar. Six weeks ago, I am eating a panini when a sun-dried tomato gets wedged between my teeth.
Matt Cassel: Stop it! Stop it! I cannot take it any more! All of these people are dead and all you can do is narrate your life out of sequence!
Doctor Foxboro: Hey, check it out. Kurt Warner's jersey.
Matt Cassel: I can't be here anymore! I cannot take it!
Doctor Foxboro: Don't worry, they didn't die here. At the last second, I beamed them all to the moon to save them from the explosion.
Matt Cassel: But there's no oxygen on the moon.
Doctor Foxboro: As I said, they didn't die here. And their sacrifices won't be in vain. Observe the jumbo screens.
Matt Cassel: My God, look at the news crawl! Fifty percent ticket rebates! A new pension plan for retired players. A new collective bargaining agreement that's fair for everyone. Matt Cassel traded to the Chiefs. Wait, what's that last one?
Doctor Foxboro: We need to start over, to rebuild. You will be happier in Kansas City. I am going to the Crab Nebula to start my own football league.
(A rebuilt blimp lands. Three figures get out.)
Tunamandias: I did it! I saved the NFL!
Niteowlenheimer: Yes you did. But we are all witnesses. We all have to keep quiet.
Rorshan: Never! No surrender. No compromise. There is only winning and losing, right and wrong. The guilty must be punished.
Doctor Foxboro: Shall I vaporize him?
Tunamandias: Go buck-nutty.
(Doctor Foxboro raises his hand. Rorshan disappears in a poof of blue smoke.)
Niteowlenheimer: That's a relief. But he was keeping a journal, and I think he put it in the mail before we confronted you, Tunamandias.
Tunamandias: Where'd he send it? NovaExpressTalk.com? ProFootballFrontiersman.com? If he sent it to Peter King, I'll just coax Brett Favre out of retirement again.
Niteowlenheimer: I'm afraid I have no idea.
Somewhere in southern New Jersey...
Tanier (on phone): Is that you, Aaron? Sorry, Walkthrough is going to be late. What do you mean you need it right away? There's no football news: All the free agents are dead! OK, fine, let me check my mail and see if there are any ideas there. What's this package? "Horse carcass on Interstate 70?" Sounds like another blogger with an axe to grind. Well, he'll get his chance this week. Don't worry, Aaron. Walkthrough will be on time. And this week's edition is sure to get some attention!