If Grisham Wrote "Playing for Pizza" Now...

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"Ram’s headquarters. How may I direct your call?"

"Yeah, could I speak to Bill Devaney? Tell him it’s Cole Bronson calling from Italy…" Cole tapped his foot as he waited for his call to hopefully get through to the Ram’s General Manager. He hoped Bill had forgotten his miserable performance in the George Foreman Grill Bowl five years before. It hadn’t been all bad now that he thought about it. Sure, throwing a record eight interceptions was a lowlight, but one of those INTs was a 65 yards pass. That no one, not even the defense, was anywhere near where he threw the ball didn’t matter. A defensive end noticed how high the ball was, ran down field and caught the ball. Cole thought his signaling for a fair catch while visibly laughing should have drawn an excessive celebration penalty. His coach pointed out to that celebrating while the ball fluttered down didn’t really qualify.

"Mr. Devaney is busy at the moment. He asks that you call him back after the lockout ends."

"Lockout? What lockout?" Cole looked at the Italian newspaper laying open on his bed and scanned it for a word that resembled "lockout". He’d been playing quarterback for a club level football team in Tuscany for the last year and a half, never bothering to learn the language to speak, let alone read.

"The NFL lockout? You don’t know about... Where did you say you were calling from?"

"Italy, and no I didn’t hear about a lockout. Who started it? Was it the owners? Those greedy bastar…," Cole suddenly realized he was actually calling a place that might just be on the owner’s side. "I mean, the players must have started it. Those greedy bastards. I play for the love of the game. What’s the league minimum by the way?"

"They don’t have news in Italy? That’s the one that looks like a boot on the map right? What’s it like to live in the Caribbean?" She was bored. Answering the phone all day, and saying "no comment" to reporters was getting old.

"Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s in the Mediterranean. They have news in Italy, but it's in Italian...Or Latin maybe…? Plus, all they care about here is Soccer, wine and how many movie stars the people in the government know are willing to testify in court… Who am I speaking to, by the way?" While he spoke, Cole held the newspaper upside down to see if he could read it.

"My name is Derinda Platt. Now Mr. Bronzeskin, if you could call back after…" Derinda studied her fingernails, then looked at the clock: three hours more of this crap until she could go home.

"That's Bronson! Cole Bronson, quarterback of the Tuscany Bulls, and I need to let Bill know I’m available for the 2011 season. I told him I’d give him first shot at signing me if I ever came back to the states. I’m ready now, so…" Cole pulled at his collar as he stretched the truth.

"Mr. Bronson, why not have your agent call Mr. Devaney after the lockout ends? I’m not even sure he ever talks to the players. When I mentioned one of our players was working at the McDonald’s down the block, he acted like he didn’t know who I was talking about?" Derinda laughed at the memory of the 6’6", 300 lbs player trying to pass her food through the drive through window. He had to turn sideways, and kind of wave the bag of food at her until she took it.

"A Rams player is working at McDonald’s? It must be a retired player down on his luck…" Cole wondered if the one year he played in the NFL… Well, three games anyway, before he was released. They were pre-season games, so he wondered if it counted toward some sort of retirement plan? He currently had somewhere around 7 million Italian Lira in the bank, which sounded good till a friend told him it was only worth about $5000 US. It was every penny he had, and most of that would go to paying the phone bill he paid each year when he called NFL teams trying to land a slot on a roster.

"No, he’s our starting right Guard. The entire starting defensive secondary is working at the Waffle House down the road from the stadium. It made Coach Spagnuolo mad too. He used to stop in there ever morning on the way to work. But Commissioner Goodell called him, and said he couldn’t have waffles with the players because the 8th Circuit something or other would see it as a sign of weakness. How the hell can waffles make you weak? This whole lockout thing is making me crazy. Some teams are making their employees sell season tickets to keep their jobs. We might have to sell pay-per-view for some soccer team in England: Manchicker something... Mr. Kroenke says to tell people it’s football? Even I know the difference between football and soccer. I mean…" She had been filing her nails as she spoke, and dropped the phone when Cole interrupted her.

"Hello?" Are you there?" He hated Italian phone service, but relaxed when Derinda came back on the line. "Look, you’re telling me NFL players are slinging waffles and burgers? Why would the Rams be selling pay-per-view for soccer? When did this lockout start, anyway?" Cole ran a hand through his thinning black hair and wondered how long he would be playing football for Tuscany, and if they had a retirement plan?

"Its been going on for a couple of months, I think… It started right after the players un-unioned, and sued the government for the owners being the anti-Christ… No anti -trust, that’s it. Then the team owners appealed so they got mediators. They are like realtors, but they sell players instead of houses... Then the Hockey players sent a nasty letter to a judge, and the NFL coaches sued the NFL but really didn’t, because they didn’t know they did when they did it."

Cole took the phone from his ear, and starred at it. Then he shook it and listened for any lose parts. He wiped a hand over his stubbled beard and exhaled loudly, "This is a joke right? No way the NFL is suing the anti Christ or the government, and why would they lockout the players? If Bill doesn’t want me to come in for a tryout, why didn’t he just say so? Why all this BS about soccer and hockey? Like THAT would ever happen? You are kidding me, right?" Cole gripped the phone and closed his eyes, hoping what he heard next would make this phone call a bad dream.

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"Nope, not kidding. Should I tell Mr. Devaney you’ll call him after the lockout?" Derinda didn’t even reach for a sticky-note pad. She notice two other lights on her desk phone had started flashing.

"No, I think I’ll stay in Italy. It sound like the NFL is a mess, and at least they have good pasta here…" That reminded him, he was late for his second job at Tuscany’s only Taco Bell, "I hope everything works out for you over there." He ended the call, and lobbed his small phone book across the room at a small trash bag. He utter a quiet, "Damn" as he headed for the door.

Derinda looked at the phone for a second as the call ended. Shrugging, she hit the call light and answered the next call: "Hello, Rams Headquarters, how may I direct your call…"