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Knights of Andreas 7.06: The Noble Truth

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Knights of Andreas
FOUR YEARS LATER

 

Chapter Eighty-Seven – The Noble Truth

“I especially want to thank everyone who doubted me, everyone who told me I wasn’t good enough.” –Da’Jamiroquai Jefferspin-Wilkes

By the time the clock hits zero, the loudest spot in MetLife Stadium is the visitors’ locker room, where the Knights celebrate a 34-10 thumping at the floundering Jets’ expense. Players try to savor the celebration while changing quickly, eager to board their six-hour flight home.

Randall’s locker hosts many short debriefs with players and coaches alike. He does his best to seem uninterested but finds himself swimming in company regardless.

“Good game, Briggs,” Ripka says at one point, shaking Randall’s hand.

“Thanks, coach,” Randall says. “Didn’t really have to earn this one.”

“Always better to win that way, isn’t it?”

Randall grunts, a sound Ripka interprets as agreement.

“You alright?” Ripka asks.

“What?” Randall says, looking up.

“Are you alright? You seem a little off.”

“I’m fine.”

Ripka studies his defensive captain carefully, looking for the slightest twitch of skin or hint of discomfort. He notices nothing.

“Ok, I’ll see you on the flight,” Ripka says.

Randall finishes changing. Just as the last of his pads fall into the locker, McKenzie approaches.

“Great game, Briggs,” McKenzie says. “Really good job out there.”

“Thanks,” Randall says flatly, shaking the head coach’s hand.

McKenzie sports an awkward, sterile grin. Randall doesn’t show any sign of positive emotion, instead eyeing up his head coach curiously. McKenzie ponders what to say, eventually finishing the handshake and moving on to the next locker.

 

Reporters filter out of the MedComm Center after Monday’s press conferences, two of them into the same car, bound for the same downtown restaurant.

The establishment called Knight’s End looks exactly as it did in 2016: a massive, modern restaurant with a sprawling U-shaped bar at its center. Any wall space not mounting a television is littered with merchandise and memorabilia representing the Knights, Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, and Kings. The menu has become modernized with trendy, overpriced dishes but still features enough classic staples to maintain its identity as a sports bar.

Adam and Jessica take seats at a high top and order a round of drinks plus lunch. They each sip while scrolling through their phones.

“Wow, look at this,” Adam says.

“What?” Jessica says, eyes still fixed to her phone, scrolling frantically. “Where?”

“It’s TMZ, but it’s pretty wild.”

“TMZ? Wild? No kidding. Oh, there it is, I see it.”

They both read the same relatively short piece, a rumor all too obviously trying to stretch into a full story. The headline reads, “EXCLUSIVE: NFL coach in relationship with dead boss’s wife.”

“Well, this certainly takes the cake for story of the year,” Adam says. “I figured someone would run with it eventually. Not really a surprise TMZ went for it.”

Jessica’s eyes flare up at her boyfriend. “You had this story?”

Adam knows he’s made a mistake. He focused hard on acting composed, determined to end this conversation pleasantly.

“Had? No. I just heard the rumor. You didn’t?”

“No.” She puts her phone down and leans in. “Adam, why didn’t you say something? How long ago did you hear about it? I could have gotten in front of this.”

“It’s just some bullshit rumor, Jess. You don’t want your name attached to this, trust me.”

“It’s traction. It’s a story people will read. I really could have used this. When I asked you during the deadline if you had anything, you should have given me this!”

Adam puts his phone down, no longer interested in the beer in front of him or the food on the way. “Here we are again. We keep coming back to the same—”

“We wouldn’t have to if you had—”

“Well excuse me for not wanting to turn our relationship into being used for whatever story—”

“Used?”

Adam hesitates.

“Used?” Jessica says again.

“I shouldn’t have said ‘used.’ That’s not what—”

“Is that what you think this relationship is?”

“What am I supposed to think? I’m just trying to do my job and be in this relationship at the same time, but the line I have to walk just gets thinner and thinner.” At the sight of the anger in her eyes, he adds, “And I heard the rumor from an unreliable source,” a desperate lie.

Jessica throws her phone into her purse, gets up from her chair, and storms away.

“Jess, wait. Wait! Wait! Jessica!”

He suppresses his instinct to follow her for a fraction of a second, and she’s gone, leaving Adam alone at the table.

