Once a Buckeye always a Buckeye, what I say. I says you're lucky if me being an Ohio State homer is all that worries you. I says Fowler ought to be down here on the set built by Home Depot right now, instead of up there in the makeup chair, getting paint gobbed on his face and waiting on a bunch of nobodies who didn't even go to the Ohio State University to feed him his lines like he's too good to do his own research. And Corso says,
"But to have Disney think we have no control over where the show's gonna be on Saturday, that we can't---"
"Well," I says. "We don't, do we? They own E.S.P.N., don't they? Bristol and Disney and Home Depot pull our strings," I says. "How do you expect to tell the corporate suits what we're going to do with a broken pencil, somebody's mascot's headgear on your melon, and a 41-68-2 record at Indiana?"
Corso thought about that for a while.
"But to have them think that . . . I didn't even think about the two big S.E.C. games being on C.B.S. and Michigan-Notre Dame being on N.B.C. We've always gone where the biggest game was before. . . ."
And now I'm holding my breath hoping like all get-out that he don't get going on all that 1993 Florida State-Notre Dame first-time-out-of-the-studio business like I've heard about all them times before but thank goodness Corso knows better than to go there and instead he just keeps going on like he's been going on all morning. For crying out loud, where in the Sam Hill is Fowler all this time?
". . . And now for Bristol to make such a production out of ignoring our judgment. How do they do it? You're up at E.S.P.N. headquarters all the time; you ought to hear them if they're talking in the hallways."
"Yes," I says, "If they talked in the hallways. I don't reckon they'd be getting Fowler's boxers in a bunch over something they'd chat about in the hallways," I says.
"What do you mean?" Corso says.
"I don't mean anything," I says. "I just answered your question." Corso looked like he was going to cry again, muttering about how his own network rose up to curse him. I thought about telling him again that E.S.P.N. isn't a network because it's a cable channel and it doesn't have local affiliates but then I thought, what'd be the use in that? It don't make no difference to Corso nohow.
"I know I'm just a trouble and a burden to the show," Corso says, acting like he might cry again and trying to get some sympathy out of me only I ain't giving him the satisfaction. Not so fast, my friend, right back at you, buddy.
"I ought to know it," I says. "You've been telling me that for ten years. Even Fowler ought to know it now."
Finally here comes Fowler, all duded up like a runway model and prissified like he thinks he's hosting a wine tasting instead of a doggone pregame show. He sits down on that chair like he's doing it a favor and smiles like he's flirting with some gal in a bar. I half think he might bat his eyelashes at me, but he don't say a word and he just looks away 'til that assistant comes over and hooks up his lapel mike for him.
Fowler talked to the girl real low and if he was a man's man like me I'd think he was trying to get somewhere, only after a minute I could tell he was trying to get her to fetch him another one of those frappa-mocha-spresso things like what they have at Starbucks or wherever.
"Just half a cup, Connie," he says. "Please."
"No, sir," Connie says. "You go on and get ready for the show. We're going to be late."
"No we're not," I says. "We're going to fix that right now." Fowler looked at me, the Styrofoam cup in his hand. He used his free hand to smooth down his hair in the back. "You put that cup down and fix your mike straight," I says.
"What for?" he says.
"Come on," I says. "Hand that cup to Connie and get to work."
Connie and Fowler just looked at me like they didn't know what to do. Corso stared into space like he was oblivious. He probably was still worrying over that whole thing with A.B.C., but he was about to cry and I couldn't have cared less.
"You may think you can run over me like you do the producer and everybody else," I says. "But you'll find out different. I'll give you ten seconds to put that cup down like I told you."
Fowler quit looking at me. He looked at Connie. "What time is it, Connie?" he says. "When it's ten seconds, you tell me. Just a half a cup. Connie, pl---"
I reached across Corso and grabbed Fowler's arm. He dropped the Styrofoam cup. It splatted on the floor of the set built by Home Depot and a beige liquid ran out. Not really beige, actually, more of a taupe. I can tell the difference, because I look good in taupe, but not as much in beige, which doesn't play as well with my eyes.
Anyway, what kind of a man puts so much crap in his coffee that it comes out taupe, anyway? If you can't take your coffee as strong and black as Orlando Pace like a real man, just go get yourself a Fresca and a poodle and leave the football to those of us who know which part of the jockstrap goes in the front and which part goes in the back.
Fowler jerked back, looking at me, but I held his arm. He stared at me like he was scared I might slap him and that made me want to slap him all the more. Fowler's eyes were wide and I knew I couldn't very well slap him with people watching but I knew and he knew that I was going to make him pay for that.
