""Well?" said the Flyer editor, bright and early Monday morning.
"Well, what, sir?" I replied, slightly puzzled at my normally even-keeled editor's unusually brusque demeanor.
"Well, smart fellow, tell me what you think about that horrible 48-10 loss to Cincinnati."
"What do you mean, boss, what do I think? Gad, it was awful. Bob Rush said it best on the post-game show. He didn't call it a football game. He called it "a downright embarrassment."
"Right," said the editor. "Rush isn't stupid, is he? An embarrassment, that's sure what I'd call it. What about you, Neill?"
"Well..." I replied.
""Don't "well" me, you moron. What did YOU think? We're paying you big bucks to cover Tiger football, and all you can say is 'Well'?"
An editor on deadline is a fearsome sight. I could see that my sometimes-friend was having a bad day. Perhaps the 'N Synch cover profile was running late.
"Well, sir, I don't think I'll be writing a Tiger football column this week," I said, as quietly as I could possibly say the words.
"You what!?" I could see I had hit all the wrong buttons on my editor's console, making his already-bad day considerably worse.
"No, sir, I cannot -- will not -- write a column this week."
"Why, you -------------!" At this point he bolted from his chair, and began using language even I considered inappropriate.
"Well, boss," I stammered as he wearily sat down, "it's like this: I'm stuck on the horns of a dilemma, if you know what I mean. If I write one more of my Tiger "train wreck" columns, I'll be merely repeating myself. How many times, sir, can you talk about the U of M's non-existent kicking game, its offensive "plan" that would make the Polish army proud, and a defense that makes a sponge look like a block of concrete? How often, sir, can I do that, without repeating myself, and boring our readers to death?"
The Flyer editor was silent for about 20 seconds, a long time in his universe. He heaved a long, contemplative sigh, then took a long, contemplative swig of his coffee. He seemed more relaxed; I could tell I was getting through.
"Then again, sir, I could take a more upbeat approach. I could do a column that focused upon the silver linings, you know. Like, I could talk about how it's still possible that the Tigers could finish at .500; after all, all they have to do is beat Houston, South Florida, Army, and TCU. Piece of cake, boss, right?"
"Wrong. What else did you have in mind?"
"Well, I was thinking about focusing upon how the U of M is single-handedly engineering a revolution in Division One football by going with this remarkable quarterbacks-as-floating-punters strategy that no one has EVER seen, and maybe putting a call into Bobby Bowden, and..."
"Stop. Stop right there. What else?"
"Well, there's always the probability-theory angle, sir. Like the Tigers had six turnovers in Cincinnati, and five last week against Mississippi State, so they're on course next week against Houston to have, say, 5.5? And that, my friends at the U of M math department tell me, is just about impossible, given the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and all, and..."
"Stop. And this time I mean it." His voice was very stern.
"Don't write your damn column this week, Neill. Just get to the Houston game Saturday afternoon, early, and stay late. Come up with something fresh and different, damn it, something, anything. Find something worthwhile to say about this god-forsaken team, will you, please?"
"Yessir, I mean, yes. And thanks for being so understanding, boss."
"Don't give me that 'peerless leader' crap, you idiot. Just do your damn job. And while you're at it, drop that stupid "train wreck" image, will you? It's not getting us or the football team anywhere. Use your imagination, Neill, for god's sake!"
"Trust me, sir; I'll do my best."
"See you next Monday. And it had better be good!" The N'Synch profile writer was standing in his doorway; I could tell I was getting out of the office in the nick of time.
I walked down the hallway, and down the outdoors stairway from our second-story office. That's when I noticed it was a cool late October morning, realizing that the summer had long ago fled, and that winter was hard upon us.