Pigskin: The Untold Story of Adam Gase
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
By Ed Wilkins.
The year is 2047. Adam Gase sighs, shuffles through some papers and gets up from his desk. The sun is setting. He walks across his office to a row of little portraits on the wall. The first portrait is of Peyton Manning, in his Denver colours – navy and orange – with a plaque underneath it: 2012-2015. His skin is withered and sagging, and his pads hang loose around his emaciated frame. He looks as though he is struggling under the weight of the Lombardi Trophy, which is held up in his hands. His face is contorted into a grimace.
‘Better you than me, sunshine.’ says Gase, turning from the portrait. The next on the wall is Sam Darnold, sitting on the Jets sideline. The plaque reads 2018-2024. But there are more portraits on the wall. Next is blonde-haired “Dirk Fantasy” – 2025-2028. “Vin Gifford” – 2028-2030. “John Thistles” – 2030-2031. “Morgan Haabernacher” – 2032-2036. “Ray Gamp IV”, with a tribal tattoo on his arm (it means ‘sensibility’ in Maori) – 2036-2041. “Dutch Glover” – 2041-2043. “Lance DeVito Junior” – 2043-2047. They seem to leer down at him.
There is a crack, a pop of smoke, and the air is filled with the scent of smoky bacon crisps, a smell almost wholly unlike actual smoky bacon. Gase is thrown back onto a green leather chaise-longue. He rubs his eyes, and squints. An apparition stands before him. He looks it up and down, suddenly confused. He can see the portraits on the wall through the sallow, spectral figure before him.
‘But you’re… You’re…’ sputters Gase.
‘Yes… Say it…’ whispers the figure.
‘You’re Rod Marinelli! I didn’t realise you were dead!’
‘Oh yes…’ says the ghost of Rod Marinelli ‘I’m afraid nobody came the funeral, dear boy. A nasty bit of trouble…’ He gestures towards Gase with a flick of his phantom finger. ‘But I’m here on official business, so I’m afraid you will have to address me by my proper title. You must call me “the Ghost of Oh-and-Sixteen”’
The room seems to spin around Gase, and the darkness creeps in through the windows.
‘Wait a minute…’ he manages to gasp, ‘what about Hue Jackson? Didn’t he go Oh-and-Sixteen as well?’
‘I’m afraid Hue has proved himself too inept, even in death’. The Ghost closes his eyes sadly.
‘He is cleaning the ghost-toilets of Paul Brown Ghost Stadium, I’m afraid. A fate worse than ghost-death.’
All Gase can do is stare, his black eyes flicking around the room, unable to focus on anything. One of the portraits has fallen onto the floor, and the glass has shattered. The Ghost begins to move towards him, his tracksuit ending in nothing, hovering, his feet nowhere to be seen. Gase scrabbles backward, his hands struggling for purchase on the tiles. Eventually he scoots backwards under the desk, and sits there too afraid to move, hunched, his arms wrapped around his knees.
‘Remember Sam, Adam. Remember him… Remember… Remember…’
The room swims. Gase is in what looks like a mental health institution. It doesn’t appear anyone can see him (the classic ghost/flashback situation). There, strapped to a bed, is Darnold. His eyes are wide open, and unblinking. All of a sudden he thrashes upwards, his hands struggling with the manacles, longing to check it down, to evade the blitz.
‘Poor Sam.’ Says an attractive doctor in a green and white lab coat to another, as Darnold relaxes; his eyes once more misty and staring. She walks over to his bedside. ‘He’s seen another ghost.’ She plops a couple of drops in both of his eyes.
‘Omaha…’ Sam whispers, his bulging eyes scanning an imaginary field.
Adam is back under his desk, a single tear rolling down his cheek, and lodging in his whiskers. Marinelli seems to be gone. He stays under there for half an hour just to make sure (sneaking his hand into the drawer where he keeps his scotch and heavy cream). Once he is sure the phantom is gone, he goes home. The Jets are playing the San Jose Fightin’ Armadillos in a couple of days and he needs his sleep.
He dreams of Sam again. And the One Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned.
He awakens fitfully, the bed full of sweat. He eats three rounds of dry toast and gulps it down with a Pina Colada before heading out of the door. On the drive to the stadium he stops at a Wendy’s and orders a vanilla milkshake, two large pickles and four large portions of fries with extra salt. No ketchup thank you – this is a man who likes his drinks thick, his vegetables shrunken, and his carbs dry.
Once he gets to the stadium, his breath smelling like hot arse, he orders his team to start their drills. The Wide Receivers run their route trees; Hooks, Curls and Slants. Way up in the stands, unseen by Gase or the players, the ghost of Rod Marinelli shakes his head.
