Map showing Nick’s location near Oliver Springs, Tennessee, and Mike’s location in Grambling State University in Louisiana.

Nick: All right, I sent a few files over. You should get ‘em in a minute.

Mike: Alright.

Nick: When’s the last time you were in Tennessee, Mike?

Mike: Looong time, man. Long time. Probably eight, nine hundred years ago.

Nick: You should make a trip here sometime. Trees are beautiful in the fall, especially if you can get up high somewhere.

Mike: You see any of those big neon signs when you crossed the state line?

Nick: Nah, not really. When you cross into Tennessee from the Tech field, you just pass through the woods.

Mike: So I lived in Georgia way back. The big thing everybody did was, you know basically all fireworks are illegal in Georgia, right? Like you can get sparklers, but that’s about it.

Nick: Yeah!

Mike: So everybody would just drive up to Tennessee, where you could buy any kind of fireworks you wanted. It was all legal. As soon as you crossed into Tennessee on I-75 you’d get a sunburn from all the neon signs for fireworks places.

Nick: So it was like a religious pilgrimage.

Mike: Yeah, exactly! I remember one time me and my dude, his name was Nick too actually, we got this thing that was like a superpowered Roman candle. And Nick was a fuckin’ idiot. And we’re on his front porch, which is like screened in, you know, and he decides he’s gonna shoot it off right there and then.

Nick: Oh no.

Mike: And I swear to God. You know when the nanobots detect that something’s about to go REAL bad? It’s not like normal where you can’t really see ‘em. If it’s an emergency you can actually see a cloud of ‘em.

Nick: Yeah, sure.

Mike: You can almost hear ‘em like “ohhhh shit.” Like they’re mad. And I’m telling you, a cloud shot up off the ground and knocked the lighter out of his hand.

Nick: Holy shit.

Mike: I swear, those fuckin’ nanos have emotions. Or maybe just one emotion. They just get annoyed with you, having to save people from danger for the rest of time.

Nick: They should be able to talk.

Mike: Yeah.

Nick: Like if you’re about to set off a Roman candle indoors, you hear this big booming voice out of nowhere. “DANGER! DANGER! IDIOT IS NEAR!”

Mike: “HALT, CITIZEN! WARNING! WARNING! YOU ARE DUMB AS FUCK”

Mike Batiste’s football card, which mentions that he does not particularly like crossword puzzles.

Nine: Fantastic interview from the football card company here. Reads like the Nixon/Frost interviews.

Ten: I guess when you issue a football card for the same guy for two thousand years, you start to run dry.

Nine: Looks like San Diego State and Grambling State have a partnership or something? That’s why Nick and Mike are talking?

Juice: yup

it makes sense for both of em. both programs are basically totally irrelevant on the scoreboard. Grambling has zero footballs, SDSU only has one because nobody’s bothered to run across the desert and play for it

neither program’s on anybody’s radar

Mike: Alright, I got ‘em.

Nick: Appreciate you taking a look. It’s good having another set of eyes on it.

Mike: What the fuck is this handwriting, man? You write this with your right hand?

Nick’s handwritten notes, mentioning that trains typically average 500 ton-miles per gallon.

Nick: Well yeah, I’m right-handed.

Mike: How do y’all do that? Write right-handed, I mean.

Nick: I don’t know, I just do.

Mike: It’s so weird when people write right-handed. Like whenever I try to do it, it comes out all fucked-up-lookin’ …

... okay you’ve got 500 ton-miles per gallon here. You know that varies a lot, depending on the locomotive. And that’s only at full speed.

Nick: Yeah. I figured it was a good enough guess, since I have no idea what kind of locomotive is gonna pull up.

Mike: And then around 100 tons per subsequent car, if it’s full of cargo ...

… you gotta push it all just over 13 miles ...

I mean ...

More of Nick’s handwritten notes, estimating how many gallons of fuel the train will need depending on how many cars are attached.

Mike: … it doesn’t look wrong. It could be more right, but it doesn’t look wrong. You’re probably gonna be looking for a short-haul train, right?

