The Rise and Fall of El Supremo

Year by Year

A Rutgers bedtime story

The year: 2000 -- In faraway New Jersey, it is winter. The skies are grey. At Rutgers University, an old eastern institution trying to become "excellent" in the manner of Ohio State and the University of Nebraska, Athletics Director Robin Mulcavity is sad. He has been hiring football coach after football coach. Nothing good has come of it.

On campus, students and professors are saying things like "Can't we just go back to being a really good university? Do we have to try to be a sports factory?"

But even now, discouraged as he is, Robin Mulcavity has a plan. He has heard about a backfield coach from Florida. He has spoken to the man. He senses a messianic personality behind the voice.

On the Board of Boosters, there is unrest. "Why are you not delivering us the wins you promised, with Rutgers jerseys running around on TV between the commercials?" they ask him sternly. "We want to go to a bowl game. We don't care if it's the Weedwacker Bowl."

Robin Mulcavity is calm. "Worry not," he assures the Board of Boosters. "I am about to make an offer to a messianic backfield coach from Florida. He will take us to the Weedwacker Bowl or one of those bowls. We will be able to buy "bowl rings" to give to politicians in our pay-to-play legislature. The name of the man I am about to hire is El Supremo. Try that one on for size."

In Florida, Robin Mulcavity interviews his messianic backfield coach. "We really want you to come," he says. "We have been having hard times up there in New Jersey. Will you help us?"

"Of course I will come," answers El Supremo. "This is a dead end job down here. Plus which, the weather is incredibly humid in summer."

The year: 2002 -- The end of El Supremo's second season at Rutgers University. The team has gone 1-11. It has finished at the bottom of the "Big East" conference, dominated by perennial football powers like the University of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College.

"What could have been on your mind?" the Board of Boosters asks Robin Mulcavity. "This messianic coach of yours isn't winning any games. Why didn't you stack the schedule with patsies that Piscataway High School could beat?"

"I did," said Robin Mulcavity sadly. "Buffalo. 171 in the Sagarin ratings. Army. A perennial punching bag. We played Navy last year. They're as bad as Army. I scheduled Villanova. I scheduled Temple. But we still play programs like Miami and Virginia Tech and Boston College. What am I supposed to do?"

"You're right," said the Board of Boosters, mollified. "There's not much more you could have done. Well, this Supremo of yours better start showing us something. Got that, Robin?"

"Got that," said Mulcavity sadly.

"It will take a miracle," he said under his breath as he walked out of the room.

The year: 2003 -- "IT'S A MIRACLE!," shouted Robin Mulcavity as he burst into the room. "ALL THE BEST FOOTBALL TEAMS IN THE BIG EAST ARE LEAVING FOR ANOTHER CONFERENCE. MIAMI IS LEAVING! VIRGINIA TECH IS LEAVING! BOSTON COLLEGE IS LEAVING!"

"Calm down, Robin Mulcavity," said the Board of Boosters. "Just because every decent football team has left this 'Big East' doesn't mean that El Supremo will win. Hadn't you better make sure that there are a lot of creampuff teams scheduled for out-of-conference games?"

Mulcavity studied his nails. "I'm way ahead of you," he said. "Next year, we'll be playing Temple. Kent State. New Hampshire. Got that? New Hampshire."

Then a mad glint came into his eyes. He did a little dance step. "Don't you understand? All the real football teams are GONE! Miami is GONE! Virginia Tech is GONE! Boston College is GONE! WE'RE UP AGAINST TOTAL PATSIES! FROM NOW ON, WE CAN'T LOSE!"

The Board of Boosters were impressed. Perhaps it was true.

El Supremo knew it was true. Showing a Sports Illustrated reporter around Rutgers athletic facilities, he confided that he was going to have the open end of the Rutgers stadium closed in. "For a messianic person such as myself," he told the reporter, "it is important to have a closed stadium. You can't be messianic when you have to look out at a lot of open space."

