Football is King
The back of Seth’s hand hovered an eighth of an inch from his center’s backside. A drop of sweat slid through the hairs in his eyebrow and down the crease beside his nose. His eyelid twitched as the salty water reached the white of his eye.
“Throw the fucking ball!” The shout flew from the crowd. It hovered around Seth’s helmet and joined the other white noise dancing around his head.
To the right of the field, blue lights flashed. Police blocked the roads surrounding the football stadium. Seth knew every man on the police squad was there and the majority of them had played on the team when they were his age.
“Pump, pump, pump it up. Pump that Tiger spirit up!” The cheerleaders shouted to Seth’s left. He had heard their cheers since he was in his mother’s womb, but had never once listened to them and couldn’t tell you a single word they said. Their bright lipstick and shiny hair caught his attention more than their words.
12. The play clock rolled between numbers.
Monday. A pissed off group of kids stopped Seth in the hall at school. They stopped him not because he had lost the game on Friday, because he hadn’t.
“You like the signs we put up?” Croy’s mouth flopped as words spilled out.
Seth shouldered his way through the jabbering crowd of students.
“What, no response?” Croy jeered and poked a finger at Seth’s neck as he passed by. Seth side-stepped the poke and continued down the hall.
“We thought it’d be funny to get you to move.” Croy said. Frustration at Seth’s lack of response lined his brow.
In a moment of indecisiveness, Croy shifted his attention to Bear, a large kid who lumbered down the hall.
“Hey, weird kid, planned any bombings of the school lately?” Croy guffawed as the insult reached Bear’s ears.
Seth’s took a step back in the hall. His hand punched Croy’s breath from his chest as he pushed him into a locker. “You know why you quit the football team, Croy? Not because you were forced to or my dad was unfair and wouldn’t play you but because you’re a fat unathletic fuck who’s soft, weak, and a hazard on the field.”
Croy’s face crinkled. His nose turned up and lips pulled back revealing crooked teeth.
Behind Seth, Bear fled down the hall.
“I loved the ‘For Sale’ signs you so ingeniously stuck in my family’s yard.” Seth continued. “Come to the game Friday night and I’ll show you just how much I loved them.” He released Croy and steadily walked away.
8. Time ticked down.
The defense opposite him popped up and shifted coverages. The chess board at the line of scrimmage was changing and it was time for Seth to react. Seth swiveled his head, yelled to his linemen, pointed down the line and the play was reset.
Two months ago. Seth walked through the school between classes, a hall pass stuck into his back pocket.
“Scruffy hair, days old beard, untucked shirt.” Mr. Finkle stepped from the shadows and wrapped his fingers around Seth’s shoulder. “You think because you’re the coach’s son you can get away with anything. Skipping class.” The principal’s black eyes squinted and fist bunched up Seth’s shirt.
Seth jerked away but kept his mouth shut.
“I hope you don’t mind, I told those coaches who visited last week you weren’t worth their time.” He sneered. “I’m watching you.” He disappeared down the hall.
Those coaches had backed Seth when the self-important principal uttered nonsense about his skill on the field.
Seth had a mind for the game. Many coaches wanted a big player, but those who knew Seth knew they would get a player who would get the job done every Friday night.
Whatever Mr. Finkle might say, they recognized Seth’s talent.
4. Two more seconds and he would react.
Way up on the highest bleacher, in the corner of the stands, sat Seth’s mom- the coach’s wife. She wore the same clothes as last Friday and held her hands calmly in her lap. Down the bleacher sat three of the Tiger’s previous quarterbacks. They rested, one with elbows on his knees, the other with hands behind his head, and the last stood- hands in pockets.
She sat there where people knew better. They didn’t try to pretend they understood more than the coach or the kids on the field.
Ten years ago. Seth sat on his front step, a football between his feet.
Seth looked up into the face of a man driving a truck. He didn’t know who man was, but that sure didn’t stop the man from knowing him.
“Tell your Dad he won’t last a month here. Tell him ya’ll better not unpack. Tell him none of you are good enough for this town.” The man spit from his truck and it splattered on the road.
“Get on, Roy!” Seth’s neighbor hollered from next door. “The kid doesn’t need to hear your nonsense.”
Roy stuck his head in the air and squealed his tires as he drove away.
Seth’s neighbor inclined her head toward him and disappeared into her house.
2. It was time.
Seth raised his right leg and stomped his foot. His center snapped the ball into Seth’s hands. He pulled the ball behind his head as his feet danced him safely in the pocket.
The game was on.