Somewhere, deep in the heart of the South, lies the "Coaches’ House" – home away from home to the current football coaches of the SEC. Distant cousin to the "Heisman House," but fancier and full of more booze, the Coaches’ House plays host to the warlords of college football’s top conference.
These are their stories (when not on the field). *Cue Law & Order ‘Dun-Dun’*
‘Twas the week before The Rematch when all through the House, not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse. After all, the vermin had finally wizened up after the countless having been snatched by Spurrier during his feeding hours.
Regardless. For as long as anyone could remember the Coaches’ House had never been this quiet. This still. Except for the Ol’ Ball Coach hiding away in his basement den, only two of the SEC coaches had remained in their home-away-from-home: Sumlin and Saban.
Since their return to the House on Sunday, both coaches had done nothing but sit in their wing-backed chairs in opposing corners of the Main Room and stare at each other. Just… stare. It unnerved the lesser coaches to such an extent that they temporarily fled the House, hoping to find the nerve to return once September 14th had come and gone. "Maybe then," they hoped. "Maybe then."
The trail of urine left behind by Pinkel, the drool dribbling from Freeze, and the tears – born of pure fear – shed by both Franklin and Stoops had all mingled together as every coach made a bee-line for the exit that day. The blend had quickly soured – giving off a stench that would have watered the eyes of any mere mortal.
But Sumlin and Saban, they only sat and stared. Unblinking. Eyes unwatering.
Nearly a full day passed this way, with the only movement coming by way of Saban briefly digging in his ear and Sumlin resituating the massive brass bulk constrained by his already loose pants. But as the clock struck midnight, Saban finally leaned forward with a sigh.
"Hows about you and I settle this off the field, Kevin? Coach to coach."
"How do you propose we do that?"
"Series of contests leading up to Saturday," Saban said, a smirk crawling cross his chapped lips. "Best four out of seven. Best coach wins."
Sumlin resituated his shades, cocking his head. After a moment he nodded. "I do love a good competition. You’re on."
As the two stood and met to shake hands, distant thunder rolled across the sky.
ROUND 1 – Monday Morning
Early Monday morning, Saban stops Sumlin after a shower and challenges him to arm-wrestling, with the caveat of wearing only sailor hats. Sumlin finds this odd but eventually agrees. "I used to arm-wrestle Stallone back in the day," Saban says, an air of arrogance in his tone as he waited at the table, already nude. "And Richard Simmons, if you can believe that. Little guy was tougher than he looks... Played with a broken wrist once."
He struggles to avoid watching as the Ebony Hulk strips, but puts his game face on as Sumlin dons the unused sailor’s hat and seats himself at the table.
The two grip hands.
Saban’s is cold and clammy. Sumlin’s is a touch of tempered steel.
"Two rules. No spitting at each other, and ‘bows never leave the table. Agreed?"
Sumlin nods, a grin crossing his features. He knows Saban has no idea what he got himself into.
The struggle lasts only moments, as Sumlin exerts no effort – only entertains himself in watching his opponent struggle. Eventually tiring of the game, he shouts, "YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL!" and slams Saban’s hand down into the table, which shatters beneath the force of the motion.
Thus marked the second time since stripping down that the Ebony Hulk had made Saban feel inadequate.
Sumlin: 1 | Saban: 0
ROUND 2 – Monday Evening
Still emasculated from earlier that morning, Saban retrieves some dusty boxing gloves from a box beneath his bed labeled "The Aweso Golden Years." Its assorted contents included a jazz flute, a ragged carton of Menthol Kools with two broken cigs inside, and an autographed photo of Barbra Streisand posing half nude. He dusts his gloves off, affectionately named the "Widowmakers,"and dons them before bouncing around the room shouting "Yo Adrian" and punching the air.
He knocks twice on Sumlin’s door and says, "Boxing ring, out back. Five minutes. Be there or be square."
Five minutes pass. As the final seconds tick away, Sumlin appears in the backyard, donning gloves and patriotic boxing shorts of his own. Their posterior read: ‘MERICA F*** YEAH. "Hey Nick," he says, slowly approaching the ring where Saban awaits. "The 1920s called, they want their phrase back."
As Sumlin steps over the ropes, Saban punches his gloves together and shouts, "Ding ding, motherfu–"
The fight is downright brutal. Though the Ebony Hulk has the strength advantage, he is disadvantaged by his height, as the much shorter Saban is able to weave in and out around his moves. The two trade countless clean and powerful hits, including one that pops two of Saban’s veneers out, but after a grueling 10 minute fight, victory ultimately belongs to Saban.
The munchkin was simply too fast on his stubby little legs.
