Knights of Andreas
Chapter Sixty-Seven – Forgotten
The streets of Los Angeles are damaged, but calm. The National Guard presence has departed. Police are not responding to active rescue scenes. All fires from the original earthquake are now extinguished, but fire stations remain on standby, waiting for more aftershocks. Those able to return to work Monday morning take alternate routes to get there, all major highways under construction. But Los Angeles is far from recovered, made clear by a rising death toll.
Sometime between early morning and noon, the damage reaches a tragic milestone: there are now over 1,000 reported dead. The 2016 Pasadena earthquake (earthquakes get forgettable names, unlike hurricanes) is America’s most damaging natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina and the most damaging earthquake in over one hundred years.
Los Angeles is on the minds of people all over the country. Hashtags trending on Twitter include #PrayForLA and #NeverForgotten, paying tribute to lives lost in the earthquake. Donations pour in through multiple charities, aiding what is forecasted to be over $100 billion in damage.
The recovery effort receives a much-needed morale boost thanks to members of the Los Angeles Knights lending a hand. Scattered throughout the city, players help out in various ways, though their contracts prevent them from any rigorous physical activity. It’s good PR, but more importantly, their presence appears to make a positive difference with the citizens who see them. And it is a welcome reminder that football returns to Farmers Field this Sunday.
One group of players, led by Luck and his Good Luck Foundation, helps a group of city workers transport bottled water to homes who need it. Luck enjoys the work, as always, but somehow draws the unfortunate task of driving Brock around between houses.
“This is bullshit, man,” Brock says as they drive from one house to the next.
“What?” Luck asks. He usually avoids Brock, but in this case he’s willing to take him to task. “Lending a hand to people who need some help is bullshit? You really are a piece of work, Sean.”
“No, not that, douche bag. I mean this whole thing about us being an inspiration to the city. This season is now tied to this fucking earthquake whether we like it or not. This is all we’re gonna hear about until the end of the season. It’s Katrina all over again.”
“Yeah, like the city being behind us is a bad thing.”
Harden works his defense hard, harder than usual, saying, “Pick it up, men! This is your penance for Sunday’s meltdown, assholes.”
After suicides, cone drills, and sprints, he groups everyone together for basic positional drills. These should be a piece of cake, so Harden scrutinizes every detail, lashing out for the slightest fault in technique. Though he’s not officially linebackers coach anymore, Harden focuses most of his attention there. Only a few minutes pass before he’s bothered.
NFL linebackers are, theoretically, responsible for three things: rushing the passer, stopping the run, and covering receivers. Some defensive coaches structure their defense so their linebackers only have do two, but to play for Merle Harden, you need to do all three. Three of his starting four meet that requirement.
Brock goes through the cycle of workouts, focusing his energy in pass rush, as always. He won’t know until tomorrow, but he’s hoping this week’s playbook includes some 4-3, where he feels he shines.
“BROCK!” Harden yells. “Stop slacking in coverage. You’re not getting the scout team on Sunday, you’re getting Devonta Freeman. And if they send him your way with that effort, we’re all fucked.”
Brock nods and sets for another run-through. Harden chastising Brock for subpar coverage is nothing new, but at least Brock has finally learned not to fight it.
Hours pass, and the fateful horn sounds. Players surround Coach Harden at midfield for the day’s final message and run to the locker room. Harden follows, eager to escape the heat. The air conditioning brings relief, but he feels the nausea that has bothered him all day returning. He walks as normally as he can past the locker room, high-fiving a few players and coaches along the way, toward the bathroom, where he slams open the door on the nearest stall and falls over the toilet, closing his eyes as the vomit hits the water.
“Fucking chemo,” he says aloud once it’s over. He stays on the floor a minute, a few minutes, letting his energy come back.
Meanwhile, Brock moves from locker to locker in another round of money borrowing, getting no positive responses.
“Sorry man, I’m a little tight after the quake,” Grodd says.
“Damage to my yard is gonna cost me half my salary as it is,” Randall says.
“I’m sorry, Sean, I’m having to put a lot of my signing bonus into my house,” Jameson says.
It’s cool. Everyone should be putting themselves first in light of the situation. Brock knows that. He feels confident when he gets to the hundred-million-dollar locker.
“No can do, Sean,” Maverick says.
Brock waits for an explanation. When Maverick fails to provide one, Brock says, “Dude, your contract could fix the whole city.”
