Excerpt from Red Zone by Mike Lupica, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Red Zone

by Mike Lupica

Red Zone
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 352 pages
    Oct 2004, 368 pages

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"Tell me something," Bubba said. "What're the odds of me meeting somebody like this before our plane even sets down at that Hedgerow Airport of theirs?"

"No disrespect meant to your date," I said. "But you could meet girls in a maximum-security facility."

"Nah," he said. "I mean the odds on her name, man. Brittany. As in Great Brittany!"

He arranged his bad leg under the table and said, "Let's order up some drinks and tell 'em to make sure and put ice in 'em. Goddamn jet lag's already got me by the balls."

Annie smiled brilliantly at him and at Brittany, whose right hand had disappeared from the table as soon as she sat down. "And not just jet lag, apparently," Annie said, in her perky TV voice.

The first time Brittany, who looked like every big-haired, big-breasted, small-brained blonde Bubba had ever known, got up to use what she actually called the loo, I asked him if she might possibly have a last name.

"What is this, Jack," he said, "a fuckin' grand jury?"

Bubba, his football career officially over, no training camp to worry about for the first time in his adult life, stayed in London for a month. Annie ended up leaving before he did. It was after one of those nights when Bubba and I never came home, and she said it was just one too many. But I had seen it coming for a long time before, even as we went through the motions of being the happy couple, never running out of tourist things to do and trying to break all existing world screwing records in our downtime.

Annie Kay being the nearly perfect woman in this sense:

She liked sports and sex.

"Bottom line, Jack?" she said that day. "I'm ready to go back to work. And you show absolutely no signs of ever wanting to go back to work."

"Maybe when the season starts."

She said, "Right."

I said, "I can explain about last night, by the way."

She kissed me sweetly on the forehead, right before picking up the phone to call British Airways.

"Jack," she said, "no one in all of recorded history has ever been able to explain last night better than you can."

Much later, Annie would admit that her agent, Skipper, had called the day before with the news that someone Annie had always referred to as "that Survivor bitch" had dropped out of the running at The NFL Today. All of a sudden, Annie Kay wasn't first runner-up anymore, she was the one who was going to sit with Jim Nantz and Boomer Esiason and Deion Sanders on Sundays.

"Skipper was as excited that day as I'd ever heard him," Annie would tell the TV columnist from Sports Illustrated. "He said CBS had decided to go in a bold new direction: tight outfits and actual knowledge of pro football."

So we had one more night on the town, a full-out Great Brittany dinner at Rules, a restaurant near the theater district that had been around since Robin Hood, then a farewell drink at the bar of The Connaught Hotel. We took a cab home and sat for a while on a bench in the gated park across from the flat, holding hands and promising each other this wasn't the end for us, even if we both knew better.

"Look on the bright side," Annie said. "You can go back to doing what you do best."

Which was?

"Ordering another round and saying, 'What was your name again, honey?'"

When I woke up in the morning, she was gone, having left behind one more of her famous notes:

Dear Jack,
You have pretty much everything you need now, with the exception of me and Sundays in the fall.
P.S. It really was just a yeast infection, I swear.

She meant Sundays at Molloy Stadium, which the old man had somehow managed to get built with his own money at a time when sports owners all over the country were holding up city governments for new ballparks the way Bonnie and Clyde used to hold up banks. It was just slightly south of where Yonkers Raceway used to be on the Major Deegan, modeled after the old Polo Grounds, where Big Tim Molloy had first watched the Giants play in the old days, and had what I considered to be the best single view of sports anywhere: Mine. From my personal luxury box, Suite 19, which happened to be my old UCLA number. Suite 19 had also become my New York apartment when I was running the Hawks. It was another thing the columnists and TV assholes had loved about me when they still loved me, back when I was the colorful bad boy acting as if he'd taken over the principal's office.

From Red Zone by Mike Lupica. Copyright Mike Lupica 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam Publishing.

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