“What a shit hole!” Mike Holloway exclaimed as we walked into the visitor’s locker room at East.
“Worse than our visitors. We’re going to have to work on it,” Paul, our quarterback, contributed to the critique.
“Shocking. Simply shocking.” Thank you Jamaal.
“They can take away our cleanliness, but they can’t break our spirit!”
“Geezus Limp Dick, lighten up on the philosophical crap.”
“I do believe the gentleman from Italy has a point.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jamaal. And drop the cheesy British accent. Go back to the fake Jamaican one.”
“Who is responsible for feeding Holloway?” Paul boomed out to the team as we spread out and started preparing.
“Not me, he bit my hand last time,” came from the other side of the room.
“Christ, is he hungry again?”
“Can’t he wait to eat East’s defensive line?”
All the while Mike just stalked around growling at everyone and everything. Now and then someone would get in his face and growl back. Most of us just ignored him and let him get on with his way of dealing with the pregame stress and prep.
I dumped my stuff in the locker next to Mike’s and put on my running shoes. I was already dressed for my pregame appearance. “Lap time!” I yelled as I headed towards the door.
“Give us a damned minute,” came from more than one voice. It did take all those Textiles a bit of time to change into the shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes.
The captains before me had started the ritual of running the perimeter of the field before dressing as a way to get a feel for the lay of the land and check out the opposition if they were hanging about. We saw no reason to change it.
This year’s captains and the most probable candidates for next year started our slow jog around the field. Mike, Paul, Michael Simms, and I, representing the current co-captains, were out front. Jason and a few juniors were behind us listening and learning.
“Turf looks good,” growled Mike, still in his big, bad bear mode.
“They spend a lot of money on this field and it shows,” I added.
“Mike! Luis! Paul! Michael!” we heard shouted from the home team entryway. James Robinson, East’s quarterback, trotted out to meet us.
“James!” Paul, Michael, and I shouted back. Mike was still growling.
“I see Mike is in full pre-game.”
“Just throw raw meat his way and he’ll be happy.”
“I see you got Program week, eh Luis?”
“How did you guess?”
“It must have been your new workout gear. Don’t fret, a couple of our guys got it this week as well.”
“Thankfully they changed that crap about dressing out midfield.”
“Yeah. That would have been impossible.”
We introduced James to the Juniors, everyone shaking hands. Even a growling Mike.
“You know,” James said, “I’m not scared by Mike. You and Michael looking so calm, though…”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other during the game.”
“True. As I raise my hands with each touchdown we score.”
“I was thinking more a picture of looking down on you and helping you up after yet another sack,” Michael said calmly.
The banter continued for a few minutes, then James had to head in to get ready. After he had gone, Jason said, “That was strange.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re about to go head-to-head with them and we’re all friendly.”
“Well, for 48 minutes of game time, once a year, we won’t be friends, but that leaves a lot of the rest of our lives.”
“Huh?” one of the other juniors said, as they all looked a bit perplexed.
“You’ll find a lot of the members of other teams you know from Pop Warner football and some you’ll be teammates with in college.” Paul said. “Hell, you might end up dating one of their sisters or cousins. No need to be unfriendly off the field. Being friends might work out down the road.”
“I think I get it,” Jason said.
“Good. Never hurts to have friends and contacts. No matter where you make them. And, if you decide to pursue a career in football, these might be the guys you’ll depend on in the future.” Paul, ever the businessman.
We continued our lap, discussing the field, the weather, and how the lights would impact us. Trivial things like which side of the field to choose if we had that choice at the coin toss. How the crown on the field would affect the passing and running games. East’s field had a wicked slope with the middle of the field being about a foot and a half higher than the sidelines. It was good for drainage, but horrible for precision passing when you’re used to a flatter field.
Of course, Mike growled all the way around. When we passed the sidelines area for East, he made it a point to growl at each bench, as if they were filled with Bulldogs.
We finished our circuit of the empty stadium and headed back to the visitor’s locker room. The palace that it wasn’t. I had a flash of a visitor’s locker room we used at a military school when I was in middle school. That building was well over 100 years old and the locker room was in the basement. Leaking pipes and puddles of water on the floor. I’m sure there was mold and fungi on every surface. After that first time playing them, anytime we traveled, we went and returned fully dressed and bypassed their dungeon.
It was back into the chaos and calm of the locker room. I put on my under armor and Junior’s support equipment, grabbed my music player, put the phones on, cranked up a random selection of classic rock, and headed to the training rooms for taping.
Nope, we don’t just throw on pads and tug on a jersey, at least for those of us in the trenches. Knees and ankles undergo a tremendous amount of stress for linemen. Granted, the braces we now have saved thousands of knees, but taping still helps and protects the ankles.
