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Let's get something straight right from the start: Whoever said it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all can kiss my ass.
I assume it was one of those English poets deeper than Dr. Phil. Though it actually sounds lame enough to have come from some sports columnist trying to show everybody what a Real Writer he is. Or one of the guys doing the smirkfest that currently passes for sports broadcasting, where they can't seem to give you a goddamn score without throwing in a couple of rim shots first.
You know the drill: We just want to know if the Yankees beat the Red Sox, but they think it's open-mike night at the comedy club.
If I sound hot about my former friends in the media, maybe it's because they had so much fun at my expense after I did the whole love-and-lost deal with my football team, the New York Hawks. I wasn't the first to find out how fast it can turn around on you when you're not on top anymore, in sports or anything else. But I'd actually convinced myself that the media actually liked me for my adorable self, not all the checks I picked up, parties I threw, slow news days I got them through, or Very Bad Girls I fixed them up with on the road.
"Clear something up for me," I said to Gil Spencer of the Daily News. "I screwed up with the Hawks, right? I didn't dump Martha Stewart's stock for her?"
"You're smart enough to figure it out, Jack," Spencer said. "Bad shit makes really good copy."
"Even when it happens to one of the good guys?"
"Especially when it happens to one of the good guys," he said.
It happened to me the way it did, the whole thing in lights, because it was New York, and the Hawks had become the most glamorous pro football team in the world. It happened because of all the things I'd ever said-me, Jack Molloy-about how a Molloy would always be in charge of the Hawks, the same way idiots would always be in charge of network television.
It happened because I didn't have just the coolest team in sports but the single most valuable property, even more than the Yankees-they owned their own network, but I owned my own stadium-and blew it, gave it away like some dumb goober trusting my pension to my CEO and Arthur Andersen.
I had the best job in sports, and walked away from it, like one of those dumb-ass jocks who thinks retiring with the trophy is all that matters, then finds out differently once the goddamn games go on without him.
You ever watch one of those plays in football where it seems like everybody on the field is fighting for the ball after somebody fumbles it and the refs nearly have to use the Jaws of Life to pry the players apart?
This is how you end up on the bottom of a pile like that a year after thinking you were cute enough to be hanging on to the front of the boat and yelling that you were king of the world.
But why wouldn't I think that way? I'd been estranged from my old man, Big Tim Molloy, for five years before his heart gave out at a Hawks preseason game one night. If I was in his will at all, I was supposed to be in the footnotes section at the end. But the old man had always told me that the only thing better than a good entrance was a good exit. And he had always loved a good surprise. The surprise was that he left the football side of the operation to me.
The last line of the will was scrawled in what was left of his Catholic school handwriting.
You're up, Molloy is what it said.
Molloy being what he had always called me-when we were talking, anyway-and what I had always called him.
And what happened next was this: In my one and only season running the Hawks, with a little bit of the old man's flair and a lot of tricky moves I think he would have appreciated, I beat the game. My twin sibs, Ken and Babs, didn't want me to succeed; neither did a prospective buyer for the Hawks named Allen Getz; neither did my frisky stepmother, Kitty Drucker-Cole Molloy. My fellow owners wanted me around about as much as they wanted Jews in their country clubs. And ultimately they did what a lot of people, at least those outside Las Vegas, where I'd made my chops as Billy Grace's right-hand man, had done throughout what had passed for my adult life:
As Casey Stengel, one of the old man's drinking buddies, used to say, You could look it up.
I had finally outscammed the owners who were trying to scam me, including the Christian hard-on who ran the Ownership Committee; beat back Getz; made peace in the family; won the damn Super Bowl, the first the Hawks had ever won; then handed over the day-to-day running of the team to my brother.
You remember our win over the Los Angeles Bangers. Everybody does, mostly because it was acknowledged to be the most exciting finish to an NFL championship game since the Colts-Giants sudden-death game in 1958, the day Johnny Unitas basically invented pro football, at least on television.
It was at that point that I decided I had pretty much conquered pro football, and Annie Kay and I left for Paris. I was actually starting to think about marrying her at that point, even though Billy Grace used to say there were two things he never expected to hear me say.
One was that I really was getting married.
Two was "Could I get another one of those fruity drinks over here, please? With an umbrella?"
I didn't even bother to hang around for the Hawks' victory parade that went down Fifth Avenue, across Central Park South, then up Central Park West, past the old man's last New York City apartment, ending with the party at Tavern on the Green where our defensive end, Raiford (Prison Blues) Dionne, and veteran offensive tackle Elvis Elgin had that unfortunate episode where they confused one of the female cops sent to quiet the festivities with the kind of strippers often used at bachelor parties. They'd eventually taken her into the chef's office to see what kind of bad underwear she had on underneath her NYPD blues. It was then that they found out Badge No. 362054 was actually the real thing and not part of her costume.
I turned the Hawks over to my brother, because he had wanted to run them his whole life, most of which had been spent kissing up to the old man. He wanted to be there every day. He wanted to be the boss over the long haul. And as much fun as I'd had that first season running with the big dogs, I didn't want to be there over the long haul, just because I didn't want to be anywhere over the long haul.
