Front Office Fiction: The Candlestick Goodbye...

Joe Robbins

Walking into Brian Schottenheimer's office, he glanced at the myriad of warning signs posted near the door. Jeff Fisher wondered why "Hard Hats" were necessary, and the hand rails running between desks looked odd. He jumped back when a Rams staffer  - standing just inside the doorway in a hazardous materials suit  - held out a small waste basket. He shook his head as he tried to read the young man's lips behind the heavy Plexiglas face mask. He directed Fisher's attention to the colored lines painted on the plush carpeting, then the color code sign on the wall next to him.

"Coach, if you're looking for the OC, follow the blue line."

Slowly nodding his head, he walked off toward Schottenheimer's office, occasionally glancing down at the floor. He passed through the office space, noticing everything seemed to be padded. Desk corners had foam rubber duct taped to them, while every chair appeared to be bolted to the floor? The few people he saw working on desk top computers wore thick rubber gloves. He touched one of them on the shoulder, then pointed at the gloves she was wearing. The staffer shrugged, then pointed a rubberized finger at the "High Voltage" signs plastered all over her desk.

"Oh, for the love of..." He looked up at the ceiling, blew out a long breath, and continued on to his offensive coordinator's office. When he entered, Brian turned from the huge flat screen monitor he'd been studying - from twenty-plus feet away. Wearing goggles, and what appeared to be a Radiologist's protective vest, he smiled at the St. Louis Rams' head coach.

"I'll just be a second, coach. I'm going over some game film of the 49ers, and I think I found a weakness on their defense we can exploit." Using a laser pointer, he pointed at an area two yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Fisher walked closer to the monitor, and shrugged. "Careful coach! Those monitors give off radiation, and this laser pointer has been shown to blind rats in laboratory tests." Brian turned off the pointer, placing it back in it's lead lined lock box on the table next to him. "Whew! That was close!"

Fisher felt a nervous laughter rising within him. "Yeah... Brian, you may be taking the whole safety thing a little far?" He'd come to talk with Schottenheimer about opening up the Rams offense, but decided on taking another tack.

"You can't be too safe, Coach. Look, I know you think the playbook is short on exciting things like scoring touchdowns, first down or winning. But let's look at the BIG picture." He hit a button on his laptop, and the screen showed what looked like an actuarial table from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. "If we can maintain this level of play for two more years, we'll save $34.82 on medical insurance premiums." Brian smiled and nodded at the screen.

Fisher's mouth dropped open as he looked back and forth from the screen to Brian. He pulled out his wallet, and removed two twenty dollar bills. Placing them on Brian's desk, he said "Keep the change. Look, let's put aside the offense for a moment. I have a job for you that'll show whether you're ready to be a NFL head coach. It's BIG, Brian, and I think you're the guy who can handle it."

Brian stared at the money. He was about to tell Jeff how many bacteria and diseases the greenbacks were saturated with, when Jeff's assignment cut through his thoughts. "I'm your guy, coach. Whatever it is, consider it DONE!" He reached for a box of surgical gloves, putting them under his arm like a football.

"Um, OK... Meet me in my office in an hour, and leave the gloves here." Fisher backed away slowly toward the door.

*****

"Really? You want her to come to your office?" Jeff's executive assistant stared at him. "Can I take lunch early?"

"Yes I want her here, and no, you can't leave. Just don't make any sudden moves or make eye contact." Jeff continued into his office, closing the door. He stared out the window for a few moments, considering the drastic course he was about to take. It has to be done, he told himself. A knock on the door brought him back to the moment at hand. He ran to his desk, sliding into the big comfortable chair. He gripped the armrests, blew out a long breath and said, "Come in". Nothing happened. He stared at the door. Then a voice, that made him cringe, emanated through the thick oak door...

"I'm a lady, dammit! You expect me to open the door?" Derinda Platt leaned against the door frame, and winked at the assistant who occasionally glance up from her work. Counting to five, she grabbed the knob and opened the door hard. It met with resistance, and she heard a head bouncing off wood sound, followed by a "Ouch!" The door swung open, and Derinda watched as Jeff Fisher staggered back to his desk, holding a hand to his nose. "You, Kevin and Lester fall for that every damn time!"

Fisher rubbed his nose as he faced the wall behind his desk. "Yeah, it's funny every time too. Take a seat..." He turned to see Derinda sitting in his chair. "I meant..." He lamely pointed at the chair on the other side of his desk, then gave up. Jeff walked around and sat in the visitor's seat, facing her across HIS desk. "I have a favor to ask..."

"Sure thing, Coach. What do I get in return?" Derinda smiled at him.

"You get a paycheck..." He groused, then seeing it hadn't registered, his shoulders slumped. "OK, what do you want?" Jeff hating asking Derinda for anything, because it always came with a cost. He actually liked this tall, blonde, nutcase of a woman. It had taken time to get used to her, but he'd finally seen why St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke kept her around. You could never be complacent with Derinda around. She loved the team, and everyone in the organization. In fact, he knew her to be one of the nicest people he'd ever met. You just had to be able to handle her "crazy", which wasn't an easy thing to do. Every player on the team was scared to death of her, but they also universally loved her. If the players ever had a problem they didn't want to bring to him, they went to Derinda and no one else.