“Ready, Luis?” the trainer Del Giorno asked.
“Yep, go to it!” I turned the volume up and let Pink Floyd rattle through my brain while I focused on Zenning out. I had to trust the trainers. They were experts at taping. Had to be. Tape a joint wrong and you can cause more damage than not taping it.
For me it was ankles, knees, wrists, and hands.
Now and then, he’d ask if it felt right. I’d flex a joint and nod, then go back to the music.
Once the basics were done, I finished gearing up and putting on my cleats. The last bits of tape went on over my shoes and to secure the knee braces, forearm pads, and gloves.
“Easier to do it here than on the field, eh?”
“Don’t thank me until after the game and all your limbs are still attached.”
We laughed at the standard joke. I headed back into the locker room and made a quick round checking in with teammates. I growled with Mike, laid my hand on Jamaal’s shoulder for a second as he alternated squeezing a tennis ball and throwing against the wall, only to catch it again with the other hand.
He was completely focused on it.
Someone was blasting “Youth of a Nation” by P.O.D. through their headphones. Let’s hope we don’t take two to the chest.
“You ready Jason?” He had a bit of a wild look in his eyes.
“That’s okay. Just channel it. When you get on the field, do it just like in practice.”
“Do, don’t try. You’ll be fine. Okay?”
He nodded his head. His eyes looked a little less wild. I’d talk to Paul about calming him down in the huddle.
I moved on and made contact with most of the team. Some wanted complete solitude before a game and we respected that.
“You ready Paul?”
“Raring to go. You?”
“I plan on becoming very familiar with James this evening. I need to see if he’s hiding some Higgs Bosons I can release.”
“Good. How’s Jason doing?”
“A little wired. Just calm him down in the huddle. He’ll do fine.”
“Great. Now, let’s get out there and get warmed up.”
We gathered the team and went out to the field for our warm-up. The different units did their own drills.
Getting in the groove.
We all stole glances over at East as they did the same.
Just before the end of the session, we casually gathered toward mid-field, in the center of the field, yet still on “Our Side”. With Paul out front. Standing at mid-field, he turned to us and started the Haka chant.
The stands were already filled. Our student section went nuts. The family and friends got into it quickly. Everyone shouting, clapping, and stomping along with us. The East team just stopped wherever they were and stared.
Their fans, quiet.
Became one team.
“Becky, why don’t you go sit with your friends,” Mom said to me, pointing up the stands where the Nakeds were gathered.
“That’s okay. I like sitting with you and Dad.”
“Nope. Not tonight. Go sit with your friends.”
I started to head towards the Nakeds feeling… rejected? Yes. Rejected by mother.
Two steps later I realized I was surrounded by clothed people and I was naked. Completely exposed.
She really does love me, I said to myself. She understood. I needed to be around them for my own well being. I needed to belong. I needed the support. Because for the first time in a few days I felt totally exposed.
What is it the Japanese say? The tall nail gets the hammer? Why do I feel like I need to look up to see if one is coming down on me?
I will not become invisible.
My Mountain needs me. He needs my support.
Suddenly, I could feel the Nakeds reaching out to me. Pulling me into their group. Their support.
I relaxed and moved as gracefully as I could, being invisible teaches you smooth, non-noticeable movements. Except now they were anything but invisible.
And I liked the attention.
Rosalee reached out to me and a second later I was enveloped in the warmth, support, and love of the Nakeds.
“Oh goodie! Another naked broad to look at!” said some bozo a couple of rows up from us.
“Yeah. And they have to do what we tell them. Something about requests.”
Shirley turned toward them, “They are called reasonable requests. And, they don’t apply outside of school hours. Yes, we’re required to be naked at a school event, but we don’t have to take requests.”
“Well ain’t that the shits.”
“Look, don’t touch!” Rosalee said with a laugh, a flip of her hair, and posing with the one leg crossover.
“Why don’t we go somewhere, darling?”
“Ooh! Tell ya’ what sweets. You go down and ask that big guy wearing number 54 if I can go off with you. He’s my boyfriend.”
“Shame. It might have been fun. Toodles.” She gave them a haughty little wave, another flip of her hair, and turned back to me. “How are you doing, Becca?”
I gave an involuntary sigh, “Okay. I think.”
“Your first real public display of nudity?”
“Other than school and home, yeah.”
“Students are already used to us, even after just a week. It’s the outsiders like our friends a few rows up that make it a bit of challenge.”
“You handled them well.”
“Most of the idiots are all talk, no bite. Easy to put them in their place.”
