Choose Your Own Adventure: Joe Marciano and The Game Ball of Doom

It truly was a butt that would not quit. - USA TODAY Sports

Or: Rivers finally uses his Creative Writing Degree to write shallow Dystopian fiction.

1. THE BEGINNING

You awaken in a cold sweat.

You are Gary Kubiak, coach of the Houston Texans. You have just fallen asleep on your desk after your season-ending press conference, where you expressed that you believed in 90 percent of the things that kept the Texans from beating the Patriots.

You have a trump card, however: You could still fire special teams coordinator Joe Marciano. After being up-and-down for most of his 10-year tenure as coach, special teams cratered in 2012. Penalties were rampant, blocking was non-existent, lane discipline was unheard of--all problems that pointed specifically to bad coaching. Except for injuries, but injuries are a big part of today's NFL, and the Texans didn't lose anyone particularly good on special teams. But injuries are an easy scapegoat.

On the other hand, Joe is a battle-fighter just like you. He's remained employed for a long time, and so have you. Wait ... that's a terrible reason to want to keep somebody.

He stopped talking to you following Week 15's game against the Colts, after you gave him the game ball because Bryan Braman made a spectacular individual play to block a punt. We all know that this happened due to good coaching.

Marciano's reticence to talk to you, as well as your general gut feeling, tell you that letting the coach go would be a good move. However, you're not entirely sure that doing so is necessary. After all, special teams are the most random part of a football team -- could Marciano bounce back next year after you trade a fourth-round pick to re-acquire Trindon Holliday or Jacoby Jones?

What will you do?

-- TALK TO OWNER BOB MCNAIR ABOUT IT (turn to page [31])
-- TALK TO GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH ABOUT IT (turn to page [17])
-- CONFRONT JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [44])
-- CHECK OUT FAN MESSAGE BOARDS TO GAUGE THEIR REACTION TO MARCIANO REMAINING EMPLOYED (turn to page [8])
-- FIRE JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [11])

[3] STARE INTO THE BALL

You suddenly feel a great calmness settling over your mind. The ball knows of your dissatisfaction with your life. Oh sure, you have plenty of money, a great family, and a well-respected job, but you know deep down that you will never be a championship head coach, and it haunts your brain no matter how much you try to fight the idea. To be a winning coach is to take risks, and you have not done that yet.

Suddenly a loop of third-and-long draw plays runs through your mind. You see the punting unit come on. You see Joe laughing. The draw plays. The punting unit. Joe laughing. Draw. Punt. Joe.

You have beckoned the game ball with your inner wishes. You want a life of comfort without responsibility. A life where your opinions are heard and rarely dissected. A world where scrutiny is not attached to every tiny decision you make.

You wake up in front of a computer, with a blanket draped around your legs and your feet kicked up on a stool. You are writing a post about Gary Kubiak's transgressions for a website. Your life is carefree and easy. It does not matter if you misspell something. Tim's got your back.

But boy, that Gary Kubiak guy. What an asshole. I can't believe how conservatively he coaches sometimes!

Your head coaching duties end here.

[8] CHECK OUT FAN MESSAGE BOARDS TO GAUGE THEIR REACTION TO MARCIANO REMAINING EMPLOYED

The police find your disfigured body three days later.

The seething and visceral hatred for you as a person goes beyond even your wildest imagination. People want you dead, your family hurt, and your life ruined all because you send Arian Foster out of the backfield sometimes on third-and-short and you can't manage a clock. You're a tough coach, gosh darn it, but this is a bit over the top. You take to drinking bourbon as you're scrolling through Battle Red Blog and other, less reputable sites through the witching hour.

Your guard is down and you are well past the legal intoxication limit when you are overtaken by an unknown assailant wearing Shayne Graham's skin as a suit. Identifying himself only as somebody from "Houston Diehards," whatever that is. A blog, maybe? You're not sure. Blogs usually have new content.

The unknown assailant demands that you lead him to Joe Marciano. You oblige as he points his skinning knife at your throat.

Marciano, clutching the glowing game ball from Week 15, entangles you and your assailant in some sort of trance as you barge into his office. Your last conscious thoughts are of your family as the assailant's skinning knife is used to cut your flesh from your body.

