The comeback was exceeding even his expectations, which were certainly never modest to begin with.
Chad had come to the rescue in his old team’s hour of distress. 6-4, through 10 weeks of the 2013 season. 6-4, in a division that was there for the taking, in a wide-open conference, with a roster built to win right now. The all-world defense was leaking touchdowns and the just-do-enough offense wasn’t doing enough.
“No need to fear, your boy is here,” he burst into film study that fateful Monday, gold-tooth smiling from ear to ear. “Chad heard the siren call and came to save the day.”
There were skeptics, at first. There were always skeptics. A room full of puzzled eyes turned in his direction, the linemen cracked their beefy knuckles. The offensive coordinator called security and the head coach looked at him like he’d lost his damn mind.
Chad, though, came prepared. He tossed a well-worn pigskin to the quarterback and strode to the front of the room.
“Andy, baby, give me your best shot.”
“Man, I don’t …”
“You’re barely five yards away, 10 most. If my ass has lost it, like all you former brothers in arms look like you suspect, that pass is going to bounce off my hands. If not, if these magic mitts still have some of their old touch, I get another shot.”
Chad nodded at coach, coach gave a slight nod back. Let’s get this over with.
“Man, this is …”
“Andy, throw me the damn ball.”
The quarterback almost smiled—had he ever heard that one before?—but his brow darkened when he realized what he had to do. He reared back and fired, putting all his muscle behind a pass he was certain would break the delusional receiver’s nose.
Chad reached up and plucked it out of the air.
“I’m back, baby. Now we got this clown show over with, let’s go win us some games. You have no idea how much y’all missed me.”
Seven catches, 101 yards, and two TDs in a win against Cleveland.
Three catches, 40 yards, and no TDs in a win at San Diego.
Eleven catches, 179 yards, and three TDs—one rushing—in a win against Indianapolis.
The yards, scores and victories continued to pile up, but Chad kept it cool. He’d learned perspective during his “exile to the desolate land without football,” he told reporters, and pre-game shit talk and in-game celebrations were a thing of the past.
Look who’s back! screamed Sports Illustrated, Chad towering over a cornerback for one of his two scores against Minnesota, the win that clinched the division title.
Chad on Chad added ESPN the Magazine, the receiver pensively petting a jungle cat in front of a stark white background.
His team clinched a first-round bye, dispatched old rival Baltimore in the divisional round, went into and beat Denver in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
The lasting image of the latter was Chad striding purposefully toward the opposing sideline having just caught the game-winning touchdown, seeking out the vanquished foe.
“You’re one of the all-time greats, win or lose,” he humbly told Peyton.
“We underestimated you, Chad. We never gave you your proper due but there was nothing we could do to stop you. You deserve this. I’ll see you in Canton.”
Chad turned away, eyes moist with pride, cameras clicking away.
The great loudmouth of the Pacific Northwest baited Chad all Super Bowl week, but all the has-beens and never-wases bounced right off. He won the psychological battle by saying nothing.
Twelve catches, 223 yards, five touchdowns, Big Game records, all of them, and his team won 49-10.
Chad let all his teammates get a touch of the trophy before they forced him onto the stage. Confetti and a blast of light, he thrust the silver football toward the heavens.
In the offeseason, he took take care of his teammates—“Get this man his money,” Chad shouted at the general manager, hand on Andy’s shoulder—taking a pay cut in the process, though he worked to keep that out of the press.
I’ve learned my lessons. All I needed was a second chance, and look what happened: Better teammate, better man; Super Bowl champion, one of the all-time greats.
The 2014 season started with three wins out of three. The magazines ran long think-pieces debating whether Chad could play until he was 50.
Up next, New England. More like it, the ghost of Patriots past. On Sunday night, where Chad always shined brightest. He silently tallied his stat line, could already hear the…
“Chad, you awake?”
“Hey buddy, I’ve got your breakfast.”
Chad didn’t say a word, but his rustling gave him away. These straight-jacket straps could be a real bitch.
The door opened, flooding Chad’s senses with light.
“There’s my superstar,” the male nurse said with only a hint of mirth.
“My No. 1 fan. Unlock these straps and I’ll sign an autograph for you.”
“You know I can’t do that, Chad.”
The receiver grumbled under his breath. “Fine, then, an update: What’s our record again?”
“3-2-1. A tie, believe that? Un-American, I say. Blown out by Indy last weekend, didn’t even score a point.”
“I must’ve been out for a while,” Chad said, struggling against his restraints to get upright in bed. “Time to go get my cape.”