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 Cortright McMeel

Fullback Glory

I am a fullback. That's what I am since I got moved from tailback. Coach shouldn't have moved me, but I'm a goddamn silent, brooding draft animal when it comes to facing that political bullshit, disputing your case like a whining lawyer or something. No way, not me, I am a football player, a team player, so I shut up when Coach puts his hand on my shoulder and says,

"Buzz, we're putting you at fullback."

Fuck, I think. "Sure," I say.

Fullback sucks compared to tailback. I'm still technically a running back, but I'm not. You see, a fullback paves the way for the tailback and his glory. He charges in front of the tailback and torpedoes his battering-ram head into the first set of enemy knees that flash before him. That is what I am at fullback: a foot soldier, a grunt. Yeah, and I can forget about fame, too. I can forget about it so much that I remember every single run that I made as tailback frozen, framed, and gilded in gold inside my head. There was my first run against Belmont Hill High where I broke free around the left end and sprinted forty yards up the sideline, and that feeling charged within me as I ran; that feeling of cheetah speed shot through with the cheers of the crowd; loud and real and melted over with the sugared taste of Triumph. Then there was the short twenty-yard run where I shed three tackles and the old ref helped me off the ground, and smiled at me like a grandfather, saying,

"That's a good, hard bit of running, son."

And there were others, too.

I want to be tailback again so much that I have to kick at the dirt and suck up my pride, cuz it's gone; and I know how it is to be washed up and spent and flayed across a laundry line and let out to dry. God, I know what it is like to feel like that bum on the corner by the 7-Eleven, standing out there in his rags with about as much pride as a stray dog with fleas, telling me his sob story about how he once used to be a great pitcher, a right-hander, for the BoSox: "Red" Corbett. I look it up in my friend Sweendog's baseball card collection. He has the full team set of the Sox from 1936 to present. Old Red isn't lying, he struck out seventy-eight batters in 1958. He probably knew Lefty Grove. Wow.

I look at that bum, that old pitcher with a pint of gin hanging loosely, limply in his right hand and I think, that hand used to be a Major League hand that used to whip out a nasty slider and a mean curve. Can I believe it?

Larry Csonka is the only famous fullback that ever lived. He has those dark eyes that stare out from behind his helmet like black charcoal with a diamond glint right underneath. His eyes don't hate, they're like stone and quiet doom. He has a wide, flat, Dick Tracy nose bent in from being broken so many times.

During his time in the NFL, he blew cannonball power holes through every defensive line. At first Csonka was a blocking back, a real destroyer and leg-breaker. Then the coach let him run. He ran over people, big, fat pig linemen weighing a hundred pounds more than him. They saw him run and it was like a full moon and the werewolf: a fucking monster was born.

No speed-flares, around the end sweeps or pitches; the play they gave Larry was the fullback trap-right through central traffic, blowing over and slamming through the big boys. It was too bad for him, though, that they didn't let him run sooner in his career. It was too late for him to break any records.

The fullback trap is my play, too. It is the only time I get to feel the old ZAP-BAM-bash through-the-line, heart-in-your-throat feeling of running with the ball. I hunger for that play. When Coach Flaherty calls for it and I'm in the huddle with my hands on my thigh pads, waiting for the play to drone out of the QB's mouth, and I hear it, "Seven trap," I want to COME, I want to fuck a slab of meatloaf and let out a primal scream. Man, the seven trap, it is my sustenance.

Strategically speaking, it is a giveaway play, a straight-up-the-middle play meant for short yardage situations. It is a pummeling play, where I hurl myself into the great armored throng of the line, and if I get past the behemoth tackles, I must face the swift, tiger-cleated linebackers nervous and waiting for the big stick. Even if you're good, you don't escape the linebackers, you just pound into them as hard as you can and carry them with you, praying for that extra three-yard burst. Only the great one, Larry Csonka, ever broke away and ran free in the open field with cheers greeting his hard and deaf fullback ears. I wait for that day. It is my mantra: "One Run," the day where I break free and lumber into the open field like a plains buffalo: sacred, holy, and hunted to extinction.

