‘Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on show ‘em what your worth
Ryan Pace let his ringtone finish before picking up the incoming Wisconsin call.
Make ‘em go “Ah, ah, ah”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y
“Bryan. Gutekunst here. Did you read this morning’s paper?”
“I did. Can I clarify something? Did you just introduce yourself as ‘Brian Gutekunst,’ or did you call me Bryan, then introduce yourself as ‘Gutekunst’?”
“Good question. I called you Bryan. I go by Gutekunst. ‘Kunst for short.”
“I thought so. Actually, my name is Ryan. There’s no B.”
“Are you sure? I thought it was Bryan.”
“Well I guess I got it confused because my name is Brian.”
“So today’s paper. Turns out there was a vote and sports gambling is legal now. So I think I’m going to back out of that trade because I think I want to go back to my plan on betting the Packers will lose. Things are not looking good in training camp, and I’m not just talking about Clay Matthews’ nose.”
“Interesting. A couple thoughts. You can’t go back on the trade. You already signed the paperwork. Also, you still can’t bet against your own team. That’s an NFL rule that doesn’t change with this vote. So...I guess the good news is that neither part of your plan will work and it should be easy to just let it go.”
“Aw, man. Back to the drawing board I guess. Hey, listen, do you have any great players you could toss this way? My problem is I have plenty of players but not many of them are good. I could do a two for one or something. Hell maybe even a 4 for 1 since I’m gonna cut most of these guys anyway.”
“Nobody off the top of my head, Brian, but I’ll keep you in mind if I’m trying to get rid of any great players.”
“Thanks, Ryan. You’re the best.”
“Alright. Talk to you later.”
“Hey. Did you notice I called you Ryan. That’s good, right?”
“That’s perfect. You did good.”
“Thanks man, I needed that,” ‘Kunst’s voice cracked with both desperation and genuine appreciation as he spoke.
“Ok. Goodbye,” Pace responded.
“Ok. Dueces,” Brian Gutekunst hung up the phone feeling disappointed by the news he’d received from his friend but grateful to have some validation for the first time in what felt like ages.
“I did good,” he said out loud.
“That’s right, you did good,” Alexa responded. There was nothing condescending in the tone of her robotic voice.
When the gorgeous end-zone-bound rainbow left Mitchell Trubisky’s hand, Allen Robinson decided he’d had quite enough of Kevin White’s training camp glory. The two were friends, but Robinson’s own sublime play had been overshadowed by the incessant dominance the former top-ten pick had brought to Bourbonnais. Allen dismissed his scheduled corner route and instead ran a post straight towards the perfect spiral as its bright laces reflected a ray of sun and sent a cascade of sparkles down upon the practicing Bears.
White didn’t see Robinson coming, but had set himself up to catch the ball at the highest point possible regardless. The two future all-pro receivers gracefully collided in the air, each firmly grasping the football with two hands without budging as they tumbled down onto the end zone grass.
“Touchdown White!” Kevin yelled as he continued to yank at the ball firmly planted in Robinson’s vice grip.
“Touchdown Robinson!” Allen retorted, dragging his teammate slowly across the grass as he pulled on their shared trophy.
“Touchdown 11!” “Touchdown 12!” “White” “Robinson” “Me” “Me” “Mine” “Mine.”
Akiem Hicks relaxed in the grass as his teammates ran over to see what the commotion was. Only Pat O’Donnell stayed by the sideline, and Hicks noticed him shaking more powder into rookie punter Ryan Winslow’s drink. This time he could read the full label, “Uberlax.”
Uber LAX, Hicks thought. O’Donnell must do his uber driving at the LA airport. Hicks remembered a flight he’d taken from LAX to Florida during a college spring break, which reminded him of Florida oranges, which set his mind adrift imagining “Matthew” Stafford’s expression as an orange #96 jersey blocks his view downfield while he desperately searches for his hot read before getting slapped in the face by the flapping arms of his “guard” TJ Lang as he flops helplessly backwards reeling from Hicks’ powerful hump move.
“Touchdown Bears!” Mitchell Trubisky clapped as he reached wrestling receivers. “Let’s call it three points for each of you and get back to the next play.”
“Three points? No way!” White responded. “Seriously, do I look like a kicker? It’s six or nothing.”
“How about all six points go to whoever keeps their hands on the ball the longest.” White suggested.
“Deal.” It was nice to see the two receivers back in agreement.
