The whistle blew. The referee stepped out and faced the crowd.
Unnecessary roughness on number 32 of the defence. Helmet-to-helmet tackle. A 10-yard penalty will be assessed.
I heard coach Martz screaming at me from the sidelines.
What the hell are you doing!? They’re inside our red zone now! Ref, time out!
The whistle blew again. Both teams withdrew to their sidelines. I got up sluggishly and began trudging towards our sideline. Still dazed from the last hit, my vision wasn’t exactly 20/20. I saw two big white numbers. 5-4…I knew what was coming next. Marquez smacked me at the back of the helmet and grabbed me by the facemask.
Good fucking hit, you idiot. We had them stopped on third down at our 30 then you go and head hunt for no good reason. Now they’re in better kicking range, dumbass. Get it together!
I always hated it when he grabbed me by the mask. You’re absolutely at the mercy of the aggressor when they have your head in their hands, so to speak. He threw me in the direction of the sideline and we stood in the huddle. I took my helmet off so as to get some air. The water boy tossed me my bottle. I hated the message that was etched into it, but it always caught me by surprise every time. I read it over quickly and sprayed water into my mouth and all over my head. I was barely listening to the game plan at that point. I was fixated on the stands. There were so many people at the game, it was kind of overwhelming to me. But coach was irate. You couldn’t ignore him when he was like that. I’d seen him pissed off before, but we were playing the worst team in the conference. It was the fourth quarter and we were down by 14. The game clock only showed six minutes.
We’re running a goal line formation here. I don’t care what any of you have to say. It’s 4th down inside our red zone. Thanks to half pint over there, we have no choice but to expect them to try and kick a three in. If they’re gonna be assholes, they might even try to score a six on us. Run the goal line formation, but safeties, I want you guys to dip and rotate into a cover-2 backfield, you got it? de Vega, that means YOU! You wanna fight their receiver after the game? Be my guest. Fight him when we’re in their red zone. Do NOT fight him now. Marquez, keep your linebackers and d-backs in check. You guys are a mess against the run this afternoon. Get out there.
Marquez brought the defence together.
You guys heard coach. If we fuck this one up, expect all of us to be transferred to special teams. I don’t know about you guys, but I sure as hell do not want to be one of those guys. Let’s get this done and put the first team on the field. On three, Majors. One, two, three, MAJORS.
I was about to put my helmet back on when coach slapped my right shoulder pad. I looked back.
Not you. You’re staying here. Wilson’s gonna fill in for you.
Coach, come on! Wilson hasn’t played all ye-
Hey, I know you’re pissed off. I know the beef you’ve got with that Jay kid. But that’s between you and him. I’m keeping you here until this series is over. What’s inside your helmet right now? You aren’t thinking out there. You’re just running like a wildman. Blown assignments, missed tackles. You really think I’m putting you out there on this drive?
Now I was angry. This is bullshit. I know that I wasn’t one of the best safeties on the team, but I sure as hell wanted to nail one of their receivers. I had waited all year long for this game to come. We were expected to beat their sorry team into the ground. Yet, here we were, down 14 to nothing against the Warriors at our own stadium. I sucked it up and walked towards the sideline.
My weakness becomes my weapon, pain and pleasure.
I watched Marquez calling out the sets and formations. Just as coach had asked, they lined up in the goal line formation. It was crafty, I have to say. Their quarterback recognized it and immediately called a time out.
Coach was smart. He didn’t show a sign of emotion whatsoever. He had them exactly where he wanted them. Our secondary stayed on the field and well, I was still on the sideline. My eyes scanned the crowd again. I saw a sign.
#32 = Turbo Bitch
I guess that came with the territory. When your team nicknames you, they almost always give you the most offensive and weirdest nickname. My most prominent one isn’t exactly race-friendly, if you know what I mean. But for the sake of telling you this story, my nicknames are Half Pint, Headhunter and Turbo. I know, they all sound like American Gladiator names. Anyway, the Warriors put their field goal unit onto the field. That worried me a little. I went towards coach Deschappelle, our defensive co-ordinator, and voiced my concern.
Coach, you have to tell coach Martz that they might actually kick it. Adams has never attempted a pass in his career. Why would he attempt a sixer now?
He brushed me off. I grew more and more anxious. They placed the ball on the 20 as their kicker took two steps to the left. I ran over to coach Martz.
They’re gonna kick it coach, I’m telling you. Tell Marquez to stay in goal line formation!