“No, it couldn’t, but it doesn’t matter. Can’t help you, Sean.”
“C’mon, Mav. You’re one of my best friends on this team. I know we haven’t partied in a while, but—”
Maverick waves his hand in the air. “Sean, you’re right, we’re friends, and I want to help, but I can’t. And that’s it.”
He still hasn’t heard a good reason, but Brock lets it go and walks away. These guys are supposed to be his brothers, aren’t they?
A few minutes after Brock has left, Maverick makes his way across the room towards Grantzinger’s locker.
“Hey,” Maverick says, “you been lending Sean any dough lately?”
“What?” Grantzinger says. “He and I are Bert and Ernie now?”
“Don’t bust my balls, Zack, just answer the fucking question.”
“Outside of buying a drink here and there, no, not recently. Not ever, really.”
Maverick moves on to other teammates, and Brock’s finances become the primary topic of discussion. Maverick suspects he’s wasting his time and is about to leave when Wilkes says, “Y’all talking ‘bout Brock? He owes me a couple hundred.”
“D-Jam, aren’t you listening?” Randall says. “Everyone else is talking thousands. A few hundred is nothing special.”
“Nah, I mean a couple hundred thousand.”
Everyone stares in shock at Wilkes, who looks surprisingly cavalier about this.
Martin: “How much, exactly? Just so we can get this straight.”
Wilkes: “Man, how should I know? I’m no good with math.”
Schwinn: “Yeah, we all know reading’s more in your wheelhouse.”
Randall: “Cut that shit out, Bobby. D-Jam, you lend anybody else cash like that?”
Wilkes: “Just my Uncle Lincoln, but…Yeah, I’m not gonna go there.”
Bishop: “I’ve loaned Sean a lot too.”
Luck: “You, Logan? Even after that shit between you guys last year?”
Randall: “Yeah, what was that, anyway?”
Bishop: “Settled. That’s what it is.”
Martin: “Well, Brock’s debts certainly aren’t settled.”
“Hang on,” Maverick says, holding up his hands for control of the conversation. “So we’ve all lent Sean some cash now and then. Has he ever paid anybody back?”
Nobody breaks a long, uncomfortable silence.
“Okay,” Bishop says. Everyone looks up. “I think it’s time we take a hard line. None of us are going to help him by ballooning his loans.”
Most players nod in agreement at what sounds like a good idea.
Grantzinger: “You know, I don’t like that we’re just throwing one of our teammates under the bus.”
Randall: “We’re not fucking him over. We’re trying to help him.”
Luck: “I figured you’d be first to jump on this, Zack. And it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it.”
Grantzinger shrugs. “He’s a dick, no doubt. But he wears the same jersey you all do. We’ve all thrown our share of bullshit around here. A teammate is a teammate.”
Nobody responds as Grantzinger packs up the last of his things and walks out of the locker room.
The 2009 scouting combine is in full swing. Multiple positions have already completed their on-field drills, so teams are finalizing scouting reports and player grades. Today’s highlight is the forty-yard dash for wide receivers, but it’s also a key date for defensive linemen, who will interview with various teams. They will be tested primarily on football IQ, but some face scrutiny for their character. One of the more intriguing names from this group is Sean Brock, defensive end from Temple.
His physical profile is solid: 6’4”, 245lbs, 4.75 forty-yard dash. He had a junior year that could have put him in the first round, flashing an impressive combination of pass rush and run stopping ability. He was easily the best player on a bad team. Senior year, he was the target of many double-teams. His production went down, and so did his motor.
All in all, Brock is still a solid football prospect. He is a good, not great, pass rusher. His run defense is way above the norm for college players. He only ended up in coverage a few plays, and he was dreadful, so he seems to fit best in the NFL as a 4-3 DE.
Off the field, there’s a mountain of issues. Between two assault cases where Brock was a witness, endless rumors of marijuana use, and a DUI just a few months ago, Brock has a lot to answer for. Teams will rely heavily on these interviews to determine his value.
Brock gets in a room with these guys, loving the opportunity he gets at the white board, talking about stunts and blitzes and playing against different blocking schemes. He nails every football question thrown at him. Then, unfortunately, they waste his time with the bullshit questions.
Why did you go from 12 sacks junior year to only 4 this year?