"First, I need to know just how big this favor is so I can make sure you're giving as much as you're askin' for? And it better not be anything to do with dating one of your old, fat coaching buddies." Derinda leaned over his desk and wagged a finger at him.

Fisher held his hands out in front of him, "It's not, but I do want you to accompany Brian Schottenheimer to a news event. You'll be part of a panel for a Bay Area TV show discussing the Rams - 49ers game."

Derinda looked at him with squinted eyes. "Let me get this straight: YOU want me on TV, representing the Rams?" Suspicious motives began to bounce around inside her skull. "YOU, want me to talk about the 49ers... In public? Who else is on this little panel?"

"Well, there's 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and a guy from a big fan site called Niner Nation. His name is Dave Fucillo. He's supposed to be an expert on the 49ers, and he hates the Rams with a white hot passion. He's been making fun of the team all week, and saying bad things about our rookies." He watched Derinda for a few seconds. She had both of her hands pressed hard to his desk top, and her back went rigid when he said someone was saying bad things about the rookies. He knew she had a thing about protecting the younger players, and would pitch a flat out nutty on this unsuspecting Niner Nation guy. It would be a GREAT show, and he, Kevin and Les were already making plans to watch it with the entire team.

Derinda tried to control herself. Fucillo, huh? His name sounded like some sick, twisted pasta. She bolted up from behind the desk. "I'll beat that spaghetti man to a pulp!"

Jeff had no idea what she was talking about, but fought back the urge to laugh. "You don't have to beat up anyone, even though he called Tavon Austin a midget who hates..." He let it build for a second, " Puppies!"

Derinda exploded. In a single motion, she tipped over Fisher's desk, sending papers and a computer flying. "PUPPIES!"

Jeff nodded, "Yes, puppies! I'm not sure if Tavon will ever stop crying. Stedman Bailey is sitting with him now..."

Standing at full attention, back straight as a rail, she asked "When do I leave?" Without waiting to hear his answer, she marched out of the room. He heard a crash and scream from the front office. Walking slowly to the door, he peered out. Papers were still floating slowly to the floor, as his executive assistant crawled out from under her desk mumbling something about "hating that woman..." At that moment, Brian appeared in the doorway.

"Come in Brian," Jeff smiled. Now he had to break the news to his offensive coordinator.

*****

"We're LIVE in ten seconds," the show's producer said to the gathered panel. Some fidgeted in their seats, adjusting the small microphones clipped to their cloths. The show's host looked at each of his guests. While the two coaches chatted amiably between themselves, Dave Fucillo sat nervously beside a strikingly beautiful Rams front office representative. Every time he tried to say something to her, it came out sounding like "Gurgle... phitt, gurb, San Francisco? He was blushing so badly, the makeup people were having trouble with his ever changing facial hues. The tall, blonde woman just glared at him, though he did think she said something about "puppies"?

"Good Morning San Francisco! We have a great show for you today. With the last game between the 49ers and Rams coming up this Sunday in Candlestick Park - before the move next season to Levi Stadium in Santa Clara - we thought it would be interesting to get an insider view on one of the most storied NFL rivalries in league history." He smiled into the camera, and the shot widened to show the assembled panel. "Joining us today are the offensive coordinators for both teams - Greg Roman from the 49ers, and Brian Schottenheimer from the Rams. The camera zoomed in on Roman, then Schottenheimer, who was dabbing on what looked like sunscreen from a small tube.

Brian looked at the camera, as a small hand from his right appeared in frame, swatting the tube from his hand. He looked at Derinda, who whispered for him to "Man up!" He looked up at the bright studio lights, then longingly at the tube of sunscreen sliding across the floor. He sighed, before looking at the camera. "Thank you for having me here today."

The camera bounced back and forth between Derinda and Brian for a few seconds, then over to the host. "Also joining us, is Derinda Platt from the Rams' front office. She has one of the longest job titles I've ever seen?" He was reading from a tele-prompter. "It says here you're the Executive Director of Player Personnel, Quality Control, Community Out-Reach, and Puppy Welfare?"

Derinda had added the last part to her title just before the show began. She smacked Dave Fucillo in the chest with the back of her hand. "Did you hear that pasta boy? Puppies! I'd like to start off by saying Tavon Austin loves puppies and isn't a midget... er, uh, I mean, a little person of a height challenged nature who needs a ladder." She smacked Fucillo in the chest again.

Roman and Brian stared at her, as Dave rubbed his chest and responded, "Gleasle lady!, Gurp flug ack!"

"So you're a foreigner? I knew it! You probably eat puppies... and kittens! Probably bake 'em up in a pie and serve them a la mode you sick, twisted son of a bit..." Derinda flew out of her chair onto Fucillo, both toppling over backward as he sat looking stunned.

