Thursday, February 2
Samuel Gwosdz (Red Fox, GM, WIL) watched the Patriot Stadium court action with his muzzle and chin resting on his right paw; that was his common attentive pose. The Minutemen, like so many other games, were parlaying their new run-and-gun offense into big scores. And the fans were certainly enjoying every second, especially with the promotion being run for the match.
The teams were sporting throwback uniforms that day. Williamsburg choose to have the teams wear uniforms from the 1993-94 season, the year the team peaked as a franchise. The uniforms were delightfully garish for the home team, complete with 13 scattered stars on the front of the jersey and the team's full name sporting a navy swoosh, implying movement. For the visiting Mayors, their uniforms were equally fashion backwards, with thin black stripes lining the front and the back of their orange jerseys in a basketball-like pattern, proudly announcing their home town of Huntsville in blocky white lettering on the front and the player's name in the same font on the back.
Vera La Tiérra (Red Vixen, PG, WIL) was certainly conjuring up memories in older fans' minds of Stan Shields (Grey Wolf), the former point guard who sported that very uniform. Setting the tone for the entire quarter, she led the offense with speed and grace on the fast break and precision when slowed down. The crowning moment came with about four minutes to go in the first quarter. Poking the ball away from Nina Lime (Wolf, PG, HNT) the vixen started a fast break. After a quick glance, she launched the ball from beyond the three-point line, hoping to intercept a streaking Ain Iannizzi (Cougar, SF, WIL). The rookie forward caught the pass with one paw and stuffed the rock into the hoop all in one motion, sending the crowd into a frenzy. The 30-18 score and loud fans necessitated a time out call by Howard Schnitthund (German shepherd, head coach, HNT).
"A shame they're not giving you a good run for your money like you guys did during your Alabama visit, right, Sam?" purred a voice from behind the vulpine.
The red fox turned around and smirked, immediately registering the distinctive purple hat the tabby always wore. "Don't worry about it, Stefan. It's still early on in the game. Besides, your team is the one that dropped 40 last time," Sam replied jokingly as he stood up to greet Huntsville's general manager.
Stefan Calico (Tabby Cat, Owner/GM, HNT) flashed a grin right back. "Very true, though I had been able to fill them in on your tactics in those four days between our back-to-back losses and our pre-Christmas match. I think your staff has actually perfected your offensive game since my last scouting trip."
The crowd cheered as Damien Nathaniel (Hyena, SF, WIL) drilled a mid-range jumper to answer a layup by Hassan Kamal (Camel, C, HNT) coming out of the timeout. "Well, it's the talent that can execute the plan as well," Sam replied as the Mayors inbounded the ball and started back down the court.
"Indeed," remarked the feline, "and it seems like mine lately has lost their focus on execution, while you've been able to maintain yours." Nicky Brown (Cockatoo, F, HNT) put up an off-balance leaner that rattled off the rim, and a whistle from the officials stopped play off a defensive foul by Eric Logan (Elephant, C, WIL) that sent Kamal to the free-throw line. "Though my visit is less about this game, and more about what happens afterwards."
The fox looked a little confused. "What do you mean?"
The cat gestured to one of the open seats in the box, waiting for the nod from the Williamsburg general manager before sitting down. "Well, the schedule has the Mayors off for three days, and it would be a big waste of resources if we were to head home to Alabama just to turn right back around and come back up this way for our game in Newark. So, I have a small proposition and request that would obviously involve and potentially affect both of our teams."
Sam immediately understood what he was getting at, but he decided to make his thought process known: "So, basically, you want the Mayors to stick around here for a little while?"
A roar from the crowd distracted Stefan, Lenny Hicks (Coydog, PF, WIL) having dunked past Nicky Brown and drawing a foul from the fowl. "If that's all right with you and your owners. Better to be with past opponents than upcoming ones, y'know."
"Of course. I'll see what I can do, but I don't think we should have any trouble accommodating you," Sam said. He couldn't help but smile as he saw Lenny and Damien trade a spirited fist bump after the dunk. "I don't think those two would mind, either," he said, laughing a little.
Noticing the smile on the fox's muzzle, the feline smiled slightly too. "And that's something I hope that my team can re-learn by being around yours. I think the moves I made to improve the quality of our reserves put some of my more paranoid players on edge."
"No kidding," Sam replied. He had known that the Mayors coach generally shuffled his lineups while the Minutemen's starting five remained relatively stable. That was something that was privately a source of relief within the club, given all the changes that had taken place the past two seasons.
"Now I don't want to impose," added Stefan, "especially when this is your building and you have scheduled practices and what not. But I'm sure that there'd be some mixed reactions if a scrimmage between our two teams were arranged before you leave for Pittsburgh."
"Have you approached Coach Schnitthund and your players about the idea?"
"This was something we had covered at the beginning of our road trip," noted the feline. "Had you declined, my next options were the [Weston] Tunnel Diggers and [Baltimore] Spirits, with the [Newark] Pride as a last resort. Though if I really wanted to exhaust a favor, I could've called up to Albany." Another cheer rose from the crowd as the clock ticked down to the end of the quarter, the Minutemen with last possession and setting up a play. "I am very grateful that you didn't refuse my request."
"Hey, I think it's a fantastic idea. The guys and gals might think it'd be fun to scrimmage against pros instead of each other for a change. I don't think Coach [Morgan] Roosevelt (raccoon, head coach, WIL) would object either." he said.
"I'm guessing you didn't invite the [Lexington] Pioneers for practice over your New Year's break, then?" asked Stefan. Other than the Voyageurs and the [Omaha] Shuckers getting practice together, he hadn't heard of any other public D-League exhibitions with the FBA teams, but he did hear rumors that the Bikers had invited both the Rocky Mountain Royals and the Shuckers for their mini-vacations.
"Actually, we did. We scrimmaged with them on New Year's Day. It was kind of fun, seeing the Johnson twins together. You wouldn't believe how much they look alike. It's scary: the only difference is the 'AS.' and 'AU.' on their jerseys," Sam said, referring to Ashley and Audrianna Johnson (Antilopine Kangaroos, F, LEX).
He added, "And I never thought I'd see someone taller than Nick [Nwabudike (Elephant, C, WIL)] who could actually play, but Aisha N'dwala (Giraffe, C, LEX) can play a little. I'm kind of surprised no one's taken a flier on her yet."
The buzzer sounded the end of the quarter and the crowd was on their feet, applauding the 12-point lead that their home team had maintained since the tabby had arrived at the fox's seats. "Hmm, maybe I should get back to my own box," Stefan noted. "Natalie (Vixen) and Leo (Black Cat) just aren't really good company. And wasn't Big Walt [Robinson (Hyena, C, KCC)] taller than Ivory, though?"
"I think they're the same height: they count the top of Walt's mullet, I'm sure of it!" Sam replied with a laugh.
The Mayors' owner chuckled. "You sure? Maybe you should double-check [Leonard] Mack's (Fox, F, WIL) height too then!"
"Come on, us foxes have to trust each other!"
Stefan stood up from the seat and smirked. "I'll be sure to ease Nicky's conscience," quipped the feline. "See you tomorrow then?"
Sam stood up. "Yep. Nice talking with you, Stefan," he said, extending his paw.
The cat bowed slightly, tipping his hat with one paw while clasping the vulpine's outstretched one with the other. "Quite the pleasure, Sam. Give your wife my regards."
Sam nodded and slightly tipped his cap himself. "I certainly will."