Editor’s Note: This is satire. Although the story is based upon real-life events, many of the accounts in this series are not real and should not be treated as such.
If you get on Interstate 40 headed west from Raleigh, leaving the sprawling metropolis of the capital of North Carolina behind, maneuvering around the beltway to avoid the carpetbaggers in the suburbs, and make your way through the seemingly never-ending rows of pine trees, you’ll wind your way through the middle of the Tarheel State, past the Waffle Houses, past the roadside motels, and past the ubiquitous golden arches towering over the highway, eventually ending up in a sleepy little town called Winston-Salem.
Tucked away in the middle of the city, comfortably situated between the local village shops and the quarter-acre suburban properties, you will find Wake Forest University. This quiet, unassuming campus where roughly five thousand students call home, provides an odd backdrop for the epicenter of a growing scandal of quasi-international intrigue.
The tale begins with one man, devoted to the university he called home for nearly two decades. He went to school here. He played football here. He got a job here. He lived here. He raised a family here. All this, we know. What we do not know is when Tommy Elrod became personally enlisted as a top secret double agent recruited by the ACC top brass to level the playing field and ensure that this smallest Power 5 school competing in the top level of college football would never again reach the soaring heights achieved by Jim Grobe and company in the 2006 season.
While the story may appear at face value to begin and end with this one man, further investigation reveals that, like many unbelievable narratives, not everything is as it seems. The true genesis of this reprehensible scandal finds root in a luxury suite in Jacksonville, Florida roughly a decade ago. It was there, on December 2, 2006, that ACC Commissioner John Swofford found himself cursing his luck as the waning seconds ran off the well-lit end zone scoreboards.
Wake Forest found themselves clinging to a 9-6 lead over ACC sweetheart Georgia Tech, led by phenomenal receiver Calvin Johnson, who the conference desperately wanted to square off in the Orange Bowl against another of this story’s villains: the Louisville Cardinals, led by motorcycle enthusiast and nightly romp connoisseur Bobby Petrino.
An anonymous source in Swofford’s inner circle who was in the suite that day with the commissioner reached out to Blogger So Dear to pass on what he believed was "the real untold story":
"I just remember as the game ended it was silent in the box. During the first half conversations were much more lively, alcohol was flowing, and the caviar was absolutely perfect. In a sense, we couldn’t have been happier. When the Yellow Jackets went up 3-0 in the first quarter, Swofford leaned over and gave his wife a kiss. There were slaps on the backs, high fives, jokes about how weird it was the Demon Deacon mascot had a bow tie on his chin. But as the game wore on and Wake just refused to go away, things became far more reserved and apprehensive. I distinctly remember at one point after Wake tied it up at three in the second quarter, Swofford turned to me and said two words, which I will never forget: ‘fix this.’ To this day, when I think back to that conversation and the look in Swofford’s eyes, I still get goose bumps."
But with plenty of time remaining in the game, not all hope was lost for Swofford and the ACC crew. However, two men stood in the way of the ACC’s dream for the day: Reggie Ball and Sam Swank.
"Reggie played, in my estimation, the worst game of football I’ve ever seen," another ACC source told Blogger So Dear. "He looked like he was playing in molasses. He had one of the best receivers in conference history to throw to and only managed to gain 272 yards and six points. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my sheets soaked from sweat thinking about it. I mean, just thinking about it to this day makes me want to vomit."
On the other side of the field, a perhaps unlikely conference championship hero continued to emerge in Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank. As the game progressed into the fourth quarter, Swank shook off a second quarter missed kick to drill a 33 yarder, then a 22 yarder. Wake led 9-6 as Georgia Tech desperately tried to knot the game and force overtime, but with Ball at the helm Chan Gailey’s squad just couldn’t get over the edge.
The source from Swofford’s inner circle continued:
"When Willie Idelette picked up that final first down, I just turned to Swofford and said ‘John, I’m so so sorry’ but he just wasn’t content to let this stand. When it came time to give Sam Swank the MVP award for scoring all of Wake Forest’s points, Swofford leaned in to me for a second time that day and told me ‘they will pay for this. However long it takes, Wake Forest will pay. This will be the final time we will ever hand out a trophy to a kicker.’"
As the rain poured down on the celebrating masses and as the oranges flew up into the air from the Wake Forest section, few could have foreseen where this story would lead over a decade later.