Nick: On this track, most likely. Maybe just a dozen cars or so.

Mike: I’m gonna pull up some elevation data, gimme just a minute.

Ten: Once again, I enjoy it when players from opposing teams are pals. This one seems like an actual alliance.

Juice: yup. Grambling’s really the only team that takes SDSU seriously. nick and manny hit them up a while back because unlike a lot of programs, Grambling actually does the shit they say they’re gonna do

right now they can offer SDSU assistance with play calling, which they need badly right now. Grambling has some players on the team who’re engineers, mathematicians, whatnot. folks who are real useful when you’re tryin to put together a game plan

remember though, SDSU’s a joke. almost all their players are players on paper only

here. look at the OBT on this roster

Juice: most have absolutely no time accrued. which means they haven’t even been on the roster a year. like number 26 is just on the team ironically. he actually hates sports and plays in a retro 14000s-style rappabilly band where the drummer is a rapper

Nine: What’s rappabilly?

Juice: i’ll let you solve that puzzle

Nine: Oh no, not rockabilly rap. Christ.

Juice: easily the best possible genre of music

Ten: Eternal life and heaven are not the same thing, turns out!

Anyway, point is, most of these players sign up as a joke.

Juice: as a joke, yeah, or maybe to just fulfill some dream they have of being a football player, if only on paper

although there are others who do suit up and are fully intent on taking it all serious. they THINK they can do it. and for a few years or decades or even centuries, they do

but it’s like, alright

being a San Diego State player means that in order to actually play the game, you have to run that five-mile stretch across the desert. if you’re a very well-conditioned athlete, you can make it in 30 minutes. 30 minutes is 1800 seconds. you get one second of OBT per year, so you need to wait around for almost 2000 years

but hey, in the meantime, enjoy the city of San Diego! oh what i meant to say is, enjoy this little ass sliver of San Diego. enjoy the one coffee shop you got! enjoy the 34 square feet in the dining area of the thai place you love! it’s a great spot! make friends with the people whose lawns you can legally wander around in! people love it when you do that! enjoy your stay, let’s touch base in 18 goddam centuries

San Diego State’s field as it runs through San Diego.

Juice: so nobody stays

Ten: Least of all somebody with any kind of talent for this game. Players, planners, whoever. Recruiting must be a nightmare.

Nick and Manny have a coach. and a couple “rookies” who stand around doin jack shit mostly, still hundreds and hundreds of years away from the day they’ll get to actually play football. who knows how much longer they’re gonna last

God, they’ve got nobody.

Juice: and that’s why they need Grambling.

Mike: Well, this is a pain in the ass. Lookit.

Map and elevation data for the crucial stretch of railroad track. Highlighted is an elevated stretch of track that runs over a hill.

Nick: Oh yeah, that stretch around Elverton. I was trying to figure out how to use that.

Mike: It drops about 100 feet there. But it makes a few slight curves along that stretch that’ll slow it down.

Nick: What do you think?

Mike: Man … we’re still flying blind here. We can’t go walk down the track and scout it out. We’ve got no idea what condition the track’s in, how much it banks, where it banks. We don’t even know what kind of train you’re gonna get.

Going downhill like that is gonna give you a little push for sure, but we can’t read it anywhere near precise enough for you to make an intelligent call on how much fuel you need. Plan on it, but don’t use it, you know?

Nine: This is the same hill that stopped that runaway train in 1910.

Juice: no shit?

Nine: Look.

1910 newspaper article describing the “runaway train” incident, which notes the hill highlighted above.

Nine: That train was going the opposite way. But it was steep enough to stop it going up. You figure it’ll accelerate pretty significantly going down.

Mike: What I’m more interested is this little dude at the very end there. Big hill when it pulls into Emory Gap.

Another look at the elevation data, which highlights another relatively steep climb right at Emory Gap.

Nick: Yeah, that’s gonna be my brake. I’m hoping the fuel runs out a little before that point, the train starts coasting, and the hill eases it to a stop.