The year: 2004 -- With Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College gone, and with Temple, Kent State, and New Hampshire on the schedule, El Supremo's team goes 4-7, finishing 1-5 in the Big East.

"Four wins," said El Supremo, closing the door to Robin Mulcavity's office behind him. "I want a raise to eight million dollars."

"Eight million?" said Mulcavity, aghast. "Eight million for winning four games against creampuff opponents? For losing five out of six conference games? I know you are messianic, El Supremo, but eight million sounds a little high."

El Supremo pouted.

"Well," he said at last, "I will stick with my miserly salary if we can come to a few agreements right now. Let's deal."

Robin looked at him warily.

"What do you want?" he asked after a long pause.

"You know that nature preserve Rutgers controls over across the river?" asked El Supremo. "I like it. It's quiet. Leafy. No houses around to get in your way. Get me a slice of it to build a house. A house worthy of a messianic coach like myself."

Robin Mulcavity was flabbergasted.

"Supremo," he said, spreading his hands helplessly. "That is a nature preserve. It is a conservancy, where tiny woodland creatures can rustle through the forest glades. It is one of the last places in New Jersey that hasn't been covered over with asphalt. Please, El Supremo, not the nature conservancy."

"The nature conservancy," said El Supremo. "I want a house with space where you can hang nine or ten flat-panel TV screens. Plus a helicopter."

"A helicopter?" asked Mulcavity. "You mean, your own private helicopter? In the name of God, why?"

"It's cool," answered El Supremo. "You get to make lots of noise and everybody looks at you and thinks you're cool. I am cool. And messianic," he added.

"Nobody doubts that you're messianic, Supremo," said Robin Mulcavity, "but really. Couldn't we rent a helicopter? Couldn't we just rent you a helicopter whenever you wanted one? Please, Supremo?"

"Okay," said El Supremo. "A rental job. For the time being."

The year: 2005 -- "Well," said El Supremo with a small smile of satisfaction. "I got you your wins. We went 7-5 and we're going to the Insight Bowl. Are you prepared to give me my ten million dollars now?

"What's the Insight Bowl?" asked Robin Mulcavity.

"Never mind that," said El Supremo. "It's a bowl. You can buy rings for your pay-to-play pals in the legislature. They'll never know the difference. Ten million."

"Look, Supremo," said Mulcavity. "We've taken over the nature conservancy. We've rented helicopters. We've raised your salary. Listen, with this creampuff schedule we've got next year, you're a cinch to go undefeated. Why don't we wait until you go undefeated?"

El Supremo glowered. He was silent for a long time.

"Okay," he said at last. "But in the meantime there's something you've got to do for me."

"What's that?" said Robin Mulcavity, hoping that the request would be, for once, a small one.

"I want $200 million to close in the open end of the stadium," said El Supremo. "Have you ever asked yourself what a messianic coach like myself is doing in some dirtball stadium with an open end?"

"I don't consider it a dirtball stadium, Supremo," said Mulcavity, his pride a bit wounded. "I've poured millions and millions into that stadium for you. The whole Hale Center. We built that Hale Center for you while classroom buildings all over campus were falling apart. There's a lobby that looks like a Hooters franchise, really classy, just for you."

"It's a dirtball stadium," said El Supremo firmly. "I told that Sports Illustrated guy back in 2003 that I was going to have the open end filled in. I want it done. Luxury seats. Skyboxes. Wet bars. Get it done."

"Well," said Robin Mulcavity hesitantly, "I'll try, Supremo. But you'd better go undefeated."

"Don't worry about it," said El Supremo. "With the puffball schedule you've set up, Piscataway High School could go undefeated."

The year: 2007 -- Okay, Robin," said El Supremo. "I've done it. Nine wins. Let's have the ten million."

"But Supremo," said Robin Mulcavity, "you didn't go undefeated."

"Hey," said El Supremo, "those clowns on the Board of Boosters don't know the difference between nine wins and undefeated. Besides, we're going to the International Bowl."

"What's the International Bowl?" asked Mulcavitiy.

