Chapter Eight: Glory

As John looked over his right shoulder, he saw the tip of the football spiralling towards him. He caught it, and it felt small in his hands like a grapefruit; that was good. A blur caught his attention and he stutter-stepped to the right. The blur slowed up and stopped. “Nice snatch,” Mike said, and he loped away.

The Tigers were at one end of the field, doing their last-minute warm-ups and drills before the game. Their opponents were at the other end, engaged in a mass-stretching exercise.

To play any sport well is to live in the present. To play at one’s peak it is necessary to cease conscious function of the higher levels of the brain. By numerous repetitions the actions condusive to playing well can be hard-wired into the nervous system. It is possible and necessary to play the piano faster than one can think, if one wants to play it well. More than ninety percent of all football plays last three seconds or shorter. There is no time to react, only to execute.

The drills served two purposes. One was to stretch the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The other was to trigger the part of the brain that unleashed unconscious movement. Such a process cannot be forced or thought out; it can only be allowed to happened. The martial disciplines of East Asia base much of their philosophy on that simple observation. Successful completion of such a state of grace often brings about complete eradication of the conscious state. It is considered bad luck to tell a baseball pitcher that he is pitching no-hit ball, the same as it is to tell a quarterback that he has not yet thrown an interception.

A wide receiver dropped an easy pass in one of the down-and-out drills; in regular practice that might have brought about curses or hoots of derision. There was no reaction from anyone today. A few seconds passed and such a mistake was instinctively forgotten. Reinforcing the positive and ignoring the negative was the second great psychological necessity of preparation. When a slotback caught a pass that was thrown slightly behind him, those few closest to him let out grunts of approval.

It all brought about the trigger of the fight-or-flight instinctive response, releasing drugs into the bloodstream more potent than any found on the street or in the pharmacy. It was the warrior’s addiction; it is why grown men, even after material affluence, will allowed themselves to be battered to pieces on the giridon.

A heavy mist covered the football field, stopping just short of being a fog. Every now and again drops fell from the sky. Vancouver was still half-asleep on this Sunday morning. The humidity of the air and the lack of traffic brought the fecund smell of the earth to the boys. Never is one so alive on the field of play or on the battlefield. For many this would be the physical highlight of their lives. Their senses would be so sharpened that years later many of them would remember specific plays called, who stood beside them, the smell of sweat mixed with dirt, and the grunt of each painful hit.

Last night John had dreamt the powerful dreams of adolescence. The music had played but only in the background, alone he had stood in a vast temperate jungle far from civilization not only in distance but in time. The landscape had left him awestruck in its complexity and vividness. After he had woken up, he had pondered how the brain was able to store so much information necessary to project such a dream-world. Later in the fantasy he had not been alone; a female persona had been beside him, although he could not remember the physical details of her face or body. They had escaped from a vast primitive castle built not of stone but of grassy earth. They had been running from a body of men intent upon capture; running, running into the endless jungle. The clarity of the dream carried over to the conscious state of the morning; John could count the pores in his arms and focus on the leaves on the branches of trees hundreds of metres away. He heard the solitary horn of a car more than a mile away. He had never felt so focused.

Ricky Jones drilled a hard pass into his chest just as the referee whistled for a coin toss. The two teams moved to opposite sides of the field. Laurentian kicked the ball not two minutes later to begin the game.

On the sidelines one of the senior offensive lineman began to tell a joke to fellow members of the pit. He told it to calm their nerves, to slow the flow of adrenalin pumping through their veins that might otherwise cause an error of enthusiam. John was included in this group.

“Okay, listen up all of ya. Hey, Freddy, shaddup, geeze ya got the attention span of retarded puppy. I’m gonna tell a fucking joke… … There’s this bunny hopping through the forest singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m pig, pig, pig.’ And he’s singin’ this song right, as he’s hopping away through the forest. So he hops past this grizzly bear and the bear says `Whoa, slow down there stupid. You ain’t no pig. Pigs don’t have long floppy ears and a bushy little tail and they don’t hop around on two legs. I do believe you’re a bunny rabbit.’

“And the bunny rabbit stops singing for a minute and he checks out the bear from head to toe. `Yeah right man,’ the bunny says, `I ain’t no pig,’ and he hops away. But sure enough, not five minutes later, the bunny starts singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ Okay, guys, enough of the joke for now, it’s our turn to play.”

The other team had turned over the ball, so the offense of the Laurentian Tigers took the field. The plan was simple; as a matter of fact it was the same strategy they had used in every game of the season. Hand the ball off to Woody and pound, pound, pound. Every once in a while Ricky would throw a short pass to keep the defense honest. By the middle of the second quarter the Tigers had probed enough to find the weakness in the defense of the opposing team. By having John assist the right offensive tackle in blocking the left defensive end, it left a gaping hole in the defensive that was simply not adequately filled by the outside linebacker, who was twice run over by Woody. The other team was forced to bring up its safeties to stuff the running game. Unfortunately for them, their corners were not skilled enough to cover the Tigers wide receivers one-on-one. Two quick passes later and the Tigers had their first six of the game.

