How slow could a few hours be? The hours between the end of school and a high school game are as close to eternity as it gets on earth. David turned over in his bed for the 77th time. No sleep, nothing interesting - only the slowly turning red numbers on his clock radio.
Last year’s team had stayed at the school the entire day - but Coach Prescott believed in turning the players loose. Josh was the most pleased with the arrangements; he and several of the guys who weren’t going to play were at his house having a big time! All the starters were to stay alone, suffering the isolation of pre-game hysteria.
Was this really just a game? He had played youth soccer and basketball, but had never felt like this. He had a premonition of what it would be like. He could visualize the electricity of the first collision; he had experienced already the gasping for air, the aching muscles. And now it was going to be multiplied beyond any previous experience- more than the spring game, more than the scrimmages, more than he could imagine.
The sun was setting on the stadium in a beautiful orange mist that made the green of the grass seem to glow. David strolled across the grass toward the locker room carrying the equipment that would serve as his battle armor in just 2 short hours. His pensive outer covering hid the boiling madness deep within his soul. He swallowed hard, he breathed hard, and he trembled slightly with each movement.
The drums started. Everything had seemed like practice - all the dressing, and the early pre-game. He was much looser than he would have ever guessed. The jogging, stretching, first few catches - and then the drums started.
The beat was mesmerizing; his blood seemed to pulsate in accordance with the rhythm. It was primordial. Every hair stood at attention, his eyes sharpened their focus, his chin lifted in resolution to the purpose. It was if they were beating for him, chanting an ancient, mystical rite of passage. He didn’t think about it until later, but it was as if he were the young Indian warrior listening to the war drummed being strengthened to meet death eye to eye. The war drums were valuable - the beat drove out fear. For the first time in his life, David Stone felt invincible!
Everything vanished when his offensive team ran onto the field. He had noticed it all earlier. He saw his teammates’ eyes during the pre-game warm-up. They all were glassy, wild eyes. He watched all the coaches during the pre-game reminders. The colors of their faces flushed with emotion. Coach Press’s veins carved highways of strength down his neck as he appealed once more to the deep stirrings within each member.
He didn’t remember what he said, but he noticed that everyone was synchronized to the message and with a gigantic, barbaric yawp the team exploded out of the dressing room, exhilarated out of their bodies.
David had noticed the lights, the crowd, the noise, and the activity - everything a dynamic flood of energy. The cheerleaders lined their chaotic entrance onto the field of testing. Everything was taken in, noticed, registered.... and then it all vanished.
The crowd, cheerleaders, off the field motion stood still at the kick-off. The opponents had no faces or personality. When the game started, David forgot everything else, and when he stepped across the painted line - when he stepped on the grass of legal play- everything else vanished, including thoughts of himself.
He stepped into the huddle.
“Okay, guys,” Alex took charge of the group, “Let’s get it going here. Left - 34 Read- on ‘go’.”
Running play. David was relieved already.
David sprinted to his spot. The defender walked up within a couple of yards. He didn’t seem to have any eyes. He wasn’t very big.
The ball snapped and David exploded after him. They both hit good shots. In fact, David was a little stunned from the blow. The guy was small but explosive. The next play was a running play away from David and the two just ran side by side. He didn’t seem like a real person to David. Was it the equipment? He couldn’t make out facial features, like he was struggling with a shadow, or a ghost.
Back in the huddle, David’s fear returned.
“Right. 224 Z out.” David’s number had been dialed. ‘Break.”
David ran on instinct. He wasn’t analyzing, he was simply responding to nerve stimuli.
David sprinted off the ball. He felt like he was in slow motion. He didn’t count his steps, but seemed to cut at the right time. He turned and saw Alex zip the object his direction.
WHOOMPH! Step, step. David exited the field of play not even realizing that he held a trophy. The war cry went out.
David tossed the ball somewhere and sprinted back to the huddle! He did it! He caught a pass! It was a first down! The sideline and invisible mass applauded!
The huddle wasn’t quite as enthused. “Nice catch, Stone.” David was beaming behind the stoic face.
Two more running plays gained thirty yards. The team was really moving now. David had been a catalyst. The momentum was stolen the next two plays, however on an off sides penalty and an incomplete pass to a back. It was third and 15.
“Left, 255 x-hide, on one, ready, break.”
Pass play, but David wasn’t the primary target. He took his position and looked at the corner. Both boys were wearing signs of play. David felt that both were wearing the marks with honor.
SNAP. David pushed off the line ten yards and cut to the inside. As he cut he noticed Alex pull the ball down and burst through a hole in the middle of the line! Five... Ten...
He cut to the left and dodged a defender. David turned, he was a blocker now and needed to shield off the defender. His small cornerback blew right past him though and made a nice open field stop on the star quarterback!
“Crap!” David missed his block.
His sideline cheered. First down! And they had advanced to the opponent’s thirty-yard line!
David returned to the huddle. He and his opponent were even.
“225 Z Go.” David’s glory call. David felt surprisingly comfortable. This was going to be his score!
David took his stance and looked up at his friend. He exploded down the line, made a poor head fake, but got a step on the defensive back. He was free! Alex looped it his way. David tracked it; it was thrown a hair short. David slowed, jumped.
THUMP! David felt the leather just graze his neck. The ball had been knocked away! The same type sound echoed on the field. His opponent’s teammates ran over and slapped their friend with a supportive gesture.
“Whew! Nice defense, Skip!”
David was robbed.
“Sorry, man. My bad.” Alex took the blame. “I left it too short.” There wasn’t much to say. David wasn’t about to blame him.
“That’s no problem.”
David looked at Alex with new resolve.
“We’ve got four quarters. You won’t miss it all game.”
Every player nodded with agreement. It was going to be a four-quarter battle. Every player felt that the test had already come. David Stone was ready to go again.
Alex stepped back into the huddle and translated the signal to the group.
“Liz, Zipper 29 Toss on Two”