My breath puffs out in front of me. I jump from foot to foot, trying to gain blood flow back to my frozen limbs. It’s the last game this year, but it’s also the first time in almost ten years that Traip’s football team has made it to the playoffs. Despite being well aware that we will not be taking home a win, we are overjoyed that we get to play once more against our rivals, Old Orchard Beach. The Rangers, lovingly called the Boats, against the Seagulls, not so lovingly called Bird Shit.
I stand on the sidelines of this Friday night game cheering on the seniors. I’m dressed in white like everyone else, with a bold blue 63 emblazoned on my jersey. All of us second-stringers are screaming encouragements with every play. We bought into the same belief that if we distract ourselves enough we will no longer feel the bone chilling cold that has had us trembling since first quarter.
We huddle around our coach, a little mob of high schoolers bouncing up and down in hopes of being able to play. Whenever he yells a name one of us runs to him like a puppy, frothing in anticipation at being able to finally play.
When he calls out my name I feel like passing out from pure joy. I raced up to him, shoving my mouth guard in my mouth before gurgling out something that could pass as ‘yes coach.’
“Take out Collin next play,” he half shouts as he pats me firmly on the back.
The moment the whistle is blown I’m racing on screaming Collin’s name. As we pass I reach out my hand to give the customary tagging out high five.
My heart races as I get into the defending huddle. Slant is called, and as we break I move to my place as defensive end. I wait for OOB’s offensive huddle to break before lining up off of their most exterior linemen.
As their center leans forward and puts his hand on the ball, I look to the boy in front of me. He is tall and wide, probably over 200 pounds. I think to my last weigh-in. The scale had read 130 in blinking red lights. I was divided between joy at losing 15 pounds and fear of how much easier it would be for others to lay me out.
The QB does a quick count, “Se’go!” And I jump into motion. I cut at a forty-five degree angle to the outside. Just as my opponent takes their first step, I am at their shoulder, pulling a maneuver my coach lovingly calls, ‘how not to do a club and swim.’ Instead of using my inner forearm to hit my opponent’s shoulder pads as I have been told to do for the past for years, I grab his pad with my right hand and push them up with my left arm. It’s a maneuver that has been done plenty of times to myself so I know rather intimately how it feels to be completely helpless as someone pushes you aside using the very thing meant to keep you safe.
As I push him, he loses his footing and goes tumbling forward. My speed and ruthlessness caught him off guard. Once he starts his tip forwards I race into the backfield. Their QB is trying to gain firm possession of the ball. He juggles it from hand to hand as it threatens to bounce out of his reach.
I raced towards him ten yards becoming eight, becoming six, and just as I could reach him for a sack, the ball bounces out of his hands. Everything seems to slow down as that beautiful brown ball arched through the air. I’m caught mid stride, on a collision course with the now ball less QB.
“Shi- '' he begins to say, his eyes locked on the ball. He is interrupted by me not only running into him, but also utilizing him as a way to redirect my trajectory. Bouncing off of him, the wind is knocked out of my lungs. I gained footing for two tumbling gazelle strides. I reach my arms out, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I can touch the ball. As my hands come together I feel a sensation that all linemen hope to one day experience: the feeling of another team’s ball.
My hands clamp roughly around that glorious ball and I pull it towards me like I’ve been taught for so many years. Before I’ve completely hit the ground I have tucked that ball between both my arms and have already started to form a fetus position.
The seconds seem to hang as I’m caught in the air. My lungs gasp for air and I anticipate the sharp impact that undoubtedly awaits me. My eyes are squeezed tight, relishing the victory that awaits me in less than a second.
Just as my legs curl up to fully protect the ball, I feel the impact of shoulder pads against my own. My eyes ring as my eyes flutter open in shock. An oof is ripped out of me as I curl tighter around the ball. My back hits the ground just as I see no less than five but jerseys fall on top of me.
Dogpiles are terrifying. The refs can’t see what’s really happening so they are the only time complete savagery occurs. When on the bottom of a dogpile, all you can do is hold onto the ball and pray that you don’t get hurt.
So that’s what I did. I held onto that ball as hands ripped at my arms and as feet kicked me. My ears ring as my head is bashed against the ground whenever weight shifts above me. I feel nails digging into my arms and legs as they ruthlessly attempt to gain possession of the ball.
I never hear the whistle blow, but eventually, people start to get off, and soon I am laying down all by myself. As the ref asks me for the ball I finally let go of my death grip and hand it over.
I slowly get up and stagger to my feet.
“Mary! Mary” Collin yells as he races onto the field.
I start to run off but am stopped when a teammate forces a helmet into my hand. Dazed, I take it and continue off the field.
Once I reach the sidelines, I’m led to a bench, given a bottle of water, and no less than ten pats on the back.
As the adrenaline starts to wear off I realize that I’m holding my helmet. Later, I’ll hear stories of how it flew out of the pile and how everyone on the opposing side was shocked to see my long brown hair and very un-boyish face. Later, I’ll hear of my teammates’ proud shouts of a girl wrecking the best team in our division.
But for now, I wear the biggest smile. Not because I proved anyone wrong, but simply because I was allowed another play, and because I did something amazing. Every play I have is a miracle, another chance to do something amazing while playing the game I love.