“What if they, ahem…”
“That’s what Luis and Mike are for.”
“But, they’re down there.”
“True. But look at the other Nakeds. Not to mention I’ve got some training of my own. Can’t be the school pretend slut and not know how to defend yourself.”
“Oh! They’re getting ready to do the Haka-thingy!” Jane Chung shouted.
All attention was now on the field, not us Nakeds. And what a performance it was.
Primal, yet structured.
Focused, yet encompassing.
Blasting outwards, yet gathering from within and pulling from without.
My mind was automatically taking pictures and capturing the different textures of the moment for later. The energy of the players. The reactions of the East team. The building excitement of the West fans. The agitation of the East supporters.
The humorous position the officials were forced into taking. Part amused, part questioning, part preparing for the objections.
The musicality of the chant, with the earthiness of stomps and slaps.
The cheerleaders were encouraging the fans in the stands while also caught up in the ancient ritual playing out on the field. The attention temporarily off a very naked Margie shaking more than her pom poms.
Even before the final stomp, slap, and grunt finished echoing around the stadium, the team joined up and headed back to the locker room. The East players looked stunned and moved off the field much slower and in disjointed groups. Their fans were beginning to shout at the officials that West was doing something illegal and unfair. Wisely, the stripped-shirt crew moved to the center of the field, ready for the team introductions and the coin toss.
“That was great!” Ginny exhaled.
“A worthy performance,” exclaimed Tim Carter, our Naked theater geek.
Everyone agreed that it was much more powerful than the impromptu performances at school. Which caused parents and fans around us to ask about it, allowing the Nakeds and other students to be storytellers. I guess this is how myths are born.
Our side of the field felt like we had already won. Now to make that a reality.
While still musing, and processing the pictures in my head, the teams were announced and ran onto the field.
Rosalee grabbed my hand and held it tight as Mike, Luis, and the other captains headed out to the middle of the field for the coin toss. “Here we go!”
We met the East captains at midfield and began the ritual of the coin toss. The East players still had a shell-shocked look and the refs were grinning.
We lost, chose our side of the field, and stood in the proper positions while the referee made the announcements. After shaking hands with the East captains, we headed back to the sidelines.
“Ready?” Paul asked.
“You bet,” I said. “Relaxed and ready.”
Mike just growled.
Each of us got our game faces on in our own way. I gathered the defense line in a huddle. We didn’t talk, just joined energy as we waited to go on after the kickoff. East was receiving, so we’d be up first after the kicking team stopped them.
Which they did at East’s 42 yard line.
My world became a few yards of turf and the faceless, nameless bodies in East uniforms keeping me from tackling the ball carrier.
Setting the defense line, choosing my point of attack, signaling the linebackers, and playing head games with the East offensive line were the mainstays of my entire universe.
While I watched the fingers and feet of the lineman across from me, my peripheral vision watched for the twitch of the Center’s arm that would start the play and the mayhem to follow.
My opponent had his weight back on his legs, not on his hands. Pass play, my mind said, as I just allowed the moment to be.
The center moved the ball and I exploded forward, shifting to a gap between the center and the guard. My shoulder pads hit each as I used my hands and arms to open a lane between them.
For a split second, it seemed I’d beat the ball into the backfield. Until I had a major collision with the fullback, who was faking a run into the line. Instinctively, I tied up the two linemen and the fullback, allowing our linebacker, Michael, free access to the backfield.
James just managed to throw the ball before his meeting with Michael. A second later, I was helping him stand as the ball sailed into the sidelines.
He nodded his thanks as we all untangled and headed back to our side line of the line.
Second and ten.
Line up. Repeat. Always probing for weaknesses in the other team. They did manage to run a sweep for a first down. A particular play we hadn’t seen from them before. I guess both sides were planning surprises today.
We did stop them with a fourth down and four yards to go. As I trotted off the field, I grabbed one of the tackles from the punt receiving team. “You ready?”
“Watch for a fake. I wouldn’t put anything past them.”
I got to the sideline and stood besides Mike.
“Not bad, Rubber Dickie.”
“I should have had James on that first play.”
“Well, I hope it’s a long time off.”
He just grinned. “I’d plan on it.”
Just then, their punting team hiked the ball and all hell broke loose.
“Fake!” Our entire sideline screamed.
A quick screen to what should have been their gunner running down field to cover the punt got them a first down.
“I was hoping for longer than that,” I said to Mike as I trotted back on the field. Headed right towards the tackle I had just talked to. He was shaking his head as he came towards me.
“I know. I know.” His eyes truly contrite. I just nodded.
