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Almost Pro–Chapter 2 Copyright by Bill Smith All rights reserved

Bob didn’t get the call from QB Sherman in the week before practices were scheduled. The first five practices of the team by rule were in no pads. Bob used the week to put in his abridged play book. Wheels didn’t appreciate the change in procedure.

“This isn’t the way we practice. I run the offense.”

“This is the way we are going to practice from now on.”

“Well, I might decide not to play at all under those circumstances.”

“Wheels, that’s fine. I have major problems with your mechanics anyway.”

“What’s wrong with my mechanics?”

“Your footwork is abysmal, your delivery point is all over the place, you have no touch on your throws, you don’t read the progression. When your primary target is covered, you run. And despite your athleticism, you have trouble shuffling within the pocket to avoid the rush. You trust your strong arm way too much and tend to throw into double coverage. Other than that, you might be the next Joe Montana.”

“You don’t want me to play quarterback because I’m black. You’re a racist!”

“I don’t care if my quarterback is sky blue pink with yellow spots. If he can make plays and take coaching, he will do. The point is you can become a excellent quarterback only if you are willing to do the hard work to develop.” Wheels threw the ball to the ground and walked off.

“Willis, you’re up.”

The three black offensive linemen ran up to Bob.

“If Wheels isn’t the quarterback, we aren’t going to play. What do you think about that?” The smirk on the face of speaker was unmistakable. Bob turned to the reserves standing on the sidelines.

“56, 67,74 you’re up.” Bob turned back to his former charges. “If you gentlemen can tackle, I suggest you go see Mark. If not, then based on the tapes I saw of the Roughnecks against the Arrows, our cross town rival can use all the help it can get.” With that he turned and began to call plays in the offensive huddle. The three objectors just stood there looking at the coach.

“If you gentlemen don’t move, you are liable to get run over. Oh, I forgot. Having seen your performance on last year’s tape, you gave a lot of experience at getting run over. MOVE!” Like a small gaggle of geese, they waddled across the field toward the defense teams workout.

Suddenly the offense began to move. Willis didn’t have half the arm that Wheels did but he was accurate and threw on time to the right receiver. Sherman was playing the slot receiver and was working the middle of the field. He was catching the ball and moving the chains. Then Jack pulled Sherman and replaced him with Jet’s brother Rahim.

“Jack, I want to see more of Sherman.”

“He is not the starter. Rahim is the starter opposite Jet.”

“As long as I am the OC, I will decide who is the starter.”

“Who do you think Dad will back, you or me?”

“Well, let me make this as clear as I can. Until he fires me, I will decide who starts. If you can’t accept that, tell your Dad to fire me or try to coach defense.”

When the offense and defense got together, the change was obvious. Practices that Bob had seen on tape were controlled by the defense. The offense had sputtered and lost every practice on tape. Now the combination of Sherman and Willis along with a six-six tight end Ron Martin were moving the ball easily. Because the short and medium passing game was working, play action opened up the running game. Davis, the tailback, was ripping off runs of ten to fifteen yards regularly. Wheels was playing cornerback and got beat regularly by the new offense. His frustration was obvious.

Ace came down half way through the scrimmage.

“Bob, this isn’t our offense!” Before Bob could answer, Mark joined the conversation.

“No, it isn’t our offense. This one actually moves the ball!”

“But we’re known for our power I.”

“No, from what I have seen on the tape you were known for a June Taylor Dancers offense—one, two, three kick. You can’t run the ball if there are twenty defenders in the box. This offense is much simpler and moves the ball effectively.”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Based on the abilities of the team, this is the only offense that is going to work.”

“I don’t know. We will have to see.”

“Mark, I appreciate your support.”

“I did it out of self-interest. If we play Ace’s offense, I’m going to be playing a lot more defense.”

