Last Game This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     The bus ride feels much too long. I lounge across two seats. With loads of thoughts running through my mind, I realize that this is it. Four years of weight training, practice, pain, blood, sweat, and tears. Finally the bus stops and it’s pay day - I worked all week and this is it, the last 48 minutes for the rest of our lives, as Coach described it. It was a night game, the one thing every football player strives for. The anticipation was too high to deal with despite the ride there. I stare at my opponent showing no respect at all, no care for their team or coaches, or how hard they might have worked because we had worked harder.

It’s the last time I’ll suit up. I put on the pads that make me a warrior, my armor and finally my mask to protect my face from blows. We warm up, running a lap followed by dynamic and static stretches. Knowing that I must treat this day like it is any other but realizing it’s not, things just don’t feel the same. I don’t want to get upset, but these guys are my family, my brothers whom I’d die for. I’ve spent years with them through good and bad times, and in less than an hour, I’ll see them only at social gatherings or at school.

But none of that matters because the game is about to begin. We get in a huddle to call out our chant loud and proud to let the crowd know who we are. Coach comes as we get on one knee and talks to us quickly, “I need to know right now if any of you, any one at all, has any doubts right now. Let me know now. Doubts about the game, doubts about yourself. Doubts that you can’t win right now. Tell me and we’ll pack up and go home. Because we worked too hard and trained too long to come to that! Anybody?”

We all screamed, “No, Coach!”

“Then let’s get out there and show them just who we are,” he directed.

More ready than ever, I get set for the kick return. I am the leader dead center of the field, block and dismantle the first opposite colored jersey at all costs. I do my job; offense is productive as I, the only running back, protect the quarterback on the pass. I get the ball and rush seven yards. Hurry up offense, then we pass. No gain.

The game remains scoreless at the end of the first half, we have over 200 yards passing, they have 100 rushing. Then it’s the end of the third quarter. In a huddle we call our play and get into formation. I hear the cadence and get ready; time feels as if it slows down. The crowd’s screaming can no longer be heard, and the only thing I hear is the blocks being placed and the grunts of players trying to get to me, and my heart beat. I see a small hole, a little bit of daylight, and I’m gone. Down through the middle of the field, already gaining 20 yards. Through peripheral vision, I see a defender approaching. I run through him completely, down the field. The tunnel vision ends and as I approach the 30. I can hear the crowd and my adrenaline is throbbing, the announcer screams the 20, the 10, five, touchdown! A 60-yard touchdown run. My last senior touchdown, and a feeling I will never forget. The clock runs to zero but the score does not match it. We won the last game of our high-school lives, and it was over just like that.

Gone, years of practice and pain to make perfection, nothing more than a memory. But I thought memories were something you had when you were old and grey, not 17 with your whole life as football. Remembering this is going to be painful and sad, how can it be joyous? Not caring about the win, on the long bus ride home, the same thoughts run through everyone’s minds. Tears erupt as the men I once looked at as fierce competitors, emotionless mercenaries, show a different side. Where are we going to go now? What will we do?

Home alone, in my bed, these memories force their way into my mind. Cuts and bruises sting as tears roll from my eyes. It’s over. A quote comes to mind: “Wins are easily forgotten, and losses last forever. You know you can’t lose but do you really want to forget this day?” I guess the word to describe it is bittersweet. I think football is a life game preparing boys for the real world and shaping them into men, giving them something no other sport can offer and a camaraderie that no other sport can provide. But before you know it, it’s gone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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