 

Schneider settles in to his office after a long, successful weekend of travel. Only four weeks remain in the season, and the Knights are primed for a playoff run, but Schneider is much more concerned about the looming owners meetings scheduled after week 17. After a lifetime of dreaming, a decade of hope, and over a year of angling, everything is ready to come together.

The CBA is nearly done; negotiations over finer details will carry into the spring, of course, but the major pillars have been agreed upon. All talk and fear of a lockout has subsided, which means the owners will be ready to move to the next prime topic: Commissioner Goodell. Schneider has been a leading voice in the CBA talks, but he will need to take a step back now. He can’t overplay his hand, he knows.

A knock on the door diverts his attention as he reclines in his seat.

“Good morning, Wayne,” Phillips says. “How was the flight?”

“Never been on a red eye that was the best part of the trip,” Schneider says, rubbing his eyes.

“How’s the CBA?”

“Great. We’re in a good place, getting better every month.”

Phillips steps into the office, positioning himself in the familiar spot across from Schneider.

“How’s everything else?” Phillips asks, studying Schneider’s posture.

“Fine,” Schneider says, giving nothing away. “Listen, I wanted to talk about this TMZ piece, about Ron and Merle’s wife.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s bullshit,” Phillips says, fully aware the story is, in fact, the opposite.

“Our protocol remains the same as it always is for these situations. No acknowledgment. Don’t give it life. I want you to make sure everyone is clear on that.”

“Understood.”

“Anything else for me before this afternoon?”

“Just some more updates with Grodd’s negotiation, but that can wait until…” Phillips lets his words trail off and adjusts his shoulders, firming his posture. “Well, I was just wondering, about the promotion.”

“Yes?” Schneider looks up, again masking the entirety of his knowledge.

“I just thought, four wins in a row, the division within reach again…now might be a good time to bring it up, that’s all.”

“The winning streak and 8-4 record are obviously great. It gives me more relief than you know. But there’s nothing imminent, Chance. I know this is big for you and I promise I’ll give you more when I’m able.”

Phillips waits for more details that don’t come, and finally says, “Good enough, then.”

“That’s all for now.”

 

Despite nearly two days to digest the news, players arrive in a locker room atmosphere even more awkward than they feared. What was a disturbing thought, hanging invisible in the air, now shines unmistakably on the page.

What little conversations there are unfold briefly and inconsequentially, as always. But the prevailing mood before practice is silence, especially from Grantzinger, who has issued threats of various broken bones to anyone circulating rumors.

Practice unfolds for the Vikings, and for the final quarter of the season. The 8-4 Knights are two games behind the Chiefs, who face a difficult December schedule; January football at Farmers Field has become possible again.

Maverick leads the offense through practice as well as he can, paying attention to Coach McKenzie, who doesn’t seem any more or less vocal than usual.

After practice, Randall finds solace at his locker with fewer teammates bothering him. Wilkes mentions something about a party, but Randall brushes him off. Then he feels a tap on his shoulder.

“Oh, hey, coach,” Randall says.

“Got a couple minutes to chat?” Ripka says.

“Yeah, I was about to hit the film room.”

“No, I was thinking more like a chat with a couple of beers, something like that.”

“Oh. Um, maybe later this week? I’m sort of—”

“Don’t sweat it. Whenever you can carve out some time, let me know. Lord knows we need to keep everything focused these days.”

Randall notices something odd in Ripka’s voice. He decides to pounce immediately.

“Oh, shit,” Randall says. His tone catches the attention of nearby players, who glance sideways toward the conversation.

“What?”

“It’s true, isn’t it?”

Ripka’s smile fades. He looks around, now aware of all the listening ears.

“I can’t say anything one way or another, Briggs, you know that.”

He hurries away, leaving a handful of defensive players with more questions to ponder, still in silence.

 

Phillips spots Jensen again in the doorway, this time checking the hallway cautiously. He hangs up the phone while Jensen shuts the door and takes his seat.

“Well?” Phillips says.

“Nothing,” Jensen says. “There’s no buzz, no smoke, nothing on the surface or beneath. Not one clue that this is in the works.”

“That’s how Wayne does it.”

“Any better on your end?”

“No. Same thing, which is to say not a thing.”

“What’s our next move? Do we have a next move?”

“Not in this game. We just wait and see where the dominoes fall.”

“There’s no chance of a shake-up, right?”

