I thought about running this as a column a while back, but it seemed like we’d had enough on Bobby already in the Sports section. So I throw it on the blog. For what it’s worth . . .
I have no need to read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” this year. I can save a couple of hours by skipping “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
No, all I need this Christmas is the heartwarming story of how Bobby Petrino got his Christmas wish, to coach the University of Arkansas.
It’s a tearjerking story that unfolds in media accounts where Petrino’s agent, Russ Campbell, describes the coach’s side of events that led him to leave the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in the season, a day after reassuring the owner that he was committed to being the team’s coach.
In these stories, we are introduced to Falcons’ owner Arthur “Ebenezer” Blank, who paid Bob “Cratchit” Petrino the paltry sum of $4.9 million per year.
We are taken, by Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters, into the Petrino home, on what we will call Razorback Eve, where we see the coach sitting with his crying family, devastated at perhaps having to wait until the end of the season to talk to Arkansas instead of being allowed to become Razorbacks at once.
Scrooge, um, Blank is described as a severe boss who actually “meddles” in the affairs of the business he owns. He even, Campbell says, once objected to the phrasing of a pregame prayer. Sources say that the phrase that drew his complaint was, “Dear Lord, grant us strength, victory, health, and a multi-year deal in the SEC.”
After a miserable Monday Night Football loss, something happens that hasn’t yet made any media account. A source tells me that Petrino was visited by three spirits.
The first is the ghost of tenures past. Petrino sees how happy he was at Louisville, the fun he had negotiating that first million-dollar deal, specifically telling reporters that he was not a candidate for the LSU job, then interviewing (with Campbell’s help) five days later with that very LSU program.
Then another spirit comes, and Petrino is shown the present-day Falcons locker room. Lawyer Milloy says the coach is wasting a year of his life. Petrino is shown a pregame meeting for the Monday night game, a meeting he missed while huddling with owners, and players are asking why, and saying negative things about him. “No,” Bobby yells at himself. “Go to the meeting!” There’s a sign in the locker room, that says “Finish.”
“Will they finish, Spirit?” Bobby asks. But there is no answer.
Finally, an ominous ghost visits Petrino. It looks like Al Davis. He shows Petrino a newspaper from a December in the future. Petrino’s name is not there. He puts him in front of a large screen, and Petrino knows this is his future. He watches an ESPN crawler, but his name never appears. “No! He cries. Don’t make me look!”
When he awakens, he shouts out a window to a boy on the street, “What day is it son?” It’s Tuesday. “Thank God,” he says. “It’s not too late.” He meets with Arkansas officials, who have flown into town on a private plane.
That night, in Fayetteville, Petrino raises his hand to a crowd and said, “Woooo, pig suey. God bless us, every one.”
As with all such stories, there’s some quibbling about events. Another source tells us it’s an angel that visits Petrino, showing him what his life would be like without college football, without the inability to treat people however you want and justify it by winning. The angel teaches Petrino he’s truly blessed, and Arkansas friends begin to pour in and throw money on a table for him, last of all his brother, Paul, who toasts him as, “The richest guy in town.”
What’s that they say? Every time a bell rings, Petrino’s agent is taking a call from another team.
Campbell said Petrino was “blindsided” by the criticism coming from Atlanta. Maybe he’d have seen it coming if he’d have taken the time to meet his players face-to-face, or even apologized to Blank for his timing.
Petrino as a put-upon coach, wrongly maligned for wanting to escape an overbearing owner who tried to keep him against his will and dishonestly smeared him once he had left?