Number 47, Victor Frenchstone
by E. B Fischadler
“Good evening and welcome to Sportsnight in Boston. I’m Ron Stevens. Tonight we are very fortunate to bring you an exclusive: the first ever interview with Victor Frenchstone, enigmatic star linebacker and strong safety with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Welcome to Sportsnight, Victor.”
Two men were sitting in chairs in the studio. Ron Stevens was in a raised chair in an attempt to match the height of his guest. Victor Frenchstone was sitting in a chair with the legs cut off, looking like a grownup trying to fit in a child’s seat. Without these accommodations, the difference in height between the two men could only be taken in by a long camera shot, sacrificing any detail of their faces. They were facing a single camera with several crew behind it. Off to one side, behind a large window, were the director and engineer.
Ron Stevens was everyone’s image of a recently retired quarterback. Handsome, just above average size, well-built, articulate and dressed in a blue suit. He emerged from his dressing room after a full hour in front of a mirror with a makeup artist and hair stylist working on him.
Victor Frenchstone was a huge, strongly built man, with a rock jaw and forehead roughly the size and shape of the Jersey Palisades. Several scars on his face and neck were only partially hidden by makeup. The makeup didn’t do much for his facial distortions. He was dressed like Stevens, but Frenchstone’s muscles bulged under his suit.
“Thank you, Ron.” said Victor.
“You’ve had a stunning first two seasons, leading the league in sacks and tackles both years, and you’ve been right up there in deflected passes.”
“I have been fortunate so far, yes.”
“Your size must be a great advantage. Our statisticians say you are the largest man ever to play pro football.”
“I think Refrigerator Perry outweighed me.”
“If so, not by much. You are clearly the tallest man in the game today. Had you ever considered professional basketball?”
“I’ve never played the game, so I can’t say that I have.”
“It appears you came out of nowhere and walked into the Steelers’ camp. No one seems to know where you played college ball.”
“I never played football in college.”
Stevens was startled by this. He consulted his notes. “How did you get started playing football?”
“I had never considered a career in sports, Ron. Four years ago, the man who would become my agent approached me about playing pro ball.”
“Angelo Cervassi was an acquaintance, wasn’t he?”
“No, I didn’t know Mr. Cervassi at the time. My friend Tony attended school with him. Tony introduced us.”
“Had Cervassi seen you play? Is that why he took an interest in you?”
“No. I had never before played football.”
“Surely you played as a boy, or on your high school team?”
“In my native Europe, when people mention football, they mean the game you call soccer. While American football has recently appeared there, I never played the game.”
At this point, Stevens looked toward the director’s booth, shaking his head. Victor saw the director nod as he spoke into Steven’s earpiece. “Just go with it. It might get interesting.”
Stevens asks, “Mister Frenchrock, how did you learn to play football?”
“That’s Frenchstone, Tony. I had watched football occasionally with friends. For me, the chance to enjoy their company was far more important than football. Still, by watching and listening to my friends, I learned the rudiments of the game. Mr. Cervassi told me I had great potential and that I could have a very successful career as a football player. He took me to see the Pittsburgh Steelers and explained to me how much money one could make as a player.”
“What sort of work were you doing at the time?”
“I was a draftsman at a small manufacturing company.”
“And of course you leapt at the chance to play football.”
“Hardly. I wasn’t sure football was something I wanted to do. Mr. Cervassi gave me some books to read and spent quite a bit of time with me. We watched several games on television, and he worked to convince me as we watched.”
“What about physical training?”
“I was never much for gyms and that sort of thing. Mr. Cervassi had some connections and arranged for me to practice with a minor league team over the winter.”
“Word has it that your tryout for the Steelers was really something. Tell us about it.”
“Mr. Cervassi took me to a junior college where the Steelers were practicing. Apparently, Mr. Cervassi was acquainted with the coaches, as they were not at all surprised when he walked onto the field. They seemed rather skeptical of me, though.”
“Were they aware that you had never played the game before?”
