Life would never be the same for Willy or Joey, but they had no way of knowing how soon that would happen. It started at the pizzeria, their new favorite hangout, after the game. The owner, George, a Greek man with Elvis hair, not exactly Italian in either respect, smiled in recognition as they entered.
“Hello, you boys again,” he said. “I give you table by the TV, yeah?”
“Thanks, George,” Willy said. “Been busy?”
“Ah, yes, we very busy after the game. Everybody happy. You see the game?”
“We saw it,” Willy said, glancing at Joey as the man walked away.
“I like that guy,” Joey said.
“He remembered us, too.”
“Willy, I’m amazed. You remembered his name.”
“There’s a lot more of us coming in here. We’re only two people.”
“But you got his name. He only knew us by sight.”
“Joey, I’ve always found it’s best to remember people’s names. Everyone likes that. Makes them feel special.”
A waitress came by and took their order, a large pizza, two Cokes. She still had her hands full with the after game crowd, and she bustled away back to the kitchen after scribbling on her pad. The television was tuned to football highlights which captured Willy and Joey’s attention. In a few minutes, after highlights of the Big Orange, they saw Joey taking a snap as he stood in his own end zone. Willy hit Joey on the shoulder.
What about highlights from none other than Vanderbilt where stars are in the making. Unknown, walk-on freshmen at that. Joey Goodman takes the snap. Punt’s gonna’ be blocked, but no, wooop, he spins, turns, and now he’s off to the races. Watch him go. When was the last time Vandy had that kind of speed. He kicks extra points too, folks. Now let’s see the other freshman. Willy Jackson, taking the pitch, he reverses field, and he’s gone too.
“We’re famous,” Willy said, his smile as wide as the ocean.
As Willy sprinted down the field, the crowd in the restaurant, noticing the highlights of the game, began to yell and cheer. When he got to the end zone, the crowd erupted.
But maybe the hit of the day. He’s on defense this time. Joey Goodman. Ouch!
Joey watched the helmet fly off and sat stunned as he saw himself catching the ball and racing away. The crowd in the restaurant let out a groan and then a whoop of excitement.
All the way to the end zone. He scores again. Vandy goes on to win 28-7. Hey freshman, what is it like to play in the SEC?
Then Joey saw his face as the short interview began. His eyes darted around the crowded restaurant, wondering if anyone would recognize him. He looked down to the table and picked up a menu, putting it in front of his face.
“Come on, Joey. You can’t do that the whole time we’re here. Might as well get used to it,” Willie said as he pushed the table back and stood. “Joey Goodman, ladies and gentlemen!” he screamed pointing down to his friend.
The restaurant erupted with all eyes on him now. Joey waved and looked down again, but he did manage a smile.
By the time they had finished their pizza, dozens of people had asked for autographs. The co-eds at a table near theirs giggled and glanced at them throughout. Even though it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience, Joey was quite uncomfortable. He wanted to be back in the privacy of his dorm room, maybe playing pool, and joking around with the guys as he had always done at the plant. In his mind he remained a man, past his prime, past middle age, not looking for the company of young women.
The next day, as they walked over to the field house for film study, several students noticed them and said “Good game”. They wouldn’t be bombarded again until they entered their classes, but throughout the week, especially after Joey was recognized as Player of the Week in the SEC, the attention grew. And by the time Friday’s pep rally for the Austin Peay game began, signs with Joey’s name had begun to appear. Willy’s recognition was a close second. And with another pushover team, this one from Nashville as well, it seemed fans had decided to enjoy this ride as long as they could.
Other than having a strong-armed quarterback, Austin Peay was weak. Even though Vandy’s line was small by SEC standards, the Commodores cruised from the very beginning, so much so Joey never even had to punt. The team had grown in leaps and bounds between their first and second game. Willy caught four passes, one of them only four yards past the line of scrimmage that he took eighty yards for a score. Joey had the chance to learn his safety position, all with the knowledge that his opponent did not have the talent or expertise to exploit his inexperience. He broke up the only pass that came in his direction. More importantly though, Michaels didn’t have to show any of his blitz packages and that included all the ones designed to use Joey’s speed. Joey did kick eight extra points in the 56-0 shellacking.
Next week would tell the tale though. The team would be playing on the road for the first time against Ole Miss. Who would have thought both teams would be 2-0 entering the game? And who would have thought that Michaels and his coaching staff still had more tricks up their sleeve and those tricks included a high power speedster named Joey Goodman?