Bob looked at the tape of the first practice of the new offense. There were a few adjustments he wanted to make but the two hour tape was only a half dozen donut experience. Sherman continued to catch everything and 121—Marcus Jones continued to disrupt the offense to some degree but was not nearly as effective has he had been at the tryout. Two linemen from the tryout were looking good. Sherm Walker, a guard with college experience from Northern Indiana was working well at left guard and TJ Schaeffer was looking like a real candidate at left tackle. The right tackle was still a problem.

“HARRIS!” The sudden volume of the coach stopped the play dead. “Son, come over here.” Bob put his arm around the shoulder of his lineman and spoke softly so that others could not hear.

“That run was to the right but you pulled the wrong way. Didn’t you notice that you had to dodge the tailback and the fullback coming the other direction?”

“Y…e…s” Bob could see that Harris’ run up the down escalator didn’t seem to set off any alarms for him.

“Are you having trouble remembering the play?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, the only conclusion I can come to is that you have trouble telling your right from your left. Would you like me to mark your shoes R and L to help you remember?”


“Then son, concentrate better in the huddle or that is exactly what I will do. Do we understand each other?”

“Yes, coach.” Harris walked slowly back the huddle with his head down.

“Defense, we are going to run the same play. And when you think of the Offensive Coordinator, smile.” When the defense stopped the play, Bob was not happy.

“Again!” Finally, after the third time the play was rerun, it scored a touchdown.


With the left side of the line and the passing game solidified, running the ball would be a real possibility. The practice went well until Bob tried to take a look at the two minute drill. When the defense was blitzing Willis fell apart. A few guys on offense that were fans of Wheels began bickering with the formerly backup quarterback. Bob pulled him aside.

“Bill, you need to take a breath and then take control of the huddle. When you are the quarterback, you have to win the confidence of your team. When they look in your eyes they can tell if you believe you can do it or not. You can’t fool them. If they see you don’t believe you can score, they won’t believe it either.

“Now go back in there and get the job done. You can do it. I am certain of it.”

On the next snap, the safety bit on a play action fake to the tailback and Willis threw a perfect pass to the tight end for a touchdown.

Chapter 2 Practice makes less than perfect

The week of no pad practice went quickly. That Saturday would be the first full pad practice. Bob held a meeting with the offense before the practice.

“Gentlemen, the only thing I want to say is that championships are won before the kickoff of the first game. It is what we do here now and for the next month of preseason practice that will determine more of what will happen this year than anything else. If we’re truly ready we’ll win. If not, we’ll lose. I have no intention of suffering through a losing season. I know that those of you that were on the team last year have paid the price during games but without a good preseason, you were doomed to the same result.

“Playing the game should be fun. When things are going great, the game is fun. The problem is that the only way things will go great during the game is by putting in the very hard work in practice to make things easier in the game. I can promise you all one thing. Practice is going to be four times harder than the game. You are all going to hate me from today until the kickoff of our first game. Then and only then will you realize that we had to do what we did during practice to make the game fun.

“One thing you are going to hate is that fact that we are going to run and run and run some more. You will be in the best condition of your lives or be dead from cardiac arrest. Based on what the offense did last year, either alternative would be an improvement.

“My hope is you will survive, but that is up to you. After the preseason you will believe the saying ‘that which does not kill us only makes us stronger.’ I hope we will all be stronger.”

“That’s easy for you to say, we are in much better shape than you are! Who are you to be making us run that much while you stand there and time us?” The speaker was the starting right guard Salam Samir.

“I am the coach and you are the players.”

“Well, when Jack was offensive coordinator after Coach Barnsnider left, we never had to run that much!”

“And you think you are in football shape now, right?”

“Yea, we are.”

“I’ll make you a bet. If you can do more sit ups than I can, you will only have to run every other practice. If not, then you do what I tell you.”

“You’re on coach.” The disdain in his voice was obvious. The team began to count as both began their sit-up grudge match to the death. Samir got up to fifty-six but could not do any more. Bob did ten more then led the team out to practice. Bob was in serious pain but knew that he could never let the team see him sweat or know he was in pain. If they smelled Icy-Hot on him, they would eat him alive. But the coach was not the only one that was having a difficult practice.

