The New York Giants select Jackson Ventura with the 207th pick.
I clapped. I was happy. I was staring at the screen as the camera panned from the commissioner over to the green room where Anne sat with her family. They were all hugging and congratulating Jax.
Lucky guy…he’s gonna be living the dream.
I picked up my phone and sent a text to Anne. As I looked back up toward the screen, I saw her pull her phone out of her pocket and read my text. She looked at the camera and blew a kiss.
…Never mind, I think I’m the lucky guy.
I eventually fell asleep while the rest of the draft was completed. I woke up the next morning at 7AM. Game day.
I shuffled over to the kitchen before anybody else was awake. I cracked three eggs into the frying pan and let them sit on the heated stove. On a separate pan, I also began cooking some turkey bacon. I sliced a whole wheat English muffin into two and popped them into the toaster. I dropped a tablespoon of mild salsa onto the toasted buns and folded the bacon into it. I was never really into eggs, but it was a part of my game diet. As I was eating my breakfast, my phone vibrated. I opened it up.
On a flight back home now. We’re just sitting on the tarmac. Dad should be around for the game and so should I. Sadie would be mad at me for missing it anyhow. Miss you loads and excited to see you play the first game of the year! – Annie
I smiled and put my phone away.
#32, you’re playing safety, right?
Yes, coach. Why do you ask?
Might need you to slide around the depth chart. We’ve got holes at LB and RB.
Linebacker and running back. You know how to play those spots?
Running back, yes. Linebacker, I guess. Isn’t that like playing safety but directly behind d-line?
You could say that. Since you don’t know how to play the LB spot, I think we’ve gotta move you up to second-string safety. Welcome to relevance on this team.
Brandon Joseph came over to me.
Think you’re gonna take my spot? Cause it ain’t happening on my watch.
I’m not a running back or a fullback for that matter. Don’t worry.
Whatever, rook. Stay on the secondary and don’t get near the offense.
I walked over to my locker and unlocked my straps. I lifted the pads up and over my head and set them down by my chair. I went to grab my phone…but I couldn’t find it. Aw, crap.
Guys, for real. Can I have my phone back?
Marquez turned around with my phone in his hands. It was open. I already knew what he was about to do.
“Can’t wait to see you. I just wanna be out with you somewhere we can just hang. – Annie” Well, well, rook. Didn’t think you’d be able to get with the coach’s little girl. Wonder what kind of shit you’d get in if Coach Ventura knew about this.
C’mon man, quit being an ass and give me my phone back.
He laughed and tossed me my phone. I let out a sigh of relief and stuffed it back into my bag.
Welcome to the first Majors game of the season. This is a perennial playoff team with a slew of new players. The Falcons have won the coin toss so we’ll get a good look at the fresh faces on the Majors’ secondary first.
First game. Hope you guys are ready. To all our rookies, good luck and try not to get too nervous. Remember your roles and don’t try to do more or less than you have been assigned. Get out there.
Marquez gathered the defense to talk some smack to them. They clapped and took the field. I stood watching the game from the sidelines. I wasn’t good enough to be a starting or even the second-string safety. I had no idea what was going on…I was just used to pick-up football. But of course, fate would have me thrusted into the game.
It was the second quarter and the Falcons were leading by 14. I could tell that a lot of the fans were peeved with our defense because so many of our stars had graduated and gone off to college. Our stars played defense and apparently, everything was all wrong because of us rookies. While we were getting a good beating from the Falcons’ offense, coach Deschappelle decided to make a change.
Hey, you’re playing. We’re getting beat way too easily by the run and I’m not taking any chances on the potential deep ball. Get in there. If Marquez isn’t making the right calls, we’re routing them to you.
I was handed my helmet and pushed onto the field. I jogged into the huddle and Marquez had a smirk on his face.
Looks like half pint is getting some burn today. Coach say anything interesting?
Nope. Can you tell me where I’m supposed to line up?
Back there. We’re switching over to the 3-3-5. Cover your zone.
The linesmen and linebackers ran off. I jogged to my spot with the other two safeties. Can’t be that bad…
So, when you see the T-formation, you know they’re gonna run it. In the 3-3-5, you have to trust the front line to clog the lanes and trust the underneath coverage to take care of the short and medium passes. Got that?
So…what do I do then? Stand there?
Kinda. Depending on what the coach calls, you might blitz.
She knew it was taking some time for me to get it. Football is so complicated…packages, formations, backs, ends, lines…I was doing my best to take it all in.
