Time of Possession (Seattle Lumberjacks)
Boroughs Publishing Group / June 30, 2014
Supposedly undersized for the NFL, Brett Gunnels went off to do a stint in the US Army right out of high school. Returning damaged yet stronger and more determined than ever to prove himself, he was picked last in the draft. Mr. Irrelevant, they called him. The last few years as a backup quarterback have given him no opportunity to compete for the starting job. That’s why he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Puget Sound.
Estelle Harris is engaged to a man she doesn't love, working a job she hates, and fooling everyone including herself in the process. Her love of animals is the only thing that gives her purpose—a love she shares the Lumberjacks’ reclusive quarterback. And then their mutual friendship turns a hot, dark, forbidden corner and there's no going back.
In 1993, fighting for a chance to go to the playoffs, the Buffalo Bills found themselves losing to the Houston Oilers 35-3 at halftime. Not only was star quarterback, Jim Kelly, on the sidelines with an injury, but Buffalo’s star running back and linebacker were also out of the game. Needless to say, the stadium didn’t sell out that day, the game was blacked out locally, and Buffalo’s bid for another bite at the elusive Super Bowl apple seemed doomed. Back-up quarterback, Frank Reich, didn’t get the memo, however, so when the dust settled, Buffalo won the game 41-38, earning their way into the playoffs. Frank Reich is a legend in western New York, and the story of that comeback game is one for the ages. Frank Reich probably hasn’t paid for a meal in Buffalo for the last 20 years and now he’s a romance hero—I’m not sure if Jami Davenport considered this real life game when plotting the romance for Lumberjack’s back-up quarterback, Brett Gunnels, but the similarities are certainly there.
Brett Gunnels has heard it all his life, he’s just not starting quarterback material. Drafted dead last, the knock against him has always been that he’s too short. He lacks the “it” that makes an NFL quarterback a true winner. He has two Super Bowl rings on his resume, but he “earned” them while sitting on the bench, holding a clipboard. Then the unthinkable happens and the starting quarterback, previous hero Tyler Harris, gets knocked out of a game and out for the rest of the season. With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, it’s up to Brett to drop the clipboard and lead the team to the Super Bowl. Needless to say it’s a bumpy transition.
Sighing, Brett jogged for the showers and let the warm water wash away some of his frustration and disappointment. One day as a starter in the NFL, and it ended with the other team scoring. Damn it.
Brett is a guy with a lot on his plate. He has a chip on his shoulder, the desire to prove all his naysayers wrong. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season, which makes him well aware of the fact that if he plays well enough down the stretch that he could earn himself a starting job with another team. But riding the bench for so long, even if he does know the playbook like the back of his hand, means he’s rusty. Practice is not the same thing as game day and unfortunately for him he doesn’t have the luxury of time on his side. So imagine if you will that at the same time Brett is fighting for his life, feeling the pressure to make the post season, in walks the girl of your dreams. And what if that girl of your dreams was not only already engaged, but just so happened to be the sister of your teammate—the starting quarterback that you have now replaced, thanks to his injury?
Estelle “Estie” Harris is a woman obsessed with “the plan.” She’s engaged to the man she thinks she should be engaged to because it makes sense and looks good on paper. Never mind she’s not in love with him and never mind that he has secrets. She’s powerfully attracted to Brett, but he doesn’t fit into her plan. She didn’t plan for him, which means in her mind it’s doomed before it can even begin. But since this is a romance novel, Estie soon learns that carefully ordered plans stand absolutely no chance in this genre. Stuff happens, sparks fly, and Brett gets the girl. But does he get the Super Bowl? Does he parlay his way into a starting job in the off-season?
Yes, the romances have been nice, but the strength of this series has always been Davenport’s world-building. She knows football and she can write about the world in a convincing manner. She has taken some real life elements, put a twist on them, and built her own believable, yet fictional, world. Brett Gunnels is part Frank Reich, part Drew Brees, and part every backup quarterback that sat behind Brett Farve when he was in Green Bay. The Lumberjacks organization echoes a bit of the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers during the Bill Walsh coaching era. For readers who know football, for readers who like football, it is the small elements that Davenport takes from “the real world” and infuses into her series that makes it highly readable.
Frank Reich is now the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. He played for four different organizations, but spent the bulk of his career backing up Jim Kelly in Buffalo. There are countless guys who play in the NFL that never become superstars and whose names fade from our memories over time. Frank Reich probably would have been one of those guys if not for one amazing, unbelievable game in 1993. Brett Gunnels could have easily been left on the cutting room floor on Davenport’s imagination, but the possibilities were just too good to ignore. Frank Reich was a hero that day in 1993, so why not Brett Gunnels?
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