Back to concentrating on the few yards of turf in front of me. Thirty seconds of planning. Seven seconds of mayhem. Repeat.
They probed, we probed. I did get to meet James up close and personal before he got the ball off, once. Michael was right there with me.
It wasn’t enough to stop them from another first down.
Third and eight on our 35 yard line. I lined up on the other side of the center from where I had been so far during the game. I felt a shift in their line and watched the weight on hands and feet. Just before the ball moved, I did a roll to the side and came back into my stance just as the ball moved.
I was through the line without much resistance. James was taking his steps back into what he thought would be a pocket.
His arm was just coming up to throw.
I grabbed it. I almost said thank you.
Then I took off towards the goal line.
I’m big. And, for a lineman, I’m fairly fast.
Not that fast, though.
Five yards into my victory march, I had an East player on each leg and another on my back. They brought me down only fifteen yards from where I stripped James of the ball.
Once on the ground, it was all hands and elbows as I did my best to hold onto my prize and the East players did their best to relieve me of my burden.
A couple of centuries after being buried under a small skyscraper, I was able to stand and flip the ball to the line judge.
It was high-fives, butt pats, and back slaps as we headed to the sideline and the offense came out onto the field.
I missed the first offensive play as I was recovering. Apparently I didn’t miss much, because when I could focus on the field, it was second down and seven yards to go. Ah, a running play using Jason. Perfect. We’re setting them up. Just like the game plan called for.
While I understand the game, even enjoy it when I’m connected to it, like watching Jason play, I really need to learn more about it.
Watching My Mountain pounding into others and having them pound into him is something new.
“Are you Okay?” Rosalee asked, as she squeezed my hand.
“Yeah. It’s just…”
“Yeah. I’m starting to feel that when Mike is in the game.”
We watched. Quiet during the play. Standing and shouting in joy when we moved the ball forward. Groaning when a play didn’t work, or work as well as it could have.
“This is maddening!”
“Feel a bit more invested than when you’re just watching your brother play?”
“It’s exciting, isn’t it?”
With Rosalee’s hand to keep me grounded to the game, I let my mind take in the larger picture. The bands from both sides competing. The fans trying to out-support their respective teams. The flashes of color, and panties, from cheerleaders, and Margie’s flash of everything! The action on the field, the drama on the sidelines as the opposing generals plotted their next moves.
The intensity of the trench warfare that Luis and Mike were engaged in. The cavalry troops of receivers and defense backs as they moved to out flank the opposition. The backs throwing chaos into the mix with each play.
Did the guy running into the line have the ball?
Will the safety running towards the line before the snap keep coming and blitz, leaving a hole in the defense to be exploited?
Was the defensive end going to rush or pass cover? Could the play take advantage of that?
Constant probing with the occasional artillery barrage of passing or kicking to break up the action.
And, the first quarter ended.
My Mountain and Mike looked like they had barely survived an alien invasion. But, they held their heads high and were busy lifting the team up. Paul was deep in conversations with Jase, the coaches, and the rest of the running backs and receivers.
“I see Jason is getting some attention from the coaches,” Rosalee said. We were still holding hands. The other Nakeds looked as war worn as the team as they recovered, getting ready for another twelve minutes of screaming and groaning.
“Something is up. I do hope the other team isn’t paying too much attention.”
“They look too occupied on their own sideline.”
“Yeah, but look up at the coaches box. That’s where the real intelligence comes from.” I pointed to the area above the fans on the East side of the field.
“Oh! I thought that was just press people and the announcers and such.”
“Both teams have their own areas where assistant coaches sit, watching, and talking to the coaches on the sidelines.”
“I see there is much to learn.”
“And, now you have incentive to look beyond music and the trailer park.”
She hugged me while laughing. “Friends for life, no matter how far apart we live?”
“Done!” I hugged her back. As her breasts pressed into mine, I flashed to what might have been… and still might be.
The sounds of the second quarter pulled me from that comfortable place. In some ways like my Cave with Luis, but totally different. Yet, the same.
We still had the ball at the quarter break. Our concern on the sideline, as we recovered, was the break in momentum. The game plan didn’t call for trick plays until the second half. Yet, maybe now was the time.
The coaches, the offensive backs, and the receivers were in a huddle while Mike and I debriefed the lines, linebackers, and worked with our coaches.
We hydrated and sucked in glucose and electrolytes while talking. Mike critiqued the defense and I provided input to the both lines. The coaches listened then made some shifts. No secret guns, yet.
Mike noticed that James was tending to roll the pocket to the side I wasn’t on. We talked it through and came up with a few games we could play.
The whistles blew and it was time.
