"How long have you had the myna, Mrs. Phillips?"
"Since SMU," she says. Helen knows football teams, not years. But of course there is the connection. A life-span marked off by the first-down chains. That's the way it always was.
"Naw, Helen don't know much about the teams either," Bum says later, far from home and Helen. "Ever' time somebody asks her about football, she acts dumb, like she has no idea what a first-and-10 is. But I taught her enough to watch a game without always lookin' at the guy who's got the ball.
"You know, I never had time for my family," he says, lost in thought. "Never got real close to any of 'em. Always movin' and coachin' and doin' the X's and O's. Maybe it wasn't worth it. Here I am in the pros and I haven't got any more money or happiness than I had back in high school. Damn. It must have been hard on Helen and the kids. 'Course, I never knew. I never asked 'em."
Bum is riding shotgun and sucking on his third six-pack of the night on the way home from a horse-cutting exhibition at Jim Reno's in Simonton. Reno is one of the foremost horse sculptors in the land, a genius in his field who left art school in the Midwest and spun his wheels around Houston for 18 years before he was discovered. Now Jim Reno, from way back in New Castle, Ind., is commissioned to do private-collection Secretariats and life-size Bob (King Ranch) Klebergs just as Bum Phillips, a nobody past 40 at Port Neches so long ago, is now in against the Dallases and Pittsburghs at the zenith of his profession.
"You think we're a parallel?" Phillips says, deep into the night. "Damn. I never thought of that. Ol' Jim, my cuttin'-horse buddy. He's been a friend for seven years and I never thought of that. The guy really is talented, ain't he? A craftsman, a master."
Bum Phillips had made a connection. The coach took another long swig of beer and stared out the car window at the flat, black Texas plain. It was a silent, pensive, strangely haunting moment for the clown cowpoke of pro football. Only then did the coach realize that Jim Reno, and Helen Phillips, too, for that matter, ain't the kind of people who'd get you beat 21-7.