“You guys do know that we aren’t keeping track of personal points in training camp, right?” Robinson and White ignored their burgeoning signal caller as they returned to wrestling for the ball, rolling off the field.
“Ok. Gabriel, Miller, Bellamy. You’re up!” Trubisky called out as he returned to the huddle. “Bellamy’s practicing for his performance tonight at the charity gala,” Bryce Callahan shouted from the defense’s sideline.
“Wims! You’re in.” Biscuit wasn’t going to be deterred from installing the new plays he’d designed the night before with his secret consultant. Trubisky didn’t even notice Chris Tabor’s voice over the stadium speaker’s presenting his own rendition of the Kris Kross classic, Jump.
Chris Tabes will make you, “Punt! Punt!”
The mac dad will make you, “Punt! Punt!”
Daddy Chris will make you, “Punt! Punt!”
Trubisky ignored Tabor’s Bellamy-esque flow as he announced the rules of the eminent punt competition in verse.
“Hungry Bear Picnic,” the young quarterback began his play call to an enthralled huddle. “Grizzly left.”
Who’ll be the miggida-miggida-miggida-miggida mac punter?
Sweating and pale, rookie punter Ryan Winslow turned to the incumbent veteran, “Pat. You gotta stall for me. I gotta run to the can. I’m dying.”
“No time rook.” O’Donnell cut Winslow off. “You’ll be fine.” The veteran patted the rookie on the back in an awkward gesture of encouragement.
“You don’t understand,” Winslow looked panicked. “I’m about to explode.”
“The same thing happens to me. It’s just the big league nerves. You just gotta relax your whole body when you kick. Sometimes I even feel like I’m actually crapping myself but it’s just the nerves.”
Winslow look worried as O’Donnell took to the field. Following Tabor’s detailed instructions, he took one snap and punted to the left coffin corner. He took an immediate second snap and punted to the right coffin corner, then ran back ten yards and executed a high midline punt to Tarik Cohen. The entire special teams unit engaged and managed to force a fair catch due to O’Donnell’s impressive hang time and Sherrick McManis’ ageless gunner speed.
“You’re up, Rook. You’ll be fine. Like I said, just relax into it. Trust me.”
Ryan Winslow should not have trusted Pat O’Donnell. But he was too far in to turn back. He walked awkwardly to mid-field, took the first snap, and relaxed as he kicked the ball into the left coffin corner. Like O’Donnell had said, it felt like he was actually crapping himself. He took the next snap, kicked the ball into the right coffin corner, and relaxed again against his better judgement. This time, he felt a rectal explosion that he new couldn’t be ‘just nerves.’ He felt liquid stool flowing down his legs, but he had nothing to do but continue the competition.
He turned to run back to the team punt location and felt the weight of his pants as he took his first step. The bottoms of his pant legs were bulging out like water balloons, and for a couple quick steps it looked like he was wearing pantaloons. Then the right leg opened up and showered feculent fluid onto the grass before him. Winslow stepped in the wet grass and slipped as he ran. He was off-balance from having only one leg weighted down by gratuitous amounts of diarrhea and the slip lifted his body horizontal in the air before he collapsed on his back.
Not fully understanding what happened, Tabor couldn’t help laughing at the rookie’s tumble. He approached the poop-soaked punter overflowing with chuckles.
“Wow. It’s clear who won the punt battle today. I don’t think we’ll be needing you for the rest of training camp.”
Winslow began to cry, but his body was bereft of liquid after his enteric eruption that his lacrimal glands couldn’t form more than a single pathetic imperceptible tear.
“Yikes. You smell even worse than you kick. Somebody hose this loser off.” Tabor shouted to the sidelines.
Pat O’Donnell walked coolly up to his fallen opponent, leaned over the defeated dehydrated shell of a man, and pulled down his shades to look him in the eye.
“Welcome to the National F League, rook.”
Akiem Hicks took a sip of his sport drink and turned to Eddie Goldman. “Seems like uber driving is turning O’Donnell into a real jackass.”
“What are you talking about?” Goldman asked. “O’Donnell doesn’t uber drive. In his McClaren? Are you kidding?/”
“Naw, man. He has this powder from Uber LAX. I’ve seen him with it a few times, just pouring it in people’s drinks.”
“Uberlax? That’s a prescription laxative. That stuff saved my grandma’s life. Wait. He’s putting it in people’s drinks?”
