When the first world bowl turned out to be a dog, with the London Monarchs whitewashing my team, the Barcelona Dragons, 21-0 at London's Wembley Stadium, Brent Musburger filled some dead air in the fourth quarter by talking about me for 37 seconds. (My dad, Rex, has since put a stopwatch on the videotape.) "A great human interest story" is how Brent described me during ABC's live' telecast of the World League of American Football title game on June 9.
How I savor those words—"a great human interest story." Among family and friends I am better known as a good-natured hard-luck case; a risky person to whom to extend a loan. Brent's characterization, I think, comes closer to the essential me.
Three days before the game, around midmorning, I was at home in Boston, working on the Globe crossword and puzzling over how I would pay July's rent. I like to complete as much of the crossword as possible before plunging into the want ads. I was between jobs, a circumstance to which I have been no stranger since graduating in 1988 from Boston College, where I had played defensive tackle and snapped on punts and field goals.
A brief glance at my employment history: August '89, cut by the Detroit Lions in the preseason; June '90, laid off by Bay Shore Seafoods; December '90, laid off by the The Lynn Daily Evening Item; March '91, cut in the preseason by the Barcelona Dragons.
As I cast about for a three-letter answer to the clue "Peer Gynt's mother," the phone rang. It was someone claiming to be Terry McDonough, Barcelona's assistant general manager. A special-teams calamity had struck the Dragons an hour earlier, when their center on long snaps twisted his knee. Could I take a red-eye to London that night and play in Sunday's title game?
This was the work of the Kwitcher. Had to be. On more occasions than I care to admit, my erstwhile Boston College teammate Jim Kwitchoff has successfully duped me over the phone, posing, at one time or another, as a local television reporter, as an NFL general manager and as an abusive offensive lineman I would be facing in an upcoming game. You know you've been had by the Kwitcher when you hear gales of laughter in the background. Jim is generous and prefers to put his victims on speakerphone, the better to entertain large groups.
It wouldn't work this time. Still, I gave the Kwitcher full marks for creativity. I could just see myself at the British Airways counter, trying to claim a nonexistent prepaid ticket, insisting that there must be some mistake, that my teammates, the Dragons, were counting on me. I could see the people in line behind me becoming impatient. I could see it finally becoming necessary for the ticket agent to summon airport security. I would be cuffed and stuffed into the back of some black and white.
"Nice try Kwitcher," I said. "How's your sex life? Still oh-for-the-'90s?"
McDonough was not amused. "Murph, I'm not kidding," he said. "There's no way Sign will be able to play. His knee was contorted severely."
Now I was convinced the call was genuine. Kwitchoff would never have known that the name of Barcelona's long snapper was Bobby Sign. Nor would he use the verb "contort" under any circumstance.