Today, Billy Nielsen is a name that inspires laughter in the zone, but there was a time when in the city that name, the name of the best quarterback the city had ever seen, meant Bowl games and wins. It meant first downs and touchdowns. Then the man graduated, leaving behind a legacy of a three-year starter who was bound to be a top 10 draft pick, MVP awards, and championships.
He was drafted 4th overall in the draft. When he was selected there were cheers, fans jumping for joy. Finally, “the ‘cuse” had produced a future football legend. His initial jersey sales were astronomical. The streets were packed with #11 jerseys bearing the name Nielsen. It was one big beautiful bandwagon that spread like a virus throughout Central New York. Every man who knew anything about football was obsessed with his strong arm, good eye, and extreme mobility. He was a perfect athlete, destined for his fair share of records.
Billy reported to his first pro training camp and stunned the coaching staff. They said his maturity and athleticism made him the most promising prospect in years. Coaches, the media, and fans only grew more impressed as training camp progressed. His eloquence in press conferences impressed all. When asked about his speaking skills Billy would only respond, “Sure, communications is a useless major that provides athletes with an easy passing grade, but why not pay attention and apply those skills?” An intelligent pro athlete, Billy stunned everyone.
After a successful month of training camp and practices Billy felt more ready than ever to play football. In the preseason he looked good. He was making accurate, strong throws. His receivers loved it. Their job was easy when all they had to do was get a millimeter of separation and the ball would be exactly where it had to be. His lineman loved him too. He anticipated the blitz so well that he was ready to get the ball away as soon as it hit his hands. During the four exhibition games he was only sacked once. His lineman loved to look good.
His preseason play was good enough to put him in the starting spot for the first week of the season. As he jogged out of the tunnel onto the field, the crowd roared with cheers. He even heard a woman begging to have his child. At that moment, life was good for Billy Nielsen.
He lined up for his first pro snap. While images of the dominance that his defense had just shown flashed through his mind, he looked over the defense. A sea of massive bodies all looking like they were ready to kill. All right Billy, he thought, you’ve been in this spot a thousand times before. The left side backer is lined up a little close, but his eyes are on the running back… man coverage. The ends are salivating… they’re coming hard. The strong side safety is short, a DB blitz? All right, look short to the right… you should have your man Billy Boy.
“HIKE!” As soon as the ball hit his hand he saw the safety coming in. You predictable son of a… His thoughts were interrupted by a body crashing into his back. The world became a blur of bodies and stars. When he realized where he was, he saw the safety picking up a ball and dancing 20 yards to the end zone. He hadn’t even felt the ball come loose.
He walked back to the sideline to calls of, “Shake it off, rookie,” and, “You’ll be alright.” Unfortunately he didn’t shake it off. For two years his play was a blur of interceptions, fumbles, and sacks. Immediately after the final game of his second year, he was notified that he was cut. He sulked on the plane for the entire ride home knowing that his career was over. When he arrived at Hancock he was picked up by his mother who seemed oddly happy that her son had just been cut from his dream job.
“What’s so wonderful in your life that your only son’s misery is joyous?” he asked, sounding a bit ruder than he had intended.
“My baby’s home and doesn’t have to get hit by those monsters anymore!” she replied with so much joy in her voice that it actually caught Billy off guard. He didn’t reply, but simply looked forward for the entire ride back to Jordan.
23 years old and you’re still calling me your baby,” Billy groaned.
He entered his house and sat down next to his father on the couch. His dad was watching an NFC wildcard game. He looked to the fireplace where there was a picture of him on draft day shaking hands with the NFL’s commissioner. His father turned to him and said, “Go to Canada Billy. Go to Canada and play your heart out,” he said.
Canada, Dad?” asked Billy.
“Sure, a lot of former umm… no… guys… uh… guys in your situation go to Canada and tear up those Canucks,” his dad said. After making his final point he looked back to the TV and continued to watch the game that Billy had kept his team out of.