‘Has he learned nothing?’
The ghost of Jeff Fisher pats him on the shoulder.
‘He has time yet, Rod. He needs time…’
‘You’re right, Jez. You’re right…’
The Jets’ new Quarterback, Hadley Memorial, drafted ninth overall, sails a pass over the head of Tight End, Trey Funk. Gase claps.
‘Good try, Hadley.’
The kick sails through the uprights as the clock hits zero, and Adam Gase raises his fist. The Jets have lost by 15 to 13, but the kick is something to cheer for. There is a flag though – encroachment. The penalty moves the team 5 yards closer to the Endzone, they are now just three yards out. Nah, Gase waves the team back off the field – a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, boys. True contentment is being happy with what you have.
Hadley Memorial has been seen sprinting out of the Stadium at half time, citing a need to ‘really find himself’. The backup, Perry F. Sinclair, has thrown for 98 yards on just 26 attempts. In the locker room, Gase congratulates the boys before retiring to his office for a White Russian and a Baked Potato. The picture of Hadley Memorial is already on the wall, bearing the plaque 2047-2047. Once he has finished with his dinner, Gase decides to take a nap.
A sound like a plane flying over the stadium wakes him from his reverie with a jump. His office is dark and seems to be filling with smoke. The air is thick with the smell of cat wee.
‘You didn’t listen Adam m’boy. You had the chance, and you blew it. I think I might have to try again’.
Marinelli, hovering in front of Adam, clicks his tubby ghostly fingers. With a pop, a lead appears in his grasp, and at the other end, a hideous, swarthy Goblin, frothing at the mouth, with wispy hair and skin the colour of an Iberico Ham. The creature leaps at Gase, before being dragged back by the lead.
‘Down, John!’ says Marinelli – ‘Down, fella. I’ll get you a liver treat when we get back.’ John smiles and sits back on his haunches, tongue wagging.
Gase had fallen backwards into the wall with the portraits, and dislodged three or four – broken glass had cut through his socks, and little spots of blood were dribbling onto the green and white fleck linoleum.
‘Sorry, Adam, so sorry. He doesn’t know his own strength.’ Marinelli leans towards Gase – ‘we will have to try again, though. You don’t want to end up like me…’
The room spins around Adam again, and suddenly he is planted into a fancy ballroom, full of the NFL’s élite – hoity toity types. Marcus Mariota is there, and Tyrod Taylor. Whoooeee, Gase thinks to himself, what I could do with top-tier talent like that!
Then, he realises with a start where he is. Rod is sat in between Jason Garrett and Dan Quinn, and John is sniffing Sean McVay’s trouser leg. He looks to the back of the room, where, past Julio Jones guzzling down bacon-wrapped shrimp, he sees in enormous letters ‘NFL Honours 2020’. His blood goes ice cold, and his hands go white and saggy, suddenly looking like a pair of bloated jellyfish washed up on the beach. Rod catches his eye and points up to the stage.
Steve Harvey taps the microphone. ‘And now, we come to the award which, more than anything, epitomises the true fortitude of the rare winners. This award is for the player who has succeeded in spite of the most disadvantageous circumstances. This is the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, 2020!’
The room erupts into thunderous applause – Adam’s scream is lost in the noise, not that the people there could hear him. He carries on screaming, before a guttural growl stops him. John grabs his ears and forces his head back towards the stage. All Adam can say, over and over, is ‘don’t say his name, don’t say his name…’
‘… and a couple guys that survived cancer.’ Steve is saying. ‘And the winner is……’
Joe Flacco starts drumming on the table.
The room erupts again; this time crockery is sent flying as the players and staff rise as one to congratulate their hero. Gase sinks to his knees.
Tannehill climbs the steps and takes the trophy from Harvey. It is made of shimmering brass, and is modelled in the shape of a raised middle finger. ‘Awwwh shucks,’ he says as he looks at it, then gives it a peck and raises it above his head.
Just like that, they are back in Gase’s MetLife office.
‘That’s right, Adam, dear boy’ says Marinelli ‘he was there because of you. They all agreed he won in spite of you. That the difficulties he overcame were all you, Adam. Don’t you feel ashamed, Adam? You know that you can do better, don’t you Adam. After all, you don’t want to end up like me, doomed to walk the gridiron forever, a guide for the lost souls whose seasons go so badly astray. Don’t end up like me, Adam; not like me, for Goodell always needs fresh meat. Not like me, Adam, please, heed my warnings…’
Gase wakes up again, cocooned this time in sweat. It was another dream, he thinks to himself. He climbs out of bed, and decides to make himself an Adam-Special, a concoction of his own invention. It consists of six eggs, three pickled, three boiled to the point where they would bounce if thrown, a thick slab of cheddar, a dollop of heavy cream and all the fixin’s. He whips himself up a Brandy Alexander to go with it, and picks some chives from his garden as a garnish. He is just sitting down to enjoy it with an old episode of Starsky and Hutch when he hears a crash. It sounds like it is coming from his downstairs loo.
