Spiced rum, a Cuban cigar, vestigial ozone from obscure voodoo incantations, the TV playing Roadrunner cartoons – all the signs were there.
“Dr. Pick’em! Where have you been? Where is your prediction for Friday’s championship game? Put out that cigar!”
“One thing at a time, oh worrisome one,” replied the diminutive shaman who happens to hold a doctorate in pickology from East Haiti Polytech. He stubbed the cigar in my crystal wine goblet with a – was that a sneer? “There’s no rush.”
“They have this Jordan Whittington kid who runs for touchdowns, passes for touchdowns, receives for touchdowns, returns kicks for touchdowns – sometimes all on the same play.”
“No rush? The game’s a day away.”
“Look,” he said somewhat patronizingly. “PG is going to win three in a row, so the second one is sort of a given, right?”
“Oh, haven’t you come a long way?” I said, taking advantage of my chance to patronize. “A year ago, you were certain the Hawks had no chance against all those dudes from West-Orange Stark.”
“Yeah, but I ended up getting it right,” he said flatly. “Did you ever find out what a west orange is? Can you juice one?”
“Speaking of juice, Cuero has plenty,” I said. “Two 1,000-yard rushers, a salty and seasoned line and then they have this Jordan Whittington kid who runs for touchdowns, passes for touchdowns, receives for touchdowns, returns kicks for touchdowns – sometimes all on the same play. He’s like, the dude of Texas’ recruit class.”
“Uh-huh, yep. PG’s got nobody like that,” the wise, though occasionally mentally modified one replied. “On the other hand, he’s going to have Kam Woods on his hip all day long. If Tom Herman is at this game, he might offer Kam a scholly after it’s over. Whittington will make some plays, but PG will roll with those punches like it has all year.”
“By the way, how is Cuero the ‘unofficial turkey capital of the world?’ Is there an official turkey somewhere?”
“But Cuero has a better record and averages 50.5 points a game,” I said, ignoring the question because that irritates him. “Pleasant Grove averages just 35.6. Cuero is loaded with seniors while PG is mostly sophomores and juniors”
“If the Hawks played Cuero’s schedule, they’d average 70,” the doc replied, sniffing the stubbed cigar and reaching for a lighter. “PG has been in alley fights all season long. It played good teams a class higher, like Paris, Henderson, and Carthage, and won two of three. Shoulda won all three.
“Pleasant Grove went undefeated in a district that finished with three teams in the top 10 and four teams that won at least one playoff games. Two of them didn’t get knocked until the Hawks took them down in the third and fourth rounds. PG’s opponents averaged 7.4 wins this year. Cuero’s 6.5.
“We’re 16 games into this thing now. All those underclassmen are no longer rookies. They play like every PG team has the last five years under The Gibber – smart, hard, fast. These kids have been in the system since middle school. They know what to do.”
“Coach Gibson catches you calling him The Gibber and you’ll be running stadium steps until the next rum boat takes you away,” I said. “Ok, call it.”
“Cuero is talented and has a lot of heart. It deserves to be in this game, even to win it. PG will do what it does. Bruce Garrett and James Wiggins will get their yards. Ben Harmon will flip the field with some big passes, but Cuero will find a way to keep it close.
“My crystal ball sees Dillon Williams knocking one through the goalposts as time expires,” he said, tossing a folded piece of paper in his wake as he picked up the cigar and lighter and headed for the back porch.
My usually faithful dogs followed him, tails wagging.
I unfolded the paper. It read: Pleasant Grove 31, Cuero 29.