Sumlin: 1 | Saban: 1
ROUND 3 – Tuesday Morning
Still stewing after his defeat in the ring the night before, Sumlin stays up all night playing videogames on his bedroom’s 72" flatscreen in an effort to mellow out. The next morning Saban pops his head in to gloat about the win but instead is intrigued upon finding the red-eyed Sumlin gaming. "You got MarioKart64?" The Alabama coach asks.
Sumlin, hiding a grin at the thought of besting the old man in videogames, simply nods.
As the games begin, Sumlin chuckles when Saban chooses Bowser. What a noob, he thinks. I play these games with my kids all the time. This’ll be cake. Sumlin soon finds, however, that Saban is a weathered veteran of MarioKart after finishing in 1st Place in every Special Cup track – on 150cc.
"Impossible…" Sumlin whispers, downtrodden as he watched the trophy presentation, his expression numb. His Toad finished 2nd. "Best two out of three," he blurts, spinning to face Saban.
Saban smirks. "Fire’er up, son."
Sweat dripping down his face, a concentrated Sumlin soon finds himself nearing the finish line of the final lap of Rainbow Road. He’s in 1st place. After three races, his point total is tied with Saban’s. All he needs to do is hold on. Just hold on. The checkered line is in sight. He avoids one banana peel, then another. He dodges a green shell ricochet. Images of an elusive Johnny running around on the field flash through his mind. Almost there…
And then, out of nowhere, a blue spiny shell strikes his kart like a bolt of fateful lightning. He watches in agony as Toad is launched into the air and tumbled off the side into darkness.
Saban cackles as he crosses the finish line. Gut punch. 1st flashes on his side of the screen, like a mocking slap to the face to Sumlin, who finishes 6th after being placed back on the track.
"How?" Sumlin asks quietly, eyes cast on the floor. "How are you so good?"
Saban kicks his feet up and sighs with a satisfied smile. "Fluker and I used to play videogames all the time on the flatscreen at his place. Seemed like he got new games and electronics nearly every week."
Sumlin: 1 | Saban: 2
ROUND 4 – Tuesday Evening
Even more defeated after his loss in MarioKart64, Sumlin opts for a nap. He sleeps a good portion of the day, with twice the ferocity as a hibernating bear, and wakes with an idea so invigorating he crushes four walnuts at the same time in his bare hands before getting out of bed. Grabbing an outfit kept in a plastic tub in the back of his closet, he races downstairs. "Up for some cosplay?"
Saban tosses aside his latest Home & Garden issue, eyes wide. "Am I ever not? We doing Naruto like last time? Or Pulp Fiction? Haven’t done that one in a while."
Sumlin shakes his head, a glimmer in his eye. He holds up his outfit. "Throw on your armor and lets head out."
The two fight in the backwoods behind the House for hours. Sumlin mimics the Horn of Gondor and Saban continually shouts "Find the halflings," though he found no irony in that. Their steel clashes on numerous occasions, though Saban calls for a timeout when he throws his back out.
So they wait it out.
Eventually the battle continues, and abruptly ends with a missed parry and Sumlin stabbing Saban in the chest with his sword.
"Huh," Saban grunted. "Never seen my own blood before." And with that he collapses. The Alabama coach is rushed to the hospital where he is forced to stay overnight and suffer through stitches, shots, and disgusting hospital apple juice. Sumlin visits, still in full costume, to the angst and consternation of other patients. One is pushed into a psychotic break and believes himself to be the reincarnation of Bob Ross. Security is forced to confiscate Sumlin’s sword. A child screams.
But Sumlin feels no remorse. The swagger in his walk could crush the egos of gods. He enters Saban’s room and looks the wounded, drugged-up coach in the eye.
And then… "Guess we’re all tied up, b****." Sumlin tosses a half-price floral bouquet from H.E.B. onto the bed and leaves.
Sumlin: 2 | Saban: 2
ROUND 5 – Late Wednesday Morning
Sumlin sleeps in through most of the next morning following his cosplay victory. Knowing Saban was choking down bland applesauce and peeing in a bedpan the night before was strangely soothing to him. Like falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. Except the ocean was a little man with a damaged ego… and a punctured sternum. Either way, he had slept like a baby.
A rude awakening comes late morning as Saban kicks down the door to Sumlin’s bedroom, shattering the frame. A startled Sumlin instinctively reaches for the .45 beneath his pillow until he realizes who it is. "You’re home early," he says with a yawn as he rubs the sleep from his groggy eyes. "Surprised they let you go so soon."
Saban stands in the doorway for several moments, silent, staring at Sumlin. Then, "I’m healed." He opens the top of his custom-made dogi to reveal an unscarred, tanned and hairless chest. "They don’t know how. Or why. Hell, I may be a machine. But it doesn’t matter. It’s time to resume our contest. Meet me in the Dojo."
"You sure you wanna do this?"
"Just meet me there," Saban says, cool and collect, as he turns to leave.