Sure, I was a damn good tailback, but I got injured and that shamed me in the coach's eyes. He saw weakness in my heart, a lack of resolve and balls. So he made Eddie Fisk-brisk, quick, pretty-boy Fisk-the tailback. Eddie makes the plays, dancing ballet with his speed around the end. But the poor guy can't break tackles for shoveling shit and the whole team knows it. But the thing is, he's good, good enough anyways, and his dad is real close friends with the coach, Coach "Fluff" as we call him. I can imagine the whole scene of my dethronement right down to the last nasty whisper. Mr. Fisk wears a camel-hair coat and puffs out royal clouds of smoke from his calabash pipe. He is the CEO of a big company that eats little companies for breakfast. His job deals with the manipulation of other men, so when it comes to his old friend Fluff, it is hardly a contest. In my head it goes like this:

"Seems like the McBain kid is out," Mr. Fisk says. "Too bad, I'm sure." An afterthought.

"For a week anyway, A-C separation," says Fluff.

"Who's going to take his place?"

"Well," says Fluff.

"I thought that Eddie had a damned good showing at wingback last week."

"He did," says Fluff. "And I was actually thinking of starting Eddie against St. Paul's next week."

"Fine," says Mr. Fisk, smiling, making his lips hug the stem of his pipe.

Fucking conspirators, and I fall before their slick plans and power politics. I do one thing, though, I ask my dad about it, and he tells me that a football team is a lot like where he works:

"Middle-level management is where you're at, kid. You and your old man," he laughs. "You need that hook to make the big time."

But my dad is wrong, because I don't need a hook or a connection and I don't need to tongue anybody's bunghole, all I need is one run, a fucking fireball run, and that's all.

And Eddie Fisk, the president of the student body, the head of the Cultural Affairs Club, is born into the position of tailback. And Eddie has a face full of sunshine and a heart of gold and so much genuine good humor that it is my belief that he is one insidious motherfucker. He pretends we're buddies, him and his reliable blocking back; a couple of tough running backs. He clamps his hand on the back of my neck. It has a real "let's get naked and bond, my brother" type feel to it. His brother goes to Harvard, and I expect that is where he will go, being an honor student and such. And Eddie has a shit-load of diverse and important friends: real pals on the school newspaper, student government, and debate team.

But then there is Anna. She's Eddie's girl, his college girl; and she has this golden hair that falls about her body like the soft music from a waterfall, churning away, driving me deep into my imagination where she motions me to follow. She floats in a green and purple ocean, and I will drown for her sake. She looked at me once. I am in love with her.

But what am I compared to Eddie Fisk? I have one friend and he's not popular. Ache stands six-foot-three with a body that moves awkwardly like he's an iron pole or a wooden boy. He likes Ahab from Moby Dick. It's his favorite book. All his brothers were All-State football players when they came through here, but Ache, he's benched, man, permanently. His brothers got lots of girls, too. That is what I heard. Their genes sure didn't rub off on him; he's the fucking strikeout king: eighteen and never been kissed.

My girl is Mary, and she's kind of like Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun." I think this because of the line that goes, "if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head." Her hair may suck, but she puts this shampoo in it that smells like fresh apples. And her eyes, they seek me out in this quiet, curious way like the movement of a panther: wary and beautiful at once. We fool around in this secret spot under the stairwell in the science building. It smells like a sulfur experiment gone bad, but I don't mind it. We hug and kiss for a while and then if she starts to glow with dark shadows pulsing in her eyes, then a black passion comes over her, and she pulls at my pants. I am with her there in the dark, secluded and rapt in the cave under the stairs. I feel her touching me. I snarl into her ghost-white neck. I come.

Of course, it isn't so simple as all that. The way we are with each other becomes unstoppable. We're kissing and at each other everywhere: between the stacks in the library, behind the lunchroom by the steam vents, in the woods near school, and it would all be OK, too, except for one problem: I don't like to be seen with her in public. The reason I never bought a varsity jacket is because I know that she would want to wear it around school. "Buzz" would be written on the arm in golden thread. It's not that I don't love her, but more that I always pictured myself going out with a pretty girl, real pretty with reddish cheeks and pink-porcelain skin. Mary isn't so bad. She has the leading role in the senior play. Lots of people are going to watch her. I should be happy, but when people see me with her, I get ashamed. I feel them thinking, "God, you think Buzz could have done better than that."

