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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Predictions to Live By
by Gary Grenier

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5:58 PM Saturday, October 13th

"Please folks, I'm running late. Excuse me. Thank you. I'll sign autographs on my way out, but I'm supposed to be on the air in 2 minutes. Excuse me. Please let me by, thanks."

The Bears suck! The Bears suck!

Go Blue! Go Blue! Go Blue!

Jordan will score 64 points tonight! 3rd round knockout for Sampson. LSU by 4 points over Tulane.

Eagles Number 1! Philly all the way!

Once inside, the Director said, "Christ Steve, straighten your tie and get on the set, could you maybe get here 2 minutes sooner?"

"I got a damn speeding ticket and then the cop wanted to talk draft picks!"

"10 seconds to live broadcast... 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - go."

"Glad to have you with us sports fans, this is Chad Sterling in Chicago, hope your team is a winner. You are the big winner every time you join us at ESPD, keeping you up to date on sports, outdoor activities, and competition from around the world.

"Tonight we have late breaking baseball news; the season is over! That's absolutely fabulous news for football fans, because we are well into the 6th week of the collegiate season. We will quit yanking your chain and get right down to the "X's" and "O's"; defense, defense, and more defense. All of the big powerhouse teams are thankful for a 2 point victory this year, parity at the University level is up and running. Gone are the days of 50+ point victories. We have a slew of upsets again today.

"We switch you now to Tom Troutman with his exclusive coverage of the post game locker-room coach's summary of Notre Dame's 1 point loss to underdog Iowa. If you can't stand a little foul language, you may want to turn the channel to 'Andy of Mayberry'. Bobby Flanders is NOT a happy camper and his team was aware of that as soon as he opened his mouth; take it away Tom!"


"I barely made it on the set I was so late. Have I got time to take a leak? What's the Notre Dame feed, 60 seconds?"

"2 and a half minutes, have at it Steve."

"Thank God, I could have whizzed right over the boom mike."

Limping to the men's room, Steve Bokowski, A.K.A. Chad Sterling to millions of sports fans, mumbles and bitches all the way off the set.

He severely twisted a knee 3 weeks earlier in a lunch hour "non contact" football scrimmage and life has been less than sweet since then. He has been notified that his apartment building is going "condo" and he has less than a month to find somewhere else to live. Packing up and dragging 4 years worth of trash and accumulation down 3 flights of stairs, loading trucks, unloading trucks, sorting and placing all that junk into a unit he has yet to lease, is not his idea of fun.

Last week, Bonnie, Steve's long time squeeze, required 6 Bloody Marys to get up the nerve to loudly inform him that she didn't mean for it to happen, but her heart and several of the other vital parts of her body had moved in a new direction, but she would like for her and Steve to remain friends. The crowd at Captain Charlie's Crab House was thoroughly entertained.

Today he just got a speeding ticket and was nearly late for "College Game Day" on the country's most popular television sports program.

By far, Steve's biggest worry came to light last Monday morning. The Station Manager, Don Douglas, called in the entire College Football commentator team, informing them that his granddaughter could pick more winners than any one of this group. If they were bored or lacked the enthusiasm to do a little research and check the probabilities for victory, then there were only about 3 million American men waiting to replace them.

Everybody was dismissed except Steve.

Don just paced for a while and then he asked Steve if he had any idea how many correct football final score picks he had made this season? Steve started to remind Don of the unusual number of upsets and last minute turnovers, but Don interrupted; "23 percent," Don bitched. "You have been correct 23 percent of the time. You almost have to try to be that far off, and your pals are not much better at guessing collegiate football outcomes.

"We are supposed to be the experts. People are supposed to look to us for accurate predictions, for some honest insight into the probabilities for victory. We not only should be able to be consistent predictors, but we should be able to tell these fans why their school is going to win or lose. Sports Illustrated just ran their weekly collegiate picks and managed to include ESPD in their summary; I quote, 'If you need a little extra cash, watch ESPD for their picks, reverse the bet and you could be on easy street.'

"Well, starting this week, we are going to challenge them. We are going to record our picks and keep track of them on a scoreboard, individually and as a group, and if anybody hits or falls below 50%, it's been nice knowing you. Now go out there and tell that group of sports expert 'want-to-be's' about the new format, and they had better take this seriously!"

Steve heard somebody yell '60 seconds to live' as he finished up in the can.

Was this really the end, could he be thrown out in the street after so many great years in sports? Ohio's All State High School Football Team, 4 years of record breaking play at Michigan, 2 of those years as an 'All American'. The Blue Gray Game, Senior Bowl, 2 Rose Bowl victories. 3 years as a first string receiver with the 49'ers. A crushed vertebra ended that career but he was in the broadcast booth by the following September. 2 years of ABC play-by-play and then a dream contract with ESPD. Could his career be taking the same route as the swirling water he just left in the john?

