We sent our top writers from the Battle Red Onion to follow and record how the Houston Texans spend their time off the gridiron. The content is raw, unedited, and potentially leaves us open to lawsuits. But we felt it was worth the risk. We wanted to get to know the players behind the mask.
(Editor's Note: There will be no Behind The Mask next week because I will be on vacation in Houston.)It was a bright sunny afternoon, the smell of fresh-cut grass wafted in the breeze. Vonta Leach couldn't remember the last time he had been able to relax in his backyard hammock, dozing in the shade with a glass of iced tea next to him. His straw hat covered his face and muffled the sound of Leach's gentle snoring. He mentioned later that he had been dreaming of the Pro Bowl, specifically how he stood on the beach and looked out onto the surf, grabbing the sand with his toes; which explained why he was flexing his toes in his sleep.
He was awoken by the sound of his cell phone playing "Mamma Mia!" by ABBA. Leach reached randomly for the table, knocking over his tea which had the little tropical umbrella which he always liked so much in it. He grabbed the phone and pulled it to his ear.
"Mmmm, uh..h'llo?" Leach mumbled, trying to wake up.
"Vonta? Hey, it's Ted," the man on the other end of the line said. He had a very weak, nasal voice, similar to a duck being put through a grain thresher.
"Ted? What's going on, Ted?"
"I didn't wake you did I? Oh, God, I woke you up, I'm so sorry."
Leach lifted the hat away from his face and blinked rapidly, trying to wake himself up.
"No, no, I was awake already, what's up, Ted?"
"Ugh, I feel like hell, man. I know it's last minute and all, and you're finally not working but would you consider filling in for me at work tomorrow?"
"Work?! I've seen you at work, I'll be eaten alive there!"
"C'mon, they'd get a big kick out of having a pro-bowl fullback there!"
Leach looked down at the spilled tea on the grass below.
"I didn't want to bring this up, Vonta, but you remember when Tony Romo came by asking if we had seen his sheep lately?"
"Yesssssss?" Vonta knew where this conversation was headed, and he didn't like it.
"Remember when he heard that bleating sound coming from the bathroom?"
"Uh-huh," Leach said dejectedly.
"And do you remember who took the fall for the sheepnapping? And who apologized profusely for letting said sheep get into VY's tequila?"
"Sigh, yeah. So when should I come in tomorrow?"
"Probably around 7 a.m."
"Okay, get better, Ted."
Leach hung up the phone, grumbled as he turned on his side in the hammock, hoping to get a little more snooze out of his afternoon. The hammock tumbled and Leach fell to the ground.
"Guess that's it for lounging today."
The following morning, Leach put on sharp-looking blue pinstripe suit and drove from his house out in River Oaks to Fisher Elementary School (motto: What do you mean you crapped your pants? What are you, Vince Young?!) and checked in with the front desk.
"Hi, I'm filling in for Ted Pantaloons, my name is--"
The secretary interrupted, "Oh my stars, it's Vonta Leach! Let me go get the principal!"
Leach adjusted his shiny silver tie, "No, tha-that's not necessary, ma'am. As I said, I'm filling in for Ted's Kindergarten class today."
The secretary's face dropped, "Ted's class? Are you sure about that?" she said, her drawl, thick as molasses.
"I am indeed."
"Oooookay, I'll take you to his classroom."
The school seemed so small to Leach, especially compared to what little he remembered about being in Kindergarten himself. He briefly thought about the time he showed Suzie Holcomb a dead frog covered in ants and made her throw up twice. A goofy grin formed on his face as he followed that up with his adventures in paste-eating. "Good times," he said silently to himself.
The secretary opened the door, "Here's your class, Mr. Leach. Good luck." She then made the cross signal with her hands as she went back to her desk.
There is a cliche in movies in moments before a big battle would ensue some poor schmuck would say "It's quiet...too quiet." Leach held those same sentiments standing alone in the classroom, surrounded by tiny furniture. He tried sitting down in one of the cheap plastic chairs which sat about six inches above the ground.
As the chair snapped under him like Shaun Cody on a fort made of popsicle sticks (which he got from all the popsicles he'd eaten), Leach heard a ruckus down the hall growing closer and closer, like a pack of wolves on the scent of a plump, juicy chicken.
The next thing he knew, he had 11 children, all of which were no taller than three feet, attached to him like as if he were some kind of child magnet. They were jabbering in his ear, trying to bring him down to the ground; which, strangely, reminded him of the time Matt Turk tried to do the same except the children were moderately more successful.
The bell rang and the door closed, but the kids kept yammering on.
"Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiileeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnccccccccccccceeeeeeeee!!!" Leach bellowed.
The kids froze on the spot, they'd never heard Mr. Pantaloons yell before, and they sure didn't expect it from the new guy. After answering all kinds of questions about himself ("What's your name?" "Where's Mr. Pantaloons?" "Do you own an Xbox?" "Does this smell funny to you?"), Leach got the kids settled and talking about shapes or colors or whatever it was that kids this age were suppose to be learning about.
An hour into teaching, one of the Kindergartners raised their hands and Leach called on her. She didn't say anything, though. She just looked down with a sad "oh no" look on her face. Leach walked over to her seat. He recognized the smell. It was the same stench that happened any week Chris Myers matched up against Kris Jenkins. He sent her to the restroom and called the custodian to clean up the chair. He had wanted to call the CDC but didn't have time due to the start of recess.
He thanked Durga profusely for whoever invented recess; at least at first. One boy stood alone in an area that was off-limits to kids, and they knew it, too. Leach walked up and told the boy to leave the area. He didn't budge. Leach went to the off-limits zone and escorted the kid back, only to be elbowed in the groin as the child ran off to play with his friends.
The clock became the only thing Leach could think about, when not thinking about how he would get revenge on Ted for this. After the clock slowed to what felt like a near stop, it was time for the kids to leave and Leach leaped out of the room and ran out to the front of the school at the crosswalk.
He made sure kids got across the street safely. He felt much more at home in this position, especially when one student crossed late and the oncoming car didn't see the kid crossing. Leach jumped into the middle of the street and stopped the car dead in its tracks. The moron in the car kept slamming on the gas and got no farther. Leach waited for the child to get across and put the car back on the pavement, walked over to the driver and slapped him repeatedly on the head.
Eventually, the last child caught their ride home and Leach drove back to his house. He opened the door, said "You'll pay for this one, Ted," took one step inside and fell flat on his face, dead asleep.