Mike: It might.

Nick: I’m trying to rig it up so that it stops right before it gets to Michigan State. If it hits the field or overshoots it by a little bit, we can work with that, but the second the footballs hit their field, they’re gonna see it on the scoreboard.

Mike: Yeah, I get you. You’d rather let it chill just off the field for a while. Let Michigan State notice Georgia Tech fall down the scoreboard and send their players down to Tech instead of looking for you.

Nick: Yeah, and once we feel like they’ve took the bait, after a few days, we pick up the balls and run. That buys us some time and space, at least.

I’m trying to park it, like, ten or twenty yards from the field. Any more than that, that’s just more seconds of OBT Manny’s gonna have to spend to run out and get it. We need every second.

Mike: I know you do, man.

But look, you’re trying to pull right up to a section of track that’s 72 yards long. And you’re shooting across more than 20,000 yards to get there.

This is like trying to putt in a golf ball from more than a hundred yards out. But not only that, you’re not even allowed to walk around on the green and get a feel for it.

Animation: This entire stretch of track measures 23,305 yards. It runs across Michigan State’s field for 72 yards.

Mike: You want my advice as an engineer?

You can’t engineer this shit. Too much shit you don’t know. Just get it in the ballpark and hope you get lucky. Don’t use any math you learned after Algebra I. That’ll get you on the dart board, but luck’s the only thing that’ll get you on the bullseye.

Nick: Yeah.

Mike: You know?

Nick: Yeah.

We just gotta save every second, man.

If I miss by too much … like if it’s a couple hundred yards away from the field, that could be a minute of OBT he has to burn. Manny only has 18 minutes now. It’s already gonna be real tough making that run in Cali, we’re gonna have to run about five miles at 3:36 a mile. Take just a minute off, that’s 3:24 a mile.

Mike: What pace did y’all make when you ran it the last time?

Nick: 3:53.

Mike: Goddamn.

Y’all have the same amount of OBT, right?

Nick: We both have 17 minutes and 59 seconds, yeah.

Mike: I think what happens here, and I know you don’t wanna hear this. But I think what happens here is, he takes the hit and you make the run alone.

I think you need to get ready for a world where you can make the run and he can’t.

The U.S.-Mexico border as it runs from San Diego State’s field to Boise State’s field.

Nick: I can’t do that, man, I can’t think like that.

What I do is the difference between him making it home and getting ejected. I can’t fuck this up for him.

I had a nightmare last night where I started the train, sent it down the track, and missed it by a ton. And he had to spend five minutes running down the track to go after it.

And they say you can’t do math in dreams, but that’s bullshit, because I knew five minutes was 300 seconds. And 300 seconds is 300 years of OBT. 300 years he spent saving up that time, staying on the field, cooking me dinner, making me laugh. Being there for me every time I was fucked up about something. And like, it was like I could see those years just vanishing from history, just disappearing.

All because I fucked it up. Because I didn’t do the math right, forgot something, guessed wrong.

Mike: You can’t see it like that. When you and your husband took your vows, I guarantee there was nothing in there about being God.

It’s never been anyone’s responsibility to do what’s impossible. It’s not yours.

Nick: You think it’s impossible?

Mike: No. But you don’t have all the numbers, so it won’t be about the math.

Here. Tell me about the prettiest throw you’ve ever seen. The time you saw a quarterback drop one in and you were just like, “how the FUCK did they do that?”

Nick: Uhh.

Well this one isn’t the best throw I’ve ever seen. It definitely wasn’t even an important throw in the big scheme of things. God, I can barely remember what it even looked like, I don’t think I’ve seen it since I saw it on TV.

It was a Mike Vick throw. So I guess this would have been the year 2000 or 2050, sometime around then, whenever it was he was in the NFL.

It’s basically garbage time, right? He’s on the Eagles at this point. Eagles are down a couple scores, there’s like a minute left, game’s pretty much over.

