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May 7, 2006

the ballad of greg biekert

A note for non-sports types: this will seem like a football story, but really it's a story about smiting a celebrity. So keep reading.

• • •

tomczakian [tom-ZAK-i-an] adj. - said of a moronic act of intense granduer and cruelty.

Mike Tomczak was a quarterback at Ohio State when I was a kid. He had his moments, but he also had an uncanny gift for idiocies like taking modeling jobs that violated NCAA rules and, worse, throwing untimely interceptions. On a throw to the sideline (called an "out" pass), he would loft the ball so high and so slow that a moth could alight upon it mid-flight. Tomczak got to the point where I would see him begin to throw an out and the world would click into slow motion. "NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..." I would yell in an otherworldly baritone. As soon as the defender intercepted the ball and began his sprint toward the end zone, the world clicked into double-time.

Every sports fan has That Guy. That unspeakable bastard. That irredeemable fucker clearly put on this earth just to torture you, only you, in repayment for some atrocity you committed in a previous life. Tomczak was mine.

He cemented his status during a crucial game against Purdue. Down by a touchdown with something like 30 seconds left, having driven Ohio State the length of the field, Tomczak dropped back to pass, surveyed his options, and, not liking what he saw, calmly threw the ball out of bounds to end the play.

On fourth down.

Purdue ball.

Game over.

When he graduated, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, it pained me that during his rookie year in the pros, he got a completely undeserved Super Bowl ring as a backup on the Bears. But I let it go. Live and let live. Mike "Out" Tomczak was someone else's problem now. And then my Steelers signed him.


Astoundingly, he hung those out passes in the air even longer in the pros. In the time it now took those passes to complete their arc, defensive players could stroll under them, choreograph their touchdown dance, make their grocery list, do their taxes, and complete half a crossword puzzle. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! went the interceptors the other way. Every year, I kept waiting for someone, anyone else to secure the quarterback position. Every year, I heard those damned whooshes!

On Football Weekend '97, we went to Jacksonville for the city's first Monday Night Football game ever. In a game that was blissfully Tomczak-free, my Steelers and the Jags battled all night long, and finally the game came down to the Steelers needing to make a chip-shot field goal with only two seconds left. The field goal team took the field. Through my drunken haze, I noted Tomczak trotting out to hold the ball.

"TOOOOOOOOM-zak!" I bellowed. "TOOOOOOOOM-zak! "TOOOOOOOOM-zak!"

He bobbled the snap. The kick was blocked. Jacksonville scooped it up and took it 80 yards for a touchdown. Game over. My buddy stared at me. "Maybe you shouldn't have said anything to him."

I sobbed into my hands.

Mike Tomczak TomzcakTomczak lost a few more games for the Steelers before the owners finally sobered up and cut ties. He signed with the Lions and on August 18, 2000 suffered a career-ending broken leg. Most fans didn't take notice—the player, game and team were just too insignificant—but not me. For doing God's work, Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert—my new hero—received some fine cigars.

And that, I toasted anyone within arm's reach, is the end of that.

And then he got a job on the Pittsburgh Sports Tonight TV broadcast, and he was preening for the cameras in my living room every night. I shook my fist at the heavens. How is this prick still in my life six teams, 2500 miles, and nearly two decades later?

At 6am on September 11, 2001, my girlfriend and I were sitting on a plane, on our way East for a trip that would culminate at the Steelers' opener in their brand new stadium. The trip and the game never happened, of course, but I was determined to see the new home opener in October. She declined to get on a plane, so I went alone. In a very sober affair, I watched my boys beat the Bengals, and then I adjourned to a bar near my suburban motel. I walked inside and immediately heard Tomczak on the radio. Shit. He's got a local radio gig, too. I took a seat at the bar and nursed a Long Island, staring absent-mindedly straight ahead...at Mike Tomczak.

He and his partner just happened to be doing their post-game broadcast from the bar that just happened to be nearest my hotel after the game that just happened to be the makeup home opener. Jesus, what are the odds? Sigh. About 1:1. I sat there and glared at him, and then I told the other patrons about my Tomczak curse. When leaving, I decided to hit the bathroom first. I opened the door with some urgency.


I clobbered Tomczak on the ass, knocking him into the paper towel dispenser. He had been talking to his broadcasting partner, who was still at the urinal. "Wham!" laughed the partner. "Nailed by a blind-side blitz!"

I apologized, a reflex for which I despise myself to this day. Tomczak left, and I assumed the urinal next to his partner. He made more blitz jokes. "Actually," I said. "That was a long time in coming."

"How's that?"

And then I spilled my guts. I told the whole tale. The partner was delighted and couldn't wait to get back to his microphone. On my way back to the hotel, I tuned into the radio station.

"Jerome Bettis passed 10,000 career yards rushing during today's game, but before we get into that, Mike, I want to talk about something that just happened in the men's room. Some guy burst in and clobbered, I mean really walloped, you in the backside with the door. At first I thought it was just an innocent accident, but now I'm not so sure. After you left, he told me how he feels that you've victimized him his whole life, first at Ohio State, and then with the Steelers. He even said he considers you some sort of karmic punishment for something horrible he did in a previous life."

"What?!? What did I ever do to—"

"Well for starters, he said that at the end of the game against Michigan, you threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down."

"IT WAS PURDUE! If he's gonna call me out like that, he should get his facts straight."

"Oh that's right, he said Purdue."


And on it went. He completely humiliated Tomczak. He publicly flogged my longtime persecutor with the weapon I, myself, had crafted and handed him. I laughed myself to the point of near-unconsciousness. I didn't even care if I had a heart attack. I could die in peace now.

Not long after, Tomczak disappeared completely from my life, never to return. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps I'm his karmic punishment for some horrible things he did in a current life.

posted by john at 4:46 PM  â€¢  permalink