Samir struggled through the offense only portion of the practice and was not able to finish the scrimmage.

The coaches meeting that night was argumentative. Ace sat behind his desk. Something that Bob had not noticed when he first met Ace was that while Ace’s chair was unusually high, the office chairs surrounding the desk were lower than normal.

“Gentlemen, I am fairly happy with the defense but not so much with the offense. Bob, the offense is way too simple. The opponent will know all six of our plays and be ready for them. I want to go back to our original play book and install it tomorrow night.”

“Dad, that is what I have been trying to convince Bob about. We need to be practicing the plays that the team knows not these new plays that nobody ever saw before.”

“Ace, this team scored 24 points in the 4 games last year after Barnsnider left. You were never even able to kick an extra point! The team has one of the best running backs I have seen at this level and yet he averaged 1.5 yards per carry. The guards can’t pull and the tackles can’t seal the edges. The passing game was non-existent because your QB couldn’t hit water if he was throwing out of a boat and last year’s wideouts couldn’t catch pneumonia if they were naked on the Circle in the middle of a December sleet storm. Other than that, I think we are in great shape. The team will be far better if they can effectively execute a couple of dozen plays than try to teach them a couple of hundred plays that they will never get down cold because there just isn’t enough time to practice them all.”

Tuesday morning when Bob woke up he felt like he died and rigor mortis had set in. His stomach muscles were so sore he could hardly walk. Every time he sat down, he got a shot of pain that felt like 9 mm bullet drilling its way into his stomach muscles. As he was standing at the mirror shaving he noticed that he was leaning slightly to the right. Beth Martin, his secretary, commented on the lean when he came to work.

“Did you get the license number of the truck that hit you?”

“I would laugh but it would hurt too much.”

“You are leaning to the right. Are you OK?”

“Of course I am leaning to the right. It would be completely against my political sensibilities to lean to the left.” With that, he disappeared into his office.

At lunch, he got time to check out the video of the offense from the last practice. There was not much offense, or defense for that matter. The video camera was totally focused on a single member of the cheerleader practice on the sideline. He picked up the phone to call Mark.

“Mark, Bob here. Can you explain why yesterday’s offensive practice tape is all about the cheer leaders?” Mark burst into a deep laugh that sounded like it came from the depths of his 6-5 frame. It took a couple of minutes for Mark’s laughter to subside enough to talk.

“Was the cheerleader a short girl with a ponytail?”

“Yea, how did you know?”

“Tyrone is crazy about Kisha, the cheerleader, but she won’t pay any attention to him because she is going with Wheels. If you want to get a tape of the practice while the girls are working out, you will have to change cameramen.”


Mark lost control of his laughter again. He choked out the word “Goodbye.” Bob got on the intercom.

“Beth, can you come in here a second please?”

“Can’t you come out here?”

“Not without significant pain.” She opened the door smiling broadly.

“You’re enjoying my suffering, aren’t you?”

“No, it’s just the funny comments you make.”

“I could be dying of a heart attack and you would be laughing so hard you wouldn’t be able to call 911. Anyway, would your younger brother like to make some money this fall?”

“He is always looking for something to earn money. What did you have in mind?”

“I need somebody to tape our practices and games that won’t spend all his time trying to use the camera to look up the skirts of the cheerleaders.”

“I’ll call him and find out.”

“Just have him meet me here at 3:30.”

That afternoon, Bob’s pain subsided when he answered a cell phone call.”

“Coach May?”

“Yes, how can I help you?”

“This is Bobby Sherman. I heard you needed a QB.”

“We sure do.”

“Well, I might be willing to play if my…”

“Bobby, I won’t mislead you. Your brother is going to make the team regardless of whether you play or not. But I would love to have you play for us.”