The offense continued its plan. Jason up the middle. Screens. A few fakes deep that gave East the impression it was a real play. The escape was always a short five yard dump off to the “safety valve”. Yeah, the one that was the intended receiver the whole time.
Our third play into the quarter, Paul went back as Jase headed into the line. Even I couldn’t tell if the ball had been handed off. East’s linebackers froze. The ball finally appeared as Paul pumped it towards the flats on the far side of the field. East and all the fans in the stadium moved their attention that way.
Our tight end on the near side went behind Paul in a sweep move. The line followed him as either a run or a pass play.
A moment later, Paul fired the ball to Jason, who had come through the line without too much damage and had veered to the near side. All alone.
He bobbled the ball slightly, then did what he had done to me earlier in the week. One second there. The next, twenty yards down the field.
East’s safeties had already gone the other way. Too far the other way.
Too bad. So sad.
Jason crossed the goal line and dropped to his knees.
It took a moment for the players on the field and the fans to figure out that he had scored. The roar from our side of the field was impressive. I looked over to see the East Coach yelling at the officials. I couldn’t hear him through the wall of sound our side was producing, but I could guess he was claiming an illegal play.
Good luck with that. Jason was clearly an eligible receiver and it was a legal pass play.
It took a few minutes to clear the pile in the end zone as every offensive player seemed to jump on top of Jason in celebration. The sidelines were just as crazy.
Coach McFarlan walked by at the moment and whispered to me, “Time to get their heads back in the game. We need to hold them this next possession.”
“Got it, Coach.”
I gathered the defensive line while Michael pulled the backfield together. We got everyone focused on what we needed to do stop East, knowing that they’d be fired up to get revenge.
“Watch for trick plays. They’re probably going to unleash them now. We need them to eat the clock up. We’ll trade short runs for long plays all day. Let’s get to the half without them scoring. Three man rush. Single linebacker run coverage. Everyone else is guarding the pass and long plays. Michael?”
“Nothing over five yards. Period. Stop the pass.”
Everyone nodded. We turned and watched the kickoff. East ran the ball out to their 35 yard line. We had 65 yards of field to defend.
“Beat East!” we chanted before taking the field, ready for trench warfare.
“Way to go, Jase!” I kept screaming over and over. We were all hugging and jumping and shouting. I know the clothed people around us got a charge out of it.
I’ve got to find a way to tell guys to watch what they’re wearing. Some of those buttons hurt my girls.
At least this naked adventure was almost over.
“Poor Jason,” Rosalee whispered to me. Actually, she shouted, but it sounded like a whisper against the crowd noise. I looked to the end zone and saw the pile breaking up. A dazed, but happy Jason was emerging with the help of his teammates.
“I don’t think he even felt it.”
“He will tomorrow.”
“I wonder how Cheri will feel about that!” She just looked at me, “His girlfriend.”
“Oh. I hadn’t thought about that. I wonder how Mike will feel after the game?”
“Maybe we should form a girlfriend’s support group. We could comfort each other after our guys are all beat up.” She threw her hair back, wiggled her hips, “I’m quite ready for it.”
That got everyone around us laughing hard enough we missed the kickoff.
“Okay, time to pay attention again,” Rosalee said, pulling me into my seat. Thankfully I hit the towel.
I watched My Mountain bring the defense onto the field, huddle, break, and get ready for the offense to line up.
“Prevent defense,” Luke Nugyen and Chris Flanagin called at the same time.
“Prevent?” Rosa and several others all asked.
Chris looked at Luke, who nodded, and said, “We’re going to let them get short yardage, but no points. Let them eat up the clock and run the half out.”
Rosalee held my hand as I drifted into artist/observer mode. Oh, I cheered at the right places. But most of my mind was watching my warrior at work. Letting the sounds wash over me, I saw patterns and textures. Every once in a while there was a taste of roasted peanuts in the air, mixed with the breath and bodies of a few thousand fans.
With just three people rushing the offense, Luis was critical to every play.
He was amazing to watch. On every play he would try to find a way to the quarterback instantly while fighting off two, three, and sometimes four of the offensive players. When he didn’t get there, he pushed and moved the pile of bodies in front of him to force the quarterback to move, making it harder for him to throw and, often, moving him into the arms of one of the other two defenders moving into the offensive backfield.
At least I think those are the right terms.
“Are you following all this?” Rosa asked.
“For the most part. I wished I’d paid more attention to Jason when he would talk about it. I’m used to watching him and the offense. I’m getting a new lesson in the defense tonight.”
“And you’re learning from a master,” Luke said around Rosa.
“Luis?” Rosa asked before I could.
