He had the arm of a cannon and the temper of a rattlesnake. At least that’s what the scouting report said of the Senior USC signal-caller. There was no denying the talent of the young quarterback, but there was also no question that when he became rattled, he was worthless.
The score was 21-10, USC on top of ASU, as he walked toward the sidelines of the biggest game of his career. He had just thrown his first interception of the game, and he was visibly frustrated. Both arms flailed as he reached his offensive coordinator on the sideline. Then his right hand outstretched pointing toward the offensive lineman who missed the blitzing safety seamlessly swung upward to rip the helmet from his head to yank it upwards and, ultimately, crush it towards the ground. The helmet survived, but his poise didn’t.
“You saw it. You saw it. Okay? Next time, change the play and make the defense get on its fucking heels, okay?” The offensive coordinator pleaded sternly, knowing the tornado of frustration that Fitzy was presently dealing with. He knew well that his words were falling on deaf ears. There was nothing that he could do, so far as his abilities afforded, to stop Fitzy Cormac from throwing his second interception just moments later.
“And on a three play, 45-yard drive, Arizona State has pulled within four points of the Trojans.” That’s what Fitzy would have heard, had he been watching the game from his dorm room. That’s what all of his friends and family were hearing as he trembled with anger, understanding an utter meltdown was imminent. It was 21-17 when he took the field again, with only 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Fitzy, along with everyone else in Sundevil Stadium, knew that the amount of time that was left on the scoreboard was an eternity. Indeed, any great football fan knows that a score can happen at any moment. And any better football fan knows that playing “safe” football, a system in which you run it three times in a row in order to waste the other team’s timeouts or run time off the clock is among the most surefire ways to lose a ballgame on the gridiron.
“Carson Leotis returns the ball to the Trojan 27 yard line with four minutes and twelve seconds left to play.”
You want to win the Pac 12 Championship, right? If that’s what you want, then you’ve got to keep the ball out of the Skum Devils’ hands. They’ve got all the momentum. They’ve got it. And if you want it, you’ve got to quiet this crowd. You’ve got to hit Carson on 15 yard out. Then you’ve got to hit Kelvin down the sidelines to get into Sun Devil territory. Then they’ll shut the fuck up. Then they’ll quiet. Then they’ll shove that fucking pitchfork up their asses. Maybe we’ll even get egged on the way out. I love seeing that fucking Trojan bus covered in eggs. That’s how you know you’ve done your job. God I want to see the look on those fucking Sun Devil faces. You think they ever sodomize their team with those pitchforks when they lose? Sure they do. That’s what they’re for, right? Someone’s going to hell at the end of the night, and if I have any fucking Christing say about it, it’s gonna be those God damned Sun Devils and their bullshit fans.
Fitzy gathered his team at the 22-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium, five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The clock was stopped at 4:12, until they ran their next play. He looked at the ten men who surrounded him. Exhausted. Hopeful. Dead.
“Gut 22, on two,” he paused. “Ready? Break.” They all pitched in on the “Break.”
Fitzy walked to the line with absolutely no faith in the play that his offensive coordinator called. He wanted to gun. He wanted to unleash the poison that he had just swallowed on his last throw. He wanted to purify his arm, his statistics and his game with a single sling. But that wasn’t the play that he was given.
His offensive line spread before him, large and protective and looming, but weary. His two receivers spread wide, and his fullback and halfback stood behind him in an offset I formation. The Arizona State defense was pulsing. They were feeling the momentum swing from the last interception which led to a touchdown. They were jumping and swaying and talking and pivoting and rioting and antagonizing and, in the eyes of Fitzy, they were humiliating him. For Fitzy, the USC Trojans were the elite of not only their division, but what the NCAA represented. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t won a national championship in a decade. To him, USC was college football. And for a team like ASU to challenge USC was absolutely absurd. Peasants and kings. There was no comparison.
As they showed blitz to the strong side where the ASU middle linebacker Anthony Selez, 6’5” sophomore from Fresno was lining up, Fitzy couldn’t help but feel that he had the years of football prestige on his side. He could have changed the play at the line, as the play clock still showed 12 seconds. But rather, he felt that the Gods of football would prevail to show ASU who was, indeed, the true champion of the Pac 12.
“Captain! Red 77. Red 77. Watch Mike, watch Mike! Captain!” Fitzy shouted. The football hit his right hand placed under the haunches of the center. Then it all rang loose. The Phoenician and Trojan earth vibrated and pulsed as the stadium rose and puffed and silenced itself. The sky blacked and fell to the Earth, blocking out everything in existence beyond the five feet in front of his face. The coats and jerseys and shirts and skins all froze and gasped. The field trembled before itself in anticipation. Noise froze and the hummed and then, when the brief, ominous lull ended, it all blasted at the top of its lungs before a movement even occurred. The world of football stood in trance as the violence and carnage sat waiting.
Fitzy received the snap from the center and immediately turned to his right. The fullback passed him with eyes toward the blitzing middle linebacker. The fullback dove toward the linebacker’s waist and missed as he spun around him. Fitzy placed the ball directly into the breadbasket of his tailback, who immediately bounced right to avoid the blitzing safety. Barely shaken, the tailback gathered himself to steam back toward the gap which seemed open between the guard and the tackle. As he bounced in that direction, the middle linebacker rolled off of the fullback who should have been guiding his way and smashed him, jarring his helmet nearly off and knocking his chinstrap completely loose.
“Quincy Jones for a two yard loss on the play! Trojans second and 12 from the USC 25.” Sun Devil Stadium roared as the clock ticked away. The momentum swelled, along with Fitzy’s frustration.
