The flag football league that my office participates in is littered with former high school and college talent. The league is pretty competitive, which usually means some asshole will pull out all the stops to bring home a championship and relive his wildly mediocre glory days — myself included.
After last week’s victory, a few of us decided to polish off the rest of the beer in our cooler and scout the competition. The setup wasn’t too impressive: both teams looked like a bunch of slaps who should have been playing in the coed division. The white team had some old guy warming up on the sideline. This guy looked to be about 50, and he used every second up to kickoff to get limber. I don’t blame him–I was honestly worried for gramps. He was too damn old.
His team received first and he trotted onto the field. My first thought was that this guy had watched too many John Elway, Brett Favre, and Troy Aikman highlights and was trying too hard to be Peyton Manning before the snap. I wasn’t completely wrong. He hiked it, rolled out with perfect technique, and BOMBED a 60-yard touchdown pass to this kid who had to have run cross country in high school. It honestly didn’t matter how bad his receiver was, because the quarterback put the ball right on the mark. He proceeded to walk off the field like nothing had happened at all to resume stretching.
This continued the rest game. The gray-haired man scored four touchdowns on five throws. The one incompletion was actually an interception, caused because he threw the ball too hard against his receiver’s chest and inadvertently created a tip drill for the defense.
We asked the ref if the guy played in college. The ref told us, “He played for the Green Bay Packers.” Holy shit. That explained it. This guy was by far the best player in a league in which he was 20 years senior to most of the participants.
After the game, we walked over to his sideline to congratulate him with an ice cold one. “We heard you played for the Packers,” a work buddy of mine said. “Yeah…unfortunately” was the old man’s answer. We just laughed it off. Maybe he hated Wisconsin. We wouldn’t blame him for that. We asked him for his name, and he grudgingly answered: T.J. Rubley. I had never heard of him, but judging by his age, I knew he probably played with Brett Favre.
We would soon find out why he wasn’t thrilled to share his story about being a former backup for the Green Bay Packers.
My initial response was to google T.J. as soon as I got home. It took me all of five seconds to cringe at the information that was provided.
T.J. had a lot going for him. He was drafted in the ninth round of the NFL draft to the Los Angeles Rams, out of Tulsa University. He spent a few seasons with the Rams before going to Green Bay. He probably regrets ever stepping into the state of Wisconsin.
In 1995, T.J. was listed as the third-string quarterback on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings-Packers matchup wasn’t as big of a rivalry as it is today, but that game most definitely propelled it to one of the top hate-fueled games of the current NFL. By all accounts, the game was chippy, with both teams delivering blows similar to a heavyweight boxing match. Brett Favre was sidelined after an ankle injury during the game, which brought in backup quarterback Ty Detmer. Detmer proficiently managed the game until he suffered a broken finger, leaving the Packers to bring in T.J. Rubley.
With less than a minute left in the game, T.J. Rubley had the Packers on the Vikings 38-yard line. It looked as if the Packers would manage to get into field goal range and leave the Metrodome with a victory. On third down and one, Packers coach Mike Holmgren rightfully called a quarterback sneak. Both Vikings and Packers fans alike knew the Packers would keep it on the ground and find a way to earn about five more yards for field goal kicker Chris Jacke. Unfortunately, Rubley decided to take matters into his own hands.
The Vikings defense stacked the box and left tight press coverage on the outside with no safety help. In any other situation, and I mean any, a quarterback is taught to audible to a pass play to exploit the vulnerable alignment. Again, this wasn’t the time to do so, but T.J. didn’t get the message. Rubley audibled out of Holmgren’s call and decided a rollout pass play was suitable for the situation. The proceeding play will go down in history as “pulling a Rubley.” T.J. rolled out and threw to his receiver only to have the ball intercepted and returned into Packer territory, which set up a last-second field goal and win for the Vikings. Rubley was cut that same week (many accounts say the very next day) and his NFL career continued to decline from there, though he did get to back up John Elway, so that’s cool.
See, we learned about all of this after my asshole buddy said to him with a smirk, “So we heard you played for the Packers.”
But T.J. is over it. Probably. He has to be over it by now, right? He went on to continue a career with football in the World League, where he won MVP, so there’s that. He was also asked to consult Keanu Reeves for the film “The Replacements” and he has a son attending Tulsa who plays quarterback, too. But how bad does it suck that he is now reduced to playing flag football with a bunch of high school and college wannabes who drink their sorrows away all while reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”?
When asked why he audibled out of the clearly sensible play call to the career-killing one he decided on, he answered, “I was trying to be the hero.” You hear that? Take notes, kids. Stay mediocre. Stay the course. Do what the fuck you are advised to do. Being a hero sounds good and all in your head, but actually delivering on the dream can have major consequences.
If all things go the way they should, we are slated to play them for the championship. Competitive spirit fueled with pregame liquid courage will leave us no choice but to use his haunting moment as a weapon against him. I’ll keep you posted on how that game goes..