Phillips leans forward. Realizing he has been speaking louder than he wants, he tries to lower his tone. “What do you mean?”

“If there’s a new owner, they would just keep everything in place, right? I mean, what kind of organization rebuilds after a playoff season?”

“I would think so,” Phillips says, uncomfortable with several aspects of Jensen’s thoughts. The Knights have not yet clinched a playoff berth. Even if they do, a new owner would probably prefer continuity, which would make Phillips’ place as general manager even firmer, thereby lessening the chances of his promotion to team president—and increasing the chances of Jensen becoming general manager with another organization.

 

The week of practice comes to an end. Players depart the building for a weekend of rest at home—only one more road trip on the regular-season schedule—save for four, who march toward Coach McKenzie’s office for the weekly players council meeting.

Randall, running late after talking playbook details with younger players, hurries down the hallway, expecting to find a room mid-conversation. Instead, he opens the door to silence; all four men stare at him. He takes his seat.

Everyone looks around, waiting for someone, anyone, to speak. At last, McKenzie begins.

“Ok guys, let’s do the usual bit. How are we feeling?”

The players look at each other. Grantzinger leers at each person, ready to jump on whoever talks first should they say something stupid. Randall and Grodd aren’t sure what to say, nor are they sure what anyone else will say. Maverick barely has any interest in speaking whatsoever.

“Sorry I was late,” Randall says, “was going over some things with—”

“It’s fine,” McKenzie says to Randall. Trying to speak to the whole table, he says, “how about the playbook? The game plan? Confident?”

“I think so,” Grodd says, grinding each word out one at a time. “We really have confidence going on offense, with the way we’ve been playing.”

“Yeah,” Maverick says.

“Good,” McKenzie says. “Same on defense?”

“I think so,” Randall says.

“Yep,” Grantzinger says.

“Ok,” McKenzie says, trying to look relaxed while bracing himself. If there’s going to be an explosion, it’s about to happen. “How about the locker room?”

Nobody speaks. It feels like an eternity, with each player desperately wanting someone to say something but unwilling to say anything themselves.

“Chase,” McKenzie says, “you mentioned confidence. That’s gotta be a good thing, right?”

“I would say so,” Grodd says. “You know, it’s like you always say, coach, winning is contagious.”

The other players manage to murmur some form of agreement by grunting.

“Alright then,” McKenzie says, “if there’s nothing else…”

He looks around for anyone having a last word. Another round of silence confirms there will be no such word, and McKenzie dismisses them until Sunday.

 

Knights fans pack Farmers Field feeling the momentum their team has given them. Since inexplicably falling to 2-3, the Knights have only lost once in seven games. If they can take care of the Vikings this afternoon, fans will watch tonight’s Chiefs/Ravens game with immense interest; a Ravens win drops the Chiefs to 10-3, only one game ahead of the would-be 9-4 Knights.

The Vikings vaporize the home crowd’s energy with a 55-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen. The Knights fail to respond, the Vikings add a field goal to their sudden lead.

Nothing comes together. When Maverick unleashes a great throw, the receiver drops it. When Hart-Smith escapes the box for a big running play, a holding penalty calls it back. When receivers break open downfield, Maverick misses them.

The defense prevents more big plays, but faced with a losing field position battle, they yield more field goals. Only when Grantzinger forces a Cousins fumble that the Knights recover does the home team put points on the board, a measly thirty-yard field goal.

Down 16-3 to start the second half, the excited, rambunctious stadium from kickoff is long gone. Knights fans absorb embarrassment and frustration, clinging to quiet confidence, waiting patiently for the spark that ignites a furious comeback.

But the moment never comes. The Knights take multiple drives into the red zone, but McKenzie rejects field goal attempts, and Maverick’s fourth-down throws fall incomplete.

Fans in purple, black, and silver (except for the brighter shade of purple near the visitors’ sideline) trickle out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter. The most dedicated endure the final, boring, futile drives of a 29-6 loss. For everyone, the bigger picture is unbearably clear: playoff hopes remain for the Knights, but the division is gone.

 

The mood Monday morning is predictably somber, exacerbated by Kansas City’s thrilling 34-31 win last night. The Knights are now three games out with three weeks to go, relegated to a wild card battle full of hungry teams and complicated tiebreakers.

An oddity among the players is Wilkes, who seems more invigorated than he would be after a win. Though he remains an enigma to most players, he has several private conversations with the veterans, revisiting an old talking point.

