It still burned Coach Jack Fischer that his team, the Piedmont Pinetops, had gotten blown out by so many points. The first loss of the season Jack could take, a two-point overtime loss to the Southern Conferenceâ€™s powerhouse Toulousia Tech team. But that afternoonâ€™s loss, a six-touchdown loss to Franklinton Junior College, one of the worst teams in the country, was as painful as it was implausible.
On the opening kickoff, the most charismatic and celebrated player on his team ran the length of the field to score a touchdown, but after his touchdown dance, the referee had drawn on a technicality from the playbook to kick his best player out of the game. That was for starters. There had been blown assignments, fumbles, interceptions: anything, and everything had gone wrong.
Jackâ€™s car was idling at the Burger King drive thru. He was still fuming about his teamâ€™s loss and all he had to put up with. He yelled into the cell phone at his wife. â€œNo, Iâ€™m not going to give him your order. You can give it to him. Heâ€™ll be able to hear you through the microphone. You know how I hate to play go-between.â€ Jack held the cell phone up at the receiver of the drive thru.
â€œDid you want to order something?â€ A boyish sounding voice asked as Jack held up the phone.
â€œDidnâ€™t you get that?â€
Jack began to catch the attitude from the boyâ€™s voice â€œNo. Did you say something?â€ the young man asked.
â€œYou couldnâ€™t hear my order!â€
â€œPlease drive up to the window, sir.â€
Jack pounded the steering wheel with his hand. â€œJeez, canâ€™t they get anything right at these drive thrus?â€ It was past 8 p.m., and Jack was tired. Heâ€™d tried to watch some of the game film after the big loss, but the more he watched his team implode the more unbearable the loss seemed.
He knew he wasnâ€™t the best coach in the country, but he also thought he was better than most. Still, no matter how hard he coached his teams, how much he studied film, or recruited honestly, he still wound up with two to three blemishes out of 12 games each year.
He was beginning to lose hope that a big-time program would come calling and ask him to be its coach. Sure, heâ€™d been able to provide for his family, but just barely. Sure, he could still send his girls to Piedmont College, which they told him was all right with them, but it wasnâ€™t the elite Coastal University where he had always wanted to coach.
As he considered his failure, he felt the pressure of his anger make his face hot.
Easing his way through the empty drive thru, Jack tapped the brake of his beaten up black truck heâ€™d bought used from one of his playerâ€™s fathers. As his truck slowly lurched forward, a shadowy figure crossed Jackâ€™s path.
â€œWhat the . . .â€
The man came up to Jackâ€™s side of the car and motioned for Jack to roll his window down. Jack peered back at the man, about his age, with thinning gray hair, in a smart looking black dinner jacket and tuxedo that was drenched with water.
Funny, Jack thought, it hadnâ€™t rained in weeks.
The man was out of breath. â€œExcuse me, sir. Can I get a lift? I need to get home.â€
Jackâ€™s anger subsided. It looked like no one else had been decent enough to give the man a ride. Jack studied the man. He looked a lot like the athletic director for Coastal. Maybe . . .
â€œSure, hop in.â€
Once the man got in the passenger side, Jack could tell it wasnâ€™t the athletic director of Coastal. Maybe, a wealthy booster, he thought. â€œGot a name?â€
â€œOK, Frank. You want anything?â€
â€œNo, Iâ€™ve got to get back to my family.â€
Jack finished confirming his order with his wife and the drive thru attendant and drove off. He munched on a fry as he studied Frankâ€™s clothing.
â€œYou from around here?â€
â€œItâ€™s not far.â€