NATE BULLARD – THE LEGEND BEGINS
(This story is fiction. The resemblance of any characters to persons, real or imaginary, is purely by chance)
“Oh no!” thought Navy football head coach John Paulnson as he watched he sixth-string fullback twisting in pain on the ground, “This can’t be happening!” It was the week before the Navy-Air Force game and a series of unfortunate and suspicious events was befalling the fullbacks on his team. First, his top three fullbacks fell violently ill after eating “Colorado Meatball Surprise” at the training table lunch earlier that day, then the fourth and fifth string fullbacks were injured in a freak protractor accident when the Yard Patrol Craft they were embarked upon for a practical navigation class suddenly ran aground on an uncharted sunken object after being buzzed repeatedly by one of the Air Force Thunderbirds. Now, the last fullback on the team was being carried off the practice field after apparently slipping on a strangely colored banana peel. It was silver and light blue. Also on the field was a playing card – the Joker.
Navy athletic director Chuck Gladchet had been watching practice and decided that this couldn’t be a coincidence. He immediately placed a phone call to NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro and requested an immediate investigation. Meanwhile, Coach Paulson scanned the sideline to see if there was anyone he could put in at fullback for the critical Air Force game. He was about to give up hope when he spotted the water boy.
The only son of a pair of USNA grads (a Navy nuclear submariner father and a USMC aviator mother), Nate Bullard was born to go to the Naval Academy. His mother was the only daughter of a large family of boys whose father was the head football coach at a small town high school that ran the Single Wing offense. She taught Nate everything she knew about the game of football. Nate also inherited his father’s superb intellect (a double major in Mechanical Engineering and History) and, unfortunately, his feeble, ectomorphic body. When he entered the academy three years earlier, Nate was too small to play any role on the team but water boy. However, Nate also secretly snuck into Ricketts Hall at night and broke down game film for some of the coaches (a trait he picked up from his mother’s godfather, Check Bellisteve). Nate knew more about Navy football then anyone.
But the water boy on the sidelines that John Paulnson saw was no runt. He stood 6’ 2” and looked like he was 230 lb. of pure muscle. Why hadn’t the coach noticed him before? What had happened to the skinny little kid who was always talking to the assistant coaches? Coach immediately suited Nate up and called for him to run the fullback draw play to see what he had. “If this kid can play half as good as he looks, then may Disher Feberry is right!” he thought. “Maybe I am the coach of the luckiest team in America!”
Ten seconds later, Nate was in the end zone with a pile of defenders on the ground in his wake. Defensive coordinator Guddy Breen ran up to Coach Paulson and pleaded “Don’t run that guy in practice any more or we won’t have any healthy defenders for the game.” The head coach and AD immediately called Nate over and asked him how he had become such a stud.
Under the lights on the practice field, Nate told his story.
Nate had a very difficult Plebe Summer and had almost quit the academy due to being underweight. Memorizing his plebe rates was not problem, but he had absorbed so much information that the upperclassmen were constantly asking him for more information at the meals and he was not getting any time to eat. He was losing weight and strength quickly. Fortunately, two long-serving food service workers who had been good friends with Nate’s parents noticed his plight and took action. Mabel and Willie Williams practically adopted Nate and he returned the favor by tutoring their grandchildren on the weekends and setting up a computer database for Mabel to track food shipments to King Hall. Willie and Mabel made sure Nate’s table always got seconds and thirds at each meal, so the upperclassmen would be too busy stuffing their faces to ask Nate any questions. Nate gradually put on enough weight to stay within Navy standards, but it was a discovery Nate made in the locker room that changed his life.
While conducting research for a second class year history paper on secret strategy used in past Army-Navy games, Nate discovered a small, worn, leather-bound book in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in back of the locker room. It was a diary, but not just any diary. It was the diary of the late Ted Tomo, legendary Navy football trainer who had taped the ankles of every star Navy player from Bon Reagle to Bo Joellino to Stauger Rogbach to Mcpoleon NapCallum, and everyone in between. As Nate devoured the diary, he kept reading similar, strange entries before big games: “Make sure Reagle has Big N and shake before N.D.”; “Bo wants 2 Big N before Army”; “Big N before USC game will ensure Stauger wins Heisman!”; “Mc must drink shake before opening kick off of big game in Pasadena.”