"Never mind," said El Supremo. "It's a bowl. Tell me, what are you doing about my stadium upgrade?"

"Supremo," said Robin Mulcavity pleadingly. "I told you it's tough. The state is reeling under revenue deficits. The university got hit with huge budget cuts. They're cancelling hundreds of classes. Firing staff. Every building on campus is falling apart."

"Okay," said El Supremo. "We'll talk about that later. Let's talk salary."

"Well," said Robin Mulcavity, brightening a bit. "Here's what I've done. I've gotten the Board of Boosters to agree to extend your contract to 2016. That gives us some breathing room. We're going to pay you $1.8 million a year from now on, and . . ."

"One point eight million?" screamed El Supremo, cutting him off. "A lousy one point eight million? Do you know WHO I AM?"

"I know, I know," said Robin Mulcavity placatingly. "You're the messianic El Supremo."

"I'm through with this penny ante stuff," said El Supremo. "Look, Robin, get me two million dollars and get the damned stadium underway or I'm out of here. Gone. Through. Done. There are other college football franchises that know a messianic coach when they see one, did you happen to be aware?"

"Give me a couple of hours," said Robin Mulcavity desperately.

Two hours later, he knocked at the door of El Supremo's office.

"Supremo," said Robin Mulcavity, "I've talked to my pay-to-play pals in the legislature. They say we can ramrod the stadium thing through without anybody being able to stop it. There might be a few newspaper editorials, but you'll get your skyboxes and your luxury seats."

"That's more like it," said El Supremo. "What else?"

"Well," said Robin Mulcavity, "they say there's no way to raise your salary straight out. A lot of people in the state are out of work. Gas prices are going up. The university is falling apart with these budget cuts."

"So?" said El Supremo.

"Well," said Robin Mulcavity, "they just can't see giving you another million-dollar raise when people are losing their jobs. But," he said, brightening," we've figured out a way."

"What is it?" said El Supremo suspiciously.

"Don't worry, Supremo," said Mulcavity. "It's foolproof. We're just going to have a few hundred thousand that some sporting goods company pays the university put in a secret account in your name. That puts you over two million. The beauty of it is, nobody will ever know."

"Okay," said El Supremo grudgingly. "Sounds okay. Now. About that stadium expansion."

"Supremo," said Mulcavity, "it's a breeze. We've got the earthmovers out there. I go out to the site every day myself, to keep a time clock on the work crew."

"Look, Robin," said El Supremo. "You told me you were going to get me ten million dollars when I went undefeated--"

"--but you didn't go undefeated," Mulcavity broke in. "You went 9-2. With the creampuff schedule of all time."

"9-2, whatever," said El Supremo. And now you're getting me a measly two million by slipping me a few hundred thousand extra under the table. How do I know you're not going to stiff me on this stadium deal?"

"Supremo, you know I wouldn't do that," said Robin Mulcavity. "What do you want from me?"

"What I want," said El Supremo firmly, "is a secret clause in my contract saying that if you don't get this damned stadium thing done PRONTO, I get to walk away from my contract without paying any penalty."

"But Supremo," said Mulcavity, "I had to kill myself to make sure the newspapers would never find out about the secret salary payments. A secret contract clause is a lot harder to cover up."

"I have faith in you, Robin," said El Supremo with quiet menace. "Talk to your buddies in the pay-to-play legislature. Go chat up that Board of Boosters of yours. Do I have to tell keep telling you that there's other college football franchises that know a messianic coach when they see one?"

"Okay, Supremo," said Robin, knowing when he was beaten. "I'll get you the contract clause. The newspapers will never find out."

"That's better," said El Supremo. "You can go now."

As Robin Mulcavity closed the office door behind him, El Supremo turned once again to look at himself in the mirror hanging directly across from his desk. He tilted his jutting chin this way and that, admiring his profile from a number of angles. That one there, he said to himself, holding his pose and looking at his reflection. That's the one. That's messianic.

The year: 2008 -- The newspapers find out.