“After I broke out junior year, teams started double-teaming me. It was like, every play I’m commanding all this attention. And none of the other guys on the D-line stepped up.”
What should we make of all the off-the-field issues on your resume?
“Hey, make it what you want. When you turn on the tape, you’ll see the kind of player I am.”
When we get your results back in a few weeks, will you test positive for marijuana?
“Only if there’s something wrong with the test.”
In the following weeks and months, when teams review their draft boards for character, Brock draws a lot of attention, none of it positive. Some teams take him off their board entirely, while most move him from the third or fourth to the seventh round, where he will eventually be taken by the soon-to-relocate Oakland Raiders.
Players dress in Farmers Field locker rooms for the first time this year, trying to drown out plenty of background noise. The earthquake has left players distracted throughout the week, and Coach Harden didn’t seem to notice—unlike him, but players won’t object to escaping punishment.
Maverick and Trisha haven’t spent any quality time together with the mansion in repair. Flash needs to get his place fixed so he doesn’t lose a fortune when he sells it later this year. Luck and Bishop have both delayed putting together the baby’s room because of repairs elsewhere in the house.
The pre-game hype builds to a crescendo as a swell of energy flies around the stadium. Every fan stands, claps, and cheers as the Knights run out onto the field. In the southwest corner, upper level, Cooper and Sampson stand among the sea of purple, contributing their share of vocal chords. Cooper enjoys every bit of this homecoming, remembering all the unique details of Farmers Field football, details he had forgotten in three years as a Knight’s End regular.
Players take their place on the sideline under a warm sun, feeling a thin layer of sweat between their pads and their skin as a thunderous, elongated applause carries into the coin toss.
The Falcons get the opening possession and run the ball. Linemen crunch their pads together at the line of scrimmage as clumps of grass get kicked up around them.
Brock works on left tackle Jake Matthews, getting stymied on the pass rush but beating him against the run. On third and six, Brock tries a spin move but falls to the grass. He gets up to see Mohamed Sanu catch a deep ball, setting the Falcons up for first and goal. Two plays later, Devonta Freeman runs into the end zone.
Harden waits for his defense to get seated, first targeting Stone, who gave up that long catch to Sanu.
“Julian, what the hell was that?”
“Got me twisted around, coach. I was on an island.”
“You get paid to live on islands. Man up. Flash is wrapped up with Julio and he ain’t leaving. The rest of you, run D doesn’t suck too bad, so keep that up.”
The defense retakes the field after the offense ties the game, 7-7. Atlanta tries to run the ball again, stuffed each time.
Coach Harden’s defenses have always prioritized strength up the middle, and the Knights have that today. They haven’t seemed to lost anything with Mann replacing Anthrax at nose, and with Randall and Martin plus Schwinn behind him, the Falcons get no traction on the ground, going three and out in a hurry.
The Knights rest and repeat on defense, facing minimal bitching from Harden and forcing Atlanta into a pass-first attack. Leaning on Matt Ryan, they manage a few positive plays but can’t string first downs together. Stone steps up against Sanu, and Julio Jones gets blanketed by a double-team. This double occasionally leaves Schwinn in coverage against tight ends and slot receivers—Harden’s only concern—but he holds his own.
Defenders watch from the sideline as the offense leads a long, methodical drive down the field, eventually scoring a touchdown on an end zone fade to Wilkes. Well rested and confident, the Knights defense retakes the field up 14-7 with 3:26 left in the half.
The Falcons get a first down with some screens and quick passes. Harden doesn’t flinch; they won’t throw screens all the way to the goal line.
The Knights line up for a weak-side blitz. Randall flips the play at the last second, leaving Brock in coverage. He drops back and sees Freeman coming his way at full speed. He turns his body, running as fast as he can. Freeman looks up for a pass, so Brock does too, but he sees it half a second late. He swats at Freeman’s arm, falling to the grass as the running back sprints sixty yards toward the end zone.
“I’ve been trying to teach you coverage for seven years now,” Harden tells Brock on the sideline, “and you haven’t learned a goddamn thing.”
Brock takes the abuse silently, replaying the touchdown in his head. All he had to do was grab Freeman’s ankles, and it would have been a fifteen-yard catch instead of a touchdown.
The Knights get a few first downs on offense but can only reach field goal range. Players and coaches watch pessimistically as McCabe lines up for a fifty-four-yard attempt. He kicks it deep and down the middle, nailing it as the clock hits zero.