The stage crew ran onto the set as the host announced they'd be right back after a short commercial break. Across town the Rams' hotel, the roar from behind a conference hall door hit high volume. Jeff Fisher, Les Snead and Kevin Demoff had front row seats before a 100 inch TV screen. The entire Rams team was there, most high-five-ing and laughing as they watched Derinda.

"So, as much as I'm enjoying this, why did you assign Brian?" Demoff smiled as he asked. Les couldn't stop laughing as he turned to hear Fisher's reasons.

Jeff shook his head, "Just wait and see..." He pointed at the show returning from commercial break.  Order had been restored, though Fucillo had been relocated to the far end of the stage away from Derinda. Her hair was tousled, and one of her shoes was missing.

"We're back. It seems like emotions are running high? Ms. Platt, why did you attack Mr. Fucillo?"

Derinda rolled her eyes, "You call that an attack? Ha!" She made a small wave of her hand.

The host and the rest of the panel stared at her. "Didn't you burn down the Today Show set a few years ago?"

"The damn turkey did it, not me. We aren't cooking anything today, are we?" The host shook his head. "Whew, That's a load off my mind." She relaxed a bit.

"Let's get back to the little altercation you had before the break. You said something about puppies, then flew at Dave here. Why?"

"Well, Dave here..." She took off her remaining shoe and threw it at Fucillo. "He likes to make stuff up about innocent young kids tryin' to make their way in the world."

"I did no such thing!" Dave adamantly interjected."... And quit throwing things at me."

"What did he say?" The host couldn't resist.

"Well, he's been making fun of one of our players. He called him, er, uh... Well, let's just say he used a bad word to describe Tavon Austin. Where's the damn ACLU when you need 'em?"

"I just said he's short for a NFL wide receiver, and..." Dave ducked as a glass of water flew toward him. "Stop that! I'm here to talk about the game this Sunday..."

"You're one of those blogger guys, so you don't talk. You type. I have a friend in New Mexico who blogs for the Rams, and he told me you're a terrorist bent on world domination and eats puppy sandwiches covered in tofu. He also says you run a place called "Niner Nation" and are trying to supseed from America!"

"That's "secede" you wack-a-doodle!" Dave rolled his eye, then noticed Schottenheimer and Roman - who'd heard about Derinda before now -  both shaking their heads.

"See! He admits to eating puppy sandwiches!" Derinda stood up and pointed at him.

"I did no such thing... Did I?" He glanced at the host, who nodded as he edged away from Dave. Greg and Brian moved their chairs back a little.

Derinda jumped up on the host's small desk off to their right. Her hair hanging in front of her face, legs spaced in attack mode. "That's why the Rams have to win this Sunday! If we don't, this guy will destroy Christmas. It will be another one of those "four sore and eleventy jillion years ago" things as he tries to tear the world apart because of his puppy fetish."

That's "four SCORE and seven years ago" from the Gettysburg address..." He looked plaintively around the set, but everyone was eyeing him suspiciously.

"So you have a secret address in Gettysburg, eh? The FBI is going to kick your ass!" She made a giant leap toward Dave as the cameras cut away once again...

*****

Why he was in handcuff too, he had no idea. The show had devolved into a riot, as Derinda tried to claw her way toward Dave Fucillo. Not knowing what else to do, he'd tried to pull people away from Derinda. Crazy or not, she was part of his Rams' family. He and Roman had exchanged words about the coming game, and Brian now had a growing black eye. As he and Derinda were slid into the back seat of a police car, Brian looked at her. Dress torn at the sleeve, she sported a black eye too. Her hair was stick out at odd angles, and her make up was smeared.

"Guess we showed them, Brian?" She said with a smile. "...And looked at you! All messed up in back of a smelly old police car..."

Brian nodded as he smiled. He hadn't even noticed his surroundings, which only yesterday would've sent him screaming for a anti-bacterial shower. "I'm not really sure what we showed them, but it was something they'll remember." Me too, he thought. "Why'd you go so crazy on that blog guy?"

She looked at him with mild shock on her face, then shook her head slowly. "You don't get it, do you Brian? The Rams are about to play their last game EVER, in one of the most famous stadiums in NFL history. This is the greatest NFL rivalry around, and all everyone wants to do is talk about the same things they say every week. Hell, I know that Dave guy didn't say anything bad about Tavon Austin, and Jeff thought he had me believin' he did." She smiled, "But all I know is, it was a great reason to come to San Francisco and say my goodbyes to that beautiful, hell hole of a stadium. I don't suppose you could come up with a way for the Rams to shock the hell out of the 49ers this Sunday?"

"You tell me? Anything you want me to do, I'll do." Brian began thinking of bizarre plays just as Derinda said:

"Go frickin' crazy! That's all I ask..."

*****

*** If you'd like to read more of my short story scribbles, Go Here! ***

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