To Maverick, Grodd, Grantzinger, and Randall he extends an invitation to dinner, Friday night, at his place. He promises a “life-changing experience,” an odd sell for the simple act of eating food together. Grodd and Grantzinger give hesitant commitments, while Maverick and Randall are firm maybes.

By Wednesday, Wilkes has secured commitments from Grodd and Maverick, but Grantzinger drops himself into the maybe category, citing his father.

Thursday, after practice, Wilkes is in full-force closer mode, pressing Grantzinger for a commitment.

“C’mon, Zack,” Wilkes says, “Briggs already said he was in if you are! That would make everybody!”

“Did he?” Zack says, looking at an incoming call on his phone and ignoring it.

“It won’t be too long if you gotta look after your old man, I promise.”

“Ok.”

“And no shitty food either. I know you get upset about that.”

Grantzinger throws his belt against the locker.

“Fine! For fuck’s sake, D-Jam, just to get you to shut the fuck up, I’m in. Just text me the goddamn address.”

“Yes! That’s my man.”

Wilkes hops away while doing jumping jacks. Grantzinger’s phone lights up with yet another call from RESTRICTED. This must be the tenth call this week. He picks it up and listens, hearing only casual breathing.

“Zack?” says a voice.

“Who the fuck is this?”

“Zack! It’s you, right?”

Grantzinger recognizes the voice, he decides. It’s no one on the team, no one he’s spoken with recently. Actually, it sounds like…

“Yeah, it’s me. Who is this?”

“They’re lying to us, Zack. I’m counting on you to see things for what they really are.”

“Damn it, Brock, is that you?”

“Don’t you see? We need to wake up!”

“Sean, where the fuck are you living?”

“I can’t say. They’re tracing my calls.”

The line goes dead. Grantzinger holds his phone out, examining it as if it’s a historic artifact.

“Who was that?” Randall asks from a few lockers down.

“Fuck if I know,” Grantzinger says.

 

After navigating the steep, winding roads north of Hollywood, Zack and Chase get to D-Jam’s house first. Like most homes around it, the architecture is modern and rectangular. They wait outside for Mav and Briggs, who arrive within minutes, and the four go in together.

The sprawling, multi-floor interior represents a picturesque, upper-class Los Angeles home, but that’s the last of expectations met. Warm, soft lighting fills every room. Wafts of incense hit their noses. Calm oriental music plays from somewhere (four Bluetooth speakers, in fact) and makes them feel like they’re in some kind of temple. Framed pictures hang on every wall, multicolored and entrancing, each with some depiction of the Buddha.

“Welcome, my brothers,” D-Jam says. “The chef is doing dinner in the kitchen. Drinks?”

Everyone finds a form of nonverbal affirmation, the best they can manage. D-Jam leads them to the kitchen, introduces them to the chef, and fills hands with bottles of beer, except for himself and Mav, who drink from the same bottle of red wine.

“Let me show you the best part,” D-Jam says, recommencing the tour.

Everyone is certain he’s about to lead them past the sliding glass doors to a view of the city, but he instead guides them to a room near the front of the house. The first striking feature is the walls, a combination of crimson and gold, illuminated only by candlelight.

“Damn,” Chase says in a hushed tone the room seems to command, “that’s commitment.”

D-Jam: “What do you mean?”

Chase: “Well, when you said you were converting to Buddhism, I didn’t think you’d really go all the way.”

D-Jam: “No other way to go. I should teach y’all how to meditate. Changes everything.”

Zack: “I thought most Buddhists didn’t drink.”

D-Jam: “All things in moderation.”

Zack: “Buddhism too, apparently.”

Briggs: “Hey, we all have our interpretations.”

Zack: “Sure fucking do.”

“D-Jam,” Maverick says, fixated on a framed picture that isn’t an illustration, rather blocks of words; it looks like a letter. “Is this the same picture that’s in another room?”

“That picture is in every room of the house,” Wilkes says proudly.

“‘The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism,’” Grodd reads aloud, shoulder to shoulder with Maverick. “Man, this language is complicated.”

Zack: “Care to give us your interpretation, D-Jam?”

Unfazed, Wilkes says proudly, “The first noble truth of Buddhism is that suffering is an innate part of life.”

Everyone looks at their diva receiver, bewildered at his use of the word innate.

