He grimaces as he plants his fingers into the ground and mud oozes over his purpled knuckles. Out of the three point stance he listens for the third “hut” and bounds towards the football, held by his teammate. Two larger boys in uniforms of a different color than his, meet him violently. He thuds into the ground. Hurt surges over his band and shoulders. A timeout is called.
He refuses to take a knee like his teammates because getting up would be too painful. Someone hands him a waterbottle. He pours warm liquid in his mouth and spits it aout, along with blood from his cut lips. He glances at the blue and black bruises on his arms. Someone next to him speaks.
“This is it. The last play of our football lives. Thank God it’s over.”
He smirks at the mixture of sentiment and sarcasm, then assumes the position. His hand in the ground, eyes straight ahead, the hut sounds and he takes a pitched football a few feet from his teammate. He sees the stadium lights dance between players and runs toward it with reckless abandon. An opponent hits him in his left thigh with their helmet. He cringes but stays upright. Everything begins to move in slow motion as jerseys blur, body parts merge, and he’s hit again. He falls to the grass in a heap of hurt.
It’s over. His vision is dazed by pain. He sees the scoreboard clock tick to zero. His team lost 14-7. No one helps him up. He rolls to his right side and slowly rises.
Cold November air chills the warm sweat streaking his face. Blood trickles from a wound below his right bicep and collects inside his elbow. The roar of thousands of small town high school football fans is muffled by the stark reality that he would never do this again. He went through the motions of shaking hands with his celebrating opponents. Deliberately, he walks off the field, and heads up the field house corridor. He turns around, takes off his helmet and looks over everything he’s leaving. In a perverse sense of relief and wonder, he accepts he’s a football player, no longer.
This is a fictionalized version of my last night playing high school football in 1987. It is part of the writing assignment from Write On Edge’s Red Writing Hood: 400 words or less where athleticism features prominently.
Today’s song was one of my favorites in November 1987. I had a thing for the group Gene Love Jezebel in the late 80s. This song leapt to mind when I saw the Write On Edge prompt. Here’s Twenty Killer Hurts.