As we walk to the lunchroom she hugs me and nestles herself under my arm, my protective wing. I want to stop her gently, and get down on my knees, and beg her to stop loving me, and let her know that she's killing me with all her love, that she's making me feel like a loser. But as she looks up at me with her thin-lipped smile, there's a part of me that feels like we're just right for each other. I need her. I pull her close, and say:

"Hey, Goose. You're cute."

I'm in the student center by my mailbox when Eddie comes up to me with his white polo sweater shining brighter than his smile.

"Hello, Buzz."

"Hey," I say, looking through my mail.

"You made the paper this week," he says. "Good going."

In last week's game I had a couple of key runs, where I shed some would-be vicious tackles to make the first down. All in all my yardage wasn't spectacular, half of Eddie's total yardage in that game, but the school newspaper's editor saw the game and wrote in the newspaper, "Buzz McBain showed real heart" and dubbed me "the offense's Forgotten Man." I liked the title, it was kind of like that British general, Kitchener, who called his suicide charge "the forlorn hope."

"I see you made the paper, too," I say. Eddie laughs, because my remark is sarcastic. He always makes the paper. He opens up his mailbox.

"Oh shit," he says. "Here are my SAT scores." He looks at me as he opens the letter.

"Did you get yours?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say and I walk away. I walk away because I don't want to hear him gloat, and go, "Aw shit, I only got ninety-fifth percentile." I don't want the bile that I hold for him to come up my throat and go shooting all over him like some scene in The Exorcist. My scores weren't all that bad. They were better than my grades anyway. Ache told me that shit doesn't matter.

"Fucking A," Ache says. "Kerouac got shitty board scores."

We talk about this in Ache's room which is in the attic of his house. It is a shrine, a holy temple where we take slugs of Golden Shield whiskey from half-full Dixie cups. The light that comes from behind the lampshade bathes the room in a piss-yellow haze. A little Okinawan statue of an old man sits on the beer-wet glass table. This statue grins at me from beneath its oaken, Oriental beard; a grin at once sinister and prophetic. It is holy. I almost broke it once when I got up to take a piss and Ache hit me across the back with his brother's hockey stick because that statue is so holy. The statue reminds us that we regard the same things as sacred, things other people ignore or laugh at. It cements our friendship, because it lets us know that we are wise and the rest are fools.

We drink and we drift, and an Irish flag hangs over us. We talk marathon talks of world war and great writers. We contemplate people we want to kill and imagine methods of how they must be tortured. We also have discussions about the girls we want to screw. When all this subsides, exhausted, we watch movies. We watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and we mouth the words. We also watch horror films where the dead rise out of their graves with green, glowing skin and descend upon half-naked teenage girls, desiring to eat their brains! Sometimes we watch Ache's only porn flick, La Boomba. We don't do this often, and when we do it is usually at my request. It is painful for Ache to sit through a porn flick, painful embarrassment at never having been with a girl. I watch his eyes riveted to the screen where two naked people writhe in a contorted lust as ugly and as vile as his own insecurity is to him. He watches them fucking and it terrifies him.

"What did your dad say when you showed him the paper?" Ache says.

"I didn't show it to him," I say. Ache picks up the statue of the Okinawan guy and examines it in his other world.

"Oh," he says absently. He feels the statue's hard, grinning face with a finger.

"What do you think of Maura O'Shea?" he asks.

"Cute, very cute. Really good tits."

"Yeah, well, man, I heard her talking about you the other day. She said that you reminded her of Steve McQueen."


"So, she wants you, man."

"She's going to the prom with that Jake guy," I say.

"The soccer player?"

"That's him."

