Ol’ Pete sat in his office, outlining a defensive game plan for Sunday night. His defensive coaches would fill in the details throughout the week. The offensive game plan, he felt, could wait. There are only so many running plays in this world to choose from, anyway.
The Seahawk was fretting, per usual. The Niners. Surely sore from their narrow defeat in the hellish bowels of Santa Clara, they would be motivated to get one back over on the Seahawk. And then there were the stakes. But Ol’ Pete, as always, didn’t seem to act as if this game were bigger than any other.
Ol’ Pete’s desk phone buzzed with the voice of his assistant: “There’s someone here to see you, sir. A nerd, I think.” As if to explain this last part, the assistant added, “She’s wearing glasses.”
“I’m busy,” grouched Ol’ Pete.
“She won’t take no for an answer.” Right as the assistant finished talking, there was a knock on his door.
“It’s me, Anna,” she said, from the other side of the door. The woman strode in without waiting for a response, wearing glasses and carrying both her laptop and a small box. Though surprised by her sudden appearance, Ol’ Pete kicked his feet up on the desk and leaned back in his chair, attempting to establish superiority through performative nonchalance. The Seahawk offered everyone whiskey, but Anna refused.
“Let’s get down to business,” she said briskly.
Ol’ Pete held up a hand. “Hold on. First, Anna, I want to know who you are and why you think you belong in this office.”
“Why wouldn’t I belong in this office?” She glowered at Ol’ Pete.
“Because you’re a nerd,” he scoffed. Anna didn’t appear to have expected that answer. “This is a football coach’s office. It’s unnatural. We stay separated for the good of society.”
“First, that’s ridiculous. Second, I’m not just a ‘nerd’, I’m Anna Lidic.” Ol’ Pete’s expression did not indicate recognition, so Anna tried again. “I’m the head of the Seahawk’s analytics department! We talked before the season started!”
The Seahawk and Ol’ Pete exchanged glances. There was silence but for the ticking of a small clock on the mantle. Finally, with Anna’s annoyance growing ever more palpable, a befuddled Ol’ Pete said, “I actually forgot you. And that we have an analytics department.”
Anna’s face fell. “Actually, I do want that whiskey. Neat. And make it a double.” Once it was in her hands, she stared down at it and said, “I recently found out that we have a mole in the department. Someone has been able to intercept the analysis my team and I prepare each week for you, and so you haven’t seen any of our work all season long.” She looked back up at Ol’ Pete. “I wish you would have said something to us so we’d have known sooner.”
Ol’ Pete had little interest in analytics, which in his mind were just some invented numbers accompanied by clever graphs and inscrutable acronyms designed to make him, personally, feel dumb. He was thrilled that the analytics packages weren’t making it to him each week and would gladly keep it that way.
But Anna had shown up in person, so he felt he had to humor her. He started to ask, “So, you’re here, what do you and the rest of the nerds want to tell me?” At the word ‘nerd’, however, Anna downed the double whiskey and slammed her empty glass onto Ol’ Pete’s desk with such force the Seahawk was surprised it didn’t crack. She repeated the gesture with the box she had brought.
“Hey, what…” Ol’ Pete started to say, but Anna cut him off.
“Listen to me, you doddering old fool!” she snapped, voice raised. Ol’ Pete was stunned, as was the Seahawk. No one talked to Ol’ Pete like this, and the effect was mesmerizing. They were both listening. “You’ve been able to dodge us all year thanks to the mole, but you are going to sit there now and you are going to listen to me, so help me God. Do you know how many lives are at stake here?”
It took a moment for Ol’ Pete to find his voice again. “Uh, none?” he croaked.
Anna calmed herself down, but maintained a grave tone. “I don’t mean in a literal life or death sense. Look, I’m here to help you. I bet you think we ‘nerds’ are emotionally detached automatons and don’t really care about these games, but I want to prove otherwise. I care about this game, I want you to win this game. I want you to send those Niners back to their miserable stadium with their tails tucked between their legs, crying and begging for mercy as you cut them down where they stand!”
Anna paused a moment to compose herself again as the Seahawk and Ol’ Pete grew concerned about her level of commitment. “I know you have your strengths and they’ve managed to get this team this far. You’re to be commended for that. However, there’s one big and easily fixed weakness that could be the end of you, and you’ll take everyone down with you. You cannot let it continue any longer.”
“And that is?” Ol’ Pete asked.
“Fourth downs.” Anna said the term like a TV detective announcing a murder victim’s cause of death to the audience.
Ol’ Pete immediately replied, “I trust my gut.”
Anna laughed mirthlessly. “Your gut is not only wrong a lot, but it’s damn slow. How many timeouts have you wasted trying to make a decision? How many punts on fourth and one inside opponent territory? It needs to end.”
The Seahawk watched Ol’ Pete’s face pull into a grimace. “You can not rush the gut feeling. It takes time to develop, like a child in the womb.”
Anna ignored that, and instead pulled out an item from the box she had brought. “This is the Golden Calculator.” The reverence in her voice was clear. The Seahawk couldn’t believe how it gleamed, even in the dull artificial lighting of the office. “It’s specially made for fourth downs. Just punch in the score and situation, and it tells you the correct decision. It’s quick and easy, no time outs required.” She narrowed her eyes at Ol’ Pete. “Well, maybe not for you. Get an intern to handle it, or something.”
The Seahawk was about to ask Anna if she perhaps had a device a bit more suited to the antiquated Ol’ Pete, such as a Golden Slide Rule, but Ol’ Pete was too quick to reply. “I’m sorry, I appreciate the work you put into this, but I won’t give my gut up for this…contraption. Your numbers may mean something to you, but they aren’t on that field, sweating and working and bleeding. Your numbers don’t understand the momentum…”
“Doesn’t exist,” muttered Anna, but Ol’ Pete kept going.
“…and the way my players are feeling,” he finished.
“It could very well increase your win probability by at least five to ten percent, you old fool!”
“Stop calling me a…” Ol’ Pete trailed off at the placating hand placed on his shoulder by the Seahawk. He sighed. “Fine. Fine! Dammit, Anna, I can’t promise I’ll use it, but I’ll think about it.”
Anna nodded. It was the most she could honestly hope for. “Please think strongly about it.”
Ol’ Pete held the Golden Calculator in his hand, twisting and turning it to get a look at every part of it. “It has a pleasing weight to it, I will admit. Is this whole thing 100% real gold?”
“It’s actually…” she paused, deciding she did not want to explain the intricacies of electronics to Ol’ Pete. “Yes. All gold.” The Seahawk knew she was lying, but couldn’t be sure if the coach did.
Ol’ Pete smiled at the golden object. He liked things made of nothing but a single material. Simple, easy to understand. “Not bad. Well, thank you, Anna,” he said, switching to his best ‘you’re dismissed’ voice. “Anything else?”
Anna stood up and gathered her laptop. “Could you maybe run a little less on second and long?”
“You can’t ask for too much in this world,” Ol’ Pete said, grinning.
“Worth a shot,” Anna grumbled, leaving Ol’ Pete and the Seahawk alone with the Golden Calculator.
Ol’ Pete punched in some numbers. “Yard line, down, distance…,” he said to himself, painstakingly pressing each button with his index finger. “Calculate.” He stared at the result. “Go for it?” Ol’ Pete tossed the Golden Calculator aside. “It’s broken,” he announced to the Seahawk. “Isn’t that always the way? Oh well. Come on, time to set up for today’s practice.”
The Seahawk didn’t move and instead looked at Ol’ Pete suspiciously. The coach threw on a crooked grin. “I bet you’ve already figured out Anna’s mole works for me.” The Seahawk nodded, realizing he’d known as soon as he learned of the mole. “Of course I know about our analytics department. And I wanted to sabotage it myself. I hired the mole, someone who is in line with my thinking on fourth downs, to make sure the analytics data never made it to me. Then I could say I never got the data, so I could keep using my gut.” Ol’ Pete sighed. “It would appear the mole gave himself away during last week’s game, however, so I think the jig is up.”
After Ol’ Pete left the room, the Seahawk picked up the Golden Calculator. It felt like a betrayal when he realized he agreed with a contraption, not his superior. The Seahawk stuffed the Golden Calculator into one of the pockets of his trenchcoat. Perhaps, during the Niners game, he could get Ol’ Pete to use it.
As the Seahawk hustled to catch up to Ol’ Pete, he committed the second betrayal in as many minutes when he realized that he wanted the old coach to listen more to Anna Lidic, and less to his gut, lest they fall short of keeping up in a changing world.