Days later, it is announced by the team that there was an incident at Reliant Stadium, and that special teams coordinator Joe Marciano was killed in an electrical fire caused by a lone assailant. Gary Kubiak walks to the podium with some weird new facial wrinkles, and announces that he was able to save the entire facility from burning down, but that the Texans would not be able to open the roof at any time in the future. A watchdog media would have been able to figure out the truth in this story, and the investigative journalism team at the Houston Chron--hahahahahahaha

The unknown assailant was arrested and charged with the murder of Joe Marciano. No courtroom in the greater Houston area would convict him.

Your life and your head-coaching duties end here.

[11] FIRE JOE MARCIANO

Your belief in idealism and responsibility are admirable, reader. You have just made a decision that could lead outsiders to believe that the Texans actually do hold people accountable for their on-field failings.

Unfortunately, we can't have that happen.

The second you step in to Joe Marciano's office, a bookcase engulfed in flames falls on you. Joe turns around in his chair holding the game football you gave him. It glows green in his hands, and his eyes radiate the same color.

"That was a hasty decision you made, Gary," Joe says as he stands up and begins to walk toward you. "I have been using the power of this game ball to change our world forever. You will not stand in my way any longer."

You struggle against the bookcase as the essence of your soul is absorbed into the game ball and kept forever. Without you around to stop him, Joe Marciano becomes all-powerful, taking over the head-coaching duties and playing just well enough to keep his job. If only it weren't for injuries!

Your life and your head-coaching duties end here.

[17] TALK TO RICK SMITH ABOUT IT

You enter Rick's office to see him on a yoga mat. He holds a finger to his mouth and motions for you to sit down.

Time passes. Five minutes. 10. 15. You can't count past that because you didn't script that idea into your head. You're about to get up to leave when Rick finally speaks.

"You seek answers that one can only find within. What is the sound of one nose tackle falling in the forest?"

You are confused and ask what a nose tackle is.

"No matter. Joe has grown powerful. You seek to end his reign, yet he seeks to end yours as well. The clash of light and shadow, intertwined." He pauses. "You must know the power of patience. In the time that you will meet, a million Roc Carmichael seasons have occurred. Some of them even involve him playing football at an adequate level."

Rick hands you a Script for the Upcoming Fight. Make sure to write down that you have this item before continuing. Perhaps you can write it on your hand. Other body parts are also acceptable. Or maybe paper, if you want to take this super seriously. Either way, you may be prompted to remember that you have it at some point. Not that we'd spoil the story.

"Gary?"

You look up from the script.

"Tell Antoine Caldwell that I'm ready for my massage if you get a chance."

-- TALK TO OWNER BOB MCNAIR ABOUT IT (turn to page [31])
-- CONFRONT JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [44])
-- CHECK OUT FAN MESSAGE BOARDS TO GAUGE THEIR REACTION TO MARCIANO REMAINING EMPLOYED (turn to page [8])
-- FIRE JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [11])

[24] TRY TO GRAB THE FOOTBALL

You succeed in ripping the ball from Joe Marciano's grasp. Unfortunately, the ball starts to sizzle in your hands, gaining kinetic energy and heat from your own body. Flummoxed, you pick up the ball and hurl it at Marciano with all your might, only to succeed in lobbing it about six yards. It falls dead in front of Marciano, then lifts up of its own accord and flies back into his hands.

"Come now, Gary. Did you really think it would be that easy?"

You're totally perplexed by how weak the throw was. You put your entire arm into it and only found six yards?

"Ah yes, the ball. you might be interested to learn that this was the one Matt Schaub was throwing with for the last six weeks of the season. But perhaps I've already said too much..."

With a jolt, the game ball ensnares both you and Joe in a green curtain of light. You slowly lose consciousness as oxygen drains away.

You awaken five hours later, at a press conference for your own firing. Gary Kubiak takes the stand and says that you were a real battle-fighter, and he's really going to miss you. You look in the mirror, but only see Joe Marciano's face. You try to speak, but words don't come out. The press corps lets out a hideous shriek. You look back into the mirror.

vlcsnap-4620409

Your head coaching career ends here.