“Yeah. At least that rookie punters. I’ve seen him do it twice. Who knows.” Hicks leaned back and closed his eyes. He barely began drifting off when he was quickly disrupted by Goldman slapping his face with a navy glove.
“You gotta snap out of it, Hicks. You’re the smartest person on this team. How did you not realize that O’Donnell was dosing Winslow with laxatives to give him an advantage in the punter competition.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.” Hicks tried to drift off but was interrupted again.
“It’s because you’re too busy fantasizing about your goddamn orange jersey to think straight! We’re getting orange jerseys. You got your wish. You need to let it go and focus!” It was clear this had been on Goldman’s mind for a while, and he couldn’t hold his opinion back from his captain any longer.
“Why would you think I’m obsessed with my orange jersey? That’s ridiculous.”
5 minutes earlier:
Hicks, “Hey Eddie, can you pour me a cup of that orange jerseyade?”
One day earlier:
Bilal Nicols, “I’m excited we get to go to New York city to play the Giants this season.”
Hicks, “Well technically, the Giants play in Orange Jersey.”
One week earlier:
Eddie Goldman pulled the last clue from the hat during a wild round of Salad Bowl on Bears Game Night.
“Ok. This is a popular netflix show about women in prison where the girl from that 70s show is super mean to the main character but she likes her anyway...”
“Orange is the New Jersey!” The buzzer rang as Hicks shouted his guess.
“Black, Akiem. The show is called ‘Orange is the New Black’ and I’m going to lose at Salad Bowl again because my partner is an orange-jersey-obsessed waste of oxygen.”
“You don’t need to hide it. Be honest. Your thinking right now about Kirk Cousins seeing nothing but orange as you smother him in your new gorgeous jersey,” Goldman continued.
“Yeahhh.” Hicks leaned back and closed his eyes again. There was no sense if denying it. At least now Goldman would leave him alone for a few minutes to daydream of sweet pulpy smoshery in his new orange jersey.
Matt Nagy was lovingly concerned when he saw Kevin White arrive to the black-tie Lurie Children’s Hospital charity gala in a poncho. He did have a clip-on tie hanging down in front of it, but when he turned to the side you could see what looked to be a sheet haphazardly wrapped around his practice jersey. He had arrived with Allen Robinson—who was dashingly dressed in a fitted couture suit. At first Nagy thought they were holding hands, but as they got closer it became clear they were holding on to the same football.
“Kevin...my man....interesting outfit choice,” Nagy smiled but there was a air of kind judgement in his tone.
“Best I could do, coach. I can’t let go of this football or AR12 gets credit for my touchdown catch today,” White responded.
Matt Nagy looked to Allen Robinson, who nodded in confirmation. “So how did you get dressed?”
“Oh, it was amazing, coach,” White interjected. “He was like Giovanni Versace. He took out some special tool to cut the sleeve—”
“It’s called a seam ripper. It’s really not that special. You’ll find it in any sewing kit,” Robinson interrupted.
“Don’t sell yourself short. Coach, you should have seen it. This guy wrapped the sleeve over his arm and sewed it back up by hand.”
“It’s couture. You have to sew it by hand,” Robinson seemed almost offended by the suggestion he might do anything else.
“Ok. I think I’m understanding,” Nagy responded. “What were you doing while he did this?” He asked White.
“One-handed push-ups, coach. Gotta keep training so I can bring my best every day. Bear down.”
Nagy thought about intervening in his star receivers’ absurd competition, but it seemed like they had a good handle on things for the time being. He decided it would be more trouble than it was worth and he left to introduce himself to Chance the Rapper.
Eddie Goldman arrived to find Akiem Hicks sitting at a corner table, drinking a mimosa alone.
“You over here daydreaming about that orange jersey again?” He asked.
“Naww, I’m just people watching,” the 2017 All-Pro snub replied. “Kinda interesting. There’s a weirdo over there wearing sunglasses and a scarf inside, and I think that pretty girl is working with the mafia.”
“Woah. Really? Why?” Goldman was intrigued by his captain’s observation.
“Well, she seems very engaged when she’s talking to the man she’s sitting with, but every time he turns away, she makes eye contact with Antonio Taleggiotesta over there, who’s a big player in the Chicago Outift. A couple minutes ago she took the guy’s phone to ‘give him her number’ then she swiped down from the top like she was accessing the bluetooth settings. Very suspicious.”
“That’s amazing!” Goldman replied. “This is the Akiem Hicks I know and love! You finally got over your jersey obsession.” Goldman gave his captain a loving punch in the arm. “How’d you do it?”
