It appears likely that on Thursday night, the Washington Redskins will use their second overall pick to select Robert Griffin III. I use the word "likely" because of the following, which was tweeted by the official Redskins account Wednesday:
Mike Shanahan calls it 99.9 percent that Robert Griffin III is Redskins' pick at No. 2. "Nothing is 100 percent," he said.
Today, we journey into the realm of the remaining 0.1 percent. It is a nightmarish, horrifying realm. It is a realm in which the second overall pick, for which the Redskins paid a fortune in future draft picks, is spent on .... Vontaze Burfict.
* * *
RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
THURSDAY, APRIL 26th, 2012
The 2012 NFL Draft is only minutes away. There is a lively air of anticipation in the music hall as the late arrivals find their seats. Serious debates, laughter, microphone checks, and clinks of champagne glasses all bounce off the staggered walls of the grand auditorium.
Some of the late arrivals report witnessing a disturbing spectacle as they came in from the street: An old, haggard man, with one eye squinting and the other glass, approached draft attendees with a raised voice:
"I can see with one eye what you people can't see with ten thousand! You are about to bear witness to the product of the Illuminati's machinations! The Knights Templar are REAL! Majestic-12 is REAL! Soon you will know what I know. You are walking into the hollowed belly of the Illuminati! You cannot escape their influence! THERE SHALL BE NO GRACE! THERE SHALL BE NO GUILT!"
A woman fans her face, confessing to her fiance that the episode has upset her. "Don't worry yourself," he says, fetching a Redskins-themed handkerchief from his vest pocket. "In a few minutes we'll all be toasting to Robert Griffin the Third!" But as loathe as he is to admit it, he cannot forget the old man's words.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell takes the podium and begins his opening remarks.
"I'd like to thank the city of New York, all these wonderful athletes, and especially our fans, the most passionate sports fans on Earth. This promises to be among the most memorable NFL Drafts in recent memory, and it is my hope that --"
And then his eyes fix somewhere in the distance, up toward the balcony. He stops abruptly, his eyes first squinting, then widening with a look of terror. He whispers too softly to reach the microphone: "No. Please. It can't be. Please."
Several seconds pass without words. He begins to perspire, gripping the podium with white knuckles.
The crowd begins to murmur in confusion. Finally, Goodell looks down and runs his fingers across his notes with shaky hands.
"Sorry, folks, forgot where I was."
He lets a nervous laugh escape.
"The 2003 Vikings know what I'm talking about. Remember, Rick, you get 10 minutes. That's 10 minutes, flat."
Goodell smiles and holds up 10 fingers, drawing laughter from the crowd. He wraps up his remarks, and as he walks away, he looks back up at the balcony. The shadow is gone. His pace slows, and his brow furrows, as he slowly smoothes his tie and steps off the stage.
And then he waits. For minutes. Surely the Colts knew who they were selecting months ago, he thought. Why is this taking so long?
Why are they waiting?
Goodell re-takes the stage. Maybe I was seeing things, he says to himself. Maybe all is as it should be. But still, his hand quivers as it accepts the envelope.
Please be a normal pick, he thinks as his hands shakily tear open the envelope. Please. You have our governments and our armies and our schools. You needn't meddle in our draft. We pose no threat to you.
"With ... with the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select ... "
He pulls the card from the envelope.
"Andrew Luck. Quarterback, Stanford University."
The music hall bursts with cheers and applause. Goodell lets out a long sigh, a breath 10 minutes in the making. He laughs, and wipes his brow. All is well. All is well.
Goodell walks to the podium to announce the second overall pick, this time with a bounce in his step. On his way, he is seen smiling and shaking hands with various officials, telling a joke or two as he does.
He accepts the envelope, still smiling. "With the second pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins select ..."
He looks at the card.
You see ... normally, when you're reading something, you read from left to right, as you are at this very moment. But sometimes, if the message is succinct enough and powerful enough, you don't really "read" it so much as you witness it. You don't start at the first letter and work your way forward, you see it all at once, no one letter before the other. You read in the same way that you read a bolt of lightning as it cracks the prairie night in two, which is to say, you don't.
Roger Goodell doesn't. The crowd notices his long, motionless pause, and the hall falls completely silent. He casts a plaintive, desperate look toward Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who answers only with a slow, silent nod.
"With the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins select Von ... "
The crowd gasps.
" ... select Vontaze Burfict."
And at once, all in attendance erupt in a furious chorus of roars and screams, each of them rocketing off the walls like droplets from a burst balloon. But to Goodell, it is far in the distance. He stands motionless, the inside of his clenched fist resting against the dais, looking through everything, looking at nothing.
"I ... I don't understand." The couple we visited earlier sits in the front row of the balcony, and the man leans over the railing, his bowler hat resting in his chair, his Redskins handkerchief pressed against his brow. "It can't be."
His wife puts her hand on his shoulder. "Don't fret, dear. Vontaze Burfict was regarded as a top-five pick not long ago! Don't you remember?"
"Yes," he lets out with a tortured cry. "And then he ran the combine WITH SHIT IN HIS KNICKERS! This morning his draft stock traded low as pewter. The Redskins traded a massive fortune to acquire the No. 2 overall pick, and Griffin the Third was ours for the claiming, and ... they choose a man of CHARACTER ISSUES they could have found in the seventh round!"
"Come now, dear ..."
"I'll tell you, you and I, we could hop a trolley right now, ride it south to Pearl Street, where they're building that silly bridge to Brooklyn. Grab a worker. Any one. He could register double the sacks Burfict ever could."
His wife turns her gaze over the balcony. There is shouting and panicking and running about. Storms of papers drift through the air as teams frantically race to adjust their draft boards. A constable blows his whistle and waves his arms to keep order, losing his cap in the process.
"God has taken our designs and broken them across his knee," he mutters. "All is lost ... Dear, I don't feel well."
He faints and falls over the railing, crashing violently into a grand piano below.
"With the third pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Robert Griffin the Third, Baylor University."
General managers prepare for contingencies, of course, but none could be expected to prepare for such a radical, unlikely event as the one we are witnessing. Throughout the hall, officials frantically claw down their neatly-typed projections and tack up hastily-written scribbles, rife with scratched-out words and arrows. The draft has fallen into chaos.
"With the fourth pick, the Cleveland Browns select ... it just reads, quote, 'any wide receiver, a good one, I don't know.' Let's, um ... let's take this to mean Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech."
In the corner, Vontaze Burfict doffs his newly-acquired Redskins hat and gives it a long stare. The mad din of the auditorium fades as he recalls a visit from weeks past ...
Burfict rises from his hunch and looks to the sky. It is late afternoon, but the air is still hot. He has built 50 meters of fence today, he figures, and he ought to build 20 more before sunset.
"With the fifth pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select a ... does this say 'rail car full of venison'? Yes. A rail car full of cured venison."
He lets out a long sigh, wipes his brow, and turns to fetch another log. But as he turns, he sees a man.
"With the sixth pick, the St. Louis Rams select a reason to love and laugh again."
He wears an expensive-looking suit with a high-waisted jacket. He is not an old man -- in fact, he appears fit -- but he holds a cane nonetheless. He uses it to gesture to the fence, and grins. "Is this your handiwork?"
Burfict nods, and the man asks, "why does it zig-zag like that? Are you trying to be fancy? Who are you impressing?"
"No." Burfict rests a hand on his hip. "This is a split-rail fence, not the Great Wall. It isn't fastened with rope or nail. The timber must be placed so that it leans against itself and supports itself. That is why it zig-zags.
"Some men, men like you, look at utility and see only vanity. That is society's greatest ill."
"With the seventh pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars select a song a man can dance to."
The man smiles again. "Ha! I thought it was another of your 'character issues.' You'll have to forgive me. I'm from the city. Our fences keep creatures in, not out, and they were built by dead men I will never meet."
"With the eighth pick, the Miami Dolphins select enough sandbags to strangle a river."
Burfict buries his ax in the dirt, laughs, and shakes his head. "I'm ... sorry. I don't mean to be cross, but I must ask you what business you have, on this hot day, in that suit, on my land."
"I believe we have something to offer you, Mr. Burfict. Why are you building this fence?"
"With the ninth pick, the Carolina Panthers select a novelty harmonica that resembles a Nintendo cartridge, if someone wouldn't mind making such a thing."
"I'm not simply building it. I'm moving it. I might be drafted, and if I am, I must prepare to receive cattle. I must provide a larger pasture."
"With the 10th pick, the Buffalo Bills select the warm light of a sunny morning."
"You think cattle is all you're getting?"
Burfict nodded. "My combine statistics were poor. I'm likely to receive no more than two cows, maybe three."
"The Bills have traded up to receive the 11th pick, which they use to select an ice-cold glass of lemonade."
"Livestock ... it's the currency of old, Mr. Burfict. You deserve an automobile. A penthouse in the city. The treasures of modern man. And we'd like to give it to you."
"The Bills have traded all their first-round picks between 2020 and 2030 for the 12th overall pick, which they use to select a rocking chair, not too expensive, but sturdy."
"Who are you?"
"Well, Mr. Burfict, I'd like to think that one day, you will call me your friend. Maybe one day soon."
"The Bills have traded their 2031 first-round pick for the 13th overall pick, which they would like to use not to draft, but to simply announce that they 'have it made in the shade, and you won't see us for a while.'"
Burfict bends to pick up a log, and mutters, "I have no use for friends."
"Clearly you have never made a friend as powerful as us."
Burfict freezes. "You're Illuminati, aren't you?"
The man grimaces. "I'd rather we not say that aloud, if you wouldn't mind. Don't mistake me, I'm not afraid. It just isn't ... becoming."
He takes another step forward. "Sir, the Redskins need a force on defense. Someone to create chaos, to intimidate, perhaps even to give their offense a few more footballs than they would otherwise have. We believe you are that person."
"Listen, everyone, I realize this crisis has placed enormous strain on us, and some of us are panicking. But as Commissioner, I hereby rule that draft selections for inanimate objects, or anything but football players, will no longer be accepted."
"Well, then, they can find me in the fifth round. I'm sure I'll still be there waiting."
"No. That is too great of a risk. We have arranged for them to have the second overall pick. And they will spend it on you."
"With the 14th overall pick, the Dallas Cowboys select Barfy Fartmouth -- Jerry, I'd like a word with you."
Burfict's eyes widen. "But ... my character issues. The combine! They will all know it was you."
"Perhaps, but they will forget. They always do." And with that, the man straightens up and tightens the tail of his coat. "I'm glad we met, Mr. Burfict. You will not see us on the 26th, but you will see the noble doings of our hand."
"I will leave you to your fence, sir." He turns and takes a few steps away before pausing, and says over his shoulder, "should you still feel the need to build it."
Burfict is brought back to the present day as Dan Snyder approaches him and extends his hand. "We're very happy to have you, Vontaze. You've instantly made us a Super Bowl contender." Burfict represses the urge to laugh, or shake his head, or do anything other than accept his handshake.
The first round of the NFL Draft is drawing to a close. Roger Goodell holds a telephone in one hand and its mouthpiece in the other: "Yes. In fact, we have discussed voiding the draft altogether ... I know ... listen, the Times doesn't print until four in the morning. We can work up a statement by then. Keep me advised ... thank you."
An aide approaches him. "Roger, you have a visitor. He's outside ... he said he'd speak only to you."
Goodell clenches his teeth. "Show me."
It isn't hard to find a shadow in New York City, and so the two men find one. Goodell speaks first.
"You have successfully ruined the draft. Tell your superiors you have ruined my institution."
"Roger, I acknowledge that you are uncomfortable with our re-arrangement, and that you resent us. But we are necessary. We must always influence. Without us there would be chaos, disarray. And contrary to what anyone else might tell you, even the tyranny of the cruelest emperor is nothing compared to the tyranny of chaos, of hunger, of thirst."
"That has nothing to do with our draft."
"The Illuminati, you must understand, aren't magical gryphons gliding above the clouds. We are but humans, and we must sate our mortal impulses here and there.
The man lights a cigar. "We're Redskins fans, you see."
A pause, and then Goodell began to laugh. A long, loud, howling laugh that echoed through the alleys. "Do you know who you drafted?"
"Burfict is a menace. He's really gonna be a playmaker out there."
"No!" shouts Goodell, still laughing. "NO! He practically flunked the combine! He has character issues. CHARACTER ISSUES! And you traded like five future picks to draft him! And you could have had Griffin, but you don't!"
The man pulls the cigar from his mouth. "Ah God, really? Ahhhhh shit. We don't really follow the combine stuff. Just kinda went with our gut." He pushes back his hat and wipes his brow. "Damn it."
A long pause.
* * *
Far off, far out in the country, there is a half-finished fence that Man has forgotten. The cattle wandered outside it long ago. The head of an ax is buried nearby in the soil. The fence that is finished is well-built; how long will it stand of its own accord? A hundred years? Five hundred? If you ask the Illuminati, it is already as good as fallen. And if you ask Vontaze Burfict, it is finished today.
Music: "Threads" by Portishead, "Ceiling Wax" by Chairlift, "Tilt" by Scott Walker, "Hawk" by Broadcast, "Machine Gun" by Portishead, "Cherry-coloured Funk" by Cocteau Twins