[26] YOU HAVE THE SCRIPT FOR THE UPCOMING FIGHT

Having read your handy copy of The Script For The Upcoming Fight, you are well-versed in how Joe Marciano plans to attack you. It's almost like scripting things without any context for the situation is a silly idea or something!

You parry Marciano's seven consecutive jabs to the face, head-butting him backwards and over his desk. The game ball slips from his hands and hits the ground with a thud, shattering into a thousand patches of leather.

Marciano begins to stir after a few minutes of unconsciousness. "Gary .. what happened?"

You explain things as best as you know, which essentially boils down to him being controlled by a game ball and planning to take over the world somehow.

"Oh no, Gary, that's not true. I just said that for dramatic effect. Isn't every one of these books about some sort of grand scheme of world conquest?"

He's got you there. You prompt him to reveal the real details of his scheme.

"Well Gary, the reason special teams were so awful last year is because they were busy ... helping Mexican drug cartels."

You stare blankly at Joe as he continues.

"I tried so hard over the years to help you, Gary, but I'm just not that good of a coach, is the real truth of it. It was easier to learn how to traffic drugs into the country. Those drugs helped keep fans and coaches that would normally be disgruntled distracted and forgetful about the fact that every time a ball was kicked in Keshawn Martin's general direction last year, the Texans never started past their own 20."

But wouldn't it just be easier to actually, you know, be a good coach? You relay your concerns.

"I'm just one of many, Gary. Why did you think you kept Frank Bush as a defensive coordinator for three seasons? We have a whole guild built around this sort of thing. Dave Wannstedt is chairman. Why did you think I pushed so hard for Braman to make the team? He knows all the inner workings over the border."

Boy, you really thought Frank Bush had improved the defense in 2009, but now, in retrospect, you could see how it may have been a drug-induced hallucination.

Golly, what a day. You uncovered an international conspiracy that kept poor coaches employed long past any objective measure of effectiveness and saved a battlefighter from the dark side. You help Joe up to his feet and sit him on the desk and explain that as much as you've enjoyed having him on staff, it's time to part ways and find a special teams coordinator who actually knows how to coach.

"Wow, Gary, you must have thought about this for a long time, but there's something you're probably forgetting."

-- JOE HAS COMPROMISING PICTURES OF THAT CARIBBEAN VACATION WHERE YOU AND BOB MCNAIR SODOMIZED 30 MIDGETS (turn to page [37]

[31] TALK TO OWNER BOB MCNAIR ABOUT IT

You lope into Bob McNair's office to find him on three different phone calls with three different media outlets. He smiles and waves at you, motioning you to sit down while he completes the calls.

"...and you know, I think we just need to work on some things. Arian Foster needs to work on his run blocking, Derek Newton needs to work on his deep ball. There's just a lot of things around here that need to be worked on. And also injuries. So many injuries. Thank you, Josh."

He hangs up and turns to you.

"Gary, I'm starting to think the media doesn't understand what a bunch of battle-fighters we are here."

You explain that you don't understand how the media works.

"Well, despite the fact that I actually told John McClain to be as nasty about as us he possibly could, people still seem to find our message obtuse for whatever reason. Maybe I should do some more interviews, really get our point out there. Hey, how is Matt Schaub's footspeed coming along anyway?"

You quickly change the subject by bring up your misgivings about Joe Marciano and ask Bob McNair what he thinks about them.

"Special teams? Isn't that the one happens when I'm in the can? I dunno. Is it going to be expensive to replace him?"

You explain that yes, it is the one that happens while he's on the toilet. And that no, it probably wouldn't be prohibitively expensive.

"Well do whatever you have to do Gary, keep battle-fighting out there. I need to go shopping for some new vests to wear during all these interviews. Oh hey, can you call John for me and tell him that I need him to write a story about how Matt was just slow coming off surgery?"

On one hand, you really should take care of Joe Marciano's situation, it's of the utmost importance that you come to a resolution on his status before you move on to planning the offseason. On the other hand, Bob McNair really hates it when his employees don't deliver instant results.