"Sucks," says Ache. "That really sucks." Ache hates my girlfriend, Mary, and knows that she'll ruin the prom for us. I need a new girl, Ache tells me. But Ache wasn't going to down-talk Jake, because Jake was all right. The only people Ache hates, besides non-Catholics, are people with shitty taste in literature. I remember the day Eddie Fisk said that his girlfriend made him read Toni Morrison and that it "like" changed his life and "like" his perception of the world. But Eddie got an "A" on his American Lit. midterm and Ache and me came across a pair of twin B minuses, so who were we to refute Eddie's judgment of literature. I still recall the grim determined look on Ache's face. It was a cross between Ichabod Crane and Adolf Hitler. He saw my fellow B minus and said:

"Fuck it, man, Melville walks with us."

At least Ache and I sit there and hope that he would be on our side, because no one else is.

Eddie's parents had a New Year's party last year. Since I was the starting running back, Eddie invited me. I brought Ache along, even though he hadn't been officially asked. Eddie greeted us at the door and shook our hands. He politely asked Ache who had invited him.

"He came with me," I said.

"Fine," Eddie said. "The beer is in the kitchen."

We had been playing some drinking game with Sweendog and some others in Eddie's kitchen, keeping away from the main swing of the party. Everyone in the game made Ache drink whenever possible, because he was a real lightweight. Just when Ache started throwing up in a wastebasket, Mr. Fisk came in and asked if there was an "Ache" in the room. Ache wiped his mouth and spoke up.

"I don't think you were on our guest list," said Mr. Fisk. "You see this is my party. I hope you don't mind if I ask you to leave."

We left all right. We went out and bought some whiskey with my fake ID. We drank it, and then walked back to Eddie's house. I handed Ache the bottle, and he threw it through their bay window.

Eddie let everyone at school know who had thrown that bottle, but, funnily enough, he didn't mention my name. It was like he was giving me a chance to prove my innocence. One day he walked past me and Ache in the halls and we both got quiet and then started chuckling real low to ourselves. After that the word was out: "Buzz is a loser." I wish that I had thrown the whiskey myself, because then Eddie would have no choice; he would have to hate me. I could be sure then, sure that Melville walks with me.

The morning before the biggest game of my career, the most important game in the Milton Mustangs' history, the division championship, I wake up in my bed and realize that this is the day I have been waiting for.

I rifle down the stairs and can see a stack of Mom's pancakes already on the table. The kitchen smells like melted butter and hot maple syrup.

"Hey, it's old Number Thirty-Three, coming in for some chow," chimes my dad when he sees me. My brother has come home from college to see the game. He nods at me, his mouth full of pancakes. My mother throws three big ones on my plate.

"Eat these," she says. "For strength."

As I sit there, my brother stares a dulled stare into his empty plate, my old man reads the sports page, and my mother sweats over the stove, cleaning it and complaining that she does all the work around here. The table, the rustling sound of the sports page, my brother brooding; it starts to hypnotize me. I start to feel like a zombie, one of the living dead.

They're dying, all three of them. They're starving, because they have no hope. But I have hope. Today. Just today, "One Run." Maybe I can save them, those mediocre McBains and their pancaked, sports-paged, middle-leveled management existence. I'll take them for a comet-blasting, sound-barrier-busting, kick-ass touchdown run that will make them jump out of their seats and realize it's in the blood.

My dad whistles a broken tune to himself: an attempted "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Maybe I can't save them. Maybe they don't want me to. Even Csonka had to sit at a breakfast table, though. Did he eat his pancakes and clench his fist under the table? I do.

As I trudge up the stairs to my room I wonder if I was born into the position of fullback, inherited it from my parents' shoulders to my brother's to mine. My whole family has borne a kind of defeated weight on their backs; and it has broken them. My dad is a quiet man who loves sports, and he was broken very young. His father, my grandfather, drank all day. The only time my father ever brought home any friends was the first time. He was in the fourth grade, and his father was sitting by the fireplace when the boys came in. My father went to introduce his new friends and my grandfather stood up from his chair, eyes glazed over, and vomited splashing pools of vomit before the young boys. My aunt was in the room at the time, and she said that it wrecked my father for life.

My mother is different. She tasted glory at a young age. She was state champion in the butterfly and the backstroke, and college recruiters were drooling, wanting to sink their greedy coach teeth into the new prize girl. She married my dad, and the girl she beat in States wound up going to the Olympics.