Mav: “So, that’s it? Life is suffering?”

Zack: “Sure fucking is.”

D-Jam: “Think on it. We ever play a football game without it?”

Chase: “Without what, suffering?”

Mav: “Yeah, my first year, when I was on the bench.”

D-Jam: “Oh hell no. Don’t tell me you weren’t suffering not getting a chance to play.”

Mav looks around, bothered no one else is talking. “Hey, I don’t like this getting outsmarted by D-Jam shit.”

Briggs: “What’s next?”

D-Jam goes on, “The second noble—”

A call from the chef interrupts, and D-Jam beckons everyone outside for appetizers. They navigate the house through the sliding glass doors, plates of sushi rolls awaiting them, but no one notices the sushi, distracted by the overwhelming, breathtaking view of Los Angeles.

“Wow,” they all say in one form or another.

“This is something straight out of a movie,” Mav says.

“This was in a movie,” D-Jam says. “Can’t remember which one. The dude who owned this before me produced it, I think. Maybe directed it. Dude was a dick, man. Took me a year to get the price right for him.”

All five men soak in the view, getting better as the sun sets to their left. They drink, snack on sushi rolls, and conversations typical of a gathering begin. D-Jam tells Chase more detail about the house with Mav listening; when he goes inside to talk to the chef, Chase and Mav talk about favorite movies. Zack tries to convince Briggs to upgrade from his downtown loft to a more spacious place.

They take seats at a table outside as the sky overhead darkens. Dinner arrives in the form of stir-fry with chicken and shrimp. While only D-Jam eats it with chopsticks, everyone enjoys how delicious it is.

“Alright,” Briggs says with his plate nearly emptied, “we’re all friends here. What about this shit with Coach?”

“What about it?” Zack says.

Briggs looks him off, waiting for a substantial comment.

“I don’t know,” Chase says. “I mean, it’s a little fucked up, obviously. But Merle’s been gone, what, almost four years now?”

Briggs: “What, is there a statute of limitations on this? Wrong is wrong.”

D-Jam: “What’s wrong about finding cures for suffering?”

Zack: “Here we go again.”

D-Jam: “Don’t do me like that, Zack. Who are we to judge?”

Chase: “Mav.”

Mav: “Hmm?”

Chase: “You’ve been kind of silent on this whole thing. What do you think?”

Mav takes a long sip of wine, letting his eyes drift from the table to the city.

Briggs: “Oh, man.” Heads turn to Briggs, eyeing up Mav. “Married to Trish, probably still see Melinda all the time…you knew, didn’t you?”

Mav: “Of course I did.”

Chase and D-Jam try to decide how to process that piece of information. Zack’s look of indifference doesn’t waver.

Briggs: “And you didn’t tell us.”

Mav: “Nope. Got a problem with that?”

Briggs scans the table for support, but draws his glare toward an irritated looking Zack.

Briggs: “You don’t have an issue with this?”

Zack: “I have an issue with the whole fucking conversation. Since when do we get entangled with moral dilemmas? We’re football players.”

That comment refocuses everyone to the last of their plates, which empty in a hurry. D-Jam happily gathers dishes and refills drinks. The chef reappears minutes later with dessert, a colorful dish with an oriental name nobody can pronounce. Praise for the chef is unanimous, and he hands out business cards before departing.

Talk eventually starts up again in the form of separate conversations. In one, Mav and Chase discuss the team’s offensive line while D-Jam gets more drinks. When Briggs and Zack’s conversation stops, they listen in.

Mav: “…come a long way since the beginning of the season. A lot of that’s on you, Chase, counseling and coaching ‘em up.”

Chase: “I just hope I—sorry to bring it up, but—I hope I get to keep doing it, you know?”

Everyone bows their heads, well aware of Chase’s expiring contract. They all realize how much they don’t want him to leave—and how little they’ve thought about it. D-Jam comes out, sensitive to the topic at hand, and refills his and Mav’s wine glass gently.

Mav: “Don’t worry, Chase. They won’t let you go. We lost Brian, then Bruno…can’t lose another standout in the trenches.”

Chase: “As long as they got those ice baths, you’ll be alright.”

D-Jam: “So Mav, how about doin’ some counseling of your own? Rod’s been lookin’ good when he plays!”