But the play clock was winding down. The game clock still read six minutes, but their play clock was now at four seconds. I watched as the top kicker in our conference began to run towards the ball…
Of course, I was wrong. Adams made a quick dash to the left post. Their placeholder stood up with the ball and cocked his right arm back.
You see Half Pint, the kicker becomes the receiver. Not the quarterback. The placeholder becomes the quarterback.
Coach chuckled and slapped my back pad. He thought it was a riot that I thought that Adams was going to throw the ball. I’d never seen their placeholder before…he was obviously from their special teams. He threw the ball. Luckily, coach was right with his call to rotate into cover-2. Wilson caught the interception while one of our corners covered Adams. Wilson ran it up to the 40-line. Another time out was called.
Good play boys, good play! That’s how we do it. Now, we’ve got five minutes and 20 seconds left in the game. First team, we’re rushing it. Joseph, you’re lining up as a fullback during this series.
Brandon Joseph was one of our running backs. Now, he was confused as hell. He was about to say something until coach chimed in.
de Vega, you’re lining up at halfback. Get in there.
Now I knew why coach sat me on the last defensive drive. See, it’s common in amateur football for a few players to play on both sides of the ball. I was one of the more versatile players, but I preferred to hit people rather than be responsible for the advancement of the ball. Still, I knew how to hit holes and tear some open. John Paul Villa saw a lot of time as a slot receiver, but he was also fast enough to play cornerback and was smart enough to play some safety. Depending on who the opposing team put on the field, his coaches would play him accordingly. This never truly sat well with either one of us.
The first team took the field and I stepped out there with them. Five minutes and twenty seconds. I looked up into the stands again. I saw nothing new.
Set. Blue forty-four! Hut!
Before I had even realized it, Marshall, our quarterback, had handed me the ball. I was on the ground in seconds. It took me a while to get up. Looks like Brandon wasn’t happy that I was lined up in his spot. He decided not to protect me that time. Coach pulled him off of the field and sent Aaron Tate in. I searched the crowd one more time and caught view of a blue beret. I put my head down and my fists were clenched. Not in an angry way though, but more of a victorious way. I had seemingly caught my second wind.
Set. One. One. Hut!
The hand-off came to me. Tate cleared a nice path toward the right for me. Off I went.
32 cuts back and dodges the edge rushers…he’s moving forward with the ball. That is a huge hole. As a coach, you never wanna see that kind of terrible work by your defensive line…
I had crossed mid-field and made it into the Warriors’ side of the field. I looked straight ahead and saw nothing but green grass, a pair of yellow goalposts and field location markers.
Touchdown #3, here I come.
But when I turned my head to the left, I saw him. J.P. Villa. I knew what was coming next.
“de Vega is running hard and he passes the 30…Villa is coming down from his rotation… WHOA! That’s a nasty hit! Both players are down!”
I don’t recall much of what happened next. I was more or less out cold. When I watch the game film of that moment, it’s really rather funny. I had garnered a bad reputation for being a “headhunter”. I’m shorter than most athletes. I stand at 5 feet and 7 inches at best. I do have a low centre of gravity, but when I tackle bigger players, I launch myself upwards. The only way to topple somebody larger than you is to take out their legs or mess with their balance by shooting toward their chest and shoulders. Since most guys would try to duck my tackles or dip their shoulder when anticipating contact, it often looked like I was just going for a helmet-to-helmet hit. Problems of a short football player.
I was carted off of the field, not knowing what had happened. I didn’t know if I allowed my rage to take over or if it was just adrenaline. All I knew was that I felt like shit.
The doctors performed simple tests on me, but I was so groggy. My eyes barely followed the flashlights. They let me lay down on the table for a while. But I was happy. She came barging into the locker room demanding to see me. I slowly closed my eyes as she yelled and asked what had happened to me. When she was finally calm and allowed to come see me, she was on fire. I opened one eye just to see what she was wearing. I knew what was coming next.
You’re always taking things too personally. Johnny and I barely even dated! See, your problem and weakness is tha-
My weakness becomes my weapon. My pain…my –
My pleasure. Shut the hell up. You always get me so worried. I hate it when you go head first into any defender! If you were smart, you would’ve just baited him right and cut to the left! I swear to God, you’re gonna wind up with a spinal injury and what in the flying fuck would I do without you? You know that I’m always so –
Nice of you to have finally shown up. I was looking for you the whole game.
I smiled and shut my eye again. I knew she was smiling too. Either that or she had her fist cocked and ready to punch me in the face. But we just worked like that.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I got my first concussion. 🙂