"I've never regretted it," she always says.

She tells me that I am beautiful and handsome like her own father, my Grandpa Boo. He used to be an ambassador to France, but now he lies in a steel hospital bed and howls out phrases like "Sonuvabitch," and "Jesus H. Christ." He tried to kill himself once after his car accident, but my mother came in and turned off the gas jets to the stove. She mourns his beauty and his greatness every day of her life.

My brother Jerry is dark like my father. He used to wrestle at UMass, but quit when he joined the frat. His once muscular belly sags, soft and flabby from booze. But it isn't the booze that's killing him, it's the dope. He tells me that college is great. It's a fucking rage, he says. He is failing one course, my mother says when she see his grades.

"I failed one course in college, too," my father says. But Jerry's failure is complete, shot throughout his entire body like a viper's venom.

Jerry never really talked much, but wore his wrestling sweats around high school with a Spartan coolness. Jerry had an intense, laconic way of dealing with people. He dated the best-looking girl in his class and nobody could figure out why she liked him. He was mystery, like Zorro without the blade. Now he talks and brags how he does bong hits from noon to night, and his pupils are dilated, easy and soft in silly laughter. He tells me sports are for woodheads like myself.

"Once you get to college, man, it's pussy, not touchdowns," he says. He is currently screwing three different girls: Luna, Jill, and Sweetrack, the girl who likes to titty-fuck. He lies to them on the phone and tells them he loves them, every one. He smiles at me when I catch him in these lies. He winks at me as if to say, "This is the way it is done." I feel his loathsome pot-breath snake around my head, telling me that I'll be enlightened some day. Some day I'll understand and be the same watered-down, sick-souled person he is.

Not me. Not ever. Not the unwavering fullback, fatal Buzz McBain. But I waver. I think of the dreamy surge that cascades inside me, my heart in my stomach when I see her, Eddie's girl, Anna; her hair dappled with gold, as if shot through with sunlight, and her mouth a soft curve of velvet flesh. She comes to almost every game, and it is for her, and not Mary, that I long to exalt my play. But I cherish her in secret, and do not talk about her like I do the other girls. She watches Eddie and it is my craven desire that she but notice me, and say to Eddie after the game: "Who's that other runner? God, he runs well."

If that's all I want, I think, then I shouldn't be playing. I mean, how selfish and petty can a guy get?

The Thayer Tigers take pride in their defense. They have a real rep for mauling knees, taking them out of their sockets with nice spearhead tackles. Eddie tells me that it's the only team that can catch him around the end. It's DelRosario, their d-end; he scares Eddie.

My mother drops me off at the gym, and I see the Thayer team bus parked outside. The players mill about the bus with their duffels and shoulder pads at their feet on the wet pave. Their team color is orange like the autumn maple leaves that swirl about my feet. A breeze carries the leaves away, shooting them past me, and one leaf soars high off the ground.

I walk down the gray hall to the locker room. The sour smell of mildew coming from the sweat-oiled jerseys and rotting jockstraps gives me that old feeling of expected comfort, like a home. I open my locker and start getting dressed. Others are stripping and suiting up beside me. Zarsky, the massive center, sings the song "My Sharona," hitting his helmet to the beat. Linebacker Ray Gallagher with his jowled, bulldog face drones on, "Kill the rabbit, kill the rabbit." Most are quiet and waiting with dread. They wait for Fluff to come in and give us the speech about how This Is IT, all the marbles, this day is history, the end of history. As he speaks, I feel my leg pads and pray to my legs; I pray for them to become unstoppable steamroller, piston-mad legs that will win me glory, that casket of gleaming golden vanity. I start to pray to Larry Csonka, but stop, because Fluff is talking about how we're going to have a passing strategy today. It's his opinion that Thayer can shut down almost any running game.

"Assault by air!" Fluff yells. The team screams itself into a fury. My heart sinks. Eddie looks over at me and shakes his head with a grin, a satisfied grin. Eddie's happy, he's had his share.

