By TYLER DASWICK
College Contributor Network
Pete Rose and I sat in the little boat and ventured deeper into Sports Hell. The Bandwagoners had been horrifying, but my guide had said there would only be greater evil ahead.
"You said earlier that the sins worsen as you go along," I said.
Charlie Hustle nodded. "The more egregious the Master finds your sin, the closer you must be to his domain at the center of Sports Hell. It allows him to...keep an eye on you, I suppose."
"But what about you? It looks like you can come and go as you please."
My companion looked up at me and tugged his baseball cap and swallowed. He looked down and away. "It is yet to be seen if there is a place for me here." I wasn't sure what he meant but something in his posture gave me pause. I didn't ask questions, and we sailed onward.
Another noise began to emerge through the darkness, and Pete Rose stood once more and held the lantern aloft. "Prepare yourself," he said. "This part of our journey must be taken on foot."
Our craft came to a pebbled beach and we stepped off. The ground was damp, and standing water seeped between the stones. The wet terrain continued inland as far as I could see – kind of like a marsh. The noise was louder now – a steady tone, but muffled in a way, like it was coming through a wall. Pete Rose lead the way forward.
We came to a large archway, with a high wall to either side. There was a rotting sign at the peak of the arch, with faded blue letters above a grinning, wicked-eyed gator. It read:
This is the Swamp.
I glanced at Pete Rose and took a deep breath and followed him through the entrance. As soon as we had passed under the gator, the noise from before leapt in volume. It sounded to me like a rabid crowd – full of screams and yells and roars. "Are fans punished here as well?" I asked.
My guide shook his head and indicated a dark shape off in the distance. "No, not quite. Watch. The sinners are coming closer."
I looked on the faraway mass he had indicated. The shadow seemed to roll toward us like a thundercloud, churning and writhing, towering high above myself and my guide. As it traveled, the roaring sound grew louder and louder, but this couldn't have been – it wasn't...
"Are those people?" I asked.
Pete Rose held the light higher. His face was grim. "Look upon these sinners, traveler. These are the Ball-Hogs."
The rolling mass came into focus, and I saw what could best be described as a massive tidal wave of flailing bodies. There were hundreds and hundreds of people, of all shapes and sizes, and every single one of them was in a flat-out, violent rage. It was a dog-pile, plain and simple.
The brutality was immense. The Ball-Hogs fought each other like a wolverine fights a buckeye, and absolutely no one was spared. Bones crunched and popped. Heads smacked and cracked. Smaller sinners were sent sprawling into the marsh, and larger sinners were swarmed and torn apart. Everywhere I watched was another piece of the carnage, and every time it looked like someone was out for the count, they rose back up and rejoined the fray. This was one fight that would never end.
Just as I thought I was going to be sick, Pete Rose and I caught one individual breaking free from the group, sprinting as fast as he could. One arm was pumping like mad, and the other had a football tucked underneath it. Was he trying to escape? Part of me hoped he would.
But as the man fled the skirmish, the others immediately took notice of his absence. A chorus of roars filled the air, and the entire crowd – without a single exception – tore off after him, grappling and shoving the whole way.
The ball carrier didn't stand a chance. The Ball-Hogs crushed him. They pummeled him and kicked him and brought him down to the marshy ground with a sickening squelch. The ball bounced away, and soon someone else had it, and the group took off after them with equal fury.
"It's like that game we used to play as kids," I said. "Keep-Away."
Pete Rose nodded. "That's exactly it. The Ball-Hogs refused to share their whole lives, and now, here in Sports Hell, they are forced to share, and they can't stand it. The fight never ends. I've seen necks break and legs snap – they always continue. Each of them must have the ball, and they won't stop until they succeed. See? There's Kobe."
I looked, and sure enough, there was Kobe Bryant, elbowing two others aside in pursuit of the ball. He looked pretty beat up. I thought I saw JR Smith too, but he was trampled by the mob pretty quickly, so I couldn't be sure.
Charlie Hustle indicated a path that ran through the middle of the marsh, and we ventured forward, the chaos and the battle ravaging its way through the Swamp around us.
"It sort of figures," my guide continued, "But there's a small group of sinners that is oft-overlooked in this part of Sports Hell."
"Really? Who?" I couldn't see anyone else.
Pete Rose pointed down into the water next to us. "Behold the oft-forgotten sinners of Sports Hell: the Passives."
I looked out into the marsh, and yes, there they were – bodies floating just beneath the surface. Battered, bruised, eyes open and staring. Each was totally lifeless – they just floated there, motionless. Was that a young LeBron James? Was that Andy Reid? "I don't understand." I said. "What was their sin?"
"As the Ball-Hogs pay for their selfishness, so the Passives pay for their apathy." Pete Rose sighed and shook his head. "These sinners were constantly overruled and overpowered by the more forceful figures in the locker room. They weren't just passive; they simply refused to take charge. Thus, they literally bear the weight of their aggressors for all eternity. Doormats in life, doormats in death."
I took my eyes off of the blank stare I was receiving from John Fox. Horrible indeed. I jogged to catch up to Pete Rose. This Swamp was truly a horrible place. I wished to leave.
Good fortune was on my side then, as we passed under a second archway and out the other side of the marsh. Behind us the roar of the Ball-Hogs faded, and before long, the image of Kobe Bryant trampling every Lakers player from 2004 to 2008 left my mind. My guide and I just walked in silence for a while.
Once the marsh was far behind, Pete Rose handed me a clothespin.
"What is this for?" I asked.
My guide tugged his baseball cap up and clipped a second pin to his nose. "Trust me, where we're going next, you're going to need it."
For a look back through the entirety of the trip through Sports Hell, check out the previous chapters below:
Sports Hell chapter 6: The end
Sports Hell chapter 5: Death row
Sports Hell chapter 4: The puppet masters
Sports Hell chapter 3: The choke jobs
Sports Hell chapter 2: The ball hogs
Sports Hell chapter 1: The bandwagoners
Tyler Daswick is a junior at Northwestern University. He is a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, Indiana Jones, and writing stories about cowboys and banditos. Follow him on Twitter: @AccordingtoDazz
By TYLER DASWICK