“You know nothing, Weather Underground,” thought Coby Fleener as he watched the snowflakes float down into the Coliseum. Coby had seen his share of cold days growing up in Joliet, and later in Indianapolis, but he’d never seen snow fall from the sky near San Francisco Bay. He’d never even imagined it was possible.
Jim Irsay had been more prescient. “A blizzard is coming”, the grizzled owner of the Colts had told him, but Coby had discounted the old man’s disjointed rantings, assuming he was talking about something else entirely. And even if Irsay had successfully predicted the snow, it wasn’t even the greatest revelation. That honor fell to the Colts’ opponents, the Oakland Raiders.
The soothsayers had all predicted that the Raiders were ready for a resurgence, but what had shocked everyone, including the soothsayers – especially the soothsayers – was that their prophecies had actually turned out to be true. Oakland had feasted upon their competition in the West, and finished their season with thirteen victories. With their final triumph over the previous year’s tournament champion at the Eyrie in Denver, they ensured future battles would be held in the boggy swamp of their own home field, which his how Coby and his fellow Colts found themselves in Oakland in January.
Coby’s own journey had been more circuitous. He’d been released by the Colts in the offseason, and after just six weeks of playing for the Saints, had been traded right back to Indianapolis. He was happy to have come back. With the Colts front office finally having secured some protection for Andrew Luck, the season had been a good one. Which was, of course, how they found themselves facing Oakland in the AFC Championship.
And now they were just six yards away from the end of that season. Trailing by four, just over sixty seconds left in the game, and facing a fourth-and-six at Oakland’s forty yard line.
Coby turned to regard his quarterback. He glanced at the sky, and nodded.
“I heard. Max protect. Slide Right Z Post.”
“Let’s do it.” Coby strapped on his helmet and pushed in his mouthpiece, which fit oddly between his teeth after he’d been hit so hard in the chin by a linebacker that the plastic had deformed.
The arrival of whatever weather phenomenon brought the snow had also caused the temperature to plummet, so much so that Coby could see the clouds of his own breath as he took up his three-point stance on the right side of the line. Seeing his breath brought back memories of college – of the game against Colorado.
Memories of the last time he heard Andrew Luck say anything other than “Hodor.”
Nobody expected the Buffaloes to put up the battle that they had. Stanford was ranked third in the country and had come into the game as twenty-four point favorites. And they played very much up to their potential in the first half, building a twenty point lead and looking like they would cruise casually to another win. But their starting center went down with a groin pull on the first series of the second half, and their offense had stalled. With eight minutes left in the third, their luck turned entirely sour. A tipped pass turned into an interception that was returned to the two yard line, quickly to be followed by a touchdown. Colorado went for broke with an onsides attempt on the following kickoff and succeeded, and then managed to grind out another touchdown. And then finally, with just three minutes left in the game, a blocked punt led to another absurdly improbable touchdown, and a one point lead for the Buffaloes.
The Stanford players were distraught. Twenty minutes of action, and their dreams of a national title were in peril.
Andrew Luck wasn’t rattled, though. “Come on,” he encouraged his teammates, “let’s keep it together. We’ve got this.”
And on the ensuing possession, he had proven that it was more than just words. He calmly dissected the Colorado defense, taking over for their baffled backup center and dictating his own protection schemes. He led Stanford to a third-and-four at Colorado’s twenty-five yard line, making a field goal into a manageable proposition for their kicker in Boulder’s thin air. A simple running play to the left to center the attempt and wind the clock down to a few seconds left was all that remained.
Luck pulled the Stanford players into the huddle. “Thunder formation, smash left check. Architect.” Andrew barked with practiced, confident cadence.
Coby’s eyes widened. He wasn’t the only one surprised by the play call. It was a play that Luck himself had designed. And, given the situation, a very unexpected play. The play called for a standard offensive line push to the left, under normal circumstances clearing as much room as possible for the fullback to dive ahead for a few yards. Only the designation “architect” made it into something entirely different. The handoff to the fullback would be a play action fake. The ball was intended to go to Coby.
Coby, who would be letting his defender slip right past and praying to the Gipper that he’d bite on the fake and chase the fullback, rather than smothering the unprotected Luck. And then Coby would have to say another prayer, this time to the Walker, in hopes that the box safety would lean in towards the flow of the play so Coby could run up the seam unchallenged.
It was a bold call. If it worked, they could win the game with a single stroke. A gamble, weighed against their national championship hopes.
Andrew looked at him and winked. “Elementary,” he said.