The USC offensive coordinator signaled to Fitzy for the next play, as he sent in a tight end to swap with a wide receiver. Before he even received the play, he knew that his coach was calling another run. Most likely the same one as before. He was furious. Had he not been the Heisman candidate since Week 1? Had he not played every snap since his sophomore year? Had he not led the Trojans to a near perfect record this year and a Rose Bowl Championship last year? Put the fucking game in my hands, coach!
The call came in, and he knew it before he referenced the play chart on his wrist band. Deuces Power I 22 Gut. That meant a double tight end, where the weak side tight end would motion to the strong side and add extra blocking power to the coma-inducing run play. He called the play in the huddle forcefully, but without much gusto. The team felt it.
They walked toward the line as time ticked off the clock. As they approached, the game clock was down to 3:41. As the play had been called, there were tight ends on either side, with only one wide receiver, Carson, who lined up on the left. They were on the right hash mark as Fitzy began his cadence.
“Red 12! Captain. Captain.” As he said his first captain, the tight end on the right side of the offensive line stepped back from the line of scrimmage, then motioned rightward, behind the quarterback, then just in front of the fullback. Then, just before he reached the other tight end, Fitzy shouted, “Captain!”
The stadium quaked and rocked again. There was a large, inarticulate groan, as if a building were about to topple over. It was not a sound, but a feeling. Yet, there was a silence that was more powerful, emotional, painful and exuberant than anything that a fan could experience. The turf on the field floor seemed to sense and recoil from the animosity that was about to endure. There was blood in the air, even more than had been spilled on the field, as if a ferocious blend of despotism and reprisal was about to occur. And perhaps the last characters to experience it were the ones who would live it.
Fitzy received the ball in his hand from the center yet again, just a split second after the tight end passed behind him. As he turned to his right, the fullback grazed his shoulder, with an eye for the yet again blitzing middle linebacker. This time, the fullback annihilated the blitzing backer, knocking him directly to his back and creating a pile in the middle of the field. The motioning tight end, on the right side of the line blasted the blitzing nickel corner out of play. The tailback found the hole, bouncing around the tackle and shooting upfield.
If we get this first down, we can probably control the rest of the game. Then we can fuck those fucking quacks out of Oregon. The fucking Ducks. Who gives a fuck about those fucking Ducks. Nice uniforms, you fucking, self-righteous, Nike-blowing pieces of shit.
The tailback cut through the hole with daylight and with speed. There was a first down and more ahead of him. His ankle was caught by a reaching cornerback, who went relatively unblocked by a receiver who didn’t really care too much for blocking. After all, his draft choice and signing bonus really had very little to do with how well he held up cornerbacks on ISO plays.
“Quincy Jones for seven yards. Third and five at USC 32.” The stadium was noticeably quieter now. It was still loud, to be sure. But after the seven yard carry, there was uncertainty in the air. Minus the Trojan signal-caller. Fitzy was sure that this was the time to strike. This was the time to finish it. This was the time to rest the future of one of the league’s most prominent teams on the back of its star, of its Heisman.
The call came in from the sidelines. Fitzy’s eyes widened as his frustration grew. He saw red and heard nothing. The call was Deuces Power I 22 Gut, the same play they had just run. He couldn’t believe that his coach had suddenly become such a coward. The term “coward” wouldn’t even do it justice.
He fucked his girlfriend that night. She lay naked in the sheets, saying nothing. It wasn’t in an unfamiliar bed at a stranger’s house throwing a party for the USC win. It wasn’t in the bathroom stall of a bar where they had encountered many times before on a brief respite from a beer-chugging party in his honor. It was alone and quiet in a hotel room where silence was the only character that accompanied. She lay pristine, glistening in the light of the bad-news television with the sheets over her. Her dark hair spread across the pillowcase as she feared to speak. Through the sheets, her breasts poked at just the right angle of a young woman who ignited the lust of a promising young quarterback. Her nipples lifted the sheets just beyond her breasts and shaded the color just enough to know that they were still erect, yet her face told a story of questioning and fear. ESPN was on.
“Cormac lost everything in a single throw. I just, I just don’t believe it!” The pundits were alive and in an ecstasy that only comes with the toppling of a champion.
The score scrolled below the talking heads who continued to seek answers to the questions that Fitzy’s arm and brain had aroused. 24-21. ASU upsets USC to move on to the Pac 12 Championship.
Fitzy sat at the edge of the bed in his boxer-briefs. He sat still and quiet in an animalistic and uncomprehending state of disbelief. He had sought answers in the garden of his girlfriend. Those answers were always waiting as his solution to any conundrum. He sought those answers from many angles and directions. He felt her deeper than he ever had before. Yet he only found release, not redemption. She was beautiful and giving. But that didn’t change the fact that what he sought couldn’t be found in her supple breasts, red lips or exhaustive and enduring stamina. It was only a distraction this time.
She sat upward in the bed, the sheets falling from her torso, breasts exposed, and began rubbing his shoulders. “This isn’t helping,” she whispered. “Turn it off, babe.”
He sat motionless and unreactive to her touch and sound. His eyes were like a stage after a great band had finished its set. There was history but no life, no living. His body was as exposed as his soul, his confidence. His second interception had led to his worst fear, which wasn’t the loss. He had lost faith in the gods of football. And that meant everything to him. From the moment he grasped a football until the minute that his pass found an ASU cornerback for a championship-stealing interception. He thought they stood behind him. He thought there was a hierarchy to the game that made him invincible in those final moments. To which he tried to become a god of his own upon his girlfriend. And at the end of that night, he had no godsmanship to show for anything.
To her advances he didn’t react. But what was a faux-god to do? He fucked her again and went to sleep. He was as low and as alone as he would ever be in college. A god of football had fallen from high. But the NFL still awaited, even if his draft choice had dropped to the second round. He would make more sense of it in the morning. And somehow, he slept like a child.