Their arms grabbed air. No one could stop him, and to Joey it seemed as though Missouri was playing in slow motion. Joey had six touchdowns in the first half. Willy had two. The score was 56-0. Counting his extra-point kicks, Joey had scored 44 points. He had almost three hundred yards rushing already.
Michaels was tempted to let Joey stay in the game. He wasn’t sure what the record for yardage or points was, but surely Joey was within reach. But it seemed that this team and his star player had much more to play for. If Michaels got him hurt, Vandy’s season was sunk. And now Michaels believed Joey had a shot at the Heisman. What other player played every position? What other player could boast the stats Joey did?
The coach had been around the game a long time. He became a coaching assistant right out of college. Three years later he took a job at Wilkes University as a line coach. Four years later, he went to UT-Chattanooga as their line coach. He stayed there six years, and with a fourteen- year- old son and a twelve- year- old daughter, he felt the need to be with his family more. He decided to take a job as the head coach at a private school in Nashville. If his dream of becoming a head coach in college was to be realized, it wouldn’t hurt to get some real life experience doing just that, even if it was on a small stage.
His high school team did well in their first season, finishing runner-up in the state. But, that spring his son was killed in a car accident. In his mind he had come to Nashville to let his son die.
He had to get away, so he took a job as special teams coach for the Miami Dolphins. Michaels worked hard enough and did well enough to advance to offensive coordinator for Miami as soon as the job sprang open. Then when Vandy came calling, he took the chance and jumped into the shark tank to coach in the SEC.
Michaels knew how suddenly a season can end for a player. Sitting Joey was a no-brainer. He sat Willy as well.
Vanderbilt went to 6-0, and began preparations for Kentucky the following week, the week that the media began to talk about Joey Goodman’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy. His chances of racking up even more impressive numbers and take his team to 7-0 were great.
“The TV people want to film you and Willy,” Michaels said. Joey had showered and dressed already after Thursday night’s practice. He had stayed busy all week practicing and studying, as well as throwing darts and playing pool at The Club, and he was finally tired. Getting some TV airtime couldn’t be all bad though. The prospect was definitely a good PR move.
Joey and Willy dressed in their black uniforms, and by the time they walked to the indoor practice facility the film crew already had cameras, lights, and props sprinkled around a small area in the middle of the field. Every member of the crew looked tired and bored, obviously ready to bag their shots and go wherever they had to go to finish preparing for the game.
Both players were filmed in all sorts of still camera shots, a variety of facial expressions, no expressions, serious pictures, and in one a ball tossed into the air and caught first by Joey and then Willy. The crew moved with precision. The players were almost finished before Joey noticed another conspicuous man gnawing on a pen as he stood along the sideline alone.
Wearing a brown, open button-down collared shirt, khakis, loafers, and chewing the aforementioned pen, it was easy to surmise that the man was a writer. He seemed to be waiting on the shoot to finish, and instead of walking away from him Joey strode in the man’s direction when the pictures and filming concluded.
As he approached, Joey mused to himself why the man had been chewing on his pen. He was large, rotund, in a soft sort of way, and it reminded Joey of a younger man named Billy. Billy had been in Joey’s dorm many years ago when Joey had begun a fitness kick and started running. Billy told him he believed he didn’t believe in running because he thought people only had so many heartbeats in a lifetime and he didn’t want to waste his on exercise. Billy countered with the reasoning that since he was running his heart rate was slower and therefore his heart beats were actually fewer. Several years ago, Billy had a heart attack in a bar, staggered to a long table lined with the attendees of a bachelorette party, and fell in its middle sending drinks and assorted salty snacks and candles flying onto the nearby dance floor. One of the girls, thinking a drunk had wiped out their party, whacked him with her purse before she realized he was stone cold dead. He had reached the end of his heart beats. Joey was pondering the man’s views on exercise as he neared and spoke to him.
“I’m Nick Bonner,” the man said extending his hand which Joey shook. “I’m with Sports Illustrated.”
The man seemed satisfied with himself and let his place of employment penetrate and reveal its gravitas before continuing.
“Care if I ask you some questions for a story I’m doing?”
“How did you wind up here at Vandy?”
“Wouldn’t you agree that Vandy provides a world-class education?” Joey countered, his senses on high alert and thus his caginess. “I’ve always loved watching Vandy.”
“You know,” the man said clearly measuring his words, “I’ve looked all over for solid evidence of your attendance at McMinn, and even though there is a record of your classwork I can’t find a single picture of you anywhere.”
“I’m camera shy,” Joey said unable to suppress a glance over his shoulder at the recent photo shoot.
“Not a girlfriend one that has a picture of your prom.”
“Like I said, I’m shy,” Joey said. He smiled.
“I’m doing a story about your meteoric rise to stardom. I had to see you for myself. I can’t believe you’ve never played.”
“That it is,” Bonner said as he scribbled on his pad. “Would you mind if I talk with your parents about their precocious and talented son?”
“That would be difficult. They’ve passed on.”
“I’m sorry. How did it happen?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it.” Joey was growing restless and concerned about the land mines all around the interview. “Listen, I’m sorry. I’m really tired. It’s been a long day.”
“That’s fine,” Bonner said. The man dug into his back pocket and produced a billfold which he flipped open and dug into with a hurried expression of curiosity before finding a business card. “If you find some free time, can you give me a call?”
“Sure,” Joey said. He watched the man waddle away and out the door and wondered how many times this scene might play out in the near future. He needed to talk to Al. The thought of doing that swept away his appetite.