Or so I told myself.
Big Tim Molloy, the bookmaker's son who'd done it all and seen it all, who'd talked George Steinbrenner into buying the Yankees and sat at the same table with every big-city big guy from Rockefeller to Paley to Trump, had been a born boss. The same with Billy Grace. But I wasn't like them, even if I'd kidded myself into believing I was, at least in the short run. I didn't want to sit in draft meetings and listen to a bunch of bullshit about the salary cap, I didn't want to cut players I knew and liked, even if Pete Stanton, my general manager and chief back-watcher, did the actual cutting.
I didn't want to suck around agents or have them suck around me. I wanted to sit on league committees as much as I wanted to sit through The Nutcracker. Or have my own nuts caught in one.
All this I told myself as I said goodbye to the Hawks.
Annie and I holed up at The Ritz, in a suite directly above the Hemingway Bar. And what was supposed to have been a month in Europe turned out to become a lot more than that. It was fine with Annie, who was switching television jobs at the time and had to wait for her contract with Fox Sports to expire before she could start at CBS. She would remind me every couple of days that she wasn't abandoning her network dreams by becoming my full-time sex slave-the dreams involved becoming Diane Sawyer someday, once Diane went to the home-she was just putting them temporarily on hold.
"I've got to decide whether I'm really in love with you," she said, "or just going through a who's-your-daddy? phase."
I was about twenty years older than she was, but liked to think I kept myself up.
"I just don't want this to be one of those gross deals down the road where I look like I'm the one kissing Clint Eastwood in the movies," she said.
I thanked her, as always, for her refreshing honesty and told her to pass the Viagra.
We went from Paris to Lake Como, one of your romance capitals of Italy. We went to Spain, and I got drunk enough to lose a bet to a bartender, which is how I ended up running with both the schmucks and the bulls at Pamplona. We did a month at the Hotel du Cap in the south of France that ended up costing me more than the second war against Saddam. Finally, we settled into a flat in London that I had borrowed from one of Billy Grace's Hollywood friends, a screenwriter who got a couple of million per movie and half that for what Hollywood called "polishes," which the screenwriter said involved cleaning up the punctuation on the polish that came right before yours, and punching the whole thing up with jokes even studio executives could understand.
"The original screenplays and adaptations support Heather and the children and the therapists and trainers and yoga teachers and plastic surgeons," the screenwriter told me one night at Billy's casino, Amazing Grace. "The polishes are for gambling and the girls from the escort service."
Annie and I spent two months at the place at Lennox Gardens, hard by Beauchamp Place and a five-minute walk from Harrod's. We ate at all the best restaurants, and occasionally made short trips to Scotland when Annie would get it into her head that she needed another Mary, Queen of Scots fix. I was a good sport about all of it. I had never done any real time in Europe, I was flush for the first time in my life, and, best of all, I wasn't required to be anywhere. I certainly wasn't on the kind of twenty-four-hour call Billy used to tie me to in the old days, back when I was his casino host and go-to guy, known as the Jammer, in charge of making sure our high rollers felt more love than the rest of the Strip's high rollers.
If what they were experiencing during their stay at Amazing Grace was anything close to real love, I was supposed to make sure they sure as shit didn't get caught at it.
And this almost-wedded bliss might have lasted until the end of Annie's Fox contract, if Bubba Royal hadn't shown up for a visit.
He was still in a walking cast, having busted his knee on the last play of the Super Bowl against the Bangers, after throwing the crucial block on Bobby Camby's sweep around left end. It was a daring call by Bubba, my old UCLA teammate, since by the time Camby finally got to the end zone, time had expired, officially wiping out any chance for the short field goal by our kicker, Benito Siragusa, that would have won the game a lot more easily than Camby's play.
Of course, a field goal would not have enabled the Hawks to cover the point spread, and thus win the bet Bubba had made on himself through the sports book at Amazing Grace the night before the game.
Afterward, there were some questions about why Bubba had risked everything at the end of the game, but even the NFL commissioner, Wick Sanderson, stood up and dismissed them, praising Bubba's ability to make game-winning decisions on the fly, and what he actually called Bubba's "gambling spirit."
Wick still wanted to believe that everybody in America bet NFL games, except NFL players.
"Right," Bubba liked to say. "And those are everybody's real tits in the movies."
I fronted him the money for the bet, by the way.
In addition to the walking cast, Bubba also showed up wearing a flight attendant named Brittany with whom he'd fallen in love on the overnight Virgin Atlantic from Kennedy.
"Just for the record, Jack," he said. "The virgin part? It don't mean her."
I told him I had sort of figured that out on my own.
This was after he and Brittany had spent most of the day in Bubba's suite at The Dorchester, and finally came downstairs about six o'clock to meet Annie and me in the bar.
"Tell me something," Bubba said. "What're the odds of me meeting somebody like this before our plane even sets down at that Hedgerow Airport of theirs?"
"No disrespect meant to your date," I said. "But you could meet girls in a maximum-security facility."
"Nah," he said. "I mean the odds on her name, man. Brittany. As in Great Brittany!"