“Let’s just say I came up with the simplest solution possible.” Hicks briefly pulled aside his tie and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a bright white 9 set against a bold and brilliant orange background. “I’m wearing it.”
Eddie Goldman stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He was just happy to have his friend and mentor back. “Wait. What pretty girl?”
Akiem Hicks gestured across the hall towards a blue-eyed Italian woman. She was smiling at the mediocre-looking man beside her, and Goldman recognized the glint in her eye. He grabbed his captain’s arm and gasped.
“That’s Vanessa. That’s the girl from Bearaoke night that Staley can’t stop talking about.”
Akiem Hicks squinted to get a better look at Vanessa’s face. He vaguely recognized her, but in all honesty Bearaoke night had swirl of orange jersey smosh-sack daydreaming ever since Tarik Cohen’s early performance of Queen’s We Will Rock You.
“Aww, man. How does Staley keep getting mixed up with the wrong girls? I swear the guy is a magnet for beautiful disasters.” Hicks was worried about Staley’s heart, but he had also become very curious. What could the mob possibly want from Staley?
“I’m going to talk to her.”
Hicks stood up and boldly walked across the hall to Vanessa’s table. “Bearaoke night, right?” The 6’5” defensive end flashed a wide friendly smile as he gestured towards Vanessa. The man sitting next her turned around and answered, assuming Hicks was referring to him.
“No. You must be confused. I wasn’t there. But I know you. Pernell McPhee, right? I loved your work with the Ravens.”
“Yeah, man. Not a lot of people recognize me. I’m impressed. I was actually talking to your neighbor, though. She’s quite the singer. What was that song you killed with? Ke$ha, right?”
Vanessa shot Hicks a piercing glare, but she knew she had to play along.
“Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed you were a Ke$ha fan,” the man chuckled as he looked towards Vanessa with an adoring gaze.
“What can I say? ‘We R who we R.’” Vanessa shrugged, trying to play it off with a joke.
Akiem sat down at their table straddling the back of a chair and grabbed an appetizer off Vanessa’s plate. “These jalapeno poppers are to die for,” Hicks said as he licked the melted cream cheese off his fingers. Don’t worry. I’ll get you another when the caterers come back around.” He turned to the mediocre-looking man, “So, what do you do?”
“Oh, you’ll like this,” the man grinned. “I work for a sports betting start-up.” The man handed Hicks his off-off white business card:
“We’re about to take the industry by storm with disruptive innovation.”
“Is your innovation that you’ll be legal for the first time?” Akiem asked?
“Cute. No,” Reece scoffed. “I can’t reveal all the details, but let’s just say it involves social mediafication of the delivery platform.” Mr Silverspoon couldn’t prevent a self-satisified smirk from forming on his mediocre mug every time he used that cumbersome neologism.
“It’s very complicated. But nothing good ever came easy. Am I right, Pernell?”
“You’re not wrong,” Akiem Hicks took another jalapeno popper from Vanessa’s plate.
Reece stood up abruptly, knocking intot he table and almost choking on his appletini. Between coughs he managed to gasp out, “That’s Chance the Rapper. I need to get a picture with him. Hot girls seem to love him. Am I wrong?” He tried to wink a Vanessa, but with his face red and swollen from chocking and coughing, it didn’t come across as intended.
Vanessa turned to Hicks as Reece wandered off. “So, what? You’re mad I never called your friend?”
“Quite the opposite,” Hicks replied. “I want to make sure you never call him. I don’t know what kind of agenda you have with him, but he’s softer than he looks. He doesn’t need to get mixed up in your business.”
“It sounds like I made quite an impression,” a mischievous grin grew on Vanessa’s relentlessly charming face.
“Look. I am asking you to leave him alone.”
“So that’s it? A simple request? A big strong man like you...I was expecting a threat.”
“Let’s just say that I know who you work for. And as far as I’m concerned, nobody else needs to know.”
“And there’s the threat.”
“Call it what you want,” Hicks replied. “My hope is that I walk away from this table, I never see you again, and nothing ever comes of it.”
The criminally-underrated defensive end stood up and walked away as Chance the Rapper took the stage.
“It’s time for the rap performance you’ve all been waiting for!” Chance began as the crowd erupted in cheers. “No, not me. I’m just here to support the kids. Tonight, we have a very special performance for you. Two of the hottest new rappers in Chi-Town. On the football field, you may know them as Joshua Bellamy and Cre’Von LeBlanc...”—the uproar of cheers grew to deafening levels—“but tonight...tonight they are simply Beezo and Strap!!!”
Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel barely arrived in time to watch Beezo and Strap savagely slay heir performanec of On a Wave. It wasn’t until the song was ending that Turbo noticed Vanessa. He nudged Tarik, “Hey Coh Coh, look who’s here. Should we text Staley?”
They didn’t have time to decide before Coh Coh noticed one of the waitresses pick up Vanessa’s plate with her lipstick sitting on it. He tried to wave the waitress down, but as soon as the plate was grabbed, she had begun briskly walking towards the other end of the hall. The two explosive playmakers pursued the waitress as she scurried, but she ignored their shouts of “Um,” “Oh, excuse me!” and even, “medium-sized waitress with the white shirt!”
Just before the waitress reached Antonio Taleggiotesta’s table, a man wearing a scarf and sunglasses jumped in front of her, grabbed the lipstick off the plate, and bolted toward the exit.
“Stop that man! The waitress yelled. He stole my lipstick!”
Coh Coh and Turbo were quickly in pursuit of the surprisingly fast lipstick thief. Two of Taleggiotesta’s thugs also sprung up in pursuit, but were quickly left behind by the true athletes.
The indoor-scarf wearer had a sizeable head start, but was met just before the door by Robinson and White who—with the football between the—formed a formidable barrier as they stood in his path. The thief, however, didn’t hesitate. With a single graceful strike, he knocked the football out of the receivers’ combined grasp, and they both turned and scrambled, trying to salvage the ball they had held onto so dearly, not ready to accept that it had so abruptly and unexpectedly been stripped from their grasp. Cohen and Gabriel had to leap over their desperately scrambling forms as they continued their pursuit.
They two offensive wildcards broke through the door into a long hallway. They sprinted after the sunglass weirdo, pacing each other step by step. Each would gain a hair of ground for a fleeting second before being overtaken themselves for an equally brief moment. They had nearly caught up with their prey when they reached a long staircase. Turbo shuffled down the stairs with blazingly stunning speed, hitting each step smoothly without any noticable loss of speed. Coh Coh instead leaped and slid down the sliderail, somehow gliding with no resistance. He reached the bottom of the stairs before the fleeing lipstick-pilferer, and more importantly ahead of Gabriel, who reached the bottom just behind them, trapping the man in between the elite athletes.
“I knew I was faster than you,” Tarik beamed a smile as he gloated to Taylor.
“What!? That wasn’t a fair race. You cheated by sliding.”
“I went further than you and did it in less time. Don’t pretend you don’t know that means I was moving faster than you,” Cohen responded.
“Give me a fair race on turf and I’ll beat you every time. You know that. And you know that’s why you’ve never tried.”
“Damn, you two are competitive,” the thief interjected. “Is that some kind of Napoleon complex thing?”
“Maybe for him,” Coh Coh shrugged. “For me height’s got nothing to do with it. When you’re the best sometimes you just gotta show it.”
“Not for me,” Turbo added. “I’m two inches taller than him anyway.”
“You know, when you point that out, it just betrays your own insecurity about your height. Don’t worry Turbs. Keep rolling with me and you’ll learn what it means to be a strong and confident short man who’s comfortable with where he stands in the world.”
As the two argued, the scarf-wearer made one last attempt to slip away, but despite his slippery athleticism, he only managed to remind the two Bears’ they were allies and teammates as they gracefully sandwiched him yet again.
“It’s time to hand over that lipstick,” Taylor Gabriel’s voice was surprisingly intimidating for a man so insecure about his size.
“Ok. Ok. I’ll give you the lipstick,” the man’s voice was very calm and reasonable, and he slowly reached the lipstick out and placed it in Turbo’s hand.
“But I need to show you something...”
Coh Coh came around to see as the man slowly pulled a badge from his coat pocket and handed it to the curious Bears. As they looked down at the badge, he removed his scarf and sunglasses.
“Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the badge read. “Special Agent Charles Tillman.”
“What you have in your hand is not lipstick,” Peanut spoke with quiet authority. “And what you’re involved in is way bigger than you think. I can’t say more. I’m going to ask you to trust me.”
Still in awe at the surefire first ballot Hall of Fame corner-back standing before them, Gabriel and Cohen stood still as Tillman slowly took the lipstick back from Turbo’s hand and slipped down the hall and out of the building.