At half-time the senior lineman continued with his joke: “Where was I? Oh yeah. So the bunny rabbit is still singing this stupid song `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ And this fox spots the rabbit and starts chasing him. The rabbit runs down a hole. So the fox is standing there pissed off and yells down the hole `So what the fuck do you know anyways? You’re not a pig. You got long ears and a cute fuzzy tail. You’re just a dumb rabbit.’ And the rabbit answers from the hole `yeah right, I’m a rabbit, now screw off.’ After the fox leaves, the rabbit jumps out of the hole and hops away. singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’”

The coach came into the lockerroom, interrupting the joke, and told the boys that they were doing a good job and that it was time to play the second half. The score was ten to nothing for the Tigers. In the third play of the second half the other team intercepted a pass by Ricky that shouldn’t have been thrown in the first place. One more drive would have sewn up the win for the Tigers, they would have ripped the hearts out of their opponents. Instead, they were cheered and the Tigers were momentarily disappointed.

Rob cursed the interception and slapped the helmets of every player on the starting defense, Scott’s included. Now was no time to remember a petty grudge.
“Now goddamn it, get your chins off the ground and let’s go stuff them,” Rob said, and grimaced at Ricky, the quarterback, who was now standing on the sidelines.

“Sorry baby, I just did it to make you boys look even better,” Ricky said. The other team drove half the length of the field for a touchdown, and the crowd was hushed by the change in momentum.
“Well shit,” Mike said to John, “looks like we got ourselves a football game here.”
John turned to the senior offensive lineman. “Hey, how does the joke end? I think we need a good laugh right now,” he asked.
“Not right now Johnie, I tell the ending later.” the senior replied. The Tigers offensive received the ball and turned it over to Woody for the next two plays. First down. On the fifteenth carry of the game for Woody, he felt a rip in lower left quadrant of his back and he went down.
“Ahhh, Jesus, that hurt!” he screamed, and he curled up into a fetal position.The trainer went out into the field.
“Muscle pull,” he said. Woody was able to walk off the field with the help of two of the linemen.

The Tigers punted the ball after one more play. The other team completed a long pass against all odds and marked another touchdown. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the score was fourteen to ten against the Tigers. Mr. Black was watching the game along with Mr. Holstein. “Ah Arnold, I don’t know about you but this is more exciting than the Grey Cup for me,” Black said.
“I feel sorry for the teachers who aren’t here,” Holstein replied. “They might get along better with the students if they shared more common experiences with them.”
“You’re right. But what can you do? Order them to watch the game? To hell with the fools who think teaching is just a job, or even worse, a paycheque.”
“Amen to that,” Holstein said, and bit back what he had been about to say.

The information he had acquired was still private, and he had been sworn to secrecy. Holstein was shop steward of Local 122 for Laurentian High School. Two days before he had attended a meeting with the union reps to discuss the renegotiation of the contract that expired next year. “…And of course it is the hope of everyone concerned that this time we can avoid strike action,” the chairperson had said. Holstein thought him a lying bastard, knowing damn well the chair had political ambitions. There was no better way to catch the eye of the N.D.P. executive council than to lead a successful strike, or even an unsuccessful strike. Not that Holstein had anything against leftists, being one himself. But how much misery would the chair be willing to cause for the sake of his own career? Holstein would be willing to bet quite a bit.

“There are steps that we can take before calling a strike vote, to show that we are serious,” the chair continued.
“What do you suggest?” Holstein said, “A work slowdown? Take a nap during class, in front of the students? Better yet, just let the students run amok. That ought to scare the bejeepers out of the school board.”
“Noted, noted, Arnold,” the chair said, and raised his hands in what was meant to be a reassuring manner. It only irritated Holstein.
“We were thinking of something less drastic, you will be happy to know. Like refusing to volunteer for extracurricular activities.”
“Like interscholastic sports?”
“Yes.”
Holstein had abstained from the vote that had taken place not five minutes later. Never fight a battle that you have no chance of winning. He knew Black would be upset at the cancellation of his beloved football program next year. He hoped Black would believe that he had not approved.

Mid-way through the fourth quarter the Tiger’s offense was close to panic without Woody. The second-string running back was a junior named Bill. Behind his back, and sometimes right to his face, he was nicknamed “Gentle Bill.” It was a cruel moniker, as he had the tools but not the vision to be a good running back. Woody could spot the holes, the weak spot in a defensive formation and instinctly attack the weakest point, the weakest player. More often than not, Bill blundered full steam ahead into the arms of the other team’s best players. Gentle Bill was the type of players who made the enemy look good.
“Way to hit the hole William,” sneered one of the senior lineman in the huddle. The preceding play had not gained a single yard.
“Shaddup,” Ricky hissed. “Let this here genius quarterback find a way out of this fucked-up situation.”A messenger ran to the huddle with the play called from the sideline.
“Thirty-six zebra right through the eight hole,” the messenger said. “You boys got that?”
Ricky said. “Look sharp though. If one more of the coach’s plays fucks up, I’m gonna start calling audibles. Okay, quick break, on one.” Four seconds later the man John was suppose to cover wrapped his arms around Gentle Bill, and the Tigers were forced to punt.

