Daryl McGoogle held the football straight up with his index finger, giving his teammate ample time under the most unrealistic of conditions to line up for a long kick. Imagining the ball flying up through the center of the field goal over and over again, Roger Maestro took two long steps forward and kicked hard with his right foot.
Pulling the football away at the last second, McGoogle was already laughing when Maestro adjusted his kick, landing him flat on his back. Some other players at practice were now laughing from afar, but Maestro was really hurting. He could feel real pain in his back, and he wondered if there was serious damage done. McGoogle gave him a look of betrayal. It was something that he seen in the young man’s eyes several times before, and Roger often wondered how a team could field, let alone compete, with such serious infighting.
In extreme contrast to the McGoogle family fortune, built mainly on military and government contracts, Maestro’s father was in prison on trumped up marijuana charges after refusing to turn in a group of political activists. With almost no financial aid, work study and a four year football scholarship were paying for his architecture degree.
“Roger!” It was Sarah, the newest of the cheerleaders. Bright, blonde, dark skinned, and very outgoing, she had been paying more attention to the kicker recently. “We’re playing UMass tomorrow. Are you going to be there?” It wasn’t a real question, of course, but a few words meant to get a conversation going. She was so lively that her affable manner simply cut right through his darker mood.
“You really are a sight for sore eyes,” he managed. It was all he could do not to grab her and kiss her. Such enthusiasm and emotion that takes over a young man’s actions can distract him from all of his commitments. “Hey, do you wanna come with us for ice cream later?” Few players actually ate ice cream during the season, but P.J. O’Really’s Ice Cream Shoppe had become the popular hang out.
“Oh…” she paused. “I can’t make it.” That could be code for I want something out of you, but I don’t want to hang out with you. She quickly readied a comeback, “But maybe we can meet up later this evening, just the two of us.” She realized too late that it sounded rushed, eager, even desperate.
“Yeah,” Roger replied graciously. “Absolutely.”
The Fourth Quarter was now half over, and the coach had made the decision. With nine yards to go for a first down, Maestro was sent out to make the kick. From the 39 yard line, he could potentially make a field goal, possibly winning the game. It was a risk, but not an extreme one, and a last minute win like this would be a repeat from a game last season. Maestro remembered making a 40 yard kick against Maine 25 seconds before the end of the game. Now, with two minutes on the clock, the goal posts seemed farther away, almost unreachable. In fact, Maestro could not even remember how he’d managed a surprise field goal from so far away just the previous year. A dark melancholy–even a self-destructive morbidness–had taken over again.
Out in the stands, filled to capacity at nearly 100,000 people, he could see Sarah hanging out near the team with friends, wearing a pastel T-Shirt and tight fitting jeans. She was so nice a person, but could really distract him when she wanted to. She waived at him and got his friends to cheer and yell. “Roger!” Her presence was uplifting.
Returning his attention to McGoogle, he focused intensely on the game and the task at hand. “Ready,” McGoogle yelled. “Hike!” Without delay, the football came back to McGoogle’s hand. Holding the football on end, the opposing team blitzed their line just as Maestro took his first step into the ball.
An instant before his foot made contact, Maestro stopped and stepped back, getting his teammate’s attention, a quizzical look as McGoogle stared up at him. Oh no, he thought. They were going to be tackled! Three large linebackers from the opposing team charged in with all of their aggression, striking McGoogle as hard as they could, flinging the football into the air.
From his vantage point, Maestro could see the violence of the impact, even hearing a bone breaking in all of it. He grabbed it almost by accident, and, with no hesitation, ran with it. Leaving his injured teammate behind, he went at a sharp angle toward the sideline, then straight to the end zone, leaving most of the opposing defensive line behind him. Finally, at the 15 yard line, his heroic attempt at personal glory was cut short by a Outside Lineman knocking him out of bounds.
With one minute on the clock, they had managed an unexpected first down. Still on offense, Roger huddled with a crew. The QB ran in from the sidelines to replace McGoogle, and called for all of his receivers to get into the end zone.
They broke and took positions in an instant. With a whistle from a player offsides, there was a brief pause in the action. Roger looked out at Sarah again. He could not make out her expression from here, but he could see that she was no longer animated. Perhaps angry at him for letting everyone down. He knew that he would catch hell from the coach and teammates, but he couldn’t believe that he’d let Sarah down.
“Hut. Hut. Hike!” called the Quarterback. Yet no sooner had the Center snapped the ball back, the defensive linemen blitzed again, knocking both guards back and striking the QB, taking him down with the ball, and forming a huddle.
To his dismay, Roger saw one of the guards stand up with the football in his hand, and the referee announced the interception. Running out the clock by taking a knee, the visiting team would rob them of their chance at the conference. Hearing the closing buzzer, Roger took his helmet off, rubbing the bridge of his nose, steeling himself for the chewing out of the century.