"Thanks Tom, coach Flanders has a much broader vocabulary than I assumed, hot tempered is somewhat of an understatement. Wait until next week's lose to Michigan State and you will really hear some Irish language.

"As I predicted, Indiana put a whipping on Northwestern. The final score is not indicative of the real game action, as Indiana's bench allowed a late Northwestern touchdown; 35 to 33.

"Staying with the Big Ten, Illinois and Penn State tried to give away the game with a total of 8 turnovers, 4 of them interceptions, but Penn State pulled it out, 17 to 14. Penn State is going to need more than home field advantage to stay up with Ohio State next week.

"The Michigan defense is good, and for their size, fast; but Minnesota's quarterback, Dirk Patterson, found that out 'up close and personal' after he was carried off the field mid-way through the 2nd quarter. Patterson showed up during the 4th quarter, but in street clothes. In Minnesota, Joyce Meredith has the first of two reports about Patterson and the Wolverines; Joyce."

The show had about 6 minutes more to run and all of the broadcast crew were in the upper 60 percentile for correct game outcomes. 'Chad', Steve, was at 82 percent. As a group they were at 74 percent.

2 commercials, then a review of the polls and Steve found himself saying, "Join me tomorrow morning for a complete collegiate recap and a check on the new polls, and there should be a number of changes. Have a great night and I'll see you tomorrow."

6:48 AM Sunday, October 14

"Chad, could you sign this 'For Pete'? Thanks! Great predictions this week Chad, what about UCLA next Saturday?"

"UCLA, but close; I'm sorry about yesterday, I was so late I didn't have time to talk with the greatest fans in the Midwest, who else needs an autograph?"

What did I tell you about Sampson's 3rd round TKO? Bears will upset Green Bay by 27.

Those have got to be the greatest fans in the world to stand out there in the rain for an autograph thought an upbeat Steve.

Steve went to the teletypes and checked for late international sports news and settled down at his desk to review the entire collegiate football scene.

He noted some of the late westcoast scores and the showcased Saturday night games. Florida State 21 - Virginia Tech 18, UCLA 14 - USC 13, LSU 28 - Tulane 24.

Another Romanian Olympian tested positive for drugs, and a USA ski team member cracked an ankle, but the big story was 'Tiger' Sampson's 3rd round knock out of Middleweight Champion Jesse Johnson. Sampson mauled Johnson the entire last half of the second round and the corner threw in the towel at the bell for round 3; TKO, 1 second of the third round.

Somebody predicted that, maybe it was CNN.

Red Wings, Flyers, and Canadians all won, and Shaq was ejected from last night's game against the Detroit Pistons, but Detroit still lost. Jordan hit 22 free throws in the second half to finish with 64 points.

It seems like someone predicted that also.

Chad was confident that he had a good lead for the rest of the sports, after reviewing the college football scores. He slid outside for a pinch of Copenhagen and found most of the crowd had left the studio. A couple of kids were tossing a football and one old gent was stationed atop a trashcan.

I told you Jordan would get 64 points and Sampson made me a little money popping Johnson with a TKO in the third round of the Championship fight.

Steve suddenly realized that this street person had been the one to forecast all the correct scores and the fight outcome. He was not exactly a bum, but he was a long way from being clean; his clothes were ragged and filthy, and it had been quite a while since his hair had seen a comb.

"I remember you, LSU over Tulane, right? And something about the Bears over Green Bay in today's game?"

Yep, LSU 4 over Tulane and put your money on the Bears, 27 over the Packers.

"Well my friend, I do not, and can not bet on anything, if I want to stay employed with ESPD. You must read a lot and spend all your spare time figuring the odds. You've been pretty lucky just lately."

No luck to it my boy, and I only allow myself a few minutes every day listening to your guesses, which have been pretty sorry until this week.

"Guesses! I'll have you know that I spend more time checking injury reports, reviewing practices and scrimmages, and comparing schedules and outcomes than most people spend sleeping. Nobody can get all of them correct; I just had a run of bad luck."

Sorry Chad, like I said before, there is no luck involved, just skill. By the way, Penn State is going to slip by Ohio State next Saturday. You called that one wrong and Notre Dame is not losing to Michigan State, Irish by 3.

"I've got to get back, but you might want to lay off the sauce, the Buckeyes should crush Penn State. I just made a comment, the predictions come Friday, that's when it counts. Take care my friend."

I wished you were a gambling man, Penn State by 2, and Tiger Woods is going to make up 6 strokes and more, It's another Woods victory today at the TPC with 18 under par. Oh yeah, Red Wings won't lose this week.

Steve was able to yell, "Switch to beer, that wine is pickling your brain," as the studio door closed.

The rest of the broadcast went smooth, but Steve's summary did not repeat his previous Buckeye victory, rather that the game could be a 'Barn Burner' and he reminded the fans that the game would be televised on ESPD II.

7:50 PM Sunday, October 14

Steve was checking the newspaper for apartment listings that evening and was not paying too much attention to the TV, until he heard the NFL recap. He folded the paper, grabbed a beer, and turned the volume up.