On the sidelines Ricky confronted John. “Nice block, asshole.”
John stared back. “He’s blitzing on every play, keying on the running back whether it’s Woody or Ben. Think about that Ricky. Make me an eligible receiver.”
Ricky calmed down and pondered that fact for a minute. “Okay, next play I’ll put Gentle Bill on your man to cover my ass and you run a post pattern. I’ll hit you after twenty from the scrimmage. Don’t drop the ball or your chance to be a hero.”
John smiled and turned his head back to the game.

The other team made two first downs and then stalled because of a penalty call against them. They punted and the Tigers started their attack from their own thirty-yard line. Don’t think, John thought to himself as he settled down into his crouch. On the third “hut” he broke towards the outside linebacker who glanced off his left shoulder and headed towards the Tiger’s backfield. John was free. He crossed with the outside receiver who slanted in towards the middle, taking the cornerback with him. John looked over his left shoulder immediately, seeing the tip of the ball taking flight towards him. John extended his arms at the very last split second as to not lose any speed. Ricky had led him too far, the ball was almost out of his reach… John dived parallel to the ground and caught the ball. Later the citizens of Laurentian, pupils and teachers alike, would all agree that it had been a catch worthy of the NFL. But as soon as John had picked himself up off the ground and ran a few more steps, he was tackled from behind.
The referee blew the whistle for the two minute warning. The Tigers were on their opponents twenty-five.

As the Tigers gathered on the sidelines during the time-out, a few teammates, Scott and Mike included, came over to congratulate John.
“Babes —how can I say it in a delicate and tasteful manner?” Mike said.
“What man, what?”
“I think Pole-man here is gonna get himself some big-league pussy tonight.”
“So maybe next year the team won’t be such a sad sack of shit after all,” one the senior linemem said, smiling.
“Hey man,” John said, “tell us how the joke ends. You know, the bunny rabbit.”
“Not now Pole-man,” the lineman said, “soon, but not now. No time.”
And he ran onto the field. Woody joined the rest of the offensive team on the field.
“Man, are you sure you’re alright?” Ricky asked Woody in the huddle.
Woody hopped from one foot to the other and spoke superfast.
“Yeah, man, I’m cruising, no pain, no gain. I’m Jim fucking Brown and Walter Payton rolled up into one. I’m a missile ready to blast off, I’m flying…”
“..On the count of three through the two hole. The ball is going to Ziphead just to shut him the fuck up.” Ricky said, and he shook his head in disgust.
John felt high too, in the sense of everything slowing down and moving in and out of focus. Later he would remember nothing so much as the taste of the air on his tongue and the pitch of Woody’s giggles every time they returned to the huddle.
“Five yards, six yards, and now seven. I’m unstoppable, untouchable, I can feeeel a touchdown now, Ricky-man…”

“Naked boot-leg after a fake to Woody,” Ricky snarled, and that was to be the last offensive play of the game for the Tigers. The whole defense of the other team keyed on Woody who ran one way, and Ricky ran the other, seven easy yards for the lucky seven points. It was seventeen to fourteen, Laurentian Tigers. During the last two plays of the game, Mike walked over the senior offensive lineman.
“Tell us now,” he said.
“Yeah, okay.” The lineman finished the story.
“So the bunny is hopping down the bunny trail, keeping an eye out for that fox or the grizzly. Of course he’s still singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’ And he hops by this… chipmunk. And the chipmunk says `Hey, who are you kidding, you ain’t no pig. Pigs have curly little tails, you got a bushy one. Pigs have tiny little ears, you got big floppy ones. You’re a bunny rabbit, stupid.’ The bunny stops singing and looks at the chipmunk. Then the rabbit grabs the chipmunk, bends him over a log, fucks the squirrel up the ass, wipes the shit off his dick on the chipmunk’s fur, and hops away, singing `I’m a pig, I’m a pig, I’m a pig, pig, pig.’”

All the players listening die laughing. A long pass by the other team falls way short and the referee blows the whistle to end the game. The crowd starts to cheer, and Rob and Ricky hoist the coach on their shoulders. John took off his helmet, looked off into the horizon, and smiled at nobody in particular. Then he noticed Debbie gazing at him from the other side of the field. He turned his face towards her. He felt that everything in the world was the way it should be. A rare moment of peace and calm had come over him. Then Scott walked up and whispered in his ear. “It looks like the truce is over now, for good.”

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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