By TYLER DASWICK
College Contributor Network
Pete Rose slumped against the wall as snot and blood bubbled from his face. I tried to wipe it away with my sleeve but it just smeared.
"Pete...we're here. We made it to the Master." My voice sounded faint in my head.
My guide cracked open his eyes and his head lolled around. "Where is he?"
"I don't know. He—"
"I'm here." Something spat behind me.
I felt myself quake. I turned on my heels, still crouched in front of Pete Rose, and I looked up into the hooded face of the Master. The figure didn't move.
"Can you carry him?" he asked.
"I—I think so."
"Then step into my office." The Master turned and walked away. I immediately had questions but decided I better move Pete Rose first. I did my best to haul Charlie Hustle to his feet and tuck him under my shoulder. We limped after the figure.
The Master's office was smaller than you would expect. One desk. No pictures on the wall. It smelled like a locker room. There were two chairs on one side of the desk—had we been expected?—and the man in the hood took his place opposite us. Pete Rose shrunk into his chair but did his best to sit up straight. The room was, of course, dark as a cell.
A sigh came from the other end of the desk, and I saw the Master's form rise and fall. His hands were steepled in front of his shrouded face, but they soon parted like a gate as he reached up and lowered his hood. One hand rose into the air and grasped a single dangling bulb. A stale yellow light sparked.
And there was the Master. Of course. In truth, there was no one else it could be.
The coach nodded and said nothing.
"I guess this should have been obvious."
Belichick rolled up the sleeves of his sweatshirt and ran a hand through his hair and messed it up. He smoothed it down with the other hand. "Why?"
I felt myself redden. "Well, you know, it's—it's you. You're known to be kind of a...grouch, I suppose."
"That places me here? Just like that?"
"I don't—uh, I don't know what to say. Sorry." I felt dumb. I looked at Pete Rose but he was slumped in his chair and leaning on the arm and it looked like it was all he could do to stay conscious in front of the Master. I reached out a hand and tried to support his shoulders.
The coach acknowledged the ball player. "Is he alright?"
What? Hadn't he seen what happened? This is how we even came to be in here! I gaped for a moment and squeezed Pete Rose's shoulder. "No, he's—how can you say that? This is what had to happen for you to see us! Why would you do that? He's not okay! Are you serious? You practically did this to him."
Belichick shifted his eyes onto me. He blinked. I retreated a little.
"Are you sure that's what happened?"
"Yes, we—we had to see you, and this was the only way. It wasn't my choice, it was yours."
Belichick blinked again. "You don't understand."
The coach rose to his feet and moved away from the desk. He took three paces off to the side and as he did I saw the darkness before him fade away and we could see beyond the confines of the office in the Center of Sports Hell. It was a bird's eye view all that had come before. There was the pit of Choke-Jobs and the press conference on Death Row. There were the Bandwagoners off in the distance. The Ball-Hogs too.
Belichick looked out on Sports Hell. "Why are you here, traveler?"
I scooted my chair closer to Pete Rose. "Well, I—I just sort of found this place."
"No. That's not an answer to my question. I asked why. Not how."
I thought for a moment. The coach didn't move. I tried again. "I guess I was looking for something to...to experience? I don't know."
Belichick walked back to the desk and sat down but the SkyCam view of Sports Hell persisted around us, as if we were floating above it all. "I don't think that's true, traveler."
I was quiet. Belichick watched me.
"Why are you here?" I asked. Pete Rose let out a small noise.
"There is no 'why' for me. I was placed here."
"Are you serious?" Belichick looked at me. "Have you been paying attention?" He didn't raise his voice—just aimed it more directly.
I swallowed. I looked out at Sports Hell. I thought of the husks—the shadows. "Was it them?"
"Yes. Who are they?"
This was becoming painful. I wiped my brow. "I don't know—you're supposed to tell me."
The coach just shook his head. I sat there and Belichick let me sit in silence. Finally, I asked. "Why do they have so much control here? Why aren't you going out and dealing the punishments...didn't you design it all?"