“I don’t know. They asked me to sprint fifty yards and do some other things. While I was thus occupied, they were talking with Mr. Cervassi. The discussion didn’t seem to be going well. Then Mr. Cervassi called me over. The coaches asked me to line up opposite one of the players and block him. I stood in front of him, and as he moved side to side, I simply stayed in front of him.”
“Did he ever evade you?”
“No. I took one step for every two of his, and it was easy to read what he intended next.”
“They also say you seriously injured a man that day.”
“Yes, and I still feel badly about that. I pray he’s recovering well.”
“It turned out to be a career-ending injury. Can you tell us how it happened?”
“After the blocking drill, the coaches said they wanted to see me stop a running back. Another man lined up about ten yards in front of me and started running at me. When he reached me, I picked him up and set him down on the ground as gently as I could.”
“That hardly seems like an injury-producing tackle.”
“I had no desire to hurt him.”
“Then how did it come about that you did?”
“There were players laughing after I laid that man down. He was angry at me as well. Mister Cervassi took me aside and explained that I couldn’t do that in a game. He said next time I had to hit the man as hard as I could. I protested that I might hurt him. Mr. Cervassi explained that the man was wearing shoulder pads and a flack jacket.”
“And you were as well?”
“I had a helmet, of course, but the shoulder pads were makeshift. I didn’t have a flack jacket.”
“So the man ran at you again. What happened then?”
“I ran at him, and we collided.”
“Were you hurt?”
“I was a bit shaken up, but not injured.”
“And the other player?”
“I was surprised to see him lying on the ground, screaming in agony.”
“The report is that you dislocated his shoulder, broke three of his ribs, and cracked a vertebra.”
Victor saw one of the studio crew slap another on the back, exclaiming, “Wow! Wish I could hit like that.”
The technician thought he was out of earshot, but Frenchstone glared at him, and the man shut up.
Turning back to Stevens, Frenchstone said, “I never forgave myself for that. I’ve been careful since not to hit anyone too hard.”
“That spring, you beat out four other men for the most intellectual position in defense—”
“Intellectuals become astrophysicists, college professors, or doctors, not football players.”
Stevens paused, unsure what to ask next.
“His career! The Steelers’ defense!” the director yelled through Stevens’ earpiece.
“You... you went on to a successful career in the NFL. The Steelers resurrected the monster defense just for you.”
Frenchstone’s expression had been friendly up to this point. A frown came over his face. “Yes, they thought that with some adjustments they could make a 3-2 defense work again.”
“Built around you playing the monster position.”
Frenchstone shifted in his seat, lowered his eyebrows and leaned in toward Stevens just a few feet away. Stevens slid back in his chair, cowering.
Frenchstone said in a dark monotone, “I played strong safety in their system.”
Stevens was silent.
“Ask him how he feels about the game now!” buzzed the earpiece.
Stevens asked, “And now you love the game, right?”
Frenchstone sat back in his chair. “Not really. It’s a job. I know your viewers don’t want to hear this, but I don’t care for the game.”
Stevens cringed and dropped his notes to the floor. He stared at them for a moment, then looked toward the director.
The director stood behind the window and gesturing at Stevens, roared, “Ask him why he’s still playing, idiot!”
Stevens turned toward Frenchstone. He opened his mouth and shut it. After a pause, he asked, “Why do you still play?”
“I have an objective in life. Football provides a means to an end.”
“You mean a career after football?”
“And what would that be?” repeated Stevens after the director dictated the words to him.
Victor Frenchstone pulled three pictures out of his pocket. He handed one to Stevens. Stevens took a look at it and gasped.
Frenchstone said, “That’s Indira. She’s seventeen now, but was thirteen when she had the cancer surgery. The tumor cost her most of her upper lip and her left cheek. She still can’t completely close her mouth. I brought her to Boston for reconstructive surgery.”
Frenchstone handed Stevens another picture. Stevens looked at it, his hand shaking.
“That’s Sei Ping. When he was eight, his father took him to the zoo. A baboon got loose and attacked him. You’re looking at him after three surgeries. He hasn’t been outside the hospital since the day it happened. His doctors tell me he has at least four more to go, and they can’t promise he’ll ever look normal again.”
