It was just before dawn when Joe Flacco’s phone buzzed with a text message. Joe had already been awake for a couple of hours, unable to sleep. A new sensation had crept into his consciousness over the weekend, an unfamiliar tingling in his toes ever since his agent had called him late on Friday to let him know how much money the Ravens were willing to offer him if he would remain in Baltimore as their starting quarterback. Sign the deal Monday morning. His phone on the nightstand vibrated again. He reached over and flipped it open, two messages from his agent. “Big day!!!” read the first message, the second message a mystery as his old Samsung phone couldn’t handle picture mail. Joe made a mental note to ask his agent — also named Joe, he liked that about his agent — what the picture was when he saw him later in the day.
Maybe he should go for a run, shake whatever this nagging feeling was off. Big day. Joe carefully slipped out from underneath the covers as not to wake his high school sweetheart, grabbed his tennis shoes from the corner and crept gingerly downstairs. As he walked out the front door, he grabbed the paper. “JOE FLACCO TO BE HIGHEST PAID NFL PLAYER” read the headline. The new tingling feeling moved from his toes to his chest. Maybe he was getting a cold, he thought. He grabbed one the purple and black striped beanies that had been issued to the team back in September from the front closet. He pulled at the giant pom-pom at the top of the hat and frowned. Too flashy. No wait. Big day. Maybe the pom-pom was okay just this once.
Joe jogged his usual route around the neighborhood, eyes never leaving the horizon. Three miles down, four miles down, five miles down. Mile six, time to stop at the local 7-11 for his usual black coffee. But his feet kept going, running past the sign that shouted 79 cents for a small cup. His heart was pounding. Maybe, this time he would get coffee down the street. Starbucks. The tingling had spread all the way to his fingertips.
It was barely six in the morning and Joe was the first one in the coffeeshop. Good. Fewer people to see him in wearing the garish pom-pom. Joe looked up at the menu board.
“Hi! What can I get you today?”
“Well, we have our light blonde, medium Pike’s Peak or a bold dark roast coffee.”
Pike’s Peak sounded foreign, so Joe immediately dismissed it in his mind. His high school sweetheart was a blonde and he liked her, but the tingling reminded him, big day. Bold. Big day.
“Dark roast.” Joe hoped he sounded convincing enough even though he thought his heart was going to burst through his chest.
“Would you like a shot of syrup? Hazelnut? Dolce de leche? Carmel? Vanilla? Chocolate? We still have pumpkin spice left if you want it.”
“Um, how much is a shot of syrup?” The tingle had turned to a throb.
“All of them. I want all the syrups.” Why were his ears ringing? Maybe the team doctor would be there when he signed his contract. He could ask if the flu was going around again.
“You want six different coffees?”
Joe started to do the math in his head and when he realized he was about to spend more than ten dollars for coffee he panicked. “No, just put all the syrups in one cup of coffee.” This is not how a big day was supposed to go, he told himself.
The barista just shrugged and grabbed a large cup. “Whipped cream?”
Big day. “Yes.”
A few minutes later Joe walked out of the Starbucks with his cup of flavored coffee. He noticed the barista had written his name on the side of his drink. Joe. Joe for Joe on his way to see Joe. The sides of his mouth started to curve upwards towards his eyes. What the hell was going on?
“Joe! Big day!” Joe Linta seemed more like a guidance counselor than an agent, quarterback Joe thought as he met his representative outside of Steve Bisciotti’s office. Maybe he could tell him about the weird feelings he had been having all weekend. Wait. Not yet. Had to sign the contract first. What if he was coming down with something and if he told agent about it, he’d tell the team something was wrong. The deal would be off. Whatever the tingling was earlier turned dark, and Joe liked that feeling even less than the other one.
“Joe, are you doing alright? You’re shaking.”
“Oh, I had them put some syrup in my coffee this morning. Too much sugar, won’t happen again.” Why did open his big mouth? Now the team was going to test him for diabetes and the whole deal would be shot.