Finally, sometime in the mid-1980s, there was a last mysterious entry: “Ain’t no more Big N. We are sunk! The secret lies with Mabel.”
Nate found it curious that the downfall of Navy’s football fortunes in the mid- 1980s had coincided with the “Ain’t No More” entry in the diary. What was a “Big N”? What about the shake? Could his sponsor, Mabel Williams, hold they key to this mystery? That evening, after a dinner of Baked Cod Almandine in King Hall, Nate found Willie and Mabel in the stockroom. “Willie, what is a “Big N”, and why was it important to Navy football? “ Nate asked. Willie quickly got up and shut the door. “How do you know about Big N Steak Sandwiches?” he whispered. “Nobody has seen one of those things around here for almost 20 years.” Nate then told Willie and Mabel about finding Ted Tomo’s secret football diary and how the final entry said that the secret to the Big N mystery was known by Mabel.
Mabel replied “It’s all true. You’d better sit down Nate. Willie and I have never told this story to anyone for fear of losing our jobs.” Mabel then told Nate about the food that used to be the favorite pregame meal in King Hall – Big N Steak Sandwiches and Thick Chocolate Milkshakes. Navy teams always performed their best after this meal.
However, one year, in the mid-1980s, all of the service academy food services were placed under a new Joint Office of Kosher Eats and Resources (JOKER). This new office was run by an Air Force officer who was a USAFA grad – Col. Dud. He eliminated Big N Steak Sandwiches and Chocolate Shakes from the USNA supply system and threatened to fire all of the food service employees if they exposed his secret plan for putting Air Force on top of the service academy football ladder. Also, Col. Dud was skimming the profits from the USNA dairy sales and using the money to bribe AAC officials to keep Navy from winning football games. Nate thought Col. Dud must have been the person who put the banana peel on the practice field and the Joker card must have fallen out of his pocket when he reached for the banana peel. Nate would bet he was behind the Colorado Meatball Surprise incident and the Thunderbird flyby, too.
A quick scan of food service records from the past 20 years proved the story. Nate, Mabel and Willie then hatched a plan to expose the Big N conspiracy and return Navy football to service academy dominance. Nate would secretly eat Big N Steak Sandwiches and drink Chocolate Milkshakes on weekends at Mabel’s house and work out feverishly over the summer to bulk up. The results were spectacular.
“And that how I became a stud fullback” Nate summarized his story.
Special Agent Jethro walked up to join the conversation as Nate finished telling his story to the coach and AD. He immediately turned the full resources of his office on to the task of capturing Col. Dud. Meanwhile, Chuk arranged a meeting with the Supe and Dant to explain the conspiracy and take immediate corrective action. The next day, at Friday lunch, the Supe himself announced a change in the menu for each pregame meal for the entire Brigade – the return of Big N Steak Sandwiches and Chocolate Milkshakes. The spirit of the brigade soared as the meal was served! All of the Navy teams left their training tables with feeling a strength and focus that they had never felt before.
Air Force never knew what hit them that weekend. The Drum & Bugle Corps easily won the annual competition with USAFA and Coast Guard that afternoon. That night both soccer teams won by double digits, the cross country teams each scored a perfect 15 in sweeping their races, and the golf team won every match on Saturday morning.
Yet, in the broadcast booth at the football game on Saturday afternoon, there was a feeling of tension among the Navy broadcast team. During his final pre-game comments, color commentator Stein FeinJohn announced “I’ve been talking about the issue for years and no one believes me, but now I have proof of a conspiracy against Navy football that reaches to high levels of the Pentagon and AAC football officials. Also, I noted that the officer rep for the Air Force bears a strong resemblance to a football official from an earlier infamous Navy game who shall remain nameless. Keep your eyes wide open for funny business during this game folks. Immediately after the game, I will hold a press conference to reveal my sources and expose this vast conspiracy.”