During halftime, McKenzie and his staff make adjustments across the board. The run game has been stable but average; the pass game has been inconsistent. They need to do better.
On the offense’s first second-half possession, Wilkes lines up wide left, opposite from his normal side. Working a new corner, he gets open more frequently, and Maverick finds him for a couple completions. A few plays later, the drive stalls at midfield, but players feel they’re making progress.
Next drive, Wilkes racks up a few more catches from the left side, and McKenzie makes a switch. Bishop, who has been running short routes into the flat, and Watson, who has been trying to find holes over the middle, swap roles. Bishop becomes Maverick’s favorite target, making catches in traffic that put the Knights in the red zone. Jameson gets a few carries, pounding through stacked boxes, eventually bringing up first and goal, where Maverick hits Bishop in the corner of the end zone.
The defense stays on lockdown, and the Knights get the ball back with good field position. Maverick looks for Watson on a sideline route, and fans recoil in horror as the pass sails right into coverage, and the Falcons take over. The Knights defense holds, though, forcing a forty-six-yard field goal attempt, which Matt Bryant nails, cutting the lead to 24-17.
Players switch sides of the field for the fourth quarter. The Knights have been the better team today, but a seven-point lead is far from secure, especially after last week.
Maverick retakes the field with his eyes on the end zone. After a few short runs and a first down, McKenzie calls a deep throw. Wilkes lines up from the right slot, causing confusion on defense.
Wilkes runs a corner route, looks back, then cuts the other way, toward the middle of the field. Maverick rolls right with plenty of space and time, sees Watson wide open, steps up, and bombs it for Wilkes. Two defenders run behind him, but the pass hits Wilkes in stride. He cuts back toward the end zone, and nobody catches him.
Farmers Field rocks, the game apparently in hand. When the Falcons line up on offense, down 31-17, the Knights line up in 4-3. With Ryan dropping back to pass every play, Luck and Brock pin their ears back and get after him, putting the quarterback under constant duress. Ryan somehow manages a first down but soon faces fourth and one. The Falcons go for it.
Against a bunch formation, the Knights stay in 4-3 but crowd the line of scrimmage, nine men in the box. Ryan fakes a handoff to Freeman, drops back, and gets blindsided by Luck. The ball pops loose into a pile, but it doesn’t matter. The turnover on downs seals the Knights’ victory.
Fans around the stadium cheer and high-five each other. Sampson and Cooper admire the view and enjoy the game’s final minutes as they analyze the Knights’ schedule, trying to pick another game to see.
The mood around the MedComm Center is different every Tuesday, inevitably a reflection of the previous Sunday.
This particular Tuesday brings joy, from Sunday’s win, but also relief. The disappointment from the way last season ended, the haunting feeling that stuck with players for months, is now gone—temporarily, at least. The Knights are off to a 2-0 start and go to Tennessee this week to play one of the league’s weaker teams (on paper).
Players ride their positive energy onto the practice field, which evolves into less of a practice and more of a celebration. Players prone to goofing off—Maverick, Wilkes, and Schwinn especially—lead the charge and everyone else follows suit. For maybe the first time since 2014, Knights players have fun on the practice field, and Coach Harden doesn’t stop them.
Maverick and Wilkes make some space on the field and run one of their favorite offseason drills: Maverick throwing deliberately off-target throws for Wilkes to catch acrobatically.
This soon evolves into simple pitch and catch practice, with one exception: Wilkes has to make all his catches one-handed.
He snatches each one out of the air easily. Too easily, Maverick decides, so he starts throwing them above Wilkes’ head.
At first, Wilkes just sticks up one of his arms and catches the ball. As the passes get higher, he jumps for them, hauling in every throw.
He grabs another one.
“Oh yeah! Fuck you, Odell!”
He leaps as high as he can, catching another with his fingertips.
“Get some! GET SOME! AHHHHHHHHH!”
Maverick walks toward the edge of the field for a break, where Phillips has been watching the two. Phillips is ready to comment, but Maverick talks first.
“How much longer you crutching around?”
“Another two months, probably. Maybe in six weeks I’ll go from doubtful to questionable.” Maverick chuckles in between sips of water. That’s a bad joke, and Phillips appreciates him laughing at it. “Hell of a show you two are putting on.”