Mav: “No fucking way. I’m a quarterback, not a fucking professor. When we’re in the QB room and I talk, he listens. When we’re on the field and I’m playing, he watches. That’s enough; I won’t go beyond that. I already don’t spend enough time being a husband and a dad.”

Everyone freezes. Zack spits up a gulp of beer.

“A dad?”

Mav’s eyes dart around the table, each teammate’s expression more excited than the next.

“Ah, shit, I spilled the beans.”

The table erupts into cheers of celebration. Everyone takes their turn getting up to shake Mav’s hand. D-Jam adds an uncomfortable hug for good measure. Once everyone is seated again, Chase speaks first.

“Congrats, man. You’re gonna love it.”

Mav: “Speaking of, how’s your little one at home?”

Chase: “He’s great. Best feeling in the world. Like playing in the Super Bowl every day.”

Mav: “And what about when they don’t stop crying and shit on your walls?”

Chase: “Hey, I didn’t say you won the Super Bowl every day.”

The whole table laughs again, drinking once they’ve stopped.

Mav: “It’s actually, um…” He looks around the table, at the closest thing he has to friends, fearful of plunging the tone—but they deserve to know. “…it’s not the first time for us. Trish was pregnant before, and…”

Nobody moves, fully fixated on their quarterback.

Mav: “I know what you guys are thinking. It wasn’t an abortion.”

Everyone wants to ask a million questions, equally curious and fearful of the truth.

Chase: “How late was it?”

Mav: “Pretty late.”

Zack: “What was the deal, just a surprise medical thing?”

Mav: “Not with the way she was drinking.”

The table goes silent again. Nobody wants to know anything more.

Mav: “We’re trying to keep a better handle on things this time around, so, uh, here’s hoping.”

He raises his glass and gets up from the table, walking to the metal railing. He leans against it, taking in the night sky and illuminated city.

One by one, the others do the same, and small conversations sprout up again, topics of varying range but lesser consequence. Someone makes a comment about the time, and everyone realizes the end of the night is near.

“Hey D-Jam,” Chase says loud enough for everyone to hear, “what about the other three?”

D-Jam: “Three what?”

Chase: “The Noble Truths or whatever. Weren’t there four?”

D-Jam: “Ah…”

He launches into a sermon detailing all four Noble Truths (recapping the first one, of course), saying something about the source of suffering and the pathway to nirvana, along the way using some ancient Buddhist terms everyone is sure he mispronounces.

Zack: “So what do you do with all that?”

D-Jam: “Say what?”

Zack: “No offense, but religion is good for big words and no meaning. What do those supposed truths mean to you?”

D-Jam: “Shit, I’m glad you asked!” Everyone braces for another rant, not sure what to expect. “To me, it’s like this. We suffer in football because we want to win. Every loss gives us more suffering, and every win just makes us afraid of another loss.”

Mav: “Once again, I gotta say, I am not loving this new enlightened D-Jam.”

D-Jam: “Oh, am I makin’ too much fucking sense?”

Briggs: “So, again, life is suffering. Football is suffering.”

Chase: “But one of the truths was about eliminating suffering. How does that happen?”

D-Jam: “Retirement.”

Everyone goes quiet. As a rule, players never discuss the transaction side of the game, if they can help it. Free agency and trades are off the table. Retirement falls in this category too, but after a decade in the league, this is the first time one of them has brought it up.

D-Jam: “When we retire, we give up the desire to win. We lose the suffering. When we lose the suffering, that’s nirvana.”

Zack: “So if retirement is nirvana, and nirvana is the goal, why not retire now? Why not last summer? Why play at all?”

D-Jam: “Because, like I say, the key to life is—”

Briggs: “Embrace the suffering.”

D-Jam: “Yes, sir! Only when you accept the struggle do you truly conquer it.”

Everyone’s gaze slowly shifts from each other to the city, in agreement with Mav about how uncomfortably relevant D-Jam’s interpretation seems. As football players, their lives are defined by suffering.

Zack: “Well, I don’t intend on getting to nirvana any time soon.”

D-Jam: “Me neither, brother.”

Mav: “Then I guess we all gotta suffer a little while longer.”

Chase: “Cheers to that.”

All five raise their glasses and drink, leaving some with no liquid left. The others savor their final sips. Conversation shifts to scheduling another get-together, probably in the offseason. They spend the final minutes of the night entranced by the city landscape, the cumulative effect of yellow lights glowing against the incessant darkness.

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