Purdue gets a visit from an old friend.
A special, unscheduled Seventh Circle.
[SCENE: a dimly-lit, nearly-empty bar in Reno]
BEARDED STRANGER IN BLACK AND GOLD: It was almost like… people had forgotten me.
BARTENDER: [wiping down glasses, not listening]
STRANGER: You see, for a while, I was front and center. Things seemed bleak for the program, but I still brought joy to people. Sure, maybe I screwed up here and there. Maybe I didn’t always say the right thing, or do the right thing. But I had the spirit in my heart, and I was a part of the season.
BARTENDER: [watching college football highlights on a television mounted above the bar]
STRANGER: There was plenty of room for me back then, too. Lived in an abandoned Sears for a while. They didn’t even fully clean out the place after the store closed, either. Lots of unsold candy bars and bathrobes still there. Good living.
BARTENDER: [notices stranger’s glass is empty, pours more Old Granddad]
STRANGER: But then everything took a turn. Everyone else seemed to think it was a turn for the better, but not me. The program improved. They brought in people who knew what they were doing. Whole vibe changed around everything. Heck, they even turned that Sears into an indoor putt-putt course. Shooed me out onto the street.
BARTENDER: [has gone back to ignoring him]
STRANGER: This Rondale Moore kid, he was turning them into a real threat. Listen, I can’t say anything bad about him. Seems like a great kid, and he’s a tremendous player. But I saw this almost two decades ago with Drew Brees. An electric player shows up, suddenly people are paying attention to the program.
BARTENDER: [is out back smoking]
STRANGER: When people are paying attention, that’s bad for Ol’ Nick! [jabs meaty thumb into his own chest, indicating that his name must be Nick] I can’t hang around the stadium anymore, sneaking into the press box to loot the media buffet. There’s actual media there. I can’t roam the stands looking for valuables people might’ve dropped. Heck, I can’t even siphon gas out of the coaches’ cars. They’ve got actual security when the team’s winning.
BARTENDER: [has returned, is reading a magazine]
STRANGER: [leans across bar, agitated] You know what the fans are doing the week of Christmas now? They’re going to bowl games!
BARTENDER: [is now reading a self-help book titled “How To Deal With Uncomfortable Situations” and nodding occasionally]
STRANGER: Time was, they’d be spending December 28th looking for deals at the discount mall, not watchin’ a team play in a Music City Bowl. It’s not right! I counted on the money I’d get from them that week. Belated photos with the kids of parents who don’t have their act together. Selling stolen Playstations out of the back of my Fiesta. Runnin’ three-card monte in the food court. That money’d keep Ol’ Nick livin’ high for months. Space heaters and Michelina’s dinners. Royal Crown Cola. Penicillin.
BARTENDER” [is reading a different self-help book titled “Accepting Failure”, and nodding somberly]
STRANGER: The good life.
GUY DOWN THE BAR: Hey, pal, anyone ever tell you you look like Santa Claus?
STRANGER: [drinks whiskey, doesn’t even turn to look at him] They used to.
GUY: I love Christmas. Lemme buy you a drink. I’m celebrating!
STRANGER: [turns, intrigued by the notion of something free] Good fortune come your way, young man!
GUY: I oughta say so! I laid a huge bet down on the Wolfpack to beat Purdue. Wasn’t lookin’ so hot when they were down 31-14 in the third quarter. Hell of a comeback, though! You see this? [gestures to television, where highlights of Nevada’s stunning come-from-behind victory against Purdue, capped by a 56-yard-field goal by a freshman kicker, are playing]
STRANGER: As a matter of fact, I did see it.
GUY: You gotta wonder what got into ‘em. I mean, those Boilermakers were lookin’ plenty solid for most of the game there, and then they just fell apart. I’m not complainin’, made me a lot of money.
STRANGER: Who’s to say? College football’s a strange sport. It’s easy to forget it’s just a bunch of kids out there. Playing on the road, in an unfamiliar environment, maybe something rattles you. The crowd gets to you. One play goes wrong, and you lose confidence. Momentum shifts quickly, and you don’t have the experience to get things back under control.
GUY: Yeah, maybe.
STRANGER: Or maybe someone broke into their equipment room and replaced all their Gatorade with expired Fruitopias from 1998.
STRANGER: I’m just saying, that’s a thing that could happen.
GUY: I guess so. Anyways, what’re you drinkin’?
STRANGER: [nods toward man slumped in corner booth] I’ll have what he’s having.
SLUMPED MAN: [stands up, slurring] once I had a girl on roggy top, haff bear nother cat hat…
MAN: [passes out on floor]
BARTENDER: Two vodka and motor oils comin’ up.
STRANGER: It’s going to be a magical season.
[if you have no idea what I’m doing here, please revisit:]