As I approached the first huddle at the onset of the second half, some heckler from the Dorchester stands shouted out a fairly lewd comment about my “mama,” and hundreds of people laughed. I clenched my jaw and my hands curled into fists. Little did this guy know the pain I was about to unleash on his team. In the next two quarters—one if I had my way—he and all his friends were going to watch Dorchester’s lead evaporate. It was time for me to earn back a little bit of dignity here.
“All right guys! Huddle up!” I shouted.
We came together on the fifteen yard line, and I looked around at the faces of my teammates and friends. Their energy and desperation were palpable. All they needed was for me to be the leader I had always been for them, but I could tell that just then, some of them doubted that I could still do that. I swallowed hard, knowing that nothing could negate what I had done in the first half. But at the very least, I could try to make it up to them.
“Listen up, you guys, I know the first half sucked . . . well I sucked. I made innumerable mistakes, but I’m putting that all behind me now, and you guys need to do the same,” I said firmly. “These guys are not that formidable. We can take them.”
My confidence was contagious. I felt the adrenaline starting to course through the air as they murmured their assent.
“Yeah!” they all cheered through their teeth.
“Okay, I say we get out there and take it right to them,” I said. “Let’s go for the end zone right now, on the first play.”
A few of the guys clearly loved this idea, but Daryl’s brows came together beneath his helmet.
“Is that the play Coach called?” he asked.
Valid question, considering I had been warned, quite sternly, not to counteract Coach’s orders. Everyone looked at me quizzically, and I knew that it was time to take charge of this team again. I had to be intransigent in my beliefs and in my game play, or they weren’t going to trust me. If my team couldn’t trust me, their quarterback, that would be our ultimate downfall.
“No, it’s not,” I said flatly. “But out here, I’m in charge, right?”
“Right!” they all chorused.
“Right,” Daryl said again, nodding.
“Good. We’re going with four wide receivers. D, you’re my number-one man, but if you can’t get open, I’m going with you, Kyle,” I said. “Curtis, I need you on Trung, too. Double-team that bastard, okay?”
“You got it, Mikey,” Curtis said.
“Good. You guys hold the line, and I’ll put it in the end zone,” I said. “Now let’s do this.”
The ref blew the whistle, and we broke from the huddle. I was about to change the course of this game from one that would go down in infamy to one that the Hillside fans would take pride in forever. My confidence and determination were intemperate. I was going to demean these Dorchester suckers, the way I had allowed them to do to me in the first half. Maybe even worse.
“What are you doing? Riley! What the hell are you doing?!” Coach screamed, mystified by our four–wide-out formation. He had, after all, called a conservative run play. Meanwhile, the Dorchester defense was scrambling, trying to figure out how to cover a formation they had never seen from us before.
“Cover that guy! Cover him!” I heard one of the linemen shout.
I grinned. This was going to be too easy.
“Hike!” I shouted.
Everyone ran. The linemen clashed and our front four demolished their guys, giving me plenty of time.
“Riley! Riley! Throw the damn ball!” Coach shouted in desperation.
Not yet, coach, I thought, hearing nothing but my own breath, the grunts of the offensive line, my heart pounding in my ears.
Daryl was covered deep by the cornerback. The guy was all over him. My gaze shifted left, and I saw Kyle shake his defender with a sick stutter step. The guy hit the dirt and Kyle raised his arm. I pulled back, held my breath, and let the ball fly. There was a collective gasp in the stands as the ball soared through the air. Time stood still. Everyone turned to watch, and just like that the ball landed perfectly in Kyle’s outstretched arms, right on the twenty-yard line.
Our stands exploded with uninhibited merriment.
“Go!” I shouted. “Go!”
Kyle took off, firing on all engines for the end zone.
“He’s at the ten! The five! The one! Touchdown, Cardinals!” the announcer cried into his microphone.
I thrust my arms into the air in ecstasy as the screams of the reveling crowd surrounded me. Touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. That would show these guys who they were dealing with. I glanced at the clock as the team ran back to crowd me. Only fifteen seconds had ticked off, and we had cut their lead in half. Fairly efficient play, if you asked me.
I saw Kyle running toward me and I hugged him, lifting him off the ground. The crowd went berserk.
“We’re gonna crush these guys!” I shouted.
“Yeah, baby!” Kyle shouted back.
And with that we jogged off the field toward our coach who, for all his lectures about obeying his orders, was grinning like he’d just won the Super Bowl.