WORD TO MY READER(S): I haven't blogged in a long time. I'm beginning to think that I'm not a blogger (don't tell Chris Sanborn!) But after nearly 4 years of working on GameFace and GoGameFace.com, I still love to write. Just not several times a day. So I've been working on a new writing project — my next book. It's fictionalized memoir, which means I get to start with the truth and then embellish the hell out of it. My character's name is Veronica. You can try to guess who the other characters are. I have decided to post some chapters and some of the work that I'm doing in my writing class in my quest to make it to a finished novel by the end of 2012. Yes, these pieces are long. But I hope you like them anyway. xo, Erica (aka Veronica)
MY FANTASY FOOTBALL
The top of her ESPN.com Fantasy page clearly stated her team’s name: LYNN SWANN’S JUICY ASS. “Why did you name your fantasy team that?” asked a guy at the bar, looking over Veronica’s shoulder while she set her lineup.
“It’s after my favorite player of all time. I’m from Pittsburgh. I bleed black and gold. I’m assuming the conversation’s over now?” Veronica asked, noting that this guy was wearing an orange and brown jersey, and that no Cleveland fan would be caught dead hitting on a Steelers fan.
“Moving on …” he said.
But it got Veronica thinking. Who really knows why one player stands out above another to become your favorite? Perhaps it was because Veronica’s brother Steve loved Terry Bradshaw and her brother Charlie adored Mean Joe Greene that she wanted her favorite player to be different.
Perhaps it was because her favorite player defied gravity, thanks to his formal ballet training. Perhaps it was because he was the first wide receiver to ever win Super Bowl MVP honors. She wasn’t really sure. But Veronica was very sure that she had very strong feelings for Lynn Swann. When he came on the TV screen, gracefully leaping to catch a pass, Veronica felt funny. Her stomach fluttered and her face got very hot. She felt that she might throw up. But instead, she just cheered and screamed and clapped, alongside her brothers. There was just something special about him.
Veronica had two posters of Lynn Swann in her room — one was of Swann and John Stallworth, who was the Steelers’ other well-known wide receiver. They were both proudly holding their Terrible Towels, huge grins on their faces, numbers 88 and 82, best friends forever. At least Veronica imagined them to be best friends. The towels they held were identical to the Terrible Towel Veronica slept with every night, even during baseball season. She took it with her to school in her book bag, on road trips to New York and Chicago to visit relatives — it was her trusty companion. Truthfully, her Terrible Towel could probably have used a good wash, but her mother couldn’t get it away from her long enough to throw it in the washing machine. So it remained a well-traveled, well-loved, dingy gold-ish dishtowel.
The second poster perfectly showed Swann’s physique. It was a photograph taken during an incredible play during Super Bowl X, where Swann’s acrobatic moves resulted in a 53-yard game-changing catch, his body twisting and writhing as he actually tipped the football to himself so he could maneuver into the proper position to catch it, all the while being stalked by the pesky Cowboy defensive back, who desperately tried to block the pass. (Veronica was only 6 years old at the time this game was played, and was not sure she even saw the play on TV, but she had heard it described so many times by her father and brothers, that she was sure she had seen it herself. Heck she even felt like she was at the game when it happened.) She just loved looking at this poster. It gave her butterflies every time she saw it, although she wasn’t sure why. All she knew was that when she saw Lynn Swann in his tight pants, flying through the air, she felt that same hot feeling, in her face, in her stomach, in her brain. She found it half embarrassing, half exhilarating.
Also in her room, Veronica prominently hung her Steelers calendar. She was very proud of this item, as she had to join the Steelers Fan Club to get one. She had to write an essay on why she was a fan, and she, of course, wrote about Lynn Swann’s moves. Veronica carefully hand-wrote the letter (in fact, she started it and re-started it several times, because it had to be perfect). When the masterpiece was complete, she sealed it, wrote the address on the envelope, and placed the stamp (upside down, which means “I love you,” of course.) Under duress, her mother drove her to the post office to mail the letter. Veronica explained that she needed to make sure the letter was sent First Class, and didn’t want to risk just putting it in the mailbox with the flag up. Eight weeks later, the calendar arrived, to great fanfare around the Barkley household. They all knew how deeply she loved the Steelers and Lynn Swann — even her four-year-old sister Clarissa, who was also her bunkmate. Her dad, Charlie and Clarissa watched as Veronica hung the calendar on her bedroom wall, next to her posters, congratulating her on getting the free gift from the Fan Club. She beamed with pride.
The next week in class, Veronica heard an announcement on the loudspeaker that players from the Pittsburgh Steelers were coming to Franklin Elementary School. She was instantly sick with excitement, and raced home to tell her brothers. They laughed. “None of the real players are coming to your school gym, OK Ronnie?” Steve said. “They are just sending rookies. The real guys are practicing. I guarantee you won’t recognize one of them.”
When the big day arrived, Veronica was still excited to cheer on the team she loved. She wore a white turtleneck, black pants (she never wore jeans), sneakers and her Steelers jersey, which was a hand-me-down from Charlie, so the back of her shirt said HARRIS, after Franco Harris. That was Charlie’s former favorite player, until he started liking Mean Joe Greene better. Charlie told Veronica that Harris had great stats, but he liked Greene now, not only because of his “Mean” moniker, but also because he starred in a Coke commercial. Veronica liked Franco, too, so she didn’t mind wearing the jersey that day. Plus, she remembered what Steve said about the rookies.
