“Have you ever been to a Super Bowl, Staley?” Ryan Pace spun in his manager’s chair, popping corn nuts into his mouth and blasting “Girl on Fire (front office remix)” on his new surround sound system.
“Besides that, though?”
“No. Just that. I was still in grade school in ‘85.”
“You’re gonna love it. The Bears are one easy win away from their first Super Bowl in over 10 years, and I am feeling it,” Pace continued, throwing a hot tamale in the air and catching it in his mouth. “So what brought you to my office today?”
“I have a favor to ask.”
“You’ve come to the right man. I’m feeling generous,” Pace replied.
“I need Packers’ season tickets,” Staley asked apprehensively.
“No problem. I traded what became the 2019 number one overall pick off Gutekunst for peanuts earlier this year. This should be a cakewalk,” Pace picked up his iPhone XXL and dialed the Packer’s GM. “Wait. You’re not planning on going to the games, are you?”
“No,” Staley Da Bear took a deep breath. “I need them to convince the Chicago mafia to release my friend, well, maybe girlfriend... A girl I’m courting but I think it’s going well except for—” Pace waved Staley off as the phone began to ring.
“I don’t care. We just can’t have you showing up to Packers games looking like a fan. You understand—Brian! Myyyy maannnn,” Pace’s voice changed abruptly when Gutekunst picked up the phone. He put it on speaker.
“Ryan, I’m glad you called. I’m actually looking for a job.”
“And I’m looking for Packers season tickets. Maybe we can make a swap. Who do you need a job for?”
“That could be a problem,” Gutekunst replied. “The Packers fired me. Really blindsided me with it. I though for sure they would keep me until we saw how the 2025 first round pick I got when I traded Rodgers panned out. I don’t think I have access to season tickets anymore. But I do have football management experience.”
“Oh that’s a shame Brian. Tell you what, let me know if any tickets pop up, and I’ll let you know if we need any help here in Chicago.”
“Okey Dokie. Will do. My main experience is in the General Manager position, so if you could get me something like that, that’d be great.”
“You realize your asking for my job, right?” Pace replied.
“Well maybe Chicago can have two General Managers? Think about it? I’m really in a fix. The worst part is I can’t even bet against the Packers until next year because they’re not in the playoffs.”
“That’s rough,” Pace replied. “Hey, tell you what. Let me know when you’re in Chicago next time, we can share a deep dish.”
“That reminds me,” Gutekunst started, “Do you have any work in concessions management? I have some ide—” Pace hung up the phone.
“It doesn’t look promising,” Ryan told Staley. “I’ll give a call to the new GM when they’re announced, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. People don’t always respond well to winners.” Pace spun his chair away from Staley and began singing along to his repeating anthem. “This Bear is on firreee...”
Staley Da Bear knew he would have to move on to his final option. It was a road he’d hoped he would never have to walk down. But here he was. One paw surging forward to take a first step he might regret for the rest of his life.
Joel Iyiegbuniwe handed Pat O’Donnell a syringe full of thick straw-brown fluid.
“Here it is, buddy. Pure isolated pig troponins.”
“This is the cardiac muscle proteins we talked about?” O’Donnell asked.
“Yes,” Iyebuniwe looked quizically at his punter. “Like, I said. Troponins.”
“And you’re sure that a routine medical lab test won’t be able to tell the difference between human troponins and pig tropinins, right?”
“Correct. Unless your pig troponin sample was highly contaminated,” Iyebuniwe replied. “But my way of doing protein electrophoresis gives you the purest sample around. In my premed days, they called it the ‘Buni way. Everybody was doing it the Buni way.”
“That’s cool,” Pat replied. “Like the end of your last name. Do you go by ‘Buniwe for short?”
“No,” Joel replied. “I prefer Iyiegbuniwe.”
“Well... Thanks bro,” O’Donnell took the syringe and headed out the door.
“You’re welcome, Pat O’Donnell,” ‘Buniwe replied. “See you soon.”
The Bears-Seahawks game went as one might expect if a flock of ospreys flew into a den of ravenous grizzlies. This was not a surprise considering the Seahawks had barely scraped their way into the playoffs, let alone the conference championship. For what it’s worth, Russell Wilson was able to scramble away from Khalil Mack on a few occasions, once for long enough to throw a beautiful deep ball into the grateful hands of Kyle Fuller.
