Who could say what weighed Matt Ryan’s arm down on that wet, hot night in Philadelphia. Perhaps it was the weight of expectations, or sleeplessness and fatherhood, or an injury we could not see and could not know.
Or maybe it was the weight of the Great Metal Falcon, who wished to see the season begin with a message that no one involved with the Falcons could forget.
That gloomy thought loomed large in Ryan’s head as he put on his Dockers pants and Docker shoes made out of Dockers pants and Dockers shirt made out of Dockers pants and crept through the silent halls of Flowery Branch the morning after the game. He had come to throw on the practice field and to quiet the whirring in his mind, but now that he was done, he was on high alert. Too many times before, he had seen a teammate make the long walk to Dan Quinn’s weirdly Gothic office and not return.
So he was only mildly alarmed and not at all surprised when Quinn spun a fuligin cape some five feet away from him and materialized like a B-movie vampire. He was prepared, in fact, and threw the football he had been holding onto with all his might right at his head coach’s head. Unfortunately, it was underthrown.
“Matt, there’s no reason to be upset,” Quinn said, his voice as thick and deep as a syrup full of stars. “I only wish to discuss your performance last night.”
Ryan looked around for an escape, but all at once the hallways melted away and were replaced with the onyx crags and upside-down towers of Dan Quinn’s cavernous office, though Ryan was certain they had not moved. Quinn was totally still.
“I think you know that your performance last night was unacceptable. You made my chosen disciple Steve Sarkisian look very bad, Matt. They talked about him as though he was not fit to be heir to the Bloodstone of Ang’Rar, and I am not the only one who hears that. A price must be paid for such failure, as the Great Lord of Iron Falconing demands,” he said.
Ryan attempted to bolt to the exit, but was brought down for a loss by Greg Knapp, who gibbered madly about four downs.
“Look, you’ve got two small children,” Quinn said, his bald pate gleaming with a sickly sheen of sweat. “So we’re only going to sacrifice you a little.”
“How does that even work?” Ryan asked, his voice quavering. “A sacrifice implies death.”
“Yeah, but it’s like...a small death,” Quinn said, nonchalantly. “You’ll be back in time for Week 2, though I cannot promise you will return the same man. Those of us who have crossed over often bring back a dark shadow that clings to the mind, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Okay, but you should know that everyone recognizes this was just a fluke for me,” Ryan said bravely. “Their eyes will turn to you and your coaching staff sooner or later, and they’ll ask why we can’t punch it in from five yards out. There’s only so many men you can throw away before the gaze turns to you. That winged pile of scrap metal can’t save you forever!”
Quinn stared at Ryan with sunken eyes and then pulled a cord next to him, plunging Ryan stylishly and comfortably into the void below. Then he sat in his comically oversized throne, cloak enveloping him. The Great Metal Falcons stared back at him, as he always did, and the two spoke of a deep darkness without speaking any words at all. At last, the iron statue broke with sensible pants on broke the silence.
“When he returns from the fiery netherworld, we gotta see about getting me another pair of khakis. Talk about comfortable!”
Quinn could only nod.