Flem File: The NFL House of Horrors
October, 30, 2012
By David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine
Kurt Snibbe/ESPN.comReplacement refs, Stickum, the Steelers' throwbacks: Watch your step in this haunted house.The parking lot attendant was my first clue that this was no ordinary haunted house.
From the street, he seemed to be wearing some kind of authentic, clever old-time prison zombie costume.
But as I got closer, what looked like an Alcatraz ghost outfit actually just turned out to be a Pittsburgh Steelers throwback uniform.
The guy then leaned into my open window and charged me $35 to park, and that’s when I really knew: This was not some local, run-of-the-mill Kiwanis Club spooky mansion fundraiser but a full-blown NFL House of Horrors.
In fact, it wasn’t even a haunted house at all but a structure with faux steel spires arching out of the roof that looked an awful lot like The Linc in Philly.
“Yep, exactly,” said the security guy at the front door, dressed like one of those Nutcracker dudes who guards that house thingy in London. “For maximum fright, we wanted to re-create the scariest, weirdest, most insane and unpredictable place in football, where the laws of nature, gravity and common sense simply no longer apply and everything falls apart when you plummet one whole game under .500.
“Welcome to the Eagles.”
The ticket options were pretty straightforward. There was a tour through an entire haunted franchise that cost $1 billion, took a lifetime to navigate and would test the resolve of even the bravest, most fearless fans in the world.
But I decided to pass on the Cleveland Browns Experience.
I also decided against the spooky option of paying $2.53 million along with a fourth- and sixth-round draft pick for something called the evil Tim Tebow Troll who would accompany you through the house.
He wouldn’t do anything, mind you, or enhance the experience in any way -- instead he’d just lurk behind you in the shadows, smiling and being super polite while making you wonder just how much better the experience would be under the direction of a different, more devout guide.
Periodically, he also would throw the football back and forth to your kids, as long as they didn’t wander more than 10 yards away.
I passed on that option, too, and instead purchased a regular ticket, handing my money to a Redskins receiver who dropped it nine times before managing to deposit it safely into the cash register.
Getty ImagesBe careful when handing a Skins WR your money.
Guarding the entrance gate was a row of massive, snarling Arizona Cardinals linemen.
Thinking quickly, I said, “You guys like my costume? I’m dressed as J.J. Watt … and I’m here to pummel your quarterback, bully your running backs and embarrass you on national television … ” and they all just moved aside with barely a fuss.
Behind them, though, was a line of New Orleans Saints defenders. I knew the haunted house was exactly 474.7 yards away and I had only 60 minutes to get there.
“Hut-hut, HIKE!” I yelled, and they, too, all moved aside.
Then, through a doorway covered in either cobwebs or floor-to-ceiling length strands of Troy Polamalu’s famous dandruff-free hair, I walked tentatively into the front room of the structure, where -- creeeeeak…WHAM -- the door slammed shut behind me.
Waiting for my eyes to adjust, I started walking, hands out in front of my face, down a long chamber full of mirrors on both sides. I was smiling and laughing and really enjoying myself at this point, but when I looked into the mirrors on the left, I appeared to be sulking, detached and aloof.
I moved closer, and my reflection, dressed in a Bears uniform, told me to go “F” myself. I jumped back and laughed and looked into the mirrors on the other side of the hall and the same thing happened, only this time my head was covered in a teal towel.
From here, I picked up the faint smell of Dove soap and followed it down a narrow, passageway, feeling my way along the cold and clammy stone walls.
Then, out of nowhere, came the horrifyingly simple chords and banal lyrics: “Never made it as a wise man…”
It was hard to tell, what with the strobe light and all, but I sensed some strange apparition with gimpy knees, a massive overbite and full-on flop sweat doing all the classic dad dances -- the shopping cart, water sprinkler and even the lawnmower -- all around me.
Thoroughly creeped out now, I tried to keep moving toward a thick glass door in the corner, where, on the other side, was a massive empty cavern that was, I swear, the size of the Grand Canyon.
Ah, yes, of course, I thought, I’ve reached Norv Turner’s Chamber of Missed Opportunities. I wanted to check it out and knew the doorknob would be covered in thick gobs of Stickum, but the passage was manned by a replacement ref who kept pulling and pulling and tugging on a door handle that was clearly marked: PUSH.
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBeware the Chamber of Missed Opportunities.
His hands were raw and bloody with shards of bone exposed on the fingertips, but he just kept pulling on the door handle, pulling and pulling and mumbling the whole time: “The NFL owners say I’m doing a great job, a great job, a great job … ”
I reached out to try to calm him down and a trapdoor gave way, sending me down a long, winding chute that tossed me into what looked like a dark, deserted tunnel under Arrowhead Stadium.
A zombified Brady Quinn, with the entire left part of his brain exposed, brushed past me, moaning, “Trade me … traaaaay-d meeee … puhlease TRADE meeeee.”
I stumbled forward just a little bit and, YIKES, bumped into Matt Cassel, Tyler Thigpen, Trent Green, Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard and then AHHHHHH Elvis Grbac -- all of them, eyes glazed over shuffling in circles and mumbling to themselves.
Inside Chiefs QB Hollow, it was hard to hear anything, what with the soundtrack of fans rooting for my potential demise and the thunderous laughter of GM Scott Pioli.
But knowing the list of undead Chiefs passers Frankensteined from other rosters went all the way back to 1987, I ducked and spun to my right and ran 7 yards and out toward a first-down marker near the edge of the room -- knowing none of these guys would ever be able to locate me there.
I leaned up against a bookshelf and, of course, it spun me around to another room with a scene even more stomach-turning than the last: Tony Romo as Ichabod Crane scrambling after the headless horseman, Jason Garrett.
Every time Romo would catch up to Garrett and try to throw him his head back, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings would step in and intercept the cranium and return it for a TD.
I prayed out loud for Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning or Ryan Tannehill, even, to show up and complete the pass for Romo.
But it went on like this for what felt like 10 years until, honestly, I just lost all interest and headed for the red exit sign.
I pushed through the door and felt the cool outside air on my skin. Ah, sweet relief. Outside in the final courtyard was a nice treat, though. Watt was there, along with Clay Matthews.
Brett Davis/US PresswireWatt will help escort you to the other side.
Indomitable London Fletcher was there, and ageless Reggie Wayne.
Then I saw Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and new Steelers star Jonathan Dwyer.
Near the exit gate, Ryan, Manning, Rodgers and Robert Griffin III were handing out full-size candy bars to the brave souls who made it through the House of Horrors that is typically the first seven weeks of the NFL season.
“What is this out here?” I asked RG3.
“This is your treat for making it through the tricky start of the season,” he said. "The NFL after Halloween -- when things start to get scary good."