It’s fourth and long. Vick does all you can do in that situation, which is just throw for the end zone.

He’s got uh, the tight end, Brad Celek I think? Brent Celek? He’s got defenders all over him. But Vick whips it in to him.

The thing about the way this ball looked in the air ... it was like an optical illusion. On TV, it looked like it was going at like a thousand miles an hour. No arc to it. Looked like a bullet.

But the thing is, when they showed the replay close up, when it landed in Celek’s hands, it dropped! If all you saw was that close-up shot, it looked like it floated into him. Floated perfectly through all the defenders’ limbs, through a window that was like EXACTLY one football wide. Right in there.

Touchdown didn’t matter, they lost. But it was a touchdown.

Animation: Michael Vick’s throw to Brent Celek.

Mike: I don’t even remember that one.

Nick: Nah, I bet nobody does. Not even him.

Mike: You know what I’d bet anything on, though?

Even at that moment, if you went up and asked him how he threw it, he wouldn’t be able to tell you.

I mean yeah, he’d be able to say, you know, “I made these reads, this was my progression, this was the pressure I was feeling on the right side of the line, this is how much confidence I had in my guy to haul it in.”

But the force he put on the ball? The motion of his arm, the timing of it? Fuck NO he couldn’t tell you how he did that! No one ever can. It’s just something you do.

And yeah yeah yeah, with this one, you got a train. You got maps, you got calculations. You’re not working the mechanics he did, you’re just filling a diesel tank and throwing a few switches.

But it’s still a throw.

You just gotta feel it.

Michael Vick with the pocket collapsing around him.
Photo of Tennessee rail workers from the early 20th century.
Overhead view of the stretch of track between the fields of Georgia Tech and Michigan State.

Juice: ooooookay y’all check it out. i checked the manifest. we should have a train comin down the track tomorrow

i was thinking we could run a broadcast

Nine: Oh, like a live play-by-play?

Juice: yeah! this is the biggest thing to happen in this game in i don’t know how long, we gotta do something special for it

check it out, i’ve been buildin out a chryon package and everything. figure we can stick this in the upper left corner

Chyron displaying the total footballs possessed by Michigan State (15) and Georgia Tech (9).

Nine: I like it!

Juice: thanks! yeah! and then obviously we can update the scoreboard whenever those footballs leave tech’s field. and then eventually we’ll put up a big ol 24 for michigan state, hopefully

Nine: You know what might be cool? Would it be possible to get a running clock for Nick and Manny’s OBT?

Juice: oh shit

yeah

YEAH

Nine: Is that too much trouble?

Juice: no definitely not hold on

Chyrons displaying the out-of-bounds time accrued by Nick Navarro and Manuel Baez (17:59 for both).

Juice: how bout that? and then we can just have the seconds tick down whenever theyre off the field

Nine: Perfect.

Any guesses as to how much OBT they’re gonna lose?

Juice: well i gotta say i think mike was right. how well nick places this throw has less to do with how smart or well-prepared he is and more to do with luck

i actually think he’ll overshoot the field by a mile or so. feel like they’re underestimating how far that train is gonna coast. hate to say it but i bet manny loses like four minutes runnin after it

as for nick, that’s all about where the locomotive’s parked. it’s never the exact same place. i bet he loses 30 seconds runnin up to the cab to start it up

Nine: I’ll be the optimist, then. I say Nick fires a direct hit and the train stops right on top of the Spartans’ field. Neither loses a second.

Juice: could happen!

and if it does, we’ll have the coverage

so i was hoping i could have y’all on the crew. i can run the scoreboard. Nine, you’re good at tracking data. you wanna watch the other teams and just see if they move?

Nine: Got it.

Juice: and Ten, you’re always the best at camera work. you wanna be director?

Ten: Um

So wait I’m sorry, who is this broadcast for?

Juice: i mean

you know, just us

just for fun

Ten: Ah.

Nine: (Come on.)

Ten: (What?)

Nine: (It’s fine if you think this is dumb, but you know how much this means to him.)

