Life in the Arena Football League: The VooDoo and a prayer (cont.)
Derek brought along his boys, old arena ball hands from all over the country: receiver P.J. Berry; defensive backs Roland Cola and Alvin Jackson; linemen Moqut Ruffins and Tommy Taggart; fullbacks James Harris and Jason Schule; and a quarterback, D. Bryant, familiar from his South Georgia Wildcat days.
The quarterback is lost. Danny Wimprine has lined up behind seven centers in three months. He has been sacked more often that he cares to remember. He lost count after seven times in the first game alone. Has he been forced to scramble? At one point he trailed the team rushing leader by three yards. He has on occasion been benched in favor of D. Bryant and even Chris Wallace, who had been a standout at Toledo -- in 1997.
Now he parks his Titan under a familiar landmark -- "Our Business Stinks, but It's Picking Up," -- amended in LED to wish: "Good Luck #18 Danny Wimprine." He looks in on his pregnant wife, wrapped in her blue Snuggie because the office temperature never feels right. It's a boy. They aren't telling names, except that he doesn't want a junior.
They've been together since age two or three. They both graduated Curtis High, where he won back-to-back state championships and nobody ever forgot. She drove up from Baton Rouge on weekends when he was playing for the other Tigers in Memphis. He never rhapsodized on delusions of NFL grandeur, though he told people he could scrap his way onto a practice squad and leg it out and make the third string and catch a break and be one of those guys who got a few seasons in.
You don't take five concussions for fun. But football did what football does. Football came and went and he counted himself lucky when it came back and went again in Arena form. After the excitement of the 2008 season faded, River Parish Disposal made him sales manager. On Jan. 9, 2010, he married the former Ashley Frommeyer in front of 520-some people at St. Louis Cathedral.
He'll be 30 in August. Renovations to the house have dragged along -- contractors, architects, a lawsuit, money -- but he's got a good tire swing branch picked out on the shady oak around back. When the newly reorganized VooDoo came calling, Ashley said go ahead. Her dad said sure, he could work around practice.
With a comfortable day job and a home of his own, Danny turned down designation as one of the team's three "marketing players," a distinction worth an extra 250 percent in salary ("I want three other studs coming in here to help us win a championship," he said). The sanitation company signed on as a principal sponsor. Four clients -- Phil's Grill, Koz's Po-Boys, Nacho Mama's and Jaeger's Seafood -- gave the team weekly meal vouchers. And the whole family started showing up at The Graveyard.
"You'd be better off standing on Airline Drive trying to dodge cars," said a salesman, Bill Lafitteau.
"The best thing that can happen to you is you'll break your leg so you won't get killed," said Danny's dad, Ronnie.
"We're not getting any younger," said his brother-in-law, Weldon Frommeyer (who has four sisters).
"It gets a little upsetting," said Ashley. "Everybody wants to see them win, but then you have some idiots in the stands who start cursing at the players when you've got your niece and nephew there."
Dressed in his VooDoo T-shirt, Wimprine settles into a doorless office with room enough for a desk, some pictures of his 160-pound Boerboel Mastiff and an inscription from Jeremiah 29: And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
It's a competitive business, hauling garbage in a city recovering from a big hurricane, but he has it down. He rattles off the environmental fees of competitors. He bangs on a calculator to humor a client on the speakerphone, though he already has the numbers figured in his head. He gives out his cell phone number, with the 504 area code, because it's different from calling some national rep in Nashville who doesn't know where Tchoupitoulas Street is and doesn't even know how to spell Tchoupitoulas. Look: The phone's ringing already.
"Hi, this is Danny, how can I help you? ... For this weekend? ... Where you gonna be located? ... Magazine and Napoleon, that's where that little nun's convent used to be ..." He chats for awhile, but the woman on the other end only wants to compare prices, so he rings off: "Just give me a call back. My name's Danny."
The season is not lost. Nothing is lost. Not the coach, not the quarterback, not the city or the country either. Yes, the Army Corps of Engineers missed the June 1 deadline for its hundred-year floodwall. Yes, the Census Bureau counted a long-term decline worse than places like Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich. Yes, the National Football League remains locked down and out, just like everybody else.
But if you got into the car one morning last week, tuned into WWOZ while Laura Dedleaux was spinning the Onward Brass Band's rendition of "Just a Little While to Stay Here," drove out to the Alario Event Center in Westwego and made your way past a display case full of eight-year-old basketball memorabilia to a low-slung gym marked "Welcome to Hall B," where artificial turf still printed with the logo of a defunct development-league team had been rolled out in five-yard increments to provide a substitute practice space necessitated by the recent arrival of the Ringling Bros. -- this is what you would have seen: You would have seen Stingley's seasoned road warriors running drills with guys from Kentwood and Kenner, Carencro and Harvey, Lutcher, Garyville, Westwego, Metairie and New Orleans, Louisiana. You would have seen the VooDoo.
If you hung around long enough, you could have watched them all board a bus to someplace in Georgia to take another beating and come back home to New Orleans, where their giant inflatable mausoleum set has been retrieved from storage. Where two home games still remain. Where they are set to play the Spokane Shock, reigning champions of the Arena Football League, on Saturday night.
As the last practice of the week drew near an end, Coach Stingley gave his quarterback a free hand. Wimprine called an audible, barked a hut and started heaving up his dazzling arena best, the wing-and-a-prayer long bombs that lead to quick laterals that lead to a great downpour of Mardi Gras beads. Then he took a knee. The team gathered behind him, all for one and one for all, for another couple weeks at least. When Coach Stingley had said his piece, he asked whether anybody else wanted to talk. The new guy answered the call, Damon Mason, the 37-year-old defensive back out of LaPlace, La.
"My career's done," Mason said. "I'm just happy I have a chance to be here again in my hometown. But what you put into it is what you get out. Y'all is auditioning for a job." Nothing is guaranteed, he went on, using a curse word, "because there are a lot of hungry brothers out there. A lot of them. Don't take it for granted."
Then the $400 football players joined hands and bowed their heads and prayed to the Lord, all the way through the part that says "for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen."