The moment the ball left his hand, Matt Ryan knew. This was not a triumphant pass that would arc over the hands of a Saints defender and into the gentle mitts of Julio Jones. It was a pass that would be intercepted for a third time, and Ryan knew very well what that third interception meant for him.
So it was not a surprise, nearly a week after the game, when a robed intern came to him with a blood-red envelope. Nearly everyone in Flowery Branch had seen one of these envelopes before, and its contents were a secret only to those who would not allow their hearts to know the truth.
“You have been summoned,” the intern squeaked, his eyes fearful beneath his iron bird mask.
Ryan made the walk slowly in a pair of sensible Banana Republic dress shoes that matched his fashionable Banana Republic argyle sweater vest, passing by a door that had been torn off its hinges a week ago by a flame-wielding Keanu Neal. When he arrived at Dan Quinn’s office, the smell of sulphur hanging heavy in the air, Ryan knocked quietly.
“Come on in,” Quinn said, his voice friendly yet strained.
When Ryan entered, he found Quinn sitting behind his desk in his cavernous room. He looked as though he had not slept for days, though the cheerful sight of Deion Jones intercepting Drew Brees was playing on infinite loop on a big screen TV. Two figures in deep red robes flanked his desk.
“Aw, hell, Matt. This isn’t an easy one for me. I know that second interception was on Austin Hooper, and we still won that game. But you have to admit those two picks could have cost us. Imagine if we had lost to the Saints, with that game being so close,” Quinn said, a little plaintively.
“Yes, cost us dearly,” said one of the robed figures, his voice dripping with the greed of an aging backup quarterback.
“Si, mucho,” said another of the robed figures, in a terrible yet familiar Spanish accent.
“You know, Dan, I’m not going to throw anyone else under the bus,” Ryan said slowly, looking surprisingly relaxed in his gray Banana Republic button down shirt. “I’m supposed to be a leader of this team, and I’ll accept whatever dark and foul punishment you have in mind. But know this! No matter my fate, I will always be better than Joe Flacco.”
“Then it must be so,” one of the robed figures said Schaubily.
“Vaya to the pit of fire!” yelped the other.
Dan Quinn looked at Ryan with a mixture of pity and sadness, the look one gets when he knows he has done what he must do, but is going to be starting Matt Schaub the rest of the season. Then he flicked a switch and the floor began to open like a flaming lotus, revealing the fires below.
Ryan saw the Great Metal Falcon, its baleful eyes illuminated by the fires below, and its powerful legs and talons incased in a pair of XXXXXL rapid movement chinos from the Banana Republic.
“Hey, you have great taste in pants, Great Metal Falcon,” Ryan said approvingly.
“Thanks for noticing, they are quite stylish,” the Great Metal Falcon thundered, its voice awesome and terrible. “Now to the lake of fire screeeee!”
Ryan scrambled away from the opening like the contents of a can of cranberry sauce dropped into an ice luge, but there was nowhere to go. Within seconds, he had plunged wordlessly out of sight, and the pit was closed anew.
Quinn’s office was quiet, too, as everyone contemplated what lay ahead, the robed figures muttering and edging quietly to the door. Then the Great Metal Falcon wheeled to face them, his eyes aglow, his words deeply menacing.
“Do you think Banana Republic stocks robes? These ones are looking pretty ratty,” he boomed.
“I’ll check, they have some great sales ahead of the holidays,” said Quinn.
The Great Metal Falcon’s screech of triumph echoed through the halls of Flowery Branch.