We march outside, down the steps and onto the field. Our navy blue uniforms make the grass around us seem dark and the sky seem pale. The stands shift and thrum with the motley colors and anxious murmurs of the spectators. Over the loudspeaker it says over seven hundred fans are out on this fine Thanksgiving day. Fallen leaves fly madly about the field, and I see Anna dressed in a tweed jacket and a white turtleneck. It looks like she's staring at me, so I take off my helmet cool with pride. She turns her head away, nonchalant and in profile. My family is there, too. I can feel my father pointing to me, and my mother worried that the Thanksgiving turkey might burn to a crisp in the oven, because she's afraid she left it on.

Our men are lined up for the kickoff. The drumroll from the band sparks up, and a cheer erupts from the stands. Glory is out there on the field, waiting for me like a mermaid hidden in the crashing green waves. Give me a shot, Fluff. I, Buzz McBain, fatal fullback, request as much.

Fluff hesitates, adjusts his glasses, and smooths strands of hair across his head. Mike Mignosa, Thayer's running back, is a hard-nosed, tough little Italian speedster. On Thayer's first possession he blazes right around our outside linebackers and scores on a pitch play. His run leaves Gallagher's face soiled with a dirt stain from his missed tackle. The other players on our bench wince, and their faces turn cold, seeming gloomy and daunted.

Now it's our turn, big O, badass Milton offense with Dwain Rodgers, the QB, at the helm. Fluff feeds Dwain plays from the sidelines, frantic and rushed. Dwain throws two incomplete passes, one of them a near-interception. Dwain's pissed and trembling. He's feeling the pressure of the Thayer d-end, DelRosario, a giant with long, condor-like arms. Fluff calls a running play, an around-the-end sweep to Eddie. If I want Fluff to give me the ball, I'm going to have to block well now; show him it's worth running the ball against these jokers.

"Hut, red, ninety-four, hut, hut!"

The ball is snapped and handed off to Eddie. He's right on my flank as I charge around the end. DelRosario and his arms like great claws shed our tight end and close in toward Eddie, but I hurl myself through the air, all of my force driving me at his exposed legs, executing a fatal chop-block. At the last second the giant lifts his rushing legs and hurdles me. He regains his footing and descends on Eddie like a train coming out of a tunnel. WHAM!

I get called to the sidelines.

"Watch the chop-blocks. Just pop the kid. Nothing fancy. Just do your job," says Fluff, red in the face. No plays for me. That's it. I know it now to be true, as Fluff says:

"You're a blocking back, now block."

I go back into the huddle, my ears stinging with shame.

During the next set of downs, I block for Eddie, but he has been shaken up by DelRosario and can't summon his dancing moves up to make the big breakaway run. So Fluff goes to Dwain with the air attack. Dwain is solid and right-on, but can't seem to throw inside our own twenty. So we have to settle for a field goal. But after halftime our defense hangs tough, and going into the last quarter it's seven to three them; but it's our possession.

We start a long, slow drive up the field with a bunch of quarterback sneaks and short runs by Eddie. Fluff has called for another sweep. Eddie's face is flushed, and his legs are the color of a bruise. Time is ticking and we need a touchdown. So that's when I say it, fierce, angry, hungry, but almost pleading.

"Give it to me. Seven trap. C'mon," I say vengefully. Everyone is shocked. They dig it. I hear Sweendog's grunt,

"Give it to Buzz!"

But it's too late. Fluff senses our hesitation and calls for a time-out. Dwain marches off the field and confers with Fluff. Dwain doesn't say a word, he doesn't rat me out.

Dwain returns to the huddle and smiles a wolfish smile. He points a long, bony finger at me. Hands of a lizard, I think.

"You're the man, Buzz. Seven trap it is. Fluff called it."