Belichick actually leaned in. He looked from me to Pete Rose and my guide shifted in his seat and worked to open his eyes again.
"I did. I built the foundation—the landscape, but for a long time this place was empty. Just an outline of what it might become. And then they filled it. They brought the sinners. They handed down the punishments. The massed around all of the athletes and coaches and figures who, in their dark and spiteful minds, needed to pay for what they did." The coach leaned back. "They're more fitting to be Masters than I am."
"But why not just stop them—you run this place!"
"Do I? Why do you think I stay here at the Center, traveler? There's thousands—millions of them. They're beyond control. This is their game now. I just watch from the sideline." Belichick ran his hand through his hair again. "Look at Rose. I didn't want that, but if it doesn't happen, the game is over. I'm no longer the Master they perceive me to be, and if that's the case, then I'm just the same as every other sinner in Sports Hell. As much a traitor as Woods and Roger. These people write their own storylines—they want you to be exactly how they perceive you to be, and if I or anyone else strays from that narrative...well, that's how you end up here."
I was quiet for a time. Pete Rose rasped and he coughed and spat out blood. He shifted and was able to sit almost normally. Belichick let me fill the silence again. "But—Tiger and Goodell did terrible things. Even you aren't totally innocent, right? Doesn't that make some of this okay? Couldn't you say that some people here deserve it?"
"Do they?" Belichick blinked slowly. "When was the last time you saw a god in hell, traveler."
I wasn't sure what to say to that either.
Belichick pushed his chair back and Pete Rose and I followed him out of the office. My guide seemed a little steadier. We walked together.
"Coach—what's going to happen to this place?"
"Well, it's not going to get better, that's for sure."
"How do you know?"
Belichick didn't answer for a time. We soon came to another set of double doors. Small and humble—just a push bar leading out to...whatever was beyond. A red light blinked on. Exit. The coach looked at me. "Why are you here?"
I felt Pete Rose put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at the doors. "Is this it? The end?"
Belichick ignored the question. "Answer me."
"I don't know—tell me what's past here."
"No." Belichick took a step forward. "Why are you here? Why did you come?"
Pete Rose's grip on my shoulder tightened. I looked up at him and his swollen eyes looked back. The blood cracked around his lips and neck and he nodded in a small way.
"I—I—I guess..." I trailed off. Charlie Hustle had told me from the start that my arrival had been expected. He had asked me all along if we should keep going forward. Belichick's office had two chairs in front of his desk. They knew. Both of them. Maybe I knew, too.
The words came out in a shameful whisper. "I wanted to be here." I said. "I was looking for it. I played along." I took a breath and when I swallowed my throat hurt. "I'm sorry. It was me. I'm sorry." It came out weak.
My guide let go of my shoulder. He took a step past me and pushed open the double doors. A dark tunnel leading up to a light in the distance. True light. The way out.
Pete Rose came back to me. "Remember why you came, traveler. Remember what you saw. Your leaving here doesn't change things, but it does change something."
I turned toward the doors and looked back. "Will I see you again? Or anyone here?"
Belichick spoke. "That's not a question we can answer now. We're on to next week."
On to next week. I shook their hands and they were warm and when I turned back toward the exit I felt a wind stir my hair. Clean. Wonderful.
I climbed out of Sports Hell and the doors shut on the Master and Pete Rose. The light above lit the way forward and it wasn't long until I spilled out onto the purest grass I had ever felt. Cold. Damp. I ran my hands through it and my heart thumped against the ground.
I raised my head. The light was all around and I rolled over. Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. It was night. The bleachers were empty. The lights were on. The glare reflected off the press box and the field shown like a lake. The air smelled like CrackerJacks and hot dogs.
Off and away I heard a gate clang shut. It was time to go. The tunnel had vanished and I walked from the fifty-yard-line through the end zone and under the goal posts.
The lights went out one by one and the stars reemerged. They burned over that hallowed ground—where nothing could prevail but truth—and I thought of the heroes and villains that had done battle there. Above the stars faded as the darkness around them rescinded, and all was overtaken, gloriously, by the sun.
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