“All State. All American. Rated one of the top, if not the top, defensive linemen in high school. Yep. Your Luis.”
“My Mountain,” I whispered. And shivered. The thought of My Cave, his strength, and his gentleness.
“Down girl,” Rosa whispered to me. Then she laughed as I shivered again. “Mini-gasms. Ain’t they great!”
“Mini-gasms. Somewhere between a shiver and a small orgasm. Kinda fun, ain’t they?” And she laughed a deep, hearty, and sultry laugh while squeezing my hand. I feared the towel beneath me was going to get wet in a minute.
Reading my mind, Rosa said, “If you soak your towel, that seat is going to get awfully uncomfortable. I’ve got a couple of spares if you need one.”
“Towels, silly! I come prepared.”
“Oh, my innocent one. Of course! You don’t think watching Mike hasn’t worked me up? And, I have to confess, seeing how masterfully Luis moves the other players around…”
“That’s my boyfriend you’re talking about!”
“Yep! You know me, Queen of the Trailer Trash Sluts!” She fell into me laughing. I cracked at the same time. We missed the next couple of plays while everyone around us just scratched their heads.
“You two girlfriends or something?” one of the Clothed behind us asked.
That caused all the Nakeds to crack up.
Ginny, of all people, recovered the quickest. “See the big monster that is causing East so many problems right now?”
“Well, that monster is her boyfriend,” she pointed at me. “The center on the offense is her boyfriend. Enough said?”
He reminded me of a balloon slowly losing air as he sank back and tried to disappear. His friends weren’t letting him.
Then Rosa pulled my face to hers and kissed me. A wonderful, sweet kiss. Yet, missing the overt passion of earlier in the week. Call me dumb, but I caught on quickly and played it up.
I heard Ginny again say, “But, of course, they’ve been known to play…”
The groans, hoots, and comments erupted. Rosa and I couldn’t keep it up. We cracked up with all the Nakeds.
“Oh Shit!” Luke screamed.
We all stopped and turned to the field. I tried to sort out the chaos. The bulk of the players were at midfield, but there was a scattering near the wrong goal line. The East fans were celebrating wildly. Then I noticed a yellow flag near Luis at midfield.
“Shit,” I muttered to myself.
“It may not be that bad,” Rosa tried to reassure me with a squeeze. Apparently to myself wasn’t that quiet.
We all watched the guys in the striped shirts waving their arms in various patterns. I’m sure it all meant something, but it was worse than Greek to me at the moment.
A sigh came over our side of the field while a groan followed by shouts of outrage came from the other side.
“Holding!” Luke and Chris were shouting.
“No, not My Luis!”
“No, no, no. A good holding. They’re calling one of the East players for holding Luis. Not him holding them! The ball comes back, no touchdown.”
“Yeah. East managed a long pass, because they were basically tackling Luis. No score.”
“Pay attention girl! Your Mountain did good.”
I settled back into observing. Okay. I was watching My Mountain intently. And, recording images. While my heart was riding a roller coaster, an out of control one at that.
The writer’s mind was capturing snippets of conversations, working to describe smells, and deciding how to convey the action on the field or in the stands.
The ordered chaos that was the sidelines I could easily get lost in. Jason there while Luis was on the field, Luis there while Jase was on the field. Too confusing.
The cheerleaders were interesting to study. Like an energetic conductor’s baton, they drove the crowd to a fevered pitch when the team needed support. When things were not going well on the field, they kept the fans in the game, the energy stirred and ready to rise up at any moment.
Life as a symphony. Again. In a strange twist of roles, the fans are the orchestra, the cheerleaders the conductor, and the players are the audience—responding to the swirls of energy from the two sides of the field.
“Damn!” I muttered as the defense regrouped and watched the Zebras, officials, confer and mark off the penalty against East.
“You got that right,” Michael said between deep breaths. “The fucker got behind me. Damn it.”
“I had him. I would have nailed the quarterback for a loss. Shit.”
“How did that lineman ever tackle you?”
“Four arms and I think six legs were involved.”
“Okay, break time over. Let’s get our shit together.”
“Right. Hunker down. We’ve got the momentum.” I turned towards the sidelines thinking this would be a perfect time for a safety blitz. That’s exactly what they signaled in. A sneaky defensive play that would look like all the linebackers were blitzing. At the last minute, they’d pull back off the line, letting the offense think no blitz. We’d open up gaps in the offensive line for one or both of the safeties to charge the backfield.
The key is the timing. Do it wrong, and a long pass is poorly defended and you watch your opponent score a touchdown. Do it right, and the QB can’t get the pass off. Even better, they lose yardage to a sack.
