They are playing the middle school city championship at Buc Stadium, which can hold fifteen thousand fans and is home to most of the city’s weekly high school football games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. They are used to playing on dirt fields surrounded by a fence that parents stand behind. Most of the time, the chalk lines for ten-yard markers are wiped out by halftime, and at one school, the uprights were tilted heavily to one side.
Buc Stadium has immaculate grass, freshly painted lines, markers every ten yards on the sidelines, perfect yellow uprights, a synthetic track ringing the field, and locker rooms for pregame and halftime. The young man has been dreaming of playing here as a Carroll Tiger in a couple of years, and Carroll is the dominant school in the district with fifty-five wins in the last five years plus a trophy case of gold footballs from district, bi-district, area, and regional championships.
Tom Brown Middle School feeds Carroll. They are playing Cullen Middle School, which feeds Carroll’s arch rival, King High School. They all know they will see these kids at least once a year for the next four years. They have warmed up already. A cold front has blown through, and the day is clear and crisp–not too hot or humid, not too cold either. They are in bright white jerseys with orange pants. They have never worn the orange pants before, but the news channels are here and they show up better on film.
They are gathered in the end zone, readying themselves to run out onto the field. The night before, several of the mothers banded together and painted a large banner with a giant Tom Brown Bear for them to run through. This is the first time they will ever run through a banner. The young man is high on adrenaline, and he is bouncing around. Their starting linebacker, Noe, shouts at him, “Let’s go, Gordon Laws! You ready?!”
“Ready!” he screams back.
He butts helmets with Javier, Melvin, and Ted. Coach Melton hollers, “Get ready!”
The loudspeaker crackles to life: “In the north end zone, please welcome the Tom Brown Bears!”
They all roar together. The young man is in the middle of the pack. They surge forward, and the first guys burst through the banner. The young man yells and starts to jog lightly, pressed up against the guys in front with guys pressing on him from behind. They are starting to space out, as they run faster.
Then, just as the young man approaches the goal line of the north end zone, someone trips.
And with that, at least five more guys go down like dominoes in front of him. The young man veers out of the way just before stepping on a teammate’s leg. In all, probably ten guys have been wiped out in the trip.
The young man finishes the jog to the sideline and pulls up next to Ted. “Dude, did you see it?” says Ted.
“It happened right in front of me. I almost went down.”
“Well, that’s an auspicious beginning.”
Indeed. They lose the title game 14-6.