Ten: (But I mean, look at the graphics package. It’s so sloppy. He just took the first layer and stretched it out. The diagonal lines don’t run parallel.)

Nine: (Who cares? It’s just us.)

Ten: (I mean)

Nine: (Come on, sis. It would make him so happy.)

Ten: (ahhhh I know. Okay! Okay.)

Ten: Yeah, you know what? This sounds fun. I’ll work the camera.

Juice: HELL yeah i thought you were gonna say no! i was like, fuck else is she gonna do

Nine: All right, lots of teams to track. I’m gonna get started now. Where do I get that data?

Juice: here i’ll give you access to all the team logs. i hope this goes without saying but do not share this with fuckin ANYBODY please

Nine: Oh yeah, promise.

Oh shiiiiiiiiit

All right so, I can pull up Ohio State ...

Nine: … and what it’s showing me here is that Ohio State has a squad of 41 players just a little to the south of their stadium.

Juice: yup

Nine: And their play call at the moment is to head south, then hang a left to go east on UNC’s field.

Juice: yup!

Nine: We know this how?

Juice: oh. game officials have full access to every team’s communication logs. it’s updated in real time too

Nine: This is great. Why didn’t you show me this before?

Wow, I wonder why they’re headed down there. Maybe they’re just kind of going fishing, making the rounds through a few fields and hoping they run into a team with a football.

Or, wait, there’s 41 of them. So they might just plan on sifting through UNC’s field in a horizontal line, looking for a football someone’s hidden. You figure if the field’s 160 feet wide, that’s about four feet per player, just looking down and kicking over leaves and stuff.

Wait, couldn’t be that. UNC doesn’t have any footballs on the scoreboard. What are they doing?

This is so cool.

Juice: (hey lady)

Ten: (Hmm?)

Juice: (just wanted to say thanks)

(i think this game means a lot to Nine. i appreciate you showing enthusiasm for it)

Ten: (Oh, uh, I–)

(Of course.)

Animation: Sunrise over the stretch of Georgia Tech’s field where Nick is camping out.

Nick: *yawn*

*snort*

fuckin ten o’clock

*yawn*

Animation: Zoom in on the stretch of track that passes through the Georgia Tech field. A train is sitting along the field with three cars attached.

Nick: Oh.

Oh fuck.

C’mon, pick up.

Phone: Hey, you’ve reached Manuel Baez, free safety for your San Diego State

Nick: Wake up! Jesus!

Phone: Aztecs and official notary public. For photos, autographs, or notarizations, meet me at the 2,400-yard line southeast of the stadium, Mondays and Fridays between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Leave your message after the beep.

BEEP

Nick: Babe, call me as soon as you get this. We got a train. It’s almost perfect. Three cars. Can’t tell what engine it is yet, but it’s just barely off the field. Bet I can reach the fuel tank. We should go tonight. Call me back.

Juice: oh shit that train is almost as good as they could ask for

sounds like we’re goin live tonight. you good to go?

Nine: Yep!

Juice: alright. let’s start the broadcast at 6 p.m eastern

Ten: You excited?

Juice: two nobodies are about to set every talk radio show in this country on fire for the next 50 years

everyone will know something happened, something big, something that will make a lot of people mad and hurt a lot of feelings. and yet they won’t actually know what happened. perfect recipe for lunacy

yes i’m excited

Juice: .you are looking LIVE as we bring to you today’s coverage of San Diego State versus the world, as they attempt to lateral the ball between  the fields of Georgia Tech and Michigan State

bringing you the action today will be myself, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. along with me in the booth is my broadcast partner, Pioneer 9.

Nine: .Glad to be with you, partner.

Juice: .this broadcast is brought to you by Lunchables Sushi. with a crisp cracker roll and a ham filling, you’ll

Nine: .NOPE

Juice: .fine

we’re joining the action now as Nick Navarro gets ready to make the throw

siphoning diesel fuel out of the tank is Navarro

his  aim is to start the engine and give it just enough fuel to stop at nearby Emory Gap, about 13 miles away

in the 2,216-year history of this bowl game, i’ve seen few schemes as ambitious as this one

Nine: .Looks like he’s just letting it spill on the ground.