Throughout the game, Tony Romo couldn’t help praising the development of Mitch Trubisky. On two plays in particular—a perfectly placed deep ball to Allen Robinson down the right sideline, just out of reach of Shaquill Griffin, and a play-action strike to Taylor Gabriel in the left half of the field which hit him in stride allowing him to sprint for an easy touchdown—Romo pointed out were plays that he might not have made at the beginning of the season.
“A lot of people tried to dismiss Trubisky early in the season,” Romo stated. “I bet those people are feeling pretty dumb right now.”
Tony Romo was correct. They were feeling very dumb in that moment as Trubisky brilliantly crowned an MVP season with a conference Championship win and trip to the Super Bowl. But even more than feeling dumb, they felt regret. And remorse. Every single one of them.
One Seahawk defender in particular spoke out after the game. “Every time I thought I had him, he’d spin away or throw a perfect completion just over my head,” Frank Clark began. “That kid is something special.”
The post-game celebration disco dance party in the Bears locker room was one of the most vibrant of the season. Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel engaged in an intense dance-off that had to be decided in a tiebreaker vote from Trubisky. Biscuit gave the win to Gabriel because, as he told Cohen, “you can’t just keep doing backflips when you’re losing to get the crowd to cheer.”
But the crowd kept cheering anyway. It was a locker room full of joy and merriment, but missing two notable staples of the Bears organization—Pat O’Donnell and Staley Da Bear.
Vanessa’s eyes lit up and her posture straightened when she heard Mister Softee’s familiar sound coming towards her. Nothing lifted her spirits more than a surprise Softee appearance and the delicious silky-soft ice-creamish treat that was sure to follow. Nothing, that is, except Staley Da Bear in the brief moments she had shared his compa—No! Vanessa was determined to stop obsessing over a love that could not be. This was a time to focus and enjoy the delicious opportunity life had presented her.
As if fate had destined her to partake in a blessed cone on this unseasonably warm Chicago evening, the truck stopped right beside Vanessa. She impatiently waited for the window to open.
“I’ll have a twist with chocolate and peanuts. Peanuts under the chocolate please.”
“Sure thing,” Mister Softee replied. He was wearing sunglasses, but Vanessa was sure he looked familiar. Most likely one of the many Mister Softees to cross her path was trying a new look.
She bit deeply into the warm, cold, soft, and crispy desert, trying desperately to distract herself from thoughts of Staley. She’d finished half the cone before she noticed the taste was just a little off. Her thoughts were slow—clouded—but she suddenly remembered why she recognized ‘Mister Softee’’s face. She grew increasingly light-headed until everything turned white.
Pat O’Donnell caught Vanessa on his shoulder just as she slumped into unconsciousness. He ‘helped’ her into the seat of the ice cream truck and got in beside her. Once inside the truck, he injected her arm with a straw-brown substance, placed a curious electronic device on her shoulder, and began driving towards the hospital.
Staley Da Bear sat in his vintage Navy Ford Bronco outside the golden-orange Wisconsin home, slowly gaining the courage to step out and knock on Curdles’ door. He hadn’t called ahead. He knew he had to approach Green Bay’s mascot face to face with the request he had to make.
When he finally pressed the tasteless green doorbell, he heard a rush, a squeel, then a crash from behind the door.
“Just a minute,” a squeaky voice called out. “Don’t leave. I’m coming. Are you dial-a-maid?”
“No,” Staley replied. “It’s Staley Da Bear. The Chicago Bears mascot.”
After a few moments and more rumbles, the door opened to reveal a giant, pyramid-shaped, oozing cheese-flesh beast.
“Sorry for the confusion,” Curdles began. “I’m waiting for a maid. My wife left me and my housekeeper quit so I’m trying out new maids.”
Staley looked around the great room. Soggy, dripping, moldy, and crusted cheese lay everywhere. He desperately looked for a clean chair he could sit on. Eventually he identified the corner of a chair he believed he could survive on, provided he never leaned back.
“I can see that.”
“So what brings the ever-important Staley Da Bear to my home?” Curdles asked. “Can I offer you some chips? I don’t have any dip because I just dip the chips into my side or bite some cheese off my tongue for extra flavor.” From Curdles’ tone, it appeared he was bragging.
“No chips,” Staley replied. “I’m actually here to ask you a favor.”
“Ohhh, that’s delicious,” Curdles smiled. “And that word means a lot coming from someone who literally has brie dripping from his armpits. Fancy-man Staley needs something from smelly ol’ Curdles.”
“Yes. I need Packers season tickets.”