“I appreciate your honesty but you haven’t even seen me play.”

“I saw you play Florida State. Your team was totally outclassed athletically but you were outstanding.”

“We lost that game.”

“Not because of your play. Bring your brother to practice so we can talk.”

“I think I will. Thanks, Coach.”

“Thank you.”

That afternoon, Bobby showed up. Mark and Tom took over practice while Bob talked to his potential recruit.

“What kink of offense do you run?”

“Bobby, I believe in running whatever offense the team has the skill to execute. Right now, I’ve got a running back and a pretty good full back, so we will run the ball. If I had you, we could put in a west coast system. I’m not going to kid you, the O-line is pretty offensive. But I have seen you run a short passing game with a bad line. You have a quick enough release that we could make that work. So what do you think?”

“I’ve always wanted to play with Mike. I will give it a try.”

Bobby took the field and in an instant, there was an offense. He completed 12 passes in a row with no more than a 2.5 second release time. When the team scrimmaged, the offense ran and passed up and down the field. Bob walked over to Tom.

“How do you like the QB I found for you?”

“WOW! He is really good. He has a rocket arm but throws with great touch. Thanks.”

“Just trying to help.”

Mike Sherman was open on every play. On the forth play of the first series Mike made a double move on the corner and left him standing wondering what state he was in. Bobby threw the pass just as he was coming out of his break on the out and up move for a TD. Mark then tried to double cover him without any success. On a second a 1, Mike got Wheels playing the corner and the safety to run into each other giving Mike and the O an easy catch and touchdown. The defensive concern about the passing game opened up the running game. Ted Davis was an excellent back with a combination of size and speed that made him a weapon. With the D looking to stop the pass, Davis was tearing up the defense. The second snap of the third series, a pass action run broke wide open around the left end and Davis was gone for a 65 yard TD. The forth series was just as successful. A play action fake to Davis sucked the SAM linebacker in and Bobby hit the TE Martin for a 72 yard TD.

The other WR was a problem. On a play that the D managed to cover Mike with 3 dbs, Jet was wide open 30 yards down field. Bobby hit him with a perfect pass right in the hands. Jet touched it no less than 3 times but couldn’t manage to bring it in and it fell incomplete. In his awkward attempt to catch the ball he had jumped unnecessarily, turned around and stumbled to the ground. Bob looked back at Bobby who was shaking his head in disgust.

“Jet, come here son.” Bob expected him to walk slowly with his head hung so low that it nearly touched his knee pads. Instead, Jet acted like he had caught the ball and scored. Bob put his arm around the shoulder pads of the unaffected receiver. “Jet, you have to catch that type of pass. That could mean the difference between a win and a loss.”

“Coach, that ball was over my head and behind me. No body could have caught that ball.”

“Jet, the ball was right in your hands and hit you in stride. You didn’t have to jump, or turn around. Just catch the ball and score.”

“Coach, I did…”

“Jet, I want you and Rahim to stick around after practice to work on patterns and catching the ball.”

“Coach, we are the starters. We don’t…”

“You were the starters last year. Don’t bet on that again unless you both start catching the ball and running better patterns. See you both after practice.”

“Coach, we are the fastest receivers in the league. You can’t bench us!”

“Jet, let me explain something to you. I don’t care if you can run the 40 in 1.2 seconds. If you can’t catch the damned ball, it does the team no good. I want both of you to stay after practice. Do you understand?” Jet didn’t say anything. He went back into the huddle in silence. This time, he did look like a missed a catch.

Mark decided to blitz Bobby to see if that would stop the march of the offense. The O line looked like a Keystone Cops chase scene but Bobby calmly stepped up and found the open receiver. The Blitz opened up Mike to 1 on 1 coverage and produced 2 more long TDs. The O beat the defense 42-0. After practice, both coordinators called their charges in for a short comment.