I set and dug in for war. Michael moved up to the line next to me as East broke their huddle and lined up. I had the center on my right and planned on occupying the attention of him and the guard to my left. Hopefully, I could drag the tackle on that side into my little campfire.
Their line set and East’s quarterback started his signals. Given the tone of his voice and quick cadence, he was calling an audible. Perfect.
Our linebackers pulled back off the line, hopefully destroying the change in plans for a quick pass over the middle. Right then, I moved over three steps to my right, putting me in the gap between the guard and tackle on the other side of the line. The blind side rush zone for a right-handed quarterback.
I could see out of the corner of my eye that the East QB had taken a step back from the center and call timeout.
I got up out of my stance as the whistles blew.
“Shit.” Seemed about the extent of my vocabulary at the moment. Ever the glib one, aren’t you Luis.
“Crap. Fuck.” Michael said next to me.
“Ever eloquent, aren’t we.”
The water-people arrived. Don’t you just love political correctness? And, they were carrying a well known sports drink, not water.
Refreshed, Michael and I looked towards the sidelines for the signals. Same safety blitz, but a different alignment.
“You get to play lineman,” I chuckled to Michael.
“Yeah. I can feel my IQ falling.”
“Shame the muscles aren’t getting bigger.”
Michael passed the play to the defense and we broke our loose huddle, presenting the offense with a four man line. The defensive backfield was shifting all over the place, not showing any hint to the offense where they were going to be when the ball was snapped.
As their quarterback moved behind the center, the outside linebackers moved up and set on the line. East was now facing a six man line. No offensive line is designed to defend against that.
From the QB’s cadence, with a hint of desperation in his voice, I could tell another audible was being called. “Shift!” I called.
The linebackers, all of them including Michael, pulled off the line. Hopefully, we just took the QB’s options away, destroying the quick pass over the middle that he had hoped to get away with.
I’m watching him with my peripheral vision as he pulls back from the line and signaling to the backs and wide receivers. The offensive line is already set and can’t move without a penalty. Yet, frantically, they’re trying to adjust assignments, quietly.
He now moves back into a shotgun. Goodie. Raw meat for me to eat. I shift to his strong side. The center calls some signals telling the line where I am and new assignments.
“Gotcha!” I thought to myself. At the same time, the warning that those that celebrate early lose enters my mind.
I’m watching the ground in front of me. Studying the fingers of the offensive linemen. Where is the weight?
On the hands? Coming at me.
On the feet? Setting up for a pass rush.
No white knuckles.
Are they favoring one leg or the other?
My world becomes the center’s arms. Not the ball. His arms are going to signal the snap long before the ball moves.
That’s the fraction of a second I need.
Thank you T’ai Chi.
The energy moved in his arms, signaling his intent. Relax one set of muscles so another can tense, thus moving the ball.
When the ball moved, I was moving. Angling towards the gap between the guard and the tackle. Leaving the center for Michael.
Arms up and sweeping through the gap, pushing the linemen off me. Getting them off balance and tripping.
I sensed more than saw the cornerback and safety on that side coming through the gap with me.
We flooded the backfield.
The numbers on the Quarterback came into my sight line. And he still had the ball. Not even ready to throw it. Or hand it off. Or…
Shoulder into chest. Arms around him. Lift slightly. Not too much, that would be a penalty.
And the easiest thing I can ever do, I fall. With him under me to cushion it.
“Uff…,” I hear.
He still has the ball. It’s trapped between us.
“Mine!” My mind is screaming. My hands pulling back to grab it.
A couple thousand pounds of bodies are hitting and laying on us. Other hands are looking for the ball.
There is this shrill sound that moves through the mass of squirming bodies that I find myself second to the bottom of.
‘Oh. Whistle. Play over. Where’s the ball. Can I snatch it quick before the zebras get here?‘ I think.
James, East’s QB, has a death grip on it. Plus, our mutual body contact prevents even me from getting to it.
“Damn!” I think. Maybe I said it out loud.
“Shit!” I actually yelled, thanks to the sudden severe pain to my nose.
“Broken,” I said to myself.
“Shit!” I said out loud again.
Full mud cage. Horseshoe collar. How the hell did someone get their hand in there?
As soon as my eyes uncrossed, I looked down and saw blood on the QB’s jersey.
The refs were still moving the pile. Which meant the occasional punch to my lower back or other non-padded places as the players moved off.
This war was about to get vicious.
Finally, there was enough weight off my back and I could roll off of the QB. He looked a little blue in and around the lips. I guess my weight and the others had interrupted his breathing.