He rushes to the bathroom and opens the door. Inside, a translucent figure holding a plunger is standing. A thin layer of water is seeping from the toilet bowl into the bathroom carpet.
‘Oooo’ says the spirit, lamely. ‘I am the Ghost of One-and-Thirty-One…’
‘I know who you are, Hue’ says Adam. He is too distracted by the growing stains on his fine bathroom carpet to remember his manners.
The Ghost of Hue Jackson raises his plunger. ‘You have to help us, Adam – you’re the only one who can!’
‘What do you mean, Hue?’ says Adam, perturbed.
‘It’s Goodell, Adam… He’s taken Rod away. He plans to torture him forever. He is going to make him watch coaches’ film of the 2017 Cardinals! He has no use for him now that… Adam, you are going to die today!’
There is a crash on the door of Gase Manor, and then another, and another. ‘He is here.’
‘Who is here?’ hisses Gase.
‘Peyton…’ cries Jackson, just the door to the downstairs bathroom flies off its hinges, exposing a figure in the doorway. The door lands with a muffled thud on the carpet. It is Peyton Manning, his eyes gleaming orange and navy. In his hand, he holds the Lombardi Trophy, which has been sharpened into a vicious point.
‘OMAHA’ screams Payton, his voice a bloody midwestern murder; ‘I CALL THE PLAYS. I CALL THE PLAYS!’ He rams the Lombardi into the wall like a sledgehammer, sending dust flying.
‘Into the toilet, Adam… It’s the only way’ whispered Hue, as his ghostly form becomes dim and distant. Peyton raises the Lombardi above Adam, meaning to strike. He brings it down. But it never hits Gase. With the last of his strength, Jackson jumps between the two, deflecting the blow with his plunger. It is cloven in half. ‘GO,’ he screams, ‘Back to 2020… It’s not too late to change history, Adam…’
Without looking back, Gase turns and leaps headfirst into the toilet.
It is 2020. Adam is looking at himself in the mirror - he looks haggard, as though he has not slept properly in about 27 years. He is back to the year that it all changed. It is week Seventeen, and the Jets are Oh-and-Fifteen. Adam is in the Bathroom at Metlife stadium. Time is standing still – the streams of urine of the Jets fans held in mid-air. Gase Out! is scrawled across the bottom of the mirror in green pen. There is no mistaking that smell.
But Adam isn’t ready to give up yet. Everything is deathly still as he leaves the bathroom and makes his way to the technical box. He weaves around the pickle vendors and fans, their hands raised, ducking under a lobbed beer and makes his way out onto the Gridiron. He sinks to his knees, breathing in the smell of the MetLife turf, taking in the crowd and the night air. The giant scoreboard reads PATRIOTS 15 – JETS 10. 4TH QUARTER. 4TH DOWN, FROM THE PATRIOTS 8 YARD LINE. JETS BALL. They have used their final time out. There are 3 seconds left on the clock.
As Gase stands back up again, time unfreezes suddenly, the roar of rabid Jets fans becomes all he can hear – his head is splitting, spinning. Darnold runs over to him.
‘What shall we do, Boss?’
‘Kick a…’ He trails off. He catches the eye of Peyton Manning in a sea of green and white fans. ‘No, lad, trust your Arm.’ The playcall is “Pickled Egg left 20, Baked Potato”.
Darnold lines up to go for it. ‘Ready………….HUT’. It’s a bad snap, but Darnold holds on. His eyes scan the end zone as the Patriots D line crashes through the Jets like a tsunami. He launches the ball in a beautiful trailing arc, just as he is taken down by the Patriots; they have converged, swarmed on him - but the pass is away.
It seems to hang in the air for an eternity before it is plucked out of the air. ‘Did he get two feet in bounds?’ says Tony Romo from the Booth ‘Here is the Replay. Yes! He did it! He actually caught it. Jets win! Jets win, and go One-and-Fifteen on the season…’
Gase is summoned back to Metlife the next day. He is summarily relieved of his duties. He smiles the entire time. He goes into his office to take his things back home – he plans to take a bubble bath and listen to some Dido. He packs up his pot plants, bottles of scotch and self-penned comics. It is the end of an era.
He smiles again, and unhooks a portrait of a youthful Peyton Manning from the wall; Manning’s arms held aloft in triumph, clutching the Lombardi. There, in the corner of the frame, he seems himself for the first time. He has always been there.