Linta looked at his client, unconvinced but not about to challenge the quarterback’s claim of a sugar crash. Did they even have flavored syrup at 7-11? No matter, he was about to make his charge more money than even Tom Brady and it was time to remind him of that. “Did you get my text this morning? What are you thinking, Joe? Black or silver?”
“Black or silver?” Was that the second text? Joe’s head started to swim as they walked through the door.
“Don’t worry, the Bentley dealership said they had both colors brought in for you. Let’s sign this piece of paper and get to the fun part.”
Fun part? The weird feeling was back and Joe Flacco excused himself to the bathroom to go throw up. Some big day this was turning out to be.
“Mr. Flacco, if you like you can take one these fine cars home to test drive for a few days if you’re not sure. I’m sure once you get behind the wheel though, you’re going to love the Bentley’s smooth ride.” The dealer didn’t quite know what to make of the NFL player standing in his showroom. He was used to the peculiarities of professional athletes, his dealership was a favorite of both Ravens and Orioles alike, but something about the 6’6 quarterback reminded him of stale saltines; how did you even know the difference between them and fresh crackers?
“Oh, I am sure I would.” Joe ran his fingertips over the curve of the hood for dozenth time. The new tingle from the weekend seemed to jump right from the car into his body. It was starting to feel dangerous, intoxicating even. What would his high school sweetheart say if she saw him caressing a car? Probably nothing nice, Joe thought. This car could only lead to problems. Joe looked out the large glass panes of the showroom windows out to the open lot.
“What about that red car?” Sure, red might call attention to him on the road, but something about the car felt natural, soothing to Joe. For the first time all weekend the tingling seemed manageable.
The dealer looked the window. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I have a model in red in stock. Are you perhaps looking for a Ferrari instead?”
“No, the red car over there. It looks solid. Reliable.” And it doesn’t make the tingling any stronger, Joe thought.
“The late-model Volvo? I’m sorry Mr. Flacco, but that car belongs to one of the mechanics, Bruce. I don’t think it’s for sale. Besides, I think that car is a good six years older than you are. You need something more modern, fitting of a man of your stature.”
Big day. Be confident, Joe told himself. “Could you ask? I don’t mean to sound crass, but, I have money and this is the car I want.” It’s out there now. Joe Flacco has money and is willing to spend it, he thought. Spending it on a red, solid Volvo.
As he drove away in his new red car, Joe realized that the strange feeling in his bones was still there. He had just bought what wasn’t for sale. Big day, indeed.
Joe was getting dressed for the big day celebration dinner with his high school sweetheart. He had stopped at the mall to buy a new pair of pants for the occasion, and after being assured that the extra pair of pockets on what the saleslady called “cargo pants” were not too ostentatious, he went ahead and splurged at the Gap. Usually he stayed at the Old Navy end of the shopping center, but the bold coffee, the new car, Joe was starting to like the feeling of his big day, even if he didn’t know what was happening to him physically. He hoped the feeling would hurry up and pass soon though, as he planned on taking his high school sweetheart to the local Carrabba’s Grill. He had seen the late-night ads for the two entrees for… What did it matter what the meal cost now?
A beautiful, blonde petite woman walked into the bedroom. His high school sweetheart. She was honesty too pretty for Joe and he knew it, but she had stuck around all these years anyway. Maybe she would stick around if he confided in her what had been happening to him for the past three days.
“Big day,” she said.
“Big day,” he replied, his voice trembling. “Why do I feel this way? Feel my forehead, do I have a fever?”
Joe’s high school sweetheart smiled, all the love in her heart ached for the terrifying new emotion which had overtaken her poor husband. She knew it was all new to him and the adjustment was going to take some time.
“Joe, what you are feeling is excitement. 28 years, a Super Bowl win, the birth of your child and you are finally experiencing excitement. $120.6 million bought you excitement.”
Excitement? This is what his teammates had been talking about all this time? This was supposed to be enjoyable? Too many choices for coffee, pants with extra pockets and going out for spaghetti when they could make perfectly fine spaghetti at home? Needing a phone that received picture mail?
Maybe it wasn’t too late.
Maybe the Ravens would take the money and their excitement back.