And always there was Giddy-Up, rising, stomping behind the bench like Ahab in pursuit of the great white whale, scalding them with his fire and brimstone, and they gathered around him, hanging raptly on every word, and, ah, if only you could bottle those moments.
Because sooner, and almost always later, the bloom fades. The coach wearies of hectoring them, and they tire of the lash, a dissolution is inevitable, and the best you can hope for then is the memory of that one enchanted season when, at long last, you got to dance with the silver cup.
We're just trying to tread water for now.
- Charlie Manuel
Backstroke . . . dog paddle . . . Australian crawl . . . whatever the manager can find to keep the Phillies afloat, keep them afloat until . . . well, until what, exactly? We all know the answer, of course, but what if Ryan Howard and Chase Utley do come back and they're not the Ryan Howard and Chase Utley we remember?
A gruesome thought. The manager would handle that the way he does every crisis, which is lock himself in a soundproof room and engage in some primal-scream therapy, emerge from the room, take out a fresh deck of lineup cards, and say: "Well, boys, who you like in the three hole tonight?"
Panic is not an option.
Cholly is earning his paycheck these days, playing to his strength, which is calming the waters. His easy gait is contagious, and it helps that he has a veteran team, one not easily spooked.
Cholly's not big on team meetings, didn't have much use for them as a player himself because their shelf life tends to be short. He prefers the "walk-through" approach, a casual stroll through the clubhouse, with a one-on-one reassurance.
They put on a brave front but they're all still struggling with the continuing attempt at adjusting to that damnable small-ball offense.
What it does is elevate the importance of Jonathan Papelbon, because if most of your games are going to be close, then you need a rabid closer.
The NBA is all about toughness, not finesse.
- Doug Collins
Isn't that exactly what he's always telling them? Get tough, be tough, crash the boards tough . . . and the litany goes on and on, over and over - yeah, Coach, right Coach, uh-huh, Coach - until it's oozing out of their ears.
But the 76ers coach won't let up, won't let them let up, and nerves get frayed and there's a story making the rounds that a divorce is imminent, and that would mean the coach is gone because everyone knows the cruel math: easier to get rid of one coach than 15 players.
The coach is persistent - that's polite for being stubborn. He sticks to his convictions on who gets what minutes even if some of them are baffling.
"I've got 40 years in the NBA," he says.
Then just after a midseason stretch of truly putrid play, they right themselves. And Joshua Harris, the deepest of the new owners' deep pockets, gives the coach the dreaded vote of confidence. He cannot, he says, envision a situation in which Doug Collins will not be back.
Then they catch a break. The MVP of the league goes down and the passing lane through the first round of the playoffs suddenly opens wide.
Time's yours . . .
- Andy Reid
Now then, about that invitation to time that has been our scourge for going on 14 years. You know what the Eagles coach does best?
A refresher: Andy Reid has been the Iggles man for as long as his three predecessors combined - in order, Buddy Ryan (five years), Rich Kotite (four years), and Ray Rhodes (four years).
Reid prepares now for his 14th year at the helm and, if you believe the tribal drums, his last.
Once and for all. He's gone. Promise.
This, however, could turn out to be wishful thinking, a case of saying something enough times that eventually it becomes accepted as gospel. Because none of the pooh-bahs hunkered down in Fortress NovaCare has announced that unless there is a Super Bowl championship this time around, Andy Reid is gone. Until then, nothing at all that resembles an ultimatum.
Besides, as you know, the inhabitants of Fortress NovaCare are hardly ever - make that never - forthcoming. Nor do they so much as give a fig what you think anyway.
Over the last 13 years, Andy Reid's hair has grayed, his glasses thickened, and an emotionally wrenching family struggle has been endured.
But he won't let any of us in, even the well-meaning, and he remains unchanged and unapologetic, and if the arrogance and the superiority and the pretension bother you, well, take a number.
For now . . .