Hundreds of kids filed into the gymnasium. It was loud and smelled like dirty socks. Some loud rock music was on, and pretty much every kid had their favorite Steelers garb on, waving towels. Some had pom-poms, a few had plastic megaphones. Kids and adults were clapping their hands in unison to the music. It was a rousing pep rally for the start of the new football season — and Veronica loved every second, even if they were just rookies. Suddenly, the gym doors flew open, and through them came some of the biggest, toughest looking, manliest men she had ever seen. Even though they were in their street clothes and not their uniforms, she knew all of them. She knew them from TV. Her palms started to sweat. Terry, Rocky, Franco, Mean Joe, Stallworth and … Swann. She gasped and fell to the ground on all fours. She dragged her friend Stephanie down by the sleeve.
“What are you doing?!” Stephanie yelled, amidst the din.
“He can’t see me wearing the Franco jersey! You have to help me!” Veronica pleaded.
The two crawled through a mass of legs, jumping up and down all around them. Veronica’s hand got stepped on, and she screamed, then punched the kid in the back of the knee.
Stephanie followed closely behind until the two made it to the perimeter of the gym. Luckily, the adults were too busy cheering and clapping to the music, that they didn’t notice the two girls crawl out the rear doors, into the cafeteria.
When the coast was clear, they stood up, and dusted off their knees. “What’s your plan?” asked Steph, breathlessly.
“We’re heading to the art room. You need to help me cover up this HARRIS.” Veronica said sharply.
“But you’re going to miss the assembly! You love the Steelers. You love them more than anyone here!”
Veronica grabbed Steph by her Bradshaw jersey. “This. Is. Very. Important!!!” she urged through clenched teeth. “Come on!”
The two ran down to the art room and found black construction paper. Stephanie quickly cut out a piece big enough to cover up the Harris. Meanwhile, Veronica found jars of paint, with brushes soaking in water right next to them. She couldn’t find a true Steelers gold, but yellow was good enough. She carefully painted S-W-A-N-N on the paper, and blew on it to dry.
“How are you going to stick it on?” Steph asked, still panting.
“Look for some pins!” Veronica ordered, in between furious blows in an attempt to speed up the drying process.
“Pins?!” Steph started tearing up the art room. “All I found were these clothes pins,” she reported back.
“OK, well, they’ll have to do. Pin this on my back,” Veronica demanded.
Once the yellow SWANN was secured, the girls ran back to the assembly. Each of the players had been speaking, telling the kids what a great season it was going to be and asking them to cheer for them really hard this year — because they were going to win the Super Bowl again!
The girls reached the gym just as Lynn Swann was speaking. They ran up the side of the gym, right next to where the players were standing.
“I was not a very good football player when I started out,” Lynn Swann said. “I took several years of dance lessons that included ballet, tap and jazz. They helped a great deal with body control, balance, a sense of rhythm, and timing.
“I'm not here because I am even that good now,” he took a dramatic pause. “I'm here because of the people around me made me that good.”
The room erupted in wild applause.
Veronica’s heart melted. And at the same moment that she felt compelled to shout “YOU ARE HERE BECAUSE YOU ARE GREAT … AND I LOVE YOU AND YOUR TIGHT PANTS!” a hush came over the crowd, resulting in the most horrifying moment that could ever happen to a 10-year-old girl in the history of humankind. Mortified, Veronica ran toward the exit of the gym, crossing the stage where the players were standing.
Lynn Swann grabbed the fleet-footed Veronica as she ran by, just as if she were a fumbled football flying by him on the field. He scooped her up into his arms, noticing that she had something pinned to her back, and that suddenly he had yellow paint smeared on his arm. “And what do we have here?” Swann asked. Veronica thought her heart had stopped. He saw everything — the clothes-pins and the construction paper and the HARRIS underneath.
“So I’m your second choice, am I?” Swann asked, smiling.
“No, Mr. Swann. You are my first choice in my heart now and always. This is my brother’s stupid shirt and I’m sorry you had to see me like this. I love you. Didn’t you see the stamp on my letter to the Fan Club. It was upside down!” Veronica said in one breath.
“So what about me?! I’m not your favorite?” chimed in Franco Harris.
“And what the heck about me?” said Terry Bradshaw, in his southern drawl. “I’m the quarterback.”
“What about me and my moustache?” asked Rocky Bleier.
“And what about me? I’m his best friend!” added John Stallworth.
* * *
“This did not happen,” complained Steve at the Barkley dinner table that night, as Veronica told the story of her day.
“Well, there is yellow paint on my old Harris jersey. Maybe it did happen,” Charlie commented, while shoving his mouth full of peas.
“I think it did happen,” her dad said with a smile.
“I have a question,” said the four-year-old Clarissa, seemingly frustrated with the whole conversation. “Why are you so obsessed with Lynn Swann’s butt?!”
The entire table stared at the baby of the family, mouths open, then burst out laughing at Clarissa’s poignant commentary. Veronica slipped under the table in sheer embarrassment. She found herself yet again on all fours, face flushed, mind racing, trying to understand the emotions raging through her, but mostly thinking “He really does have a juicy ass.”
* * *
Back at the bar, as she decided to play current Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace this week on her fantasy team, Veronica took a swig of her Bud Light. “I wonder if his ass is still as juicy?” she thought. And perhaps more important, “Wonder if I could ever get over the fact that he’s a Republican?”