The head coach watched the film from the previous week’s game and he didn’t like what he saw.
“The defense is soft,” he said to his defensive coordinator, who was standing right next to the head coach. “Armin, are you paying attention? Put down that apple fritter a second and watch what I’m watching.”
Armin did as he was told.
“Now look,” the head coach went on, “I know there’s a been a bit of an adjustment for defenses ever since they banned tackling and put tickling, of all things, in its place. Believe me, I understand. But we’ve still got a game to play. And that game requires discipline to win, even if your only defensive weapon is a tickle. You’ve got to target the opponent’s weak spots, and then go through the tickle. You’ve got to tell those clowns to target, and follow through.”
Armin had to admit his head coach was right. He finished his apple fritter and licked his fingers and then washed his hands and went out onto the practice field.
“All right everybody,” Armin said to the defensive players when he arrived at the practice field, “put down your iPads and gather ‘round. There’s something I need to say to all of you at once, and my iCoach Instant Lecture isn’t working.
“Now look,” Armin continued, “I’ve been looking at the film from last week, and we’ve got to do a better job at tickling the offense. I mean, this is ridiculous. You’ve got to do it like this.”
Armin went up to one of his players, and violently shot his hands right into the player’s armpits and tickled him with grim determination. The player collapsed on the ground, convulsing with laughter, and crying, “Stop…hee, hee…Stop…hee, hee…I can’t take it.”
“Now that’s the way you’re supposed to tickle an opponent,” Armin said.
“But coach, aren’t we doing that?” asked the team’s top pass rusher, one of the best defensive players in the league, and the heart and soul of the team.
“Have you seen the film from last week?” asked Armin. “You guys aren’t targeting and following through. You’re just fluttering your fingers around their sides. You can see their faces – they barely crack a smile. Last year you led the league in tickles. Now, just last week, on one play you were right up at the quarterback, and instead of attacking his throwing armpit and maybe forcing a fumble, you kind of just massaged his back and cost us a touchdown.”
The all-pro looked down at his shoes.
“Now, look,” Armin said. “We’re still in contention for a wild card spot. So let’s go out there and get ready to throw some serious tickles on Sunday!”
* * *
“I’ve got to say, this defense we’re watching has really come back to life from its mid-season tumble,” said the first announcer.
“It’s like this team was last year, when they came within a missed field goal of the Super Bowl,” said the second announcer. “I don’t know what the coaching staff said to them during practice this week, but it sure fired up this gang. Just look at defensive coordinator Armin Feldhammer on the sideline there. Now that is energy.”
The camera showed Armin gesturing wildly at the referees.
“Are you kidding me!” shouted Armin. “You call that a late tickle? He still had the ball when he got in there!”
Armin threw his headset down on the ground, picked it up, and made sure it was still working. He wished he hadn’t used so many pronouns, and he was angry at the referees, who were taking this late tickle nonsense too far. So a study showed that years of tickles caused nerve damage in the armpits. This was football, for crying out loud.
Overall, though, Armin was in a good mood. This was going to be a win, thanks mainly to his defense, which had held the other team’s offense to 42 points, a league-wide low for that week. The tickle tutorial during practice had been worth it. Armin didn’t like to give his players humiliating lectures. But sometimes a coach had to make his players see what they could be, rather than what they were.