Frenchstone went to hand Stevens the third picture. When Stevens wouldn’t take it, one of the crew reached over, grabbed the picture and glanced at it. He walked swiftly to the booth and held it up to the window for the director to see.
“For God’s sake, don’t let that get on air!” shouted the producer through the crewman’s earpiece.
Frenchstone saw the director’s agitation and heard his words buzzing in Steven’s earpiece. He rose from the low seat and made an abrupt feint toward the man with the photo. Frenchstone’s size and facial expression made the man drop the picture as he turned to escape. Victor grinned, picked up the picture and held it up to the camera.
The director shouted, “Dammit! Cut away! Now!”
“To what?” asked the engineer.
“Cue up something! Fast!”
Frenchstone started to speak. “This is Akleema. As you can see, the radicals in her country cut off her nose and ears and laid open her cheeks. I paid for her to come to Children’s Hospital here in Boston. This picture was taken after her second surgery. She will have her fourth tomorrow. That’s why I’m here in town.”
“I’ve got an ad cued up. Want me to cut to it?” asked the engineer.
“No, wait! Stay with this. Stevens! Ask about the surgery!”
Hearing the urgent voice in his earpiece, Ron Stevens turned toward the director’s booth, looking very shaky. It was apparent he couldn’t go on.
“Pipe me into the studio, on air, now!” commanded the director.
The connection was made.
The director said, “Mr. Frenchstone. Is this the plan you mentioned earlier, to bring children to the States for medical care?”
Victor turned to face the booth. “Part of it. I’ve prevailed on Mr. Cervassi to set up a trust for that purpose.”
“And you’ll continue to play football? Is your plan to play to raise money for the trust?”
“For another season, yes. Then my contract runs out. By then, Mr. Cervassi says the trust will be in good enough shape that I can quit the game.”
“Quit football? Why in God’s name would you quit football?”
‘Well, I said I don’t like hurting people. I also don’t want to risk injuring my hands.”
“Why your hands?”
“Because of my plan. If my hands are injured, I might not be able to pursue it.”
Victor Frenchstone turned to the camera. He could see on a monitor that the camera was still taking in both him and Stevens. He asked, “Could you bring it in close? Just my face?”
The camera operator looked at the director, who said “Just do it.”
Frenchstone pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and began wiping away makeup. “Look at this face. Yes, I know it’s hideous. Now, consider life with a face like this. Even though I’m famous, none of the players ever wants to room with me on the road. The cheerleaders aren’t at all interested in me. I don’t get offers to do shaving commercials or movies. It’s lonely. It’s painful. But at least people talk to me because I’m some sort of big football hero.
“Now look at those kids. You saw Stevens’ reaction. You may well have reacted in a similar fashion. They need love. They need friends. On top of the horrible thing that was done to her face, Akleema was orphaned by the war. Do you suppose families are standing in line to adopt her?
“I’ve been given a unique opportunity. I can make a lot of money at this game. But I also know, from firsthand experience, what it is that these poor kids and so many others are going through. That’s why Mr. Cervassi is helping me set up the foundation.”
Tears began welling up in Victor’s eyes. “But when I met Akleema at the airport, something touched me inside. I wanted to do more for her. I wanted to fix her face, make it like this...”
Frenchstone held a photo of a beautiful little girl to the camera. “That’s Akleema before they disfigured her. I know there are things that medical science can do far beyond what’s been done for her thus far. I want to do those things.”
The assistant shouted at the producer, “Holy Jesus! The phones are lighting up!”
Frenchstone continued, “You ask why I want to protect my hands, why I intend to give up football? I’m playing to earn enough money to attend medical school. My goal is to make things right for Akleema, Indira, Sei Ping and many others.”
Frenchstone looked down briefly, then, facing the camera, said, “My father studied medicine, and I hope to follow in his footsteps. I plan to become a plastic surgeon.”
Copyright © 2014 by E. B Fischadler