Like everyone else heading into the Arroyo Cafe that morning, I grabbed a paper from the newsstand on my way in, hoping to learn more. Every customer ordered a cup of Rosa’s finest and opened their paper immediately to the sports section. Even Doña Maria Elena, the Arroyo Cafe’s oldest customer, was reading the sports section, for the first time in her life.
She crossed herself.
Rosa asked, “The coffee is that bad?”
“Rosa, I’m praying for all of my Wildcats. Pobrecitos…”
“They need more than our prayers, Maria.”
Sitting at the counter with my pals, I thought I’d take all the prayers I could get. I don’t know how long I can pull off pretending I know anything about sports. I’ve never followed sports. The only thing I watch on ESPN is cheerleading competitions. Is the basketball the round one? Or is it the one that looks like two bra cups glued together? Is the football the pointy one? I’m pretty sure basketball is the one where the guys wear pajamas and go back and forth, back and forth, over and over and over, spanking a ball the whole time. I like watching the cheerleaders. But most of all, I especially like watching the coaches when they yell so loud the veins on their necks pop and their faces turn bright red and they throw their clipboards down.
Rosa set down a fork, a napkin and a cup in front of me, on top of my sports section. “What’ll you have?”
“Scrambled eggs, bacon, no bread, no potatoes. Extra salsa.”
“One ‘Paleo’ coming right up, Mr. Flintstone.”
Our local weather guy, Phil Arroyo, grabbed his spoon, like a microphone, and said, “This just in from the National Weather Service: A Category 5 hurricane is closing in on McKale. All sports programs are advised to seek shelter. I repeat. Find shelter.”
Romero hummed the theme to “Jaws.”
Phil asked Romero, “What did the FBI tell the suspect when he wasn’t pressing his fingertips down hard enough on his rap sheet to make an impression?”
Romero had no idea.
Slapping the counter top, Phil said, “Bear Down. You’ve got to Bear Down.”
Rosa groaned and said, “Driving over here to work this morning I noticed the ‘A’ on ‘A’ Mountain looked different.”
Everyone in the cafe nodded.
Romero said, “It looked depressed.”
Rosa said, “Does this mean we’re a football town now?”
Everyone shook their heads. Vehemently.
Sour Frank put down his morning sports section.
“What’s with everybody?! We all knew the NCAA oversees a corrupt system.”
Romero, Maria, Lurlene, Carlos and Rosa all nodded in agreement with Frank. Sour Frank was on a roll and it wasn’t whole wheat. “We all knew the kids were exploited. While the schools raked in millions.”
I said, “You’re right on all counts. Every fan is an expert witnesses when it comes to the NCAA. The FBI should just ask all of us. We’ll all testify. In court on a Tuesday.” I wheeled around on my barstool. “All of us. We all knew for years.”
Everyone nodded. Even the guy across the street, driving by in his pickup, gave me a thumbs up and a nod. And the dude working on his cooler. And the dairy delivery guy. Even the illegal crosser in the alley nodded. We all knew. Si, Si. We all knew.
Rosa poured some brew and then sunk two sugar cubes the size of monopoly game pieces in my cup. I broke into song to shatter the gloom.
“Bear Down, Arizona! Bear Down, U of A!
Bribe! Bribe! Bribe, Coach, Bribe!
Arizona, Bear Down!”
Rosa said, “You’re not helping. What about the big guy? Coach Sean Miller?”
In unison, 11 customers asked aloud, “What did he know?” and nine customers on the other side of the diner answered with their own question, “And when did he know it?”
In the corner booth, retired Tucson Police Department Detective Gomez Whitman guzzled his java, lifted his fedora and rubbed his grizzled chin. “That’s the million-dollar question.”
We gulped. The old gumshoe in the corner went on. “The NCAA is about to collapse like a stack of Jenga sticks. This quake’s bigger than Lance, Pete, Tiger, Barry, Tonya and the 1918 Black Sox Scandal combined.”
I paid my tab and walked outside. As I hummed my alma mater’s fight song, I tried to imagine Tucson being a football town. And javelinas flying.