You could always give speeches,” his mother said as she walked out of the kitchen. “With your speaking skills and famous face, you could be great for high school students to hear.”
“Fine mom, call the high school and ask them if they want me,” Billy said before he walked up the stairs to his bedroom. He had restless sleep that night. Images of Lewis, Urlacher, and Merriman flashed in his head the entire night. He woke up when the final throw of his pro career was returned for a touchdown. Goddamn Dawkins.
“The school would like you to go up today to talk to the counselors about speaking there next week. They said any time would be great,” Billy’s mom cheerily said when he walked into the kitchen.
“Damn it, Mom, I don’t think that this is such a good idea,” but even as Billy said that he was pulling his shoes on to drive up to the school. Pouting, he got into his Corvette that the signing bonus had paid off before Billy even played a game, and turned the key in the ignition. Whenever that engine started, Billy got a huge rush. He popped the car into reverse and began to back out of his driveway when he realized how much attention he would draw to himself. A Corvette in Jordan was like putting a beacon on himself. He made a mental note to trade his beloved ‘vette in for something less impressive. He pulled back in, walked back into the house, and asked his mom if he could borrow the Impala.
Mediocre car keys in hand, Billy popped the Impala into drive, pulled out and began the short drive up to the school. As he went up and down the hills of Hamilton Road his mind began to wander again. His car began to drift right as he saw Jason Taylor coming around the side of his line. He hit a mailbox at the same time Taylor hit him. Billy got out to check the damage to the car and mailbox.
You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Billy muttered, looking up to the sky. He picked up the mailbox that had been ripped loose form the ground and threw it over his shoulder. He trudged up the yard of the slain mailbox to apologize to the owner of a broken, bass-shaped mailbox. He rang the doorbell and stood awaiting the most awkward conversation since the day before when he spoke to his father.
He heard a shuffling behind him and looked over his shoulder. He saw a middle-aged man wearing a “Git ‘er Done,” t-shirt reaching out toward him. The man grabbed Billy’s arm and instinctively Billy swung the mailbox. The man fell backwards and his head hit the sidewalk making a dull thud. Billy jumped down from the front stairs of the house to see if the man was ok. When the man wasn’t moving and had no pulse Billy grabbed pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed a nine and a one before he noticed a thick black liquid flowing from the back of the man’s head.
He stood up in shock. He finished dialing 9-1-1 and told the man on the line everything that had just happened. He stood there waiting for police sirens, but instead only a coroner showed up after 10 minutes of Billy waiting awkwardly in the incapacitated man’s yard.
“Sir,” the coroner said. “Whoa, Billy Nielsen?”
“Yeah,” Billy replied. “Is that going to help me stay out of any trouble?”
The coroner looked at him slightly confused and said, “You’re in no trouble. I just need to check you for any openings in your skin.”
“What?!” Billy shouted. “Is this for like AIDS or some shit?”
“No sir. Just please let me inspect you quickly.”
“Tell me what the hell’s going on. The guy has black goo coming from his head!” shouted Billy, brandishing the fish on a pole like a bat.
“Sir I cannot tell you yet, but you may be hearing about it soon enough,” the coroner said as he thought about the ridiculous policy New York State had put into effect. The national government hadn’t formed any real policy regarding the issue except to “keep it quiet”, so they left it to the states to deal with individually until the problem became serious enough to deserve the attention of “The Man”.
During the inspection in the back of the coroner’s van Billy was tense, quiet, and felt very awkward. The coroner was tense, quiet, and pissed, because when he couldn’t give someone a reason to inspect them, he came across as just a creepy dude that wanted to look all over someone’s skin.
After Billy had been inspected, he was sent home. He told his mother the unfortunate news about her car and the mailbox. Then he proceeded to fill her in on the details of paying for the replacement and how pleasant the home-owner had been.
Billy’s nightmares that night returned him to a point of familiarity. A place where he would be sacked all night long. A black goo-free world that he was suddenly glad to have in his unconscious hours.