He arranged his bad leg under the table and said, "Let's order up some drinks and tell 'em to make sure and put ice in 'em. Goddamn jet lag's already got me by the balls."
Annie smiled brilliantly at him and at Brittany, whose right hand had disappeared from the table as soon as she sat down. "And not just jet lag, apparently," Annie said, in her perky TV voice.
The first time Brittany, who looked like every big-haired, big-breasted, small-brained blonde Bubba had ever known, got up to use what she actually called the loo, I asked him if she might possibly have a last name.
"What is this, Jack," he said, "a fuckin' grand jury?"
Bubba, his football career officially over, no training camp to worry about for the first time in his adult life, stayed in London for a month. Annie ended up leaving before he did. It was after one of those nights when Bubba and I never came home, and she said it was just one too many. But I had seen it coming for a long time before, even as we went through the motions of being the happy couple, never running out of tourist things to do and trying to break all existing world screwing records in our downtime.
Annie Kay being the nearly perfect woman in this sense:
She liked sports and sex.
"Bottom line, Jack?" she said that day. "I'm ready to go back to work. And you show absolutely no signs of ever wanting to go back to work."
"Maybe when the season starts."
She said, "Right."
I said, "I can explain about last night, by the way."
She kissed me sweetly on the forehead, right before picking up the phone to call British Airways.
"Jack," she said, "no one in all of recorded history has ever been able to explain last night better than you can."
Much later, Annie would admit that her agent, Skipper, had called the day before with the news that someone Annie had always referred to as "that Survivor bitch" had dropped out of the running at The NFL Today. All of a sudden, Annie Kay wasn't first runner-up anymore, she was the one who was going to sit with Jim Nantz and Boomer Esiason and Deion Sanders on Sundays.
"Skipper was as excited that day as I'd ever heard him," Annie would tell the TV columnist from Sports Illustrated. "He said CBS had decided to go in a bold new direction: tight outfits and actual knowledge of pro football."
So we had one more night on the town, a full-out Great Brittany dinner at Rules, a restaurant near the theater district that had been around since Robin Hood, then a farewell drink at the bar of The Connaught Hotel. We took a cab home and sat for a while on a bench in the gated park across from the flat, holding hands and promising each other this wasn't the end for us, even if we both knew better.
"Look on the bright side," Annie said. "You can go back to doing what you do best."
"Ordering another round and saying, 'What was your name again, honey?'"
When I woke up in the morning, she was gone, having left behind one more of her famous notes:
You have pretty much everything you need now, with the exception of me and Sundays in the fall.
P.S. It really was just a yeast infection, I swear.
She meant Sundays at Molloy Stadium, which the old man had somehow managed to get built with his own money at a time when sports owners all over the country were holding up city governments for new ballparks the way Bonnie and Clyde used to hold up banks. It was just slightly south of where Yonkers Raceway used to be on the Major Deegan, modeled after the old Polo Grounds, where Big Tim Molloy had first watched the Giants play in the old days, and had what I considered to be the best single view of sports anywhere:
Mine. From my personal luxury box, Suite 19, which happened to be my old UCLA number. Suite 19 had also become my New York apartment when I was running the Hawks. It was another thing the columnists and TV assholes had loved about me when they still loved me, back when I was the colorful bad boy acting as if he'd taken over the principal's office.
I had told myself all along that when I got tired of Europe, I'd just show up unannounced at Suite 19 one day, probably just in time for the first game of the next season, surround myself with a bunch of old pals, and start up the party all over again. I'd let Ken continue to run the show with the help of Pete and Liz Bolton, the team president and an old flame of mine (that was before I found out that she'd gone to the West Coast to take a job as Vice President of Programming for Oversexed Teens on the WB network). I'd let Babs run marketing and promotions and the handing out of comp tickets to celebrity assholes. I'd do my best to stay out of the way of both of them.
Except I never came back that season.
I stayed at Lennox Gardens. I kept in touch with Pete Stanton by e-mail, signing off on the big stuff even while Ken thought he was the one signing off on the big stuff, basically empowering Pete to do whatever he needed to do to see if we could somehow repeat, even though injuries would start hammering us in the preseason and never really stop.
About a month after Annie left, I started up with an actress appearing in the new Tom Stoppard play. About the same time, I made a sizable investment in an upscale gambling club around the corner from The Connaught, and began showing up a few nights a week in a tuxedo and imagining myself as Billy Grace on training wheels. Thinking, way in the back of my mind, that I might go back to Vegas someday, when Billy was finally ready to retire, see if I could run with the big dogs there.
Maybe then I'd be ready to be a full-time boss.
It turned out that while I was screwing around with all this civilized Bond, James Bond, shit in London, the New York Hawks staggered into the playoffs as a 9-7 wild-card team and won three straight upset games on the road in the playoffs. Then, in the Super Bowl, which was played at the new Joe's Stone Crab Stadium in downtown Miami, Benito Siragusa just missed the forty-seven-yard field goal-wide fucking right-against the 49ers that would have made it two Super Bowls in a row.
--from Red Zone: by Mike Lupica, copyright © 2003 Mike Lupica, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. , all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Posted November 11, 2003