In fact, I already knew what it was going to be and I bet he knew, too. Sometime soon, not right away, not like next week or anything, but after a while, after he'd waited and worried and wondered when the other shoe was going to drop, I'll zing him one good time during a Thursday night game somewhere. He'll give me an opening and I'll practically make him cry on the air right there during a Thursday night game. Just you wait, pal. I'll show you.
I like a good Thursday night game. I get to work in my shirtsleeves and glasses instead of in my jacket and contact lenses. When I'm wearing khakis and glasses and a tie and shirtsleeves with the color combination just so and exactly the right mix of formal and casual, then, man, I'm hotter than Holy Dog Water and I don't care who knows it.
Anyhow, we sit there like that for what seems like half an hour, me holding Fowler's arm tight and Fowler about to wet his pants right there in his chair and leave a great big puddle of pee right there on the set built by Home Depot and Corso staring off into space like an idiot, fretting over how A.B.C. or Disney or whoever made us look and looking like he's about to cry over that or some other dang thing from back when he played football with Burt Reynolds and a bunch of other guys nobody's ever heard of about 15 minutes after Florida State quit being a girls' school or something.
What's the deal with Burt Reynolds, anyway? He used to be pretty cool, what with that whole black Trans Am and everything, but, after a while, his movies got really, really bad. He hasn't done anything good in years . . . except for that "Boogie Nights." Man, was that Rollergirl hot, or what?
Maybe you think I was out of line. Well, if you do, that's fine. Listen, I'll be the first to admit it if I'm ever wrong, but it hasn't happened yet and it ain't happening now, buckaroo.
"We're on in five," says Connie quietly, like she's afraid I might slap her, too, so I figure I've pretty well put Fowler in his place anyhow, so I turn loose of his arm and look away without saying another word. Corso is muttering to himself like he does and I halfway want to backhand him, too, but what good would that do? He'd just whine and blubber like he does and, all of a sudden, I'd be the bad guy, just for wanting a little bit of dadgum peace and quiet while I'm trying to do a show.
So the show goes on, as they say, and we get about halfway into it and I get Connie or one of them to fetch me something, I don't even remember what it was, the rushing stats on some Pac-10 game I couldn't care less about, just to let everybody know who was boss and didn't mind showing it, neither. The girl comes back with whatever I asked for but it wasn't quite quick enough for me, so I says, "Where the hell have you been?"
"I come straight as I could," she says. "I had to hunt for it to find it."
I never found a production assistant yet that didn't have an airtight alibi for whatever she did. But just turn one off in your trailer and she's bound to show off like she was up to something while she was in there. Whatever.
Turns out she brought me the wrong thing, so I gave her a nasty look and, at the next commercial break, I got up and went to my trailer. I didn't tell anybody where I was going and I sure as shooting didn't ask nobody's permission; I just took off my lapel mike, took out my earpiece, and went. I dare anybody to so much as look at me crosswise for doing it, neither.
So I'm walking across the set built by Home Depot, strolling, really, just to let everybody know I'm not hurrying or nothing. I'm ambling along at my own pace and the rest of the world can wait for me and, if anybody says so much as a word, I'll ask 'em to let me know how we're doing in the 18-to-30-year-old female demographic and whether he has the slightest clue as to why we're doing as well as we are. Here's a hint for you, jack . . . they ain't tuning in to hear Fowler priss and preen his way through jokes somebody else wrote and they sure ain't tuning in to see Corso play the fool.
So, anyway, like I say, I'm walking across the set built by Home Depot and I'm checking out a couple of the production assistants, not Connie but some of the others, giving 'em half a look and about a third of a smile just to give 'em a hint that maybe, just maybe, if they play their cards right, they might have a shot at seeing the inside of my trailer and they just might be up to something while they're in there, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Well, I wasn't paying much in the way of attention and that's my fault. Didn't I tell you I'd be the first to own up to it if I ever got proven wrong? Well, there you have it; there's a first time for everything. I wasn't looking where I was going and a trailer's pretty much a trailer when you're on the road, so I just so happened to have picked the wrong dang one. Yeah, well, so sue me, all right?
In I went, thinking it was my trailer. Only it wasn't. It was Fowler's or somebody's and some guy I didn't know was in there doing who knows what, only he knew he was supposed to be in there and I wasn't. I reckon I ought to have noticed that he had on an E.S.P.N. jacket, but I didn't pay that no mind at the time. Like I say, I reckon I ought to have noticed, but, then, I reckon he ought to have known who I was, too, now, shouldn't he have?
