David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated
By Martin Rickman
August 21, 2014

The following is silly football fiction. None of this is real or intended to be any sort of commentary on actual events or people. It’s mostly just an acknowledgment that the Earth can beat anybody (even Bama) and that this business with Penn State and UCF in Ireland maybe won’t be the last time a volcano threatens a football game.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

When I was asked to oversee and navigate the creation of Cleveland State’s football team and subsequent move to the FBS, people were naturally skeptical. Folks questioned whether Cleveland could support a football team other than the Browns and if Ohio needed another collegiate program in a crowded landscape filled with MAC teams and Ohio State.

There was also the issue of my physical body having left this world many moons ago. You know, Matthew 26:41: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” The temptation was obviously to give up right then and there after a full 100-plus year life, but my soul was far stronger, and I had learned how to exist in multiple planes for quite some time, with the first recorded instance occurring at or around the 1993 Copper Bowl.

Of course I read what they said about me. “He’s over the hill.” “He’s past his prime.” “He’s out of touch with the challenges coaches face these days.” “They need someone younger.” “They need someone who is technically alive.”

I set out to prove them wrong.

When the Kansas governor at the time, Sam Brownback, promised in 2014 that stem cell research would “keep Bill Snyder for another 20 years,” he wasn’t all that far off. It just wasn’t stem cells that brought me back to the sidelines. It was my study of metaphysics that got me to this point.

There’s a point in that old movie Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi says, “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Think of it that way. By losing my tether to the physical world, I could exist outside of it (some tend to conflate that with the idea of ghosts, but they are two separate entities entirely I assure you).

To coach -- at least successfully -- I would still need a host. It’s hard to do press conferences as nothing more than pure energy. The easy solution would have been to use one of those robots they had been developing at NASA to continue the space program. But the A.I. Accord of 2047 was still controversial, and there were those who would be leery of following the leadership of an android, even an android with a human esprit de corps so to speak.

When the Stoops Family stepped forward to offer me the DNA I needed to expedite the process and create a whole new body, I was more than grateful. The process could begin. All that was left was to say hello.


DeAgostini/Getty Images

I can’t quite put my finger on when I started to feel like this was a bad idea.

Our athletic director got it in his head that to make a splash and drum up interest in the program we’d need to do something big. He looked to the “event” games and tournaments in the past -- the battleship games, the games at military bases, the fact that there was a bowl game in Boca Raton -- as evidence that this would work.

 A game in Pompeii was the answer. And we would take on the best, the best being Pitt, which had established itself as college football’s top team over the last decade. (If I didn’t see it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it either.)

Work started immediately on the new stadium, which was to be built at the exact spot where the ancient arena sat back in 79 A.D. The “Bay of Naples Kickoff” as we called it got a tasteful logo, and at the time one major publication called it “the natural progression of a national game that deserved the grandeur of the ancient world.”

The rumblings started almost the minute we set foot near the ruins. I voiced my concerns to deaf ears. Too much was riding on the spectacle, and airline cancellation fees had risen to an astronomical level.

Pitt was coached by former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel, who parlayed his 2014 Heisman win into a long and memorable NFL career. Driskel caught the coaching bug from one of the many wide receivers coaches the Gators had in his playing days and soon became the most sought-after candidate in the game. He was perfect for Pitt’s universally loved brand of football at the time.

Driskel and I discussed postponing the game until more scientific research could be done on Mount Vesuvius, but to no avail. The game would go on as planned, and any ash that threatened to darken the skies would be absorbed and redistributed up by the Weather Dyson®.

200,353 packed the state-of-the-art stadium in anticipation of the preseason No. 1 and back-to-back defending champs taking on the world’s first team led by a (for lack of a better term) reincarnated head coach. We fell behind early 14-0 but actually put together a decent drive in our all-quarterback offense when the first smoldering embers launched into the sky.

The sound was deafening and at first no one knew what to make of it. I’d imagine a majority of the fans thought it was all part of the show. And it was impressive to see the sheer power of the Earth in action. When magma started to peek over the horizon, all hell broke loose. The disaster siren pierced the sky, with confusion quickly turning to panic.

We scored on a quick play out of the pistol and were determined to get a stop on the next possession before the refs called it off. A mandatory evacuation was called, but time wasn’t on our sides.

I knew what I had to do. It was up to me to get everyone out safely so that we could use this as a lesson to never again tempt the awesome power of nature.

But hey, they didn’t call me The Wizard for nothing.

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