“He’s doing all the work.” They both watch Wilkes, running randomly all over the practice field, waving his arms like a lunatic. Any other player, and they’d consider psychiatric care. “Thank God you signed this guy.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Phillips says, remembering the inauspicious nature of the signing.
Ten weeks after being rung up on bullshit gun charges, Da’Jamiroquai Jefferspin-Wilkes walks free, released from a penitentiary in upstate Washington. He has done his time like a man, and now he’s ready to play football again.
Though he’s forbidden from participating in any team activities whatsoever, he follows the Seahawks through December. Three consecutive losses appear to doom them, but they beat the Rams in week 17, winning the NFC West at 7-9. Wilkes excitedly watches the final hours of the game—and of his suspension—counting the hours until he can practice with the team again. He’s dying to get on that field, to play a playoff game in front of the wild Seattle crowd.
Mere hours later, the Seahawks release Jefferspin-Wilkes, a bold, no-nonsense decision that takes a headline backseat to head-coach firings and playoff storylines. Wilkes is devastated. He even drives to team headquarters, to either seek an explanation or see if there is some mistake, but he is turned away.
So begins his time as a free agent. After days of isolation in his Seattle apartment, he feels hope of getting picked up by a playoff team. The possibility of playoff football keeps him going, and he stays in regular contact with Drew Rosenhaus, his agent. Teams are apparently interested, and they should be—Wilkes’ stats through eight games put him on pace for Offensive Player of the Year, but for whatever reason, it’s not happening. So, days pass.
Weeks pass. The playoffs come and go. Wilkes stays isolated, fighting off depression with thoughts of free agency. But the early weeks come and go with nothing more than buzz. He remains a man without a contract, without a home.
Then Rosenhaus gets in touch, finally with an offer: Los Angeles. Wilkes doesn’t know much about the Knights, as they are now called, so he does some Googling.
They went 5-11 last year. After starting 3-5, Jason Campbell was benched in favor of their first-round quarterback, Jonathan Maverick, who went 2-6. From what Wilkes reads, Maverick is an immature, hotshot quarterback who will probably be a bust, definitely not the guy Wilkes wants throwing him the ball.
Still, there’s potential. The Knights have absolutely nothing at receiver. They could draft somebody, sure, but Wilkes would be their number-one guy right away. That could be 150 targets. And Wilkes knows from his two years at USC (which he would rather not relive in detail) how awesome Los Angeles is.
The Knights gather around Coach Harden in the visitors’ locker room, minutes from kickoff.
“As you all saw in warm-ups, there’s a lot of purple in that crowd,” Harden says. “So let’s remember why. Let’s remember we’re fighting for more than just wins right now.”
Brock lets out a groan of disgust, probably loud enough for Harden to hear, but he doesn’t care. He counts the seconds through the tunnel until kickoff, when the Knights get the ball first.
Maverick leads a pass-happy attack down the field, looking for Wilkes more than once and checking it down. Wilkes runs his routes as aggressively as he can, but the Titans are all over him. For now, he watches as his offense moves the chains with ease, and Jameson takes an eight-yard carry into the end zone.
“Y’all are welcome,” Wilkes tells everyone on the sideline.
“Be patient, D-Jam,” McKenzie says. “We’ll spring you eventually.”
“Heard that before!”
Harden watches carefully as his defense lines up. Two games of film isn’t enough to determine if the Titans offense is underachieving or just ineffective. The priority, as was stressed in practice this week, is containing Marcus Mariota’s running abilities.
Mariota drops back behind surprisingly clean pockets, able to find receivers for short gains. Harden calls more blitzes but struggles to generate pressure against Tennessee’s apparently stout offensive line.
Across midfield, Mariota drops back and scans the field. Luck breaks free, forcing Mariota left. Brock separates from his man and lines up Mariota, but the quarterback jukes him easily, running into open field with the crowd cheering. Mariota goes out of bounds twenty yards later, and the Titans are in field goal range.
DeMarco Murray takes a few carries up the middle, finding no running room. On third and ten, Mariota finally falls under pressure and hurries a throw that lands incomplete. Ryan Succop makes a forty-five-yard kick, and the Titans are on the board.
