DeleteMy godson the football coach isn't having a very good year. Actually, he personally is having a very good year (He got married in January to a wonderful young woman he takes every opportunity to introduce as "my smokin' hot wife."); it's his football team that can't seem to get it together.
There's not a lot of depth, regardless of how you define the word, on the team and by last week they had lost so many players to injury that they didn't practice in pads lest they lose one more person and not have enough healthy bodies to put 11 men on the field. It was so bad that, at one point Friday night, they had to put in the ninth-grade quarterback.
It had all the makings of a great inspirational story — the scrawny inexperienced guy would come in and somehow, inexplicably, miraculously lead the team if not to victory, at least to a touchdown. Except, I'm sorry to say, that's not what happened:
The freshman goes in, takes the snap, back pedals from the line. The rag-tag, patchwork, supremely cliché-worthy offensive line somehow holds. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. The weary fans hold their collective breath waiting for the skinny little kid to throw the ball. But he doesn't. And eventually a defensive lineman breaks through for a tackle.
Second down. The freshman takes the snap. Moves backward, this time a little quicker. The line, unbelievably, rises above itself again, holding the defenders in their places. Receivers run back and forth across the field waiting, waiting, waiting for the ball to be released. But it isn't. And eventually, again, the quarterback goes down.
My godson — he whose DNA is made of Xs and Os, he whose family folklore is rife with tales of last-second victories and come-from-behind charges, he who can offer up halftime inspiration like most good southern boys can say grace, that is, on a moment's notice and with passion that will bring tears to your eyes — calls the ninth grader to the sidelines. He puts his hands on the boy's shoulders and gets in his face, eyeball to eyeball. "Son, your receivers are open. The line is holding back the defenders. Why aren't you throwing the ball?"
In a voice trembling somewhere between a scream and a sob, the boy looks back at his coach and says, "They're everywhere! They're everywhere!"
He was referring, of course, to the linebackers, the cornerbacks, the safetys. The players who are big and fast and mean, whose only job is to make sure that the thrown football doesn't reach its intended target and, if it does, that the target is punished so severely that the football cannot possibly be held. They are trained to detect the slightest mistake — a brief delay in the release, a negligible turn in direction — to exploit that mistake and to intercept the football.
They are, as the poor little quarterback said, everywhere.
For most of history, we humans could easily identify the linebackers and cornerbacks and safetys. They were wild animals and disease and despots. Not so now. The 21st century versions of Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor and Charles Woodson are terrorism and recession and environmental collapse. They are invisible, intangible, inscrutable. And they are everywhere.
So what will prevent them from also being paralyzing? What will keep us from becoming like the freshman quarterback, afraid to even try hoisting our dreams into the air?
Friday Night Frights
I talked to my godson the football coach this morning. We chatted about the season in general, how the losses were growing pains and how his job was to invest in his kids and give them somebody to look up to. And we talked about the freshman quarterback, the one who couldn't let go of the ball. "What did you say to him" I asked, "when he said, 'They're everywhere!'?"
"I told him, 'No, they're not.'"
No. They're not.
Sometimes, when every face is the face of a stranger, when every promise lies in pieces at your feet, when the rope that has held the anchor of your faith has frayed in two, it is easy to think they're everywhere. And that they are going to win.
It is in those moments that each of us is a ninth grade quarterback needing someone look us in the eyes and say, "Things are not as they appear. All hope is not lost. Now, haul back and throw."