My whole life passes judgment on me right here; gold or fool's gold. A test. A run. A seven trap. "Hut" is called and I burn forward, grabbing the handoff from Dwain, and Fate rests with me. I break through the line, but an eager linebacker rushes at me, helmet glinting orange-fire in the sun. My helmet collides into his, head-on. The orange from his helmet is now a desire that burns within me. The impact snaps his neck back, and his helmet is jarred into his head like a pile driver. I spin off the collision and high-step it into open field. I am free beneath the cheering autumn sky. I am no longer a foot soldier. I am Thor's hammer hurled. I am an arrow from the bow of Hercules. My cleats dig into the ground, shedding turf, and I thunder forward with abandon. A madness rushes through my loins. It is my blood, pumping hard and fast; a brutal orgasm. The dream is happening, but Thayer's safety, Eric Stollizio, has winged feet too, and he catches me after fifty yards, grabbing at my back and pulling me down five yards from the end zone. But the hailing cries from my team and the stands greet me, and I know we are going to score, and an ugly lion pride wells up within me. I want to call Stollizio a dirty, guinea bastard and curse him for denying me my touchdown. Instead, I smack the side of his helmet as I get up. Fluff denies me that extra touch of greatness a play later and gives Eddie the ball. Eddie waltzes into the end zone: touchdown. But it doesn't matter. I look to the stands and I see my father with his hands waving crazily above his head, fists clenched. My mother is between the McBain men, and my brother has forgotten himself. He is hugging her. I see Mary, too. She is hiding at the edge of the crowd surrounded by people she does not know. I know she is looking for me by my number, thirty-three. She spots it and holds up her small hand and curls her fingers together twice; a coy wave. I nod back at her.

We're winning ten to seven with fifteen seconds on the clock. Fluff sends me out on the kickoff team. People have already started to leave. The day is ours. Fifteen more seconds and we are the division champions. I can feel the glow, the Victory glow, getting ready to smile for the crowds and congratulate all my teammates, even Ache.

Our kicker boots the ball way downfield, and I go speeding after it. I am not thinking about the ball. I am thinking about the warm feeling of winning the game. Mike Mignosa catches it and sprints right at me. He jukes me with a quick move and I make a clumsy dive at him. He passes by me, and his cleats throw up dirt as I hit the ground. I look at my hands. They seem empty, and I feel the nightmare coming on. Mignosa is the bad dream. I feel my teammates missing their tackles. I hear Mignosa pounding the turf, but he's far too real and in my mind he has already become something vicious, like a poison thorn that has been stepped on. My teammates are thinking of something very far away from little Mike Mignosa. Their faces wince as he zigzags through them. I am still on the ground and I see the whole Thayer bench jump into the air. Their coach throws his hat above him. A great Shame punches into my stomach. I feel as if the wind is knocked out of me. There is dirt in my mouth guard and it tastes bitter and dry. I think he scored. My team and coach sink into a vacuum of silence and shock. I know he scored.

As I stand, I can feel the whole world turning from me, and I know my great run shall go unremembered, unheralded. It is now already a forgotten run, an invisible, ghost run made by the shadow of the offense, the "forgotten man."

Agony greets me as I enter the locker room. The screams and tears of my teammates echo in my helmet, which I have not taken off. Fluff comes to each row of lockers and says how it's a damn shame. But he is even sadder, because he should have made that last kickoff an on-sides kick, and now he knows that his job is gone. Gallagher, the captain, cries in Dwain's arms. Dwain sobs, and snot pours from his nose. All the big, fat, tough-as-nails linemen are crying, huddled near each other. Sweendog cries and shouts as he slams his helmet against his locker time and time again. Everyone stands away from him, in respect. Fluff eventually comes up and puts his hand on Sweendog's shoulder. Sweendog lowers his helmet and covers his red face. Crazy, twisted Billy O, the wingback, sits at the end of my row on the bench and pulls at his hair. He lets out a high-pitched whine like the howl of a coyote. A clump of his hair rests on the ground beside one of his cleats.

The subs, like Ache and skinny Holt McGee, don't cry. They are the first to hit the showers like it's just another day. They have no stake in it all. I mean nothing could have helped Ache. Win, or no win, no girl ever comes to him. After the game, he'll still be up there in his attic alone, and the last thing in the world he will want to think about is football. And Larry Csonka, that god of grit and buffalo wisdom, can bestow upon me the sneer of his unfulfilled passion, short of glory, and beyond it.

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