Wherever the Dojo was, they meet there. And upon Sumlin’s arrival, Saban, scrawny and short though he is in comparison to Sumlin, unleashes a maelstrom of fury and rage that makes a Kraken look like a Tickle Me Elmo. The two spar as if in low gravity, flying around the room, doing roundhouse kicks that put Chuck Norris to shame. Fists fly, heads butt, feet are swung in all directions.
But a little known fact about Sumlin is that he is the one-and-only proud owner of a Maroon Belt – the highly coveted rank above the top Black Belt level. This belt made Sumlin the master, and Saban no more than a foolish, foolish munchkin.
After half an hour Sumlin tires of the child’s play and goes on a full-blown rampage, kicking Saban’s ass every which way in every possible way. Not a wooden pillar in the room is left standing. Sumlin made sure Saban had flow through every – single – one.
The final hit leaves Saban crumpled on the floor, bruised, bloodied, and sucking down air. Sumlin stands over his opponent for a moment, just watching. And then he teabags him.
He teabags him nearly a dozen times.
And all Saban can do is take it.
Sumlin: 3 | Saban: 2
ROUND 6 – Thursday Morning
Saban took the rest of Wednesday off – to stew, to recover, and to devise his next contest. While watching an unsavory video of something he would be ashamed to admit in public, the Alabama coach gets an idea. Horses. Horse racing.
He knew both he and Sumlin had a stable of horses in the back lot behind the House. And he knew his horses were foreign thoroughbreds that were true winners. The man selling them at the park had said as much. High praise indeed for his fine specimens.
So he challenges Sumlin to a chariot race, like the olden times, minus the blood and weapons.
Except blood does indeed spill in this contest.
For six of the ten laps, Sumlin holds a commanding lead over his Saban. But on the first turn of his seventh lap, a man in a suit and tie stumbles onto the track, drunk, loudly asking no one in particular where he can place a bet for the next horse race. He says he ‘wants to place a bet on Johnny."
Sumlin saw the suit’s face but has no time to maneuver before his steeds trample the lost man beneath their hooves, followed by his cart heaving upwards violently as it rolls over him. His chariot leaves a bloody trail in its wake as the horses stumble and falter and Sumlin’s cart skews sideways violently. He curses as Saban takes advantage and rushes past him.
Looking over his shoulder, he spits back at the motionless lump of cheap threads that had slowed his chariot down. "Damn you, Rovell. Damn… you…"
Saban goes on to win the race because of Rovell’s stupidity.
C’est la vie.
Sumlin: 3 | Saban: 3
ROUND 7 – Thursday Evening
Saban and Sumlin sit quietly at the dining room table, on opposite ends, eating their early dinners of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Sumlin is notably not hungry, though Saban can’t tell why. "What’s a matter, Summy?"
"Don’t feel well."
The gears in Saban’s mind immediately begin spinning. "You know, now that you mention it, I don’t feel all that well either!" He pauses for effect, though he is feeling perfectly normal. "Hey. I got an idea for our final contest. Since we both aren’t feeling well, let’s go to that amusement park down the road and ride rollercoasters. First one to puke loses."
Sumlin purses his lips and shrugs. "You’re on."
The two drive to the park, and Saban even offers to pay for Sumlin’s ticket. He doesn’t care about the cost, because he knows he’ll soon be the victor in their week-long battle of strength and will. Upon approaching their first ride, however, Saban freezes med-step.
His eyes are glued to the height requirement sign. "Oh, hell…" he mutters under his breath. Sumlin measures himself, and is well past the requirement.
Saban steps up… and falls into the range of requiring an adult to accompany him. "Oh come back here, Kevin. Just be my accompaniment so we can start the contest! Hey–!... Hello?"
He soon finds himself alone, yet can hear Sumlin’s joyous laughter in the background.
And as he sits himself down on the curb near the rollercoaster’s entrance, he envies Sumlin in more than one way.
Sumlin: 4 | Saban: 3
Friday – Day Before "The Rematch"
A soft knock came on Saban’s closed bedroom door. From beneath the pillow over his head, he shouted, "Go away!"
The door creaked open. Sumlin entered the room and came to sit beside Saban, who refused to come out from beneath his comforter and pillow. He had been sulking since they returned from the amusement park the day before.
"How’re you doing, buddy?"
After a long, drawn-out moment, Saban pulled the pillow away and gazed up into Sumlin’ caring eyes. "I–"
Sumlin cut him off with a raised hand. "I just wanted to come check up on you. See how you were doing." He leaned in close. "And to prepare you for the reckoning tomorrow. The terrible fury ready to be unleashed upon your team. It’ll be downright biblical, striking like the fist of an angry god. Lightning will split the sky, the earth will tremble, and you will know my wrath. Nothing can save you, Nick." He gently patted Saban on the cheek. "Nothing."
And with that, Sumlin left.
Saban curled up beneath his blankets once more. And he wept.