Let’s say you can hear the opposing quarterback. You see him looking left and right and he’s screaming…uhhh, “split right 747, check V, check four!”. What are you going to do?
Watch Marquez for any adjustments?
If he doesn’t catch them, make the motion to switch into Cover-2?
And what motion is that?
I have to…brush downwards on my chest?
See, you’re getting it! Sometimes, the free safety is responsible for adjusting the other defensive backs. If the linebackers and linesmen can’t hear you, trust them to take care of the run. The only thing you can do is defend against the long passes and make sure that your fellow backs cover their zones.
I turned the projector off. I put my head on the desk and let out a huge sigh.
Are you gonna be around for the first game? I mean, I might not even play, but I want you to be there. Not like I’m inviting my friends to come watch anyhow.
Well, I’m gonna be leaving for New York two days before the first game. Hasn’t my dad announced that to the team? It’s draft day the night before. Jax is gonna want all of us to be there.
Well, I don’t play on the offense, so I wouldn’t really know. Congrats to your brother, by the way.
Don’t be angry, you know I’ll be there.
She flashed me that smile and I didn’t feel so anxious about my first game.
Split left 808. Check V, check V!
My eyes were fixed on Marquez. The crowd was absolutely silent. That’s usually how it gets when you’re losing, no matter what sport you play. Marquez didn’t seem to notice the playcall. We were lined up in the 3-3-5 as a base set.
Dummy 808, rumble thirty-four! Check spy!
I realized what it was. I screamed and hoped that Marquez would hear me.
33 STACK! 33 STACK!
My fellow safety looked at me and raised his arms in the air. WE CAN’T STACK IF WE DON’T HAVE ANOTHER SAFETY! He was right…I motioned over to our extra cornerback to join us in the back field.
But the ball was snapped. While I was looking and motioning over to Guinness, our extra corner, Marquez waited until the last second to stack his linebackers behind our linesmen. As I had predicted, the Falcons ran the ball.
Hey, quiet down everybody. This is not how to win. This is not how we win. This is not how a team plays. Offense, what’s wrong with you? You guys didn’t score a single point. Defense, great job.
Marquez raised his helmet and was about to say something until coach cut him off.
Marquez. You’re the captain and you weren’t the one that called the change on that crucial 4th quarter play. We won the game because Half Pint over there called the change. Just because you recovered the fumble, you think you’ve got bragging rights? Thanks to special teams, we won. But this isn’t how we’re supposed to win. I can’t argue with the result though. A win is a win. Practice tomorrow, bright and early. Game ball would normally go to Ericsson, but I’m giving it to our rookie safety, #32.
As the guys clapped and hooted, I got up and was handed the ball by the coach.
You did good. Let’s see that throughout the season. Play more games like that and maybe you’ll be the the captain of the defense. Good win, guys.
As we all walked towards our lockers, Marquez stopped me.
Coach is right. You made a good call. But don’t think for a second that you’re going to be captain of my defense. See you outside.
I took the pads off and took a quick shower. I dressed up and made my way outside. I searched the crowd and saw nothing but parents and fans. I scanned the crowd again and didn’t see what I wanted to see. I put my headphones in my ears and was about to turn my iPod on when I got a text.
Hey, why the long face? Don’t worry, I saw the game. – Annie
I turned around and, lo and behold, there she was. I hugged her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
So, think you like the sport now? Dad and the other coaches like you a lot. They say you play like a college recruit.
Ahhh, I don’t know. This is fun, but going pro is something that I’ve never really thought about. I’ve created myself as a player in all the video games, but I didn’t think I’d ever be good enough, haha.
She looked at me. She was smirking while shaking her head.
Take a chance. You’ll never know what you’ll really come out with.
I don’t know if I was taking her seriously or if I was just saying this because I was so infatuated with her.
If it means that I get to see you all the time…then yeah, maybe I’ll give it a shot.
She smiled and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
C’mon. I know this sweet little diner with awesome all-day breakfast.
And so, we walked away. That was the first time I had ever thought about going pro and you guys know (more or less) the rest of the story, haha.
I’ve decided that I stop writing about all of this. It was cool and weird to explore my own past as well as I could remember from both of our perspectives, but the past is the past. As the saying goes, you can only live life forwards but only understand it backwards. I enjoyed writing this, really. It’s always nice to relive memories, both good and bad. Thanks for reading it all (if you did bother reading it all)!