The Semi-Pros, A Synopsis
“Every man wants to feel like a hero once in his life, that’s why they play for the Coalcrackers.”
On a foggy night in a western Pennsylvania mill town, quarterback Mike Rader wins a championship for the Waylon Coalcrackers, an eighty year-old semi-pro football team, by catching his own deflected pass for a touchdown. Among the townspeople captivated by the excitement of the game are Joe Walczak, a Coalcracker coach, Barbara Adams, a school teacher, Mitch Stankavich, the 13 year-old ringleader of a gang of boys, Jack Whittaker, an idealistic entrepreneur with a deep attachment to his hometown, and Leah Marciniak, whose scheme to meet the object of her adolescent affection is foiled when Mike is mobbed by the fans.
The Coalcrackers are tightly woven into the social fabric of Waylon as a result of their longevity and family ties. The team’s past star players hold near-mythical status in the lore of the town. But as the team and the town celebrate, unseen forces are bearing down on them. The championship is to be the last for Waylon. The game is the last for Mike as a Coalcracker. The town experiences a long, slow descent of its economy and spirit that doesn’t end until Mike Rader returns.
The town Mike finds twenty years later is much different than the one he left. Jack Whittaker is fighting to save his plant by introducing a new manufacturing process. His skeptical employees, however, aren’t embracing it. Barbara Adams, now the mayor, hopes to remake the rundown town with its quaint buildings into a tourist attraction, but investor interest is non-existent. The once-mighty Coalcrackers have become perennial losers. The last vestiges of their glory days are the memorabilia displayed in Joe’s bar. The team’s owner, the Waylon Athletic Club, is even compelled to sell controlling interest in the team to fund the upcoming season. Ominously, the new owner, a used car dealer named Bud Olson, offers slick and unconvincing explanations for his motivation to buy the team.
Most semi-pros played simply because they loved the game; because playing made them feel more alive than anything else they knew.
Mike rejoins the Coalcrackers as a coach. With his football savvy and determined personality, he soon becomes the dominant figure on the team. Some of the players rebel against Mike’s tough practice sessions and his assault on the team’s status quo. Mike puts the issue to a vote among the players. They can choose the comfort of the mediocrity they are used to, or the quest for excellence he offers. When rowdy defensive team captain Stankavich sides with Mike, the rest of the players fall in line.
The season begins on a promising note. The Coalcrackers win their opening game. Then they endure two crushing defeats. Afterwards, one quarterback quits in frustration; the other is injured. The season looks to be another disappointment. The blame for unfulfilled expectations is directed at Mike. With no one left to fill the quarterback position, Stankavich persuades him to play once again.
“You showed something I have never seen in a Coalcracker quarterback,” Stankavich said. “You were a leader out there.”
Mike has just enough of his old magic. He rallies the Coalcrackers to a tie in their next game. Then he leads them to three close victories. With each success, the players’ fealty toward Mike grows. Across town, the players who work at Jack’s plant imitate Rader’s example by standing up to the malcontent who is undermining employee morale. The change in workplace climate allows the employees get the hang of the new process. As a result, the plant fills a big order and avoids bankruptcy.
Leah Marciniak, now a newspaper reporter, writes a story about the comeback of Mike Rader and the resurgence of the team. Mike is immediately attracted to the strong-willed Leah. She is eager to reciprocate, pleased to indulge her unfulfilled infatuation with him. Romance quickly blooms between them.
Several regional newspapers run Leah’s article. The Coalcrackers’ story spreads. It comes to the attention of a national cable sports network. The rich history of the team and the novelty of a 43 year-old semi-pro quarterback are an irresistible combination. The network decides to do its own story on the Coalcrackers. In front of an unexpectedly large crowd and the cameras of the sports network, the Coalcrackers win their fourth straight game and move into first place. The townspeople savor the unfamiliar feeling of hometown success.
On a chilly, early November night in a small town in western Pennsylvania, life was as sweet as it ever could be imagined.
Then events take a downturn!