- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The night flight to Nassau had made a stop (Atlanta, no doubt) that I'd napped through, and on awakening I was surprised to see The Coach's familiar profile at the window seat, one row in front and to my left. A Wall Street Journal was propped in his lap, and he was acknowledging a stewardess' delivery of a glass of sparkling clear liquid that I knew, despite the camouflaging twist of lemon on the rim, could only be Perrier. The stewardess, a leggy blonde with an overbite, was lingering, making small talk. Although well into what he calls the "Dei gratia" period of middle age and many years past his championship seasons at M——, The Coach is still the kind of man stewardesses hover over. I was glad, because it gave me a chance to collect my thoughts and tuck my shirt in. With The Coach, it's best to be prepared.
I hadn't talked with him for more than a year, not since he took an "advisory" position with one of the big NFL scouting combines. He said at the time that he did it "to keep my hand in, right up to the first knuckle." Minimizing the involvement was, I suspect, his way of softening his defection from the college ranks. He used to say the pro game "soared across the heavens of football like a concrete Zeppelin," and that "hell itself would freeze over" before he joined it, but that was before a second divorce put the freeze on his assets. What surprised me now, however, was his destination. Besides the fact that on him a tan would be redundant, the pro draft was only a couple of days away, and unless the process had been radically altered, Nassau was in the wrong direction.
The stewardess finally went away, leaving The Coach to mull over his investments. Instinctively sucking in my stomach, I got up, moved across the aisle and slid into the empty seat next to his. "Shouldn't you be out timing 40-yard dashes or measuring vertical jumps or something?" I said.
For three or four seconds The Coach kept an I-know-you're-there-and-I'll-get-to-you-in-a-moment fix on the Journal's agate type, then dropped his chin to survey my intrusion over the top of his reading glasses. Besides the color of his hair—a steely blue-gray, matching that of his eyes—reading glasses are his only obvious concession to the march of time. He smiled. "I spied you back there, Scribe, sleeping your life away," he said. "Put on some weight, did you?"
I exhaled audibly, there being no need to suffer the pretense if the jig was up. "I knew I was overweight as soon as I saw you, Coach," I said. "But never mind me. What's going down in the Bahamas?"
"Me. Scuba-diving on an old Spanish four-master believed to be loaded with coin. You must join me sometime when you're not quite so buoyant."
"But isn't the NFL draft coming up? Shouldn't you be at the Waldorf or someplace, making charts and talking intelligently about first-and second-round picks?"
"The draft is, indeed, coming up, but it is a charade that I no longer take part in," said The Coach matter-of-factly. "Once around was more than enough."
Remembering how often in the past he had sucked me in with such antes, I feigned disinterest, knowing that if he had more to offer on the subject I'd get it in due course anyway (he tends to save up), and that it's better to pace him.
"You've left the service of the pros?" I asked, miming a yawn.