He was one of those technical guys I don't have too much truck with and I guess he was there to shine Fowler's zappa-crappa-cappa-chappa machine that makes coffee but is bound and determined to mess it up with all that milk and foam and steam and whatever all Fowler puts in his coffee to keep from having to know he's drinking coffee.
"What are you doing in here?" I demanded.
"What are you doing in here?" he says.
"Don't give me any lip," I told him and started to barge right past him.
"What's that?" the guy says. "Don't you talk that way to me." I grabbed him by the shoulder only he didn't look scared like Fowler had. He just says, "Look out, fellow!"
"Don't give me any lip," I told him again. "Tell me what you're doing here and get out!"
"Why, you little---" he says. His shoulder felt big in my grasp and he wrenched himself free with a big jerk. A big jerk from a big jerk, you might say. Heh. That's a good one. A big jerk from a big jerk, get it? And folks say I'm just a pretty face. Whatever.
"Come on," I says. "What are you doing here?"
"I'll tell you what I'm doing here," the man shrieked at me. "Let me find my adjustable wrench."
"Here," I said, just trying to hang on to him. "I'm just asking you a question."
He called me a name, a bad one, just flat screamed it right out in my face, where I know folks outside could hear, and I reckon he couldn't lay hands on his wrench just then, so he grabs Fowler's fancy shiny coffee-ruining machine and clocks me one good time with it.
Well, now, I'm ticked off, so I slide behind him and grab hold of him from the other side, up under the armpits and around the shoulders, like I saw 'em do in wrestling when I was growing up in Centerville.
"Quit it!" I said. He was still flailing around, hanging onto that coffee machine and trying to get at me, when, all of a sudden, it dawned on me that I didn't have any sissified coffee machine like that, so it hit me that I must be in Fowler's trailer or somebody's. "Here," I says. "Here! I'll get out. Give me time and I'll get out."
"Talk that way to me," the guy wailed. "Let me go. Let me go just one minute. I'll show you."
"Will you quit long enough for me to get out?" I asked, shouting at him while he clanged that danged coffee machine all over everywhere, getting it all dinged and dented and bent up one side and down the other to where I just knew Fowler was going to sit right down and have himself a big cry over his wrecked coffee contraption. Well, good, I figured; Fowler and Corso can have a big ol' pity party together. Swell. Whatever.
"Will you?" I says, but he kept struggling, so I freed one hand and hit him on the head. I was in a hurry, so I hit him clumsily and not too hard, not like I would have when I was playing quarterback for the Ohio State University, but he slumped down and slid onto the floor in a heap of shiny metal with that busted coffee doohickey.
I rushed to the door and stepped out of the trailer, making sure to pull the door closed behind me. I stood there, panting, 'til my breathing slowed, then I straightened my tie, ran a hand across my forehead, and started down the stairs, going slow.
I got back just as the producer was about to have a duck fit and I sat down and put my lapel mike back on and my earpiece back in just as the production assistant was starting to signal five . . . four . . . three . . .
I ran my hand through my hair and my fingers came back sticky. I looked at them and they were as scarlet as a home jersey from the Ohio State University.
I turned to Corso. "Am I bleeding much?" I said. "The back of my head. Am I bleeding?" But Corso was in his own little world, not so much ignoring me as just plain not hearing me, and Fowler wouldn't dare to look me in the eye. "Look at my head," I said. "Wait, I---"
But the production assistant had signaled two . . . one . . . and Fowler was going again, so I just put my hand down on the desk and covered up the bloody fingers with my other hand and went on with the show, as they say. Corso's fretting that we're out here to watch a No. 4 team take on a No. 19 team when Nos. 2, 3, and 7 are all running up against higher-ranked competition, but, meanwhile, I'm sitting here bleeding.
I'm bleeding, but I'm doing my job, toughing it out, getting the job done and not minding that I'm bleeding. It's like I'm a soldier, like Kellen Winslow or something, and I'm half-tempted to say something about it right here on the air, right here on the set built by Home Depot, but then I don't reckon even that would do any good.
Like I say once a Buckeye always a Buckeye. And just let me have one lousy Thursday night game in the broadcast booth without any prissy dang Colorado alum to tell me what wine to have with my dinner. I don't want to be Berman or anything; save that for "SportsCenter." I just want an even chance to show I'm more than just another pretty face. And once I've done that they can bring all Bristol and all bedlam in here and the Home Depot can have it all and Chris Spielman can have my place at the desk too.