Football was my passion, perhaps the greatest passion of all. But alas, all passions come to an end at some point, don’t they? I hung up my cleats after my life almost came to an end, a tragic experience ending my thoughts of going pro. And I never looked back on it. But, when the chance arises, you have to take it….right?
I sat on the bleachers, Carolina blue and white hat on, and the number 87 painted in navy ink on my face. That used to be my number…but now it belonged to Grady, my best friend, and the new star quarterback. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved cheering for Grady throughout all of his games, but it got tiring being the one left in the dimmed lights while he lit up in the spotlight. That was me… some time ago, but as I said, I never looked back. How could I?
It was the season’s biggest game and I was the quarterback, lucky number 87. All we needed was one more touchdown for that glorious championship trophy. Everyone was set, I wiped my hands clean of sweat on my jersey and hunched down into position. Looking down, I prepared myself for this big, perhaps the biggest moment in my career. Then came the snap. I felt the rough skin on the football settle in my hands. But, looking around nobody was visible through the blinding lights. Grady? No…his flank was covered. James? No…he wasn’t even turned in my direction. Cameron? No… he was struggling to get past the defense. And just like that, the thoughts ended, blank, zero, nothing. The breath flew out of my mouth as I crashed to the ground, helmet unclipping, my head vigorously knocking the back of the ground, and my teammates yelling as they rushed to my side. That’s all that happened, or at least all I could remember. Bits and pieces came to me as I was rushed to the hospital. Lights whizzed by, and my mother yelled for me to hold on.
Waking up in the hospital was a blur. The blaring lights, my brother and sister sound asleep in a chair resting in the corner of the room. My father, leaning on the door, looking into the hall, clearly impatient. And my mother, obviously drained, sitting next to me holding my hand.
“Mom….what happened?” She jolted upright, and at that moment I saw the brightest smile I think I ever saw in my life.
“Goodness gracious Thomas, thank the lord you’re alright.” She and my father squeezed me tight, embracing the moment, before going to get the nurse. A few check-ups later and I was good to go the next morning. That’s when I decided to hang up my cleats. I couldn’t look back, I couldn’t bear to make my mother and father worry again. I couldn’t bear facing that fear of what could happen when I pushed my luck too far. What would happen if I dove in too deep? Who would be there to save me?
This was that same game. The same championship, the same team, and the same glorious trophy shining bright on the table between the benches. The crowd was cheering so loud, and the cheerleaders turned toward the game. This was it, one more touchdown and the championship was theirs, it felt so close and yet so far.
The snap came quickly, almost too quickly. It looked good for a moment until I watched as Grady turned and fumbled, chasing after the ball that went too high over his head. The sack came all too quickly, and all that was heard was the piercing scream of a player. Once the dog pile fell apart, all that was left was Grady laying in the midst, holding tightly onto his ankle.
In an instant I was up and on the field, kneeling next to him.
“What happened? Are you alright?”
“I don’t know, it’s my ankle. I don’t think I can play Thomas.” The coaches ran over, and sure enough, he had sprained it. Coach Smith frantically looked around, looking for a possibility of redemption. Someone that could help, maybe even someone to bring them to victory. Suddenly, his eyes looped around and settled on my pale and sweaty face.
“Thomas, you can play. Without someone to fill in, that championship is as good as gone.”
“No…Coach Smith, I can’t play.” I scratched my head, thinking of some excuse so I wouldn’t have to face this unbearable decision. Thoughts raced through my mind. How could I play? How could I put on that same number, the same one that crushed me before? I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t do it. Then, Grady looked up at me from the turf.
“Thomas…we need you. Please, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me.” All it took was one heart-wrenching sentence to take my cleats off the rack and put them on one last time.
Grady was hurriedly rushed off the field and my mind finally settled on what I was about to do. The team took a timeout and I quickly geared up. It felt strange having the uniform back on, the sleek cut on the sides, the navy blue lettering, and the familiar stench of freshly cut grass lingering off the suit. Getting out on that field was a challenge, so many things felt out of place, especially me. What if I got hurt again? What if the same thing happened?
Everyone got into position, I dug my cleats into the ground and took one last deep breath. Just like before, I looked down and prepared myself for what was about to happen. Then came that final snap. I felt the grips of the skin on the ball dig into my hands as I firmly grasped it, the smooth stitching, smelling the cold fall air running up my nose. And man….that felt good, it felt right, it felt like I was home.