“Gentlemen, that was the best I have ever seen this O play. I have to tell you that. You all contributed and should feel really good about the practice and our chances this year. You beat a really good defense out there and scoring TDs on all 7 possessions was outstanding. Your performance earned you a day off from laps after practice. I want to see the players that I spoke to. The rest of you have a good day off tomorrow and enjoy the moment.”

Bobby came up to Bob after the team broke for the showers.

“That was fun, Coach. Thanks.”

“Bobby, you were magic. That is the best this group has ever looked. We haven’t scored 7 touchdowns in 4 practices. Thank you. Does this mean you will stay with the team?”

“Yea, but I can’t play away games because I am working the night shift on weekends.”

“If I find you a weekday job, would you be interested?”


“Well let me see what I can do. I’ll give you a call.”

Jack came over to Bob with a gate that was similar to John Wayne walking to a showdown. It was made more humorous because Jack was such a little skinny twerp.

“If the receivers need work, I will tell them. It’s none of your business.”

“Listen, junior, I am not going to waste the talent of our new QBs on wideouts that couldn’t hold onto the ball if you handed it to them. Now stick around and you might learn something about coaching the position.” Jack stomped off in search of his daddy to cry about what Bob had said.

Willis began to throw passes to the two former starters. Tom worked with the QB and Bob worked with the receivers. Rahim rounded off an out pattern and then completed the daily double by dropping a pass right in his hands. He trotted back to the huddle like nothing had happened.

“Rahim, you have to make a 90 degree cut to bet open on an out pattern. Bananas are for topping cereal. Show me how you hold your hands catching a pass.” Bob picked up a ball and tossed it to Rahim underhand. He tried to catch it with his hands up with the thumbs out. But like everything else that came his way, he fumbled with it for a second before it drifted to the ground. “That is part of the problem. No wonder you try to jump when a pass is right at the numbers. You have to catch it this way.” Bob held his hands with the thumbs in almost touching. “When you hold your hands this way, you don’t have to leave your feet to catch a pass even if it is over your head.”

Jet was having no more luck than his brother. A perfect pass hit Jet’s stone hands, bounced off his chest, then off his helmet and then to the ground. Jet spun around trying to follow the ball. He looked like an overweight ballerina. Tom burst out laughing. Bob looked at him and Tom managed to choke down the outburst.

“Again.” This time the ball bounced off his hands and then off his right knee. He kicked at it in frustration but missed the ball with his foot just like he had with his hands. “Not much of a soccer player either.” Bob’s comment was under his breath so that it could not be heard by others. “Again.”

The three players continued to practice until well after 9. Tom had to spell Willis because the backup QB’s arm had turned to water from all the passes. The two wideouts were doubled over with their hands on their waists and gulping for air.

The practice did some good. The two were running more crisp routes and catching the ball a little more regularly.

The next day Bob called a couple of his customers and found Bobby a job in a sports shoe distributor as an outside sales person.

“How about that as a job? You should make double or triple the money you make now.”

“Thanks, Coach. That is great. See you at practice tomorrow.”

Bob called an old friend of his.

“Wally, how are you doing my friend?”

“Ok. Bob, good to hear from you. What’s up?”

“I need your expertise. I’m coaching in Indy for the Roughnecks. I have a talented QB and runner but my line couldn’t block their way out of a pillow fight.”

“That bad?”

“Wally, it is worse. What are you doing this season?”

“Not much. Since you left, it was no fun to coach. I am just drinkin’ beer and watching TV.”

“Why don’t you and your lovely wife Sally come to Indy. You could stay with me.”

“For how long?”

“As nasty as you are, it should only take you the preseason to straighten out this group of blockheads.”

“When is your next practice?”

“Tomorrow at 4.”

“We’ll be there. Sally is probably going to want to clean your house. Knowing you, that should keep her busy for at least a month.”

“Maybe less. I have only been here for a month. It hasn’t gotten too bad.”

“I’ll stop by your office on Illinois. We can go together.”

“See you then.”


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