Less than a minute on the clock, time running, down by 6 and the ball’s on the other team’s 35. My son the halfback comes out of the huddle and lines up at tight end. The tight end lines up at halfback. I whisper excitedly to my wife, “James is lined up as a receiver!” I’ve seen it in practice, so I’m excited.
The ball is snapped to the quarterback, who’s filling in for our injured starter. The offensive line collapses almost immediately under the pressure of a defense that heavily outweighs it, and has had several more weeks of practice. (Our team only got started two weeks ago.)
The quarterback pitches to the stand-in halfback, who’s rolling right as hard as he can to get away from the sea of maroon that is the Redskins Defense.
My son has ditched his coverage with a fake that left the defender’s jock strap lying in the grass. The ball is launched high, to clear the wall of pain that is about to descend on the halfback. In my line of sight, the ball sails in front of the lights that illuminate the field. It comes down behind a sprinting James, who stretches a long arm and tips, corals, bobbles, and finally pulls in the ball at a dead run on a corner fly.
Hot pursuit to the goal line, James’ wheels turning like a bootlegger running from the smokies. Three defenders block our view as they head directly away from us to the far corner. His blue striped helmet pops into view once, as he jukes hard once and loses one.
He beats the other two in the footrace and scores.
Amongst the screaming, I hear my daughter’s voice. “That’s my little brother!” she’s yelling. I’m on my ass cheering as best I can (in excruciating pain) because my legs gave out. (It’s not been a good week for me, after having tried to stand in for a defense at practice last week – the kids need me so I do stupid things like try to pretend I’m a defensive lineman with a few of the other dads. My heart goes out to them, they can’t even practice against a defense with that few kids. Big heart – small brain – broken body. Not good.)
Unfortunately, that was just the end of the first half. The second half showed some of the weaknesses of a team with only two weeks’ practice, and we lost 27 – 6.
I was proud of the Panthers, though. They fought their guts out to the final whistle, not once showing even the slightest tendency to quit. They battled the fatigue, field lights that randomly went out, lack of practice, and a Redskins team that had a deeper bench. The Panthers had 14 kids dressed, and with 11 on the field that doesn’t give anybody much of a rest. Their starting quarterback injured his back playing a game the other night for the middle school squad. They’re smaller by far than the other teams in the league, have little practice equipment, a brand new coach that stepped in late because the coach who was supposed to return decided not to and one could not be found immediately and the league didn’t really seem to give that any type of priority.
But they fought hard, and they were not shut out.
James’ best friend is the Redskins’ quarterback. James had a bet with his friend’s dad that he would sack his buddy at least once (James plays defensive end, as well). He’ll be collecting on that bet today, by the way.
He hadn’t played organized football for five years. When he wanted to play this year, we thought it would be good for him to work out some of his energy, and motivate him to keep up with his homework. With a team that small in number, he knows they can’t afford to lose anyone. I think we were right on both counts. Not a peep of problems thus far, and he’s loving it. He’d sleep in his pads if we let him.
The suckiest part is that we forgot to take the camera and the camcorder. All I’ve got are camera phone pics.
My son plays ball for the Jacksonville Onslow Football League Panthers. They’ve got serious heart, and I am proud of them all.