The Ball

by Jason Alan

Five seconds left on the clock. Fourth quarter. I had never felt such silence, let alone from thousands of people. I looked up to make sure everybody hadn’t died. Of course they hadn’t. They wouldn’t do that to me; to us. There were kids in that crowd. Some of them would undoubtedly grow up to be reporters. The kind of reporters that asked guys like me what was going through their mind when they were sure that all hope was lost. That crucial moment when you knew it wasn’t likely to make it sixty eight yards to close the six point gap. It’s been done before. So it’s possible, but it’s just not very probable.

I was sweating. Sixteen fucking degrees out in an open stadium and I was sweating. Not like this was an important game or anything. Not like it was the most important game of the season, maybe even my life. I knew so many people would remember this moment. The many people in the crowd and even more watching on their televisions, from the safety and warmth of their couches. I could almost see their asses getting bigger by the minute.

But win or lose, pass or fail, I knew it all relied on me. Me. Not that guy in the orange pants in the fifth row on the 30 yard line. Not the punter. Not the dial-a-down guy. Me. Myself. And I.

I looked to the left. I looked to the right. Then the left again. Just like crossing the street. By the way, I had a better chance of crossing the street and getting killed by a car going two miles an hour than to get a touchdown at this point.

The clock was still at five seconds. The time out had sent the clock into an arctic state. Like a can of Mountain Dew in the freezer. Sooner or later, it would blow. It felt as if years had gone by since I trotted out onto the field for this last play. I thought at that moment that combination of the cold and the pressure I felt had made me freeze up, unable to move. They just might have to carry me off the field in this position, for all the world to see.

I blinked, moved my fingers a little. Pretty stupid of me. Or maybe just wishful thinking on my part. I could move. I would move. I should move. Oh shit, something is moving. It’s my mouth. Words came out, instinctive, dry and cold. I couldn’t tell you now what I had said. I couldn’t even hear myself over the massive, oppressive silence. Everything was in slow motion. Another puff of frost escaped my lips and I said something else.

Before I knew what was happening, the ball was in my hand. I dropped back. I’m sure a few feet in front of me helmets were colliding and legs were pumping up and down, some of them bound for the end zone. Others headed in the other direction, headed toward me. I was vaguely aware of it, even though I was a prime target for several very large gentleman who like they could eat half a cow in one sitting and ask for seconds. Just when I thought I should have made out a will before the game, I threw the ball.

A leather bullet shot out of my hand, spiraling oh so beautifully in the freezing air. Just then it started to snow. Time was still moving like molasses as I tripped, falling backward. Years later when I hit the ground, the ball was almost at the end zone. The wide receiver was waiting for it. How did he get there so damn fast? He was wide open. Nobody was even close enough to intercept it, especially at such a high arc. All he had to do was catch it.

Every eye in the stadium had switched from me to the ball, which seemed to be suspended in the air. It was, dare I say, an immaculate pass. I had never seen anything so majestic. It was a guided missile. A smart bomb that was ready to hit its target. Only it was a dud, after all. He missed it. Bounced right out of his butter fucking fingers.

As I lay back and looked at the snow-filled sky I could only imagine the members of my team taking off their helmets and hanging their heads in shame. I could also imagine, unfortunately, the other team jumping for joy.

Oh well, it’s only a game, right? Boy I’d sure love to place my fingers around the neck of the guy who came up with pile of bullshit. Obviously this sort of thing never happened to him. At that moment I thought of the clock. Maybe we had one more play. Maybe we had another timeout and we had one more chance. I looked at the clock. Hope was lost. Zero. The big goose egg. That’s the way it ends. Not with a bang but a zero.