McKenzie continues searching for ways to get Wilkes loose, but in the meantime, the Knights get first downs. While Adams struggles to contain Brian Orakpo, Grodd shuts down Jurrell Casey, a player who has beaten him before, and Maverick only has to scramble around occasionally, which is fine by him. Either in the pocket or on the run he finds open receivers, ultimately hitting Harper on a seam route for a fifteen-yard touchdown. The first quarter ends with the Knights in front, 14-3.
The Titans strike back. Despite no run game to support him, Mariota continues making plays with his legs. Randall becomes liberal with his adjustments and audibles, feeding off the energy of a great game. His struggle covering tight ends was a dark spot for him last year, but today, he’s shutting Delanie Walker down.
Brock, meanwhile, grows more frustrated with every play. Taylor Lewan is stifling him on pass rush, and he’s missing a tackle every drive, it seems. His frustration leads him to rip Lewan’s facemask off on a blitz, an obvious penalty the refs somehow miss. A few plays later, Mariota throws a dart toward the end zone that Tajae Sharpe catches in stride. 14-10, Knights.
McKenzie draws up some screens and quick passes to get Wilkes involved. But his presence on the stat sheet doesn’t help the Knights, who punt for the first time today.
It looks like the Titans will soon punt back, but a miscommunication in the secondary lets Rishard Matthews get wide open, and Mariota doesn’t miss him. The stadium booms with the Titans ahead, 17-14.
Maverick gets the hurry-up offense going in the half’s final minutes, but the drive stalls, and McCabe misses a forty-two-yarder as time expires. Both teams head into the locker room.
The Titans go three and out to start the third quarter, and McKenzie has his plan ready. Transitioning to a run-first attack, the Knights lean on Jameson to go down the field. This tightens the defense up slightly, but not enough to spring Wilkes free. Maverick does, however, find Harper and Watson downfield, capping the drive with a perfectly timed screen to NesSmith, who runs into the end zone without being touched. McCabe’s extra point bangs off the left goal post, and the Knights lead, 20-17. Harden makes a mental note to work out a free agent kicker next week.
The Titans take over and try to run the ball, still to no avail. Their rushing duo of Murray and Derrick Henry stands no chance. With Mann at nose, the Randall/Martin duo behind him, and Schwinn in the second level, the Knights’ run defense is impenetrable. Taking note of this, Ripka makes some adjustments in the secondary, prepping his players for what should be a pass-happy offense the rest of the game.
The Knights get the ball back, relaxed despite only being up three. Jameson carries the offense again, moving the chains as Wilkes grows restless. Corners are jumping every sideline route, and safeties are doubling him on anything over the middle. He’s been open a few times downfield, but Maverick hasn’t tried it. How much longer is he supposed to put up with this?
Across midfield, Maverick fakes a handoff to Jameson and looks deep. Watson sprints as fast as he can, and the safety, surprisingly, is slow picking him up. He’s open, and he looks up to see the pass coming his way. Oh no. He tracks the ball, staggering his feet to get in position. He turns his body, catches the pass, and falls backwards out of bounds. Officials signal a completion as McKenzie curses in frustration. That’s a forty-yard pass, but Watson should have scored easily.
No one says anything to Watson as the Knights line up for first and goal. Maverick rolls out and hits Bishop, open in the corner of the end zone. 27-17, Knights.
With some smart ideas from Ripka, Harden crafts his game plan for the game’s final act, ripe with complex blitzes. Mariota still leads a one-man show, moving the chains with his legs and short throws. The Titans build some momentum, but the drive takes a lot of time, carrying over into the fourth quarter.
The Titans reach field goal range, facing third and three. Harden calls a weak-side blitz, and Brock eagerly lines up. He’s been wearing Lewan down this quarter, and he’s ready for a sack. Mariota lines up in shotgun and sends Walker out in motion. Randall responds by flipping the play as the ball is snapped. Grantzinger barely registers that he has to blitz, not cover, and jumps late. Jack Conklin stuffs him on the edge, so he cuts back toward the middle and accelerates, diving for an escaping Mariota and tripping him up. Luck brings him down for the sack, and the home fans groan.
Succop re-energizes the stadium some by nailing the fifty-yard field goal, but spirits are still high on the Knights sideline, up 27-20 with 13:43 to go. Randall grabs a drink of water, joined quickly by Grantzinger.
“That’s three times you’ve flipped a weak-side blitz to my side,” Grantzinger says.
“You got a problem getting sacks?”