Navy dominated the game physically and Nate was practically unstoppable. The only bright spot for the Falcons was a very entertaining halftime show by the USAFA Drum and Bugle Corps that featured dramatic recreations of scenes from “Batman: The Dark Knight”. However, Air Force stayed in the game thanks to the help of an unusually large number of pass interference and defensive holding penalties. The crowd was on its feet, cheering for all they were worth as Navy drove the ball down the field for the winning score. Except for one distinguished looking fan, Mr. At Chuckwater, who requested that everyone in his section quietly sit down so that he could enjoy the game in peace.
On first and goal from the 9 yard line with 20 seconds to play Nate plowed over the right side of the line for the apparent winning score. But there was another flag on the play. Nate was penalized for unnecessary roughness because he ran over the Falcon safety in an excessively rough fashion! Stein was beside himself in the radio booth. “That penalty flag was actually thrown by the Air force Officer Rep on the sidelines. I’ve been watching him all game and I believe he is using a hidden radio to tell the officials when to call penalties against Navy!” Stein’s broadcast partner, Nelmar Olsen, chimed in “Stein, I always thought you were just being paranoid, but I was watching the Air Force officer rep at the end of that play too, and I also saw him throw the flag and then say something into his left sleeve. Stein, you were right all along. I’m sorry I ever doubted you!” Stein then exclaimed “I can’t hold back my information any longer. I can now tell you that the conspiracy against Navy football is being directed by none other than … Ouch!” Just then the Joker from the halftime show busted in to the radio booth and shot Stein in the neck with a blow dart. As Stein collapsed in the corner, the Joker took aim at Nelmar, but before he could get off another dart, Special Agent Jethro, who had been staking out the game, flew in through the door and tackled the Joker. The force of the tackle caused him to swallow his own poison dart. Just before he breathed his last, he removed his mask to reveal his true identity – Col. Dud!
Luckily for Navy, the Air Force head coach decided to call two timeouts to try to throw off the intricate timing of the Navy offense just before they snapped the ball on what figured to be the final play of the game. Realizing that time was running out, Nelmar used the speed dial feature of his cell phone to call Bill the Goat (the guy in the costume, not the real goat) and told him to take the USAFA officer rep out of action. Bill immediately made a beeline for the visitor sideline and made a diving tackle attempt at the fake Zoomie officer, who tried to dodge the mascot at the last second. Fortunately, a Navy fan wearing a sombrero was listening to the radio call of the game and heard Nelmar shouting about the phony officer over the air. He helped Bill subdue the officer rep as the rest of the NCIS agents closed in. With the head of the monster cut off, the AAC officials only heard static through their brain control radio implants as Navy lined up for the final play.
The Air Force coach was so rattled at the arrest of his officer rep that he couldn’t decide what to do. As Navy went into their shift, he made a motion to call his final time out several times, but just couldn’t manage to say the word. Nate took a straight hand off from the QB, followed his blocking through the confused Falcon line and plowed the final 10 years into the end zone with three Zoomie defenders trying to bring him down as the final gun sounded. After the loss, the only thing the losing coach could say was “I guess we need to be able to recruit more meat eating monsters like that fullback if we want to compete in this game anymore.”
Five hours later, on the set of a college football highlight show, a small former coach and a large former lineman were about to hand out the final helmet sticker of the night. As the lineman saw the coach reach for a gold helmet, he groaned “Don’t tell me you’re giving another sticker to you old school. They had 3 interceptions, 2 fumbles, 15 penalties and gave up 6 sacks in their controversial, last minute victory over Southeast North Dakota Tech today!” The coach replied “No, this helmet sticker goes to the University of the Navy Academy. You know, when Navy head coach John Pilson and offensive coordinator Ned Kenmuiatutululu installed the wishbone and told the quarterback, Kepo Hackytehada, to give the ball to the fullback, it was a brilliant strategy. He ran the ball for over 400 yards and scored 5 touchdowns each half in a big win over the Air Force Fulcrums. The University of the Navy Academy will never be able to forget the name of that fullback – Knute Lardbull!” “That’s Nate Bullard, coach” the lineman said. “Isn’t that what I just said” the coach replied. “Do you have anything to add coach?” the lineman asked. “Just one thing” he said, “Navy is a nice team, but they need to get the ball to the slots more. Their names are easier to pronounce.”