Juice: .yup! welcome home fuel

it appears he’s leaving … only about five  and a half gallons of diesel!

very unusual call here. i don’t think he’s gonna get enough zip on the ball. what do you make of it, partner

Nine: .I have to agree. This train’s got three cars on it. You figure you’re only gonna get around one mile per gallon. He needs more than double this much to make it 13 miles.

He could be hanging his receiver out to dry here.

Juice: .well, apparently he’s satisfied. before he leaves for the cab, he sets the footballs right there  on the outside of the chassis

Nine: .Smart move here. If you look, you see the balls are still within Georgia Tech’s field. He doesn’t  want to  set off their alarm bells until the very last possible minute.

Juice: .running to the cab now is Navarro. the clock on his OBT is officially rolling

Nine, this is the first time he’s stepped off the field in centuries

Nine: .He’s got to get this engine started as quickly as possible. Every second that rolls off the clock, J, that’s a second that it’ll take an entire year to earn back.

Juice: .10 seconds off the clock now. we’ll be following the train as it rolls west, strap in with us

20 seconds

Nine: .This is too much time.

Juice: .30 seconds

Nine: .This is getting into dangerous territory. If he kills much more time, he’s not gonna even have a shot at the desert run in California.

Juice: .45 seconds gone now for Navarro

Nine: .This play is turning into a disaster for San Diego  State. Way too much time in the pocket. He’s gotta get rid of the ball.

What is he doing?

I don’t know if there’s engine trouble or what. What a  scene here in Tennessee.

At this point, Navarro is effectively taking himself out of the running to make it home to San Diego.

Juice: .AND HERE

WE 

GO

Navarro jumps off the train and lets it ghost-ride

he’s now back on the field, and his OBT  clock stops at ... 16 minutes, 43 seconds. CRUCIAL amount of  time burned off the clock there

Nine: .Tell you what, this train is moving faster  than I  thought it would.

We’re gonna see if we can give you a picture of something here. Ten, can we get a  camera on the Tech field, right on the track?

Juice: .he uncoupled it

Nine: .He uncoupled the freight cars!

Juice: .Navarro clearly taking the extra  time off-field so he could uncouple the locomotive. it must have given him some trouble, but what a move

Nine: .And all of a sudden, five and a half gallons of fuel sounds just about right.

Meanwhile, it looks like Georgia Tech’s taken notice, and ... wow. All  the squads are immediately being called back. All the teams in Michigan, too.

Juice: .back in tennessee, the train makes some turns as we enter the home stretch

and partner, it’s slowing down at just the right  time

wow, what an approach

and the train’s coming to a stop ...

that’s only fifty yards from the field! 

INCREDIBLE touch on this throw

Nine: .Unbelievable. His receiver’s only gonna need to burn a few seconds of OBT  to go get it.

Juice: .and now all that’s left to do is wait for  the programs across the country to notice the scoreboard

Nine: .There’s Ohio State. They just saw the scoreboard, clearly, and they’re wasting no time.

There’s Georgia, sending ... 

a little more than sixty.

Look at Oklahoma State! They’re sending  the house  after  them.

Purdue ...

South Carolina sending 100 players ...

They’re  all coming.

Juice: .they’re taking the bait

it worked.

JESUS CHRIST IT  WORKED

HOLY FUCK

Nine: .Squads from all over are converging on the Georgia Tech field.

The whole country’s lighting up.

Juice: .and friends

it ain’t there

it’s right under everybody’s noses  and they got no fuckin idea

friends, this is instantly one of the greatest throws in college football history:

Nine: .The Locomotive Lateral.

Juice: .the Locomotive La

awwwwww YOU’RE SHITTIN ME

I HAD THAT IN MY POCKET  FOR 20 YEARS

Nine: .Sorry.

Juice: .FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK