Pete Carroll jerked himself awake, the shadow of a dream fresh in his mind. It had been horrifying. 3:31 left in the 4th quarter, 4th and 2 at the unremembered opponent’s 41, the Seahawks down by 8: Schotty and Wilson cornered together, grinning like maniacs; Michael Dickson nowhere to be found; Penny Hart confusedly donning a helmet; Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde checking out their phones, looking at OverTheCap.com; the whole tight end unit distracted by something especially white. It wasn’t just that he was going to go for it, it was that there was no question, no moment where the gum chewed a bit differently. Just that instant, that pure moment of decisiveness. It was terrible.
Upon awakening, Pete discovered a second surprise: somehow, overnight, he had transformed into a bug. His back, now armored, was heavy, and he could barely lift his head, just enough to make out an elongated belly, brown and more convex than he would like (more than it ever was on his plant-based diet, that’s for sure), divided by arches into sections, all covered by a multitude of thin and helpless legs. Their uncontrollable movement tore at his bedding.
At first, he was sure that this must be some further part of a nightmare. Yet as he opened his eyes again, actually looked, he saw that it was not so: his room was still his room. There, in one corner, a film station, footage of Trevon Moehrig-Woodard still on the display from last night, fond wishes of deploying him with Adams, Diggs, Blair, and Amadi in a five-safety set sending him to a peaceful slumber. (He had to be careful, though; not too long ago, he’d imagined converting Flowers back to safety, pairing him with Neal, even, in a seven-safety set – fuck dime, he’d throw down a polyhedral subpackage with two corners, a Nose Tackle and a 3Tech, a multi-dimensional strategy of inviolability, like a gangster of the elder days pulling a switchblade – and the idea had been so exciting, he’d kept himself awake for hours.) And there, on the opposite wall hung his framed picture of a beaming and resplendent Reggie Bush, a reminder of his happiest days; the younger, the more impermanent they were, the easier for him. It wasn’t that he wanted easy, but he sure didn’t mind it.
He then turned to look out the window, and the sun streaming upon Hermosa Beach did little to cheer him, a surprise in itself; another sunny day, he thought to himself, morosely. After a few moments of despair, he decided to go back to sleep. It wasn’t that he wanted to go back to sleep – while he didn’t dislike sleep, purposeless sleep bothered him enormously – but what else could he do? Sadly, the universe shook its head upon him – no matter how hard he threw himself into what had been his normal sleeping position, he kept coming back to where he had been, on his back. Try and try again, even with his eyes closed so that he couldn’t see the eerie legs floundering about, he eventually had to stop, when he discovered a mild pain, one that he had never experienced before, which must have come from his transformation.
Pete Carroll reached for his nearest pack of chewing gum, but alas! He’d forgotten that he no longer had hands, and thus couldn’t even pick up the pack, let alone unwrap a piece. Could he even chew gum anymore? He didn’t know, and suppressed what in happier days would have been a sob, but which instead sounded like a quiet rustling sound instead.
In his despair, he considered calling in sick; Nate had been pressing him to let him lead a practice for years now. But that would certainly be suspicious – he hadn’t called in sick for years! Or what if he told Kenny to let Nate run practice? Would it seem less nepotistic coming from Kenny? As he was considering these bleak alternatives, he happened to look at the clock on a bedside table, and exclaimed: it was nearly seven in the morning! He hadn’t slept later than five in years! How could this have happened?
While enraptured by these strange thoughts, a gentle but sudden tapping sounded on his door. “Petey,” came the familiar voice of GM John Schneider, “you up man?” Summoning as much energy as he could, Peter responded, “ye- yes, th, thank you. Yes, I’m get- getting up now.” But the voice that emanated from his body was hardly recognizable; as if from somewhere deep, abnormally deep, yet also high-pitched, akin to an annoying squeaker in a pet-toy, the words came out only barely intelligibly, unarticulated, joined by an echo of themselves, leaving any listener unsure if they heard a subsequent word or merely a repetition of the first word.
At first, his mind spinning with other, more pressing concerns, it seemed that this weird noise would satisfy most requirements. Again, the universe offered a comical but silent rebuke. After a few moments during which he desperately tried to get out of bed — try as he might, it was very difficult to concentrate well enough to move a single leg, whereupon all the rest would fly in unexpected and wild directions, making their own chemtrails atop his now disturbed bedding — he heard a new voice at his door, as DC Kenny Norton inquired “Pete, Pete, what’s wrong?” When Pete said nothing, he called out in a deeper voice, now knocking on the door more forcefully than before, “Pete!” From another direction, another door whose existence he had forgotten, he heard the siren voice of his friend Carl Smith: “PC are you unwell? Is there something you need?”
All he wanted was a chance to eat breakfast in peace. An amalgamation of black bean, flax seed, and kale lay at that very moment in the refrigerator downstairs with his name all over it. Sensing that these voices wouldn’t leave him be now, he spoke as clearly as possible, enunciating each word so clearly that what amounted to an awkward pause fell into the silence between each word: “I. Am. Ready.” He heard nothing for a few moments, then footsteps; though not all of his supplicants had left, as he heard Carl once more, but in a whisper: “PC open the door, please I beg of you.”
With great pain, he ignored this entreaty. Moving his head as much as he could, he looked at the clock again, and discovered to his horror that it was already past seven in the morning. Soon, other, less savory, personalities would want, need, to know where he was. Throwing himself, once more and furiously, into the struggle of escaping the bed that had become a prison, he swore to himself that he would be up and out before the clock struck quarter past.
And for a while, it seemed his efforts may pay off; he had to suppress a smile — what he imagined a smile, at least — when he remembered just how many strong people he could call upon to help move him, at least onto the ground where he hoped his multitude of tiny legs may find some use. But it was truly pointless. From his bed, he heard the sound of a chime at the entrance to his house, then the quiet opening and closing of the front door, muffled voice, footsteps upon the stairs, and then at last the voice of Russell Wilson, quiet at first but then louder as he spoke to an unknown person, who then identified himself as Mark Rodgers, as he issued strident thoughts to John, Kenny, and Carl. Upset by this turn of events, Pete thought to himself: why him? Why not anybody else? But then Russell Wilson was at his door, and spoke after a few short, hard raps on the bedroom door: “Hey Peter ma’an, I heard that you are not well. And I just wanted to say God is Good. Just keep thinking those positive thoughts. Our goal is to Win, there is no Loss. The separation is in the preparation; You are Called, You are Chosen. Just be consistent, be Always On. Every day. When everyone else sleeps, we work; let them dream. Always be grateful for that opportunity. We gotta be back for the 12s we—”.
Pete had heard enough. He hated when Russ just didn’t make any sense. In his frustration, he forgot his circumstances, and offered a long explanation: “Hey hey hey we’re all okay, I’ll open up the door in a sec, no worries. I’m just slightly unwell, nothing to smirk about, an attack of dizziness, like when Cody hit me in the face with a ball, heh heh; I’m still in bed but I’ll be up and out in a moment you’ll see. It’s downright shocking what can happen all of a sudden, but resting a bit has done me worlds of good, you just keep on going I’ll be right behind you, I’ll get your back, you’ll see.”
After Pete had unthinkingly spoken in a rush, more words than he had uttered all morning, he heard screams and cries from the other side of the door. “Did you understand a single solitary word of that madness?” Mark Rodgers was shouting, presumably to everybody else. “Oh god,” cried Kenny, “he could be seriously sick; are we making him suffer?”, to which Carl responded in a state of distress “we must get a doctor instantly! And not just a team doctor!” “That was the voice of an enraged animal,” screamed Mark Rodgers, as Pete could just barely overhear what sounded like John Schneider asking Siri for the number of a good locksmith.
In contrast, though, Pete had become calmer. Their cries were those of people who wanted to help; he believed that, if nothing else. For the first time that morning, he felt like a person again. Noting that perhaps their reactions were caused by a muffling of sound from the closed door, he resolved to open it; whatever he did and said next would be critical. Mustering all his energy, he threw himself from his bed, and discovered to his amazement that all those multitudinous little legs supported his body. His movement was spasmodic, and though he couldn’t control its directionality with any precision, he could do so well enough (with a fond memory of Christine Michael floating to the top of his mind). Reaching the door, he once again threw his body, this time upwards, and he was relieved to see that his body was long enough for his jaws to reach the handle. With a third herculean effort, he bit down on the metallic lever, and slowly, arduously, pulled down, imagining that those on the other side of those walls, that door, cheered him on, cajoled him, supplicative, as no one had done for 49 years. At last, the door opened, though in pulling both down and into the room caused him to lose his balance, and fall upon his back once again.
Cursing himself for his unnatural clumsiness, he tried as much as he could from his supine position to project his voice to where he imagined everyone was standing, and spoke thusly: “now then. Just gimme a few minutes to get dressed, and I’ll coach practice. I can still coach. I’m not merely being stubborn; I’m still good at my job, and I still love my job. Even coaching offensive players,” that with an implied mental directive to Mark Rodgers. “Please make sure that you recall these conversations honestly. I can coach any QB. People always say it’s a mistake to bring your fists to a knife fight, but what if you bring just one fist, and the other fist is behind your back, holding an assault rifle. Pound them with tailback runs until they’ve stopped paying any attention to that other hand; a good defense will keep you from getting stabbed, too badly, I mean, really. It is explosions that win every melee; there’s nothing more analytical than that. This I have known since before there even was Excel.”
A few moments of silence were then pierced by a sudden scream, high-pitched and full of fear. Pete did not need to look up to know that it came from Mark Rodgers, who proceeded to wail, while running away, that Russell Wilson could find a new agent if he was going to play under the direction of a bug this season. And in an epiphanic flash, Pete just knew that Rodgers couldn’t be allowed to leave; everyone else, even Russ, he could trust to help him through the next season – at least, if not longer – but not Rodgers. He represented so much of what was wrong with football – not just the business of it, the cap, everything that stood in the way of greatness, but the desperation with which every aspect of the league catered to its own appearance. Pete could not allow him to flee before he could persuade the agent that he was still himself, even if he didn’t look it, before Rodgers told every beat writer, every pundit, every analyst that Peter Carroll had undergone some metamorphosis, was not the coach he was purported to be.
But three efforts were all he could bear. Using his legs to push his body around so that he was facing the hallway out of which Rodgers had recently run, he looked at his friends assembled before him. Kenny and Carl were hugging one another, Carl sobbing into Kenny’s shoulder, face completely averted; Kenny was watching Pete, just barely, a look of horror in his eyes, tears streaming down his face but silent, stroking Carl’s head. Russ was dancing around, as if an opposing defense had somehow deployed a thousand deep safeties, and Aaron Donald was suddenly one-on-one against Carpenter, or Sweezy, or Britt, or Glowinski, or Ifedi, or Joeckel, or Aboushi, or Fluker, or any of them, in so many of their multitudes. Schneider had rolled up a magazine, brandishing it as a club in one hand while holding the other in a gesture of warning, eyes swimming, mirroring an amalgam of fear and wrath and deep, abiding sadness.
For the rest of his days, Pete wouldn’t know if there was some measure of tenderness in Schneider’s next movement, but did it matter, really? Moving with all of the caution that he learned in trading away nearly every first round pick he’d ever laid eyes upon, Schneider slowly closed the distance between him and Pete, gently extended one foot, and with a soft kick tossed Pete from his back onto his legs once again. Then, with all of the rapidity he learned in trading up in the second round – a course correction, desperate and full of panic, rooted in that sudden realization that you can’t draft all of your players on day 3, the best of days – he leapt back, still afraid, mad, sad, brandishing his paper weapon.
Pete Carroll took one last look, and then turned around, moved back to his room. He heard, but did not see, the door being closed behind him. The turning of the lock may as well have been a funeral dirge.
The first few moments were utterly neutral — neither happy nor sad, not busy but not not that — more a mystery. Yet as those initial seconds creeped onwards, as they became minutes, then hours, then days, and perhaps even weeks, existence turned to something else. Among that else: quiet, ambivalence, even peace. In that myopic darkness, hidden behind curtains never to be opened again, he dreamed, of touch: the churning legs of a halfback, the stampeding of cleats, perpetuating an enormity of violence upon dark green blades of grass, flecked here and there with white, a dance superimposed on a melee; the bending and breaking of pockets, a fierce and enraged storm of pass-rushers breaking upon hated quarterbacks like a billion Greeks casting their special, epic ruin on the walls of a nearly vanquished Troy; a labyrinth of defensive backs, as complex and daunting as the most high-tech laser security apparatus from a movie or tv show of the 2010s, moving with the sudden intensity of an assassin granted the power of teleportation, birds of prey spreading conflagration everywhere, promising to one and every forward pass that they would deny it, deny them all, any safe spaces; and yes, even the slightest curving of a back hand, the lesser of a dominant sibling that has just Done Its Thing, a parabolic magic, an evocation behind the veil of a defense, leaving only bewildered spectators (including opposing cornerbacks), the most skeptical of them certain that the wideout must’ve secretly been carrying a ball all along, and that everything else was just sleight-of-hand. Somewhere in the depths of those dreams, sleep turned to listlessness, to immobility, and what had been discomfort diminished, growing weaker even as he himself did. He thought of those who had been like family (including some of his actual family), of the game itself, with love, more fierce than easy, and though he no longer possessed lips he still imagined a smile, adorned with a smirk, his last and most enduring memory of and testament to what he had seen and done. From somewhere off in the distance, a clock tolled, a booming pronouncement of both the earliest of mornings and the darkest of nights; and before the first light of the new sun touched the might and infinite waters of the Pacific, his head sank further and further, until it lay unmoving upon the floor, and expelled a last breath.