“Ahahahahahaha!” Curdles clapped his soggy hands together in delight. “That is a substantial favor, isn’t it,” Curdles grinned. “What, pray tell, do you have to offer in return?”
“Bears season tickets? After this season, they are worth considerably more,” Staley shrugged.
“Perhaps,” Curdles rested his cheesy rump into the moldy couch. “But I don’t need Bears season tickets. You clearly need Packers tickets. So sure, I’ll take your Bears season tickets, but I’m going to need something more.”
“Ok. What?” Staley tried not to show his desperation.
“I’m going to need you to clean my bathroom.”
Staley wasn’t sure whether to be relieved. This did seem...doable.
“To be honest,” Curdles continued, “the reason I keep interviewing maids is they keep refusing to clean my bathroom. I guess it’s gotten past a breaking point of sorts. But I think if you clean it once, I can get a team of maids to clean it daily and prevent it from ever getting to this point again.”
Staley didn’t reply. He quietly tore off two patches of his jersey, and one by one stuffed them into his nose. He knew the whole thing would end up in the trash anyway.
“I think part of the problem,” Curdles continued, “is the maids are getting the wrong idea about the circle of moist cheese-waste surrounding the toilet. It’s not like, diarrhea or anything. It’s just my sweat. I sweat a lot when I use the bathroom, especially if I eat that diablo salsa, which I’ve been putting on like everything lately. Have you tried it?”
Staley had not tried it, but he knew for certain after opening Curdles’ bathroom door that he never would.
“What happened?” the Emergency Department doctor questioned Pat O’Donnell as the nurses drew blood and placed EKG leads on Vanessa.
“I don’t know. We were at dinner and she grasped her chest in pain and collapsed. I drove her straight here. Do you think she had a heart attack?”
“That’s a possibility, but in a woman her age, it would most likely drug related. Were you two doing any recreational drugs tonight?”
“No. I wasn’t. But—”
“But what?” The hot-shot young doctor asked.
“She went to the bathroom a lot. And every time she came back she was talking faster. I don’t know. I barely know her. This was a first date. Do you think?” As O’Donnell started to tear up, he quietly pressed a button on the device in his pocket.
“V-fib! She’s in ventricular fibrillation, Doctor!” a nurse called out from Vanessa’s bedside.
“Sorry, sir. You’ll need to wait.” The doctor stepped beside Vanessa and pulled a curtain closed behind him. O’Donnell grinned to himself as he heard muffled arguments about whether they had felt a pulse and then a loud order to “Charge the pads!”
Pat waited until he heard the doctor yell “Clear” to press his device again, stopping the signal to the receiver he’d placed on Vanessa’s shoulder that had been spoofing the ekg. “Wait,” he heard through the curtain. “We have normal sinus rhythm...I feel a pulse.”
“Why, for the love of god, do you have tile floors!?” Staley had finally snapped in a moment of weakness after hours of clawing crusted cheese-filth out of the soiled grout between the tiles.
“I like tiles,” Curdles replied. “I think the patterns are pretty. Why do you ask? Have you changed your mind?”
Staley took a deep breath to center himself and immediately regretted doing so.
“No,” he coughed as he exhaled. “A deal’s a deal,”
By the time the doctor came to talk to O’Donnell in the waiting room, he’d almost lost the patience to maintain his distraught facade. But Pat was a pro, and when the doc arrived, he was ready.
“So blood tests confirmed that your friend did have a heart attack. There’s a protein that’s released by cardiac muscle when it dies called troponin. Hers was very high.”
“Oh my goodness. Is she okay?” O’Donnell asked.
“Also, when she came in. Her heart was in a very dangerous rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. When that happens, the heart isn’t circulating blood sufficiently through her body.”
“Oh god.” Pat covered his mouth with the back of his hand and quivered.
“She is stable right now. But when somebody has a cardiac arrest, especially with ventricular fibrillation, we initiate a cooling protocol to slow her metabolism and prevent damage to her brain. She’s being cooled as we speak.”
“I don’t understand. You’re cooling her off? With what? Like a wet cloth?”
“It’s more than that. Think of it like a medically-induced coma. Your friend won’t be awake for several days. You should probably get some rest,” the doctor replied.
Pat O’Donnell stumbled out of the Emergency Department looking confused and bewildered. As soon as he was out of the doctor’s sight, he gained a strut in his step, put his shades back on and looked up smiling into the Chicago sky.
Vanessa wouldn’t get in the way of the Bears winning the Super Bowl now.