Twilight of an Idol

Every Sunday afternoon there is a series of full-contact games of “sandlot football” being played at my former high school stadium. The games were played before my time and continue long after I have “retired” from the sport.

Now are the days of my youngest brother Joshua, he and his warrior brethren. The time of me and my teammates has long since passed into the dimly lit hallways of antiquity – the transience of trivial fame and glory.

It was on such a Sunday that my well-meaning little brother cajoled me into joining him as he attended this week`s episode of said games. I could not deny him this, for in his eyes I saw such hope and youthful exuberance. He so much desired to show and prove himself to me – and admittedly, I relished the idea of playing on the same field as the athlete that I attempted to fashion in my own image – the brother whom I taught and molded for so much of his very young life.

However, upon arriving at the field, I feared I had forgotten myself, and the times in which I live…

Raucous Rap music blasting out of cars was only the mildest of offenses – as I approached the field and stood along the sidelines, I heard the obscene and ridiculous taunting that seemed to overlap for the sheer quantity of voices. Vile and absurd castigations being hurled like so much vomitous bile out of the mouths of violent and insecure boy-men. I was disgusted. My brother only looked on, apparently numbed to such atmosphere from long-time saturation. He peered intensely toward the field of play, mumbling analytical observations about the game at hand.

I too, turned my attention to the game, hoping that by doing so I could drown out the surrounding culture and all that it entails.

The first thing I noticed about the players was the demographic shift that had occurred since the last time I had participated in this game – I saw only a few familiar faces and nobody that had played during my days. I grinned at the thought that none of my peers would be here to watch me make a complete fool of myself. Playing a boy`s game with a large group of younger, faster and angrier athletes than myself.

After a little while, the game that had been in progress when we arrived was over and I was not chosen for the next game – I considered it a reprieve and decided that unless a team went out of their way to acquire me, I would merely watch my brother from the sidelines and keep mental notes to discuss with him later.

At one point, late in the game my brother was on the receiving end of a savage, though legal, block that forced him out of the action for the day. He was uninjured, but it was just one of those really fierce blocks that often puts players out of games if they are wearing full pads – and if it is without protective padding (as in this situation) it is enough to make a player take the rest of the day off. Joshua recovered quickly and since he had basketball practice the next day he bowed out of competition to avoid aggravating his soreness.

It was around this time that the losing team was assembling the players for the next game and without provocation the team captain of the dominant team came toward me and (perhaps taking note of my atypical appearance) began to loudly (and in a slightly supercilious manner) encourage the opposing team to choose me for their lineup. I smiled at him politely though I could tell that he was either mocking me or (convinced of my mediocrity by my long hair and old-fashioned athletic wear) hoping to place an obviously inept player on the opposing team – thus increasing his own team`s advantage.

Someone from the sidelines mentioned who I was and the opposing team captain took note. He came over toward me and asked if I could still throw. I laughed and said, “I really don`t know. I`m not sure exactly how much I`ve forgotten – and how much I`ve forgotten that I`ve forgotten.”

He looked at me strangely, I sensed that he did not understand what I had said. I shrugged and said, “I can still read Coverage and know where to throw it – I`m just not sure if my old arm has any fire left in it.”

He nodded and replied, “It`s worth a shot, these guys haven`t been beat all day and I`d try just about anything. Don`t worry about playing Defense, just figger out a way to score some points against these guys.”

I nodded my assent and began warming up my arm on the sidelines with a couple of kids who were watching everything that was taking place with a familiar sense of awe toward the entire spectacle.

The forgotten taste of blood came into my mouth and my face became hard and impassive…

I heard the celebratory shouts that indicated that my team had obtained possession – I jogged onto the field to take control of the Offense…

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the right – gain of 5.

Play-Action, rollout right… pass to a Receiver on the right – incomplete.

Handoff to the left side – gain of 10.

Play-Action, dropback… pass to a Receiver over the middle for 40 yards – Touchdown.

I jog to the sidelines and stand with my arms akimbo. I notice that the stadium grounds have grown quiet. I look around and notice that people are looking at me strangely. I ignore this and turn attention back to the game.

The other team scored and my team now had possession, again I trotted onto the field…

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the left – gain of 10.

Play-Action, rollout right… pass to a Receiver over the middle – gain of 7

Rollout right… pass to a Receiver on the right – gain of 5.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver over the middle – gain of 10.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the left – gain of 15

Handoff… Counter left – no gain.

Handoff… Sweep right – loss of 7.

Option left… pass to a Receiver on the left for 13 yards – Touchdown.

As I start to head toward the sidelines one of my receivers complains that he was open and that I should have passed to him. Annoyed at this, I explain to him that not only was he covered, but that even if I had managed to get the ball to him he was out of position and likely would`ve been hit from behind rather hard. I continued that not only did I believe that it was important to make intelligent strategic decisions concerning getting the ball to a receiver, but also to keep the receiver`s position in mind to not put them in a vulnerable situation. He responds, “Aight” as I continue toward the sidelines.

The opposing team is beginning to fray, and I can sense their impatience. Their play is over-aggressive and sloppy. Despite this they drive the length of the field before turning the ball over near the goal-line. I return to the field of play…

Rollout left… Screen pass to a Receiver on the right – gain of 9.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver over the middle – gain of 4.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the right – gain of 12.

Handoff… up the middle for a gain of 5.

Handoff… Sweep left – loss of 9.

Rollout right… pass to a Receiver on the right – incomplete.

Play-Action, dropback… pass to a Receiver on the right for 34 yards – Touchdown.

We are ahead by a score of 21 to 7. The opposing Defense is shell-shocked. Whenever they play Zone, I find soft spots along the sidelines. In Man coverage I have little difficulty finding receivers over the middle. When they Blitz I see it coming and easily dump it off before a hand can even be laid upon me. In overcompensating their coverages they give me ample room to find open receivers repeatedly. There is no puzzle they can throw at me that I cannot I solve. Before the play begins I already know how to beat them and they cannot do anything about it.

The other team scores on the first Offensive play, I laugh and trot back onto the field…

Handoff… Sweep left – gain of 3.

Handoff… Draw play – gain of 2.

Option right… pitch to Halfback – no gain.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver down the right sideline for 55 yards – Touchdown.

It is now 28-14 and the other team is desperate. With aid of two very fortunate trick plays they move the ball well initially before finding resistance near the goal-line. With 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line they fail to cross the line in four tries. It is my ball at my own 2-yard line. The game ends here…

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the right side – gain of 18.

Dropback… pass to a Receiver on the left side – gain of 5.

Rollout left… pass to a Receiver on the left – gain of 10.

Play-Action, rollout right… pass to a Receiver on the right – gain of 14.

Play-Action, dropback… pass to a Receiver over the middle for a gain of 11 yards – Touchdown.

Game over, and the team for which I am playing wins easily by a score of 35-14.

Statistically, I finish 18-for-20 with 277 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Not bad, for a has-been.

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