Three teammates helped me up and I reached down a hand to help James up. He didn’t move for a couple of seconds, then extended the hand without the football up to me.
Gently I helped him up.
We smiled at each other and headed back to our side of the line. Both of us moving a might slow.
The guys in the stripes were blowing whistles again.
Smart move on East’s part. James will have a couple of minutes to get his breath back and blood flowing again. And unscramble his brains.
Our trainers and water people paraded out to the field again, one of them holding a new jersey for me. While they helped me change the jersey, the bit of bleeding from my nose had stopped.
That didn’t stop them from adjusting it.
Shit, that hurt.
Before I did mayhem to the person that set my nose, I grabbed Michael and we both rehydrated.
“Things are getting a bit tense.” Hmm… I could breathe through my nose again.
He laughed, “No shit, Sherlock.”
“One of my better qualities, Watson.” We both smiled. “We need to reel our guys in. Take the high road.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“Ever so glib, Watson.” That got chuckles from both of us.
He took the backfield and I took the line. No talk. Just eyes. Not hard looks, just a “play our game, our way” looks.
Everyone settled down. Then we talked strategy while pumping fluids.
Semi-fresh, we lined up for the next play.
“He’s bleeding! He’s hurt!”
“Calm down, Becca,” Rosalee said, gently, while pulling me into an embrace. “He doesn’t even feel it. He’ll be fine.”
“But, t-they stopped the game!”
“East called a time out to regroup.”
“Oh…” I pulled my tears back into my eyes.
Yeah, I guess I did. None of them dripped down my cheeks.
As my eyes cleared, I watched the new symphony on the field. My Mountain and Michael were communicating with the other players without words. I could feel the agreement and synergy building. A moment of magic, teamwork.
My worry disappeared as these new images and vignettes were stored away.
East came to the line and I felt relaxed. My Mountain was still in the game and moving like… Like… A bear? A warrior?
Loose, yet focused.
Power wrapped in regal robes.
Grace promising mayhem on his lessers.
“Shit!” “Fuck!” “Oh! My! God!” intruded upon my art.
My eyes focused and saw Luis being manhandled by three East players. Not blocking. They were roughing him up. I knew I was seeing things the officials would never see. They were not only attempting to keep him out of the developing play, but were trying to hurt him.
If I were him, I’d being going ballistic. Using all my power to right a wrong. All the violence I could manage.
Yes. Not human. Rationalizing. Not rational.
Yet, My Mountain was playing the game fair the whole time. Playing within the rules. Sporting.
And, losing the battle.
A massive groan arose from our side of the field. Whistles were blowing. The striped shirts were holding their arms straight over their heads.
“Tied game. Damn it,” said Chris and Luke simultaneously.
Before I could bring my head back to the game, East lined up and kicked the extra point.
I knew I’d have to replay what happened later. It was there, in my head, but just not there, in my conscious.
And, I needed to watch the game.
And be with my friends.
That’s a new feeling.
The rest of the first half became a defensive war. Move the ball five, hard yards. Punt. The other team would move the ball five yards. Punt.
Rosa and the rest of the Nakeds cheered, and groaned, as the battle lines moved to and fro.
“It looks like a Civil War battlefield out there,” I said.
“What do you mean?” someone asked.
“The lines march up, stand with the field in between, take aim, and fire. Chaos, lines shift. Then they line up again.”
“Weird!” someone in the stands said.
“No. Artist!” Rosalee laughed. Which got me and all the other Nakeds laughing.
“Hey, look! They’re going to use the howitzer,” a voice near us yelled out as East lined up to kickoff. Someone else is into my metaphors. Maybe I’m not so different after all.
Then again, I’m in the stands naked with clothed people all around me. While the troops on the field form skirmish lines, engage, regroup, and start all over again. My Warrior was a commanding presence whether he was on the field or the sidelines. A fighting general in many ways.
The game ground down to halftime without either team making significant progress on the field. “A real defensive war,” many of the crowd said or agreed with.
And in perfect keeping with the military metaphor, the gun sounded ending the half.
I watched My Mountain pull the defense together and walk off the field as a group. I felt him and his tired legs moving, almost limping. All the little aches and pains building up over the half. The cuts that have scabbed, but might need to be opened and cleaned later. The-
“Becca, let’s go get some food,” Rosalee said, interrupting my thoughts.
End of Chapter
NOTE: This chapter’s musical interlude brought to you by Wishbone Ash, a band I discovered while living in Scotland in 1970 and still enjoy to this day. Another excellent thing to come from Alba! It’s not all kilts and whisky.
There is haggis!
Coming Soon: Part V (Friday Night) Chapter 36 – “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe McDonald and the Fish.