Coach Quinn furiously jotted on his parchment, the quill grasped tightly in his right hand. His office reeked of sulfur and ash, dread thick in the air like a Pleistocene tar pit. The candles had long turned to glowing wax stalagmites on his desk — he’d been at this for many, many hours now.
His parchment was littered with diagrams and figures, statistics and stick figures. While he always took his evaluations with utmost gravity, he made sure to carve out moments of lightness to maintain his own wits. In the bottom right hand corner was a hastily drawn doodle of a prairie dog wearing a top hat.
The facility was mainly empty, save for Arthur Blank skulking through the halls at night and Thomas Dimitroff pedaling to power the furnaces below. The coaching staff was present, sleeping suspended upside-down from the ceiling of the subterranean cavern adjacent to Coach Quinn’s office. Robert Alford also remained, as he was unable to resist grabbing the lever that shifted the stone panels in front of the exits.
But Quinn quietly continued his work. And through his scrawled postmortem of the 2018 season, amid the incoherence of the scribbles, one thing became clear: An unholy trinity had taken root in Flowery Branch, and it must be purged, lest the franchise sink into the bubbling fires below.
He donned a tattered friar’s robe and made his way down the spiral staircase, torch in hand, and entered the opening leading to the coordinators’ roost. He raised the flame to stir the colony of coaches.
“Steve, Marquand, Keith: awaken. It’s time for the press conference.”
The three skittered down the walls and followed Quinn into the media area. But they did not see lights or microphones or D. Led’s bow-tie. It was only a dimly lit room with an immense granite table.
“Secure them!” Quinn yelled, and his acolytes swiftly overpowered the coordinators and fastened them to the granite slab. “You three have brought malice to this place! It was shown to me in the drawings — the jet sweeps, the three-man pass rush, Andre Roberts. That guy’s a Pro Bowler now! What Faustian bargain was arranged? How do you three conspire against me?!”
Sarkisian cackled, his eyes glowing an irradiated green as the fetters strained to keep him from levitating off the table. “The deal was yours alone, Quinn. It was you who embraced the Sark; it was you who summoned me. You saw my appetites in that Alabama coach’s box, and you hired me anyway. Turn your vitriol inward.”
An arctic chill swept through the room. Coach Quinn shivered in his robes, his breath as thick and dense as the smoke from one of Bryan Cox’s Cohibas.
Marquand Manuel appeared frail and helpless. “Why you do this to me, Quinny?,” he lifelessly muttered as his head began rotating like a weather vane in the wind. “Follow the football, follow the football, follow the football,” he repeated in a guttural tone. “Make the play, make the play, make the play.”
Keith Armstrong directed his gaze at Quinn, an aura like an ancient dark talisman enveloping his visage.
“Do you know what I made him do? Your punting Bosher?!” His mouth twisted into a perverse grin, revealing a serpentine tongue and rows of concertina wire teeth. “I told him no touchbacks! No touchbacks! And for his obedience I gifted him superhuman strength. You saw it, Daniel — he killed Kenjon Barner!”
“Keep quiet, demon!” Coach Quinn doused Armstrong with blessed citrus Gatorade, the liquid sizzling like a hot skillet as it reached his skin. “You lot have brought a pall to this facility. You bearers of abominable schemes and busted coverages, blown assignments and backward kick returns — I cast you out!”
The chamber started to rumble and shake, and the three coordinators howled in unison as Quinn began doing the Dirty Bird to the pounding rhythms in his head. He was joined in this ceremonial performance by Blank and Dimitroff, both draped in traditional hooded cloaks emblazoned with the sigil of the Order of the Falcon. A whirlwind of swinging elbows and knocking knees was met with the gnashing of teeth from the three on the stone table. The howls and shrieks grew decibels louder as the dance continued and the coordinators thrashed; their torment the back beat to the ritualistic act taking place.
The Great Metal Falcon peered in from behind the craggy rock, enjoying the cacophony from afar.
Arthur Blank hoisted his shiny new MLS Cup trophy and raised his voice at Sarkisian, Manuel, and Armstrong. “The power of The Stripes compels you!”
Quinn and Dimitroff echoed the chorus. “THE POWER OF THE STRIPES COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF THE STRIPES COMPELS YOU!”
The earth below them split asunder, drawing the three coordinators into the boiling waste below and leaving no trace but three vaporous plumes where they once were. Quinn, Dimitroff, and Blank stared wide-eyed at one another, realizing the unexpected truth: They had completed the first true NFL exorcism.
Robert Alford, mixed up as to where he should be, stumbled into the chamber. The smoke swirled around his face and receded, revealing the trio in the darkness.
“Coach? Mr. Blank? TD? What are you doing down here in this cave? Is this a party? Y’all got apps?”
“No apps, Robert, no,” Quinn replied. “But we’ve just purchased this new stretching table and we’re giving it a once over. Here, come have a seat.”
Alford walked over and lay on the granite slab. “Bit hard for a stretching table, you think?”
Quinn just smirked as he grabbed the restraints.