-- CALL JOHN MCCLAIN (turn to page [39])
-- TALK TO GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH ABOUT IT (turn to page [17])
-- CONFRONT JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [44])
-- CHECK OUT FAN MESSAGE BOARDS TO GAUGE THEIR REACTION TO MARCIANO REMAINING EMPLOYED (turn to page [8])
-- FIRE JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [11])

[37]JOE HAS COMPROMISING PICTURES OF THAT CARIBBEAN VACATION WHERE YOU AND BOB MCNAIR SODOMIZED 30 MIDGETS

Oh, right. That thing.

Kubiakroll_medium

Joe Marciano remains special teams coordinator, to the utter exasperation of your fan base.

[39] CALL JOHN MCCLAIN

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zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz............

-- TALK TO GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH ABOUT IT (turn to page [17])
-- CONFRONT JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [44])
-- CHECK OUT FAN MESSAGE BOARDS TO GAUGE THEIR REACTION TO MARCIANO REMAINING EMPLOYED (turn to page [8])
-- FIRE JOE MARCIANO (turn to page [11])

[44] CONFRONT JOE MARCIANO

You tread carefully into the hallway to find Joe Marciano's office door open, and an eerie green light emanating from it.

"I've been expecting you, Gary." Marciano has his back turned to you, and only two chairs in front of his desk separate you from him and whatever he is looking at.

"Gary, you seem to have picked up some bad ideas lately. I know you think my special teams unit struggled, but they were just busy preparing ... FOR THE TAKEOVER OF THE WORLD."

You make your confused face at him, but nobody can tell because you are only capable of making two faces: tight-lipped Kubiak and partially-smiling Kubiak.

Joe turns towards you holding the game ball you gave him following the division-clinching win against the Colts in Week 15.

"Look into the ball, Gary. Look into the ball and see your future."

-- STARE INTO THE BALL (turn to page [3])
-- TRY TO GRAB THE FOOTBALL (turn to page [24])
-- TURN AWAY FROM THE BALL AND TRY TO TALK TO JOE (turn to page [48])

[48] TURN AWAY FROM THE BALL AND TRY TO TALK TO JOE

You really dig deep into your emotions, imploring to Joe in as many as ten words that he's a battle-fighter, and that battle-fighters stick together, but that you really need to discuss what happened at the end of the season.

Marciano begins to have a pained expression on his face as the concentration needed to hold the ball in place breaks.

"Gary," he says, "I can't believe you were so patient there. This is a new side of you that I've never seen before. It's going to make a fitting headline ... on your tombstone!"

Marciano cradles the ball between his hands, as we all know that he doesn't teach the proper way to carry a football based on his tutelage of a few of his pupils, and approaches you.

-- IF YOU HAVE THE SCRIPT FOR THE UPCOMING FIGHT (turn to page [26])
-- IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THE SCRIPT FOR THE UPCOMING FIGHT (turn to page [50])

[50] YOU DO NOT HAVE THE SCRIPT FOR THE UPCOMING FIGHT

Marciano draws super-human speed and strength from the ball, then uses it to punch you in the face seven times in a row. You don't block any of them, as you never saw them coming. Your nose begins to bleed as he steps over your chest, kicking you in the ribs. You begin to black out, but suddenly hear a voice.

Hey reader, this is the author. Did you really pick the part where you didn't have the script? Are you really that devoted to this Choose Your Own Adventure? That'd almost be flattering if it wasn't so stupid. I mean look, I loved these things when I was a kid, but it becomes pretty clear at times that you have to have a certain object to advance the game towards the better endings. If you don't have it, and you don't want to waste another 20 minutes (or in this case two minutes) going through the entire story again, just lie! Nobody's judging you.

Well, okay, I'm probably judging you. But I was already going to be doing that either way.

I did you a favor and put this section right below the section where you made the wrong choice. That way, we can hurry you through to the exciting conclusion. Or, if you want to play it straight, you can hit "home" and start all over again. I'm just trying to save you some time here.

Oh right, and Gary never wakes up from this blackout. Dies, Marciano replaces him, the team continues its ways of rewarding people without merit, etc.

Your life and your head coaching duties end here.

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