"If the Lions are anything, they are consistent, they lost again, 35 to 21. The Rams keep on showing why they were SuperBowl winners, 42 to 10 over the Jets. Bret Farve showed up for the game, but the rest of the team missed the plane; Bears 27, Packers had the goose egg."

Steve was getting a strange sensation, that old dude was dead nuts right again. He realized he was smiling in amazement, curious about the old boy's methods. He was thinking he would leave for the studio a little early tomorrow in hopes of quizzing the old fart some more.

Steve's colleague, Bart Brady, was closing the broadcast. "Tune in tonight at 11, when we will have the results of the NFL Sunday night game and a full report on Tiger Woods' amazing victory at the TPC."

Steve grabbed the telephone and called Bart on his direct line. "Let me guess, Tiger finished at 18 under."

"No guess to it, ABC carried it live. Yeah, the kid is truly a superstar; birdie, eagle, par, birdie on the last 4 holes. Did you see that chip shot hit the pin on number..."

6:23 AM Monday, October 15

There weren't many fans outside at this time of the morning, and worst of all, the old Guru wasn't there. Steve signed autographs and chatted with the group for 20 minutes. He asked if anybody knew the old guy from this weekend, but they did not. One kid said the old boy was sometimes at Ike's Diner, just up the street. With his bum knee, there was no way for a quick trot to Ike's, so Steve thanked the crowd and went inside.

Steve wanted to sit down with the old gent, pick his brain or steal his crystal ball; his predictions were amazing and not obvious outcomes. It looked like he would have to wait for next weekend’s football results to see if the old man could keep it up. He would watch the Red Wing’s predicted victories; they skated 3 times this week.

Don Douglas left a memo on Steve’s desk: "Good work, you hit 87% and the group was at a solid 78%, Keep it up!"

5:45 PM Friday, October 19

The week was predictable; every day the old man failed to be outside the studio or at Ike's, and every time the Red Wings played, they won. If the old guy had just missed one prediction, then you could figure he was human, but so far he had been perfect.

Steve was hedging his statement about a Buckeye victory over Penn State, but he just knew the Spartans would defeat Notre Dame. He was going to have to make his picks and stick with it; he was about to host "You Make The Call", a viewer phone-in show, where the public compared predictions with Chad and the crew.

As Steve picked up his index cards containing the game notes, he noticed a Campbell's Mushroom soup label on his desk. It was filthy, stained, and sticky. When he carefully picked it up to place it in the trash, he noticed some scribble on the back. The print was large and might have been done with a crayon.

Chad, thought you might want a little help.

Notre Dame by 3 over Michigan State 21 - 18

Penn State by 2 over Ohio State 9 - 7

Michigan by 11 over Iowa 28 - 17

The big upset - Baylor by 6 over Nebraska 24 - 18

Oh yea, The Red Wings play to a tie Saturday night and there will be a double fatality at Daytona Sunday!

Steve had to sit down, this guy was not only giving the spread, he was giving the final score. He is still picking Penn State and Notre Dame, but he thinks Baylor (1 - 5) is going to beat Nebraska, who is undefeated. The Michigan game sounds about right, Red Wings could tie Colorado, but what is this double fatality at Daytona?

'60 Seconds to live.'

Steve folded the soup label into his pocket, went to make-up, and then sat down on the set. Then he did something new for the first time in his ESPD career. He went with somebody else’s predictions for part of his picks. He called all the rest of the games based on his research, but he went all the way with the old man, even giving the Michigan and Michigan State scores.

He was razzed for reversing his Notre Dame comment from last week, and he was pronounced ready for the nut house when he opted for Baylor over number 2, Nebraska. The callers told him he was drinking too much, he needed a vacation, and they wanted to know if he would be interested in a little waterfront property in the Everglades. Steve just laughed and reminded them that the proof of his sanity would be on display Saturday afternoon.

1:20 PM Sunday, October 21

Well, for the very first time in the history of sports broadcasting, a perfect 100% was achieved for predicting football winners, including being correct on the final scores of both Michigan teams. Winning the SuperBowl could not be any sweeter than the glory that rained over Steve for the last two days. He even got a telephone call from the President of the United States, and he took that call live during the Saturday recap show.

He was a celebrity; he got telegrams and calls from Governors and Senators.

Don Douglas and the network Vice President called him, one with news of a substantial bonus and the other informing him of his new increased pay rate.

With that bonus, he did not have to move, he'd buy a condo. About time his luck turned around! As an extra bonus, they were flying him to Miami to do the 'play by play' for the ESPD Sunday night game. "Bonnie, eat your heart out!" Steve declared as he drifted off to sleep to the drone of the Cessna's engines.

"Mr. Sterling. Mr. Sterling! I need you to buckle your seat belt, we have a little vibration in the left engine. I'm going to drop down and get it checked out, which shouldn't take long. We should be out of Daytona in an hour or less."

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