Grantzinger doesn’t respond, instead ushered to the bench by the coaches. The linebackers sit together, with Grantzinger and Randall both glancing at Brock, and overhear Ripka complimenting the secondary for good coverage.
As the offense readies for their next drive, McKenzie picks his play. He doesn’t say anything, but this is the one, he knows it.
After a few runs and a quick pass get a first down, McKenzie calls a fake receiver screen to Watson, who lines up to Maverick’s right. After a hard count, Watson motions left, lining up next to Wilkes and Harper.
Maverick takes the snap, fakes a quick handoff, and looks left, pump faking toward the developing screen. Multiple defenders converge toward Watson as Wilkes bolts through them, behind the defense at last. Ready to run off the field if he doesn’t get this one, Wilkes sees Maverick loft a deep ball in the air. Underthrown, you asshole. Wilkes slows down with a corner closing. In one fluid motion, he catches the pass and stiff-arms the corner to the ground. He surges ahead, the Knights sideline going crazy next to him, and throws the ball into the crowd after crossing the goal line.
The visitors’ sideline becomes comfortable now, entering celebration mode despite 11:29 left on the clock. The Titans go no-huddle, down fourteen points, and Harden keeps up the blitzes.
First and ten from the Titans’ forty. Schwinn creeps toward the line as Mariota hurries the snap. Schwinn takes off, surging through an opening and hitting Mariota as he throws for the sideline. Grantzinger gets in front of the pass and heads for the end zone, no one near him as he scores. The home fans either boo or head for the exits. Knights 41, Titans 20. Game over.
The Titans try the no-huddle again, this time leading to forth and six, and the Titans punt, rightfully conceding victory.
The Knights defense enjoys the rest and celebration on the sideline, especially with the groups of fans sitting in the lower level. Players wave at them as more home fans leave, making purple more prominent around the stadium.
“Los Angeles!” Luck screams toward them. “This one’s for you!”
“Give it a fucking rest,” Brock says.
“You know what? That’s enough of your bullshit, Sean.”
Luck’s rare aggression gets the attention of a few teammates and coaches, who inch toward the two.
“You’re the one spewing bullshit, you idiot,” Brock says. “And you know what? Everyone’s thinking it. I’m the only one who’s got the balls to say it.”
“What’s going on here?” Harden asks, getting between the two. Brock motions toward the fans, and Harden knows what he means. “You don’t think this is helping back home?”
“Coach, this is bullshit. It’s a football game, and that’s all it is.”
“Oh yeah? Well, in terms of football you aren’t playing so hot, so maybe you should look outside the game.”
“You know, coach, I don’t—”
“Yeah, yeah, we know,” Harden says, interrupting as more people on the Knights sideline take notice. “You don’t give a shit. Let me put it this way. Let’s say out of that thousand is someone you care about. Your girlfriend, your wife, your mother, father, son, daughter. Dead because of a fucking earthquake. Want to tell me you wouldn’t give a shit about that?”
“I don’t have a wife or kids, coach,” Brock says, bearing that smug smile of his. Harden decides he’s had enough now.
“You know something? Maybe there’s a good reason for that. In fact, let me give you a new friend. See this?” Harden points to something behind Brock, who turns around. “That’s the bench.” Brock is about to respond when Harden shoves him violently, and his ass hits the seat. “Get acquainted.”
Brock doesn’t get up, and players don’t linger. Normalcy resumes on the sideline as the rest of the game winds down without further excitement.
Schneider strolls into the MedComm Center, coffee in hand, and settles into his office. He returns a few phone calls before summoning Phillips for their meeting.
“Any idea what Merle wants?” Schneider asks as Phillips takes a seat.
Schneider reviews yesterday’s games to pass time. He’s been in good spirits lately, and the team’s record certainly helps. The impending conversation with Phillips lingers, but it can wait a few more days, at least.
Finally, Harden arrives, approaching the desk confidently, standing far enough away to maintain eye contact with Phillips and Schneider.
“Good morning, coach,” Schneider says. “You’re looking good. Still keeping the weight off, I see.”
“Yep. Bowser and I go walking every night,” Harden says, lying. “Running, some nights, but long walks are enough.”
“Glad to hear it. So, what’s on your mind?”
“I have a request. I suppose this is directed mostly at Chance, but I wanted you both to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“So be it,” Phillips says. “What’s up?”
Harden clears his throat. “I want you to trade or cut Sean Brock.”