The Championship

February 28, 2012
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My hand found the alarm clock and switched it off. I eased out of bed and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror.

“Today's the day,” I said to myself silently.

The rest of the morning was a blur. I vaguely remember heating up some Pop Tarts and getting clothes on for church. In the car, my mom couldn't stop talking, as usual. I might have picked up a sentence or two about:

“...and her dog ran away.” or “...she actually said that!” but I wasn't paying attention.

At church, we heard the same thing we've been hearing every week about how through Christ all things are possible. Today though, it took special meaning. We saw some 60 year-old man with light gray hair be baptized. I usually would've been standing, clapping, and yelling along with the rest of the room, but I couldn't concentrate.

We grabbed lunch at some cheap cheeseburger place on the way home, but I barely touched it. At home, I looked at the clock. It read 12:45. I had 45 minutes to get ready. I ran up to my room and put on my leg pads, long socks, muscle shirt, and cleats. I looked around at the posters of great football players and could imagine being them when they were 14, getting dressed in their room. Shaking with nerves about the upcoming game. The league championship.

My mom drove me to the field 30 minutes early. I sat in the back row of the bleachers, listening to rap music on my huge black headphones. After five songs, RJ and Skyler strode up the bleachers. I slapped them both high fives. We sat silently until the rest of the team showed up.

“Hey Coach!” Skyler shouted. Coach waved, but didn't say a word. We grabbed our helmets, shoulder pads, and water bottles and jogged to the practice field behind the home bleachers.

We went through our normal calisthenics silently. I don't think any of us could speak if we wanted to. We never thought we'd make it this far. All year, no matter the finals score, no matter our undefeated record, everybody just called us lucky. Nobody ever thought that maybe, just maybe, we might just have some actual talent. None of that makes a difference now.

Coach gave us a talk in the locker room about how we could do anything we set our minds to. It sounded like a replay of church. We ran onto the sidelines screaming, banging shoulder pads, and knocking helmets because we had no other way to get our nerves out.

RJ, Skyler, and I walked out to the 50 yard line and greeted the refs and other team's captains. We acted friendly and nice. Key word: acted. The referee tossed the coin and number 55 on the other team called heads. It landed heads. Their ball.

“KICKOFF! GET READY!” Coach yelled to us. Our kickoff team ran out on the field, including me and Skyler. Skyler placed the ball on the tee and stepped back ten yards. The kick went high and deep. Number 22 receved it and ran to the 24 yard yard line on his own side before being hammered by Skyler and me. Game time.

Our defense stopped them for a three and out. Their defense did the same to us, only allowing a 5 yard pass from RJ to me running across the middle. All through the first quarter there may have been a total of 3 first downs. It was going to be a long game.

After the break and a long lecture from Coach, we were pumped and ready to drive down the field. Unfortunately, so was the other team. We had the ball on our own 40. Coach sent in a short pass play. RJ threw a perfect spiral right to me, but the ball never got there. One second it looked like a perfect pass, the next, the linebacker is racing into the end zone with the ball, untouched. The extra point split the uprights. We were down 7-0.

Their kicker lined up and I stepped back to receive. The whistle blew and he ran and drove the ball... straight into the ground. The onside attempt caught everyone by surprise and their linebacker dove on it at our 48 yard line.

They quickly drove down the field and punched the ball in on a slant pass to their slot receiver. 14-0. Coach was fuming.

“ WATCH FOR THAT! WHERE'S THE PASS RUSH?” It seemed like we were falling down a deep hole without a way back up.

At halftime we were still losing 14-0. It should have been 14-7, but a long touchdown pass from RJ to me was called back on a holding penalty. Coach was calm.

“It's OK, we’re still in this. We just need to execute exactly how we do in practice. Pretend that's all this is, practice.” I was hardly listening but soaked up every word subconsciously.

The second half started well. I returned the kick all the way to their 35 yard line before being tackled by their safety. Skyler scored on the first play with a deep pitch to the right. 14-7. The rest of the 3rd quarter went slowly. Except they scored a field goal at the end, increasing their lead to 17-7.

Then, we started clicking. Slant pass for 15 yards. Run up the gut for 8 yards. Fly pattern pass for 60 yards. We were at their five yard line. Screen pass to me. I got in untouched. 17-13. Our kicker missed the extra point. There were four minutes left.

They worked the ball to our twenty yard line until our defense forced a fumble. A field goal wouldn't win it. We needed to go all the way.

“Twins left, 32 freeze-option fake, slant pass. On two. READY? BREAK!” I waited out by the sideline.
“Hut!” called RJ, “Hut!” I pretended to block my man, then I took off. He hit me with a perfect pass that resulted in a 50 yard gain. We were on their 30 yard line with 1:02 on the clock.

A series of outside runs got us to the ten yard line with 10 seconds left. We called timeout.

“This is it.” Coach said nervously, “I-right play-action 10 and in.” The ball was coming to me.

“Hut!” I sprinted into the end zone and turned to the middle of the field. The ball was already five yards ahead of me. I stepped, dove, and snatched it out of the air with my right hand. Instantly I was hammered by four players.

The whistle blew and the referee started pulling players off the pile. When he got to the bottom, there I was. Holding onto the ball for dear life. His arms rose in the air. Touchdown.

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