I stepped up to the white line that was painted over the brilliantly green grass. I stared at my opponent standing in front of me and he stared right back. I counted the seconds and just before ths snap, I winked at him. He blinked and it was just enough. The center snapped the ball. The quarterback dropped back. I took off down the field. My opponent was caught flatfooted and left me wide open. I made a brilliant stutter step and headed down the open field towards the end zone. The quarterback saw me and slung the ball in the air. It seemed to float forever. It floated so long that I ran right underneath it, caught it, and flew towards the goal. A safety had the angle on me and was loading up to make a crushing tackle at the five yard line. An instant before he got there, I stopped dead. There was nothing he could do as he launched himself at the empty air where I would’ve been. I stepped into the end zone and scored the game-winning touchdown. The Austin Augers had defeated the Larsan Lancers, 21 to 20 to win at the podium and delivered my speech, thanking those who had inspired me. I encouraged young people to excel. And hoped that one day they too could be a professional football player.
The vision faded back to the cruel reality that none of those things would ever happen. And then I heard it. A short, staccato clap. Then another and another. I looked around for the mystery clapper. He was sitting at the fifty yard line with his feet propped up on the rail, slowly clapping.
“What are you doing here?” I growled.
“I came to watch the last game. Nice move at the goal line by the way,” he said.
I grumbled something very rude and started toward the locker room.
“What’s wrong, Will? Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Is there any reason I should be?” I said not looking at him.
“No. I wanted to be sure you knew I was here for you like you were there for me.”
I rounded on him.
“Is that what this was all about? You blame me for your failed career?”
“I didn’t injure you,” Ray said.
“If you would’ve been paying attention instead of daydreaming, you and I would both still be playing.”
“Maybe it’s better for us that we’re not.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“With all my heart.”
“What about Billy?”
Ray’s smile faded.
“That was a low blow.”
“So was destroying my career.”
“I’m not the one who brought this on you,” Ray said. “And you sound just as selfish as the person who’s really responsible.”
“You’re responsible,” I said. “You and that group of so called heroes.”
“Yeah, you would try to blame someone else,” Ray said. “You can’t see all the good that’s come of it, only how it effected you.”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “No good came from this. All you did was destroy a lot of people’s careers.”
“I’m not the one started it.”
“But you sure finished it.”
He looked around the empty stadium.
“Yep. We sure did.”
“Don’t fool yourself. They reacted to the emotion of the moment. Given the right circumstances, they’ll be back.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. There may be another league rise someday out of the ashes of the Professional Football Association, but it won’t be the same. People won’t let it. They’ve learned that they have power to stand up against those who believe theirs is the only opinion.”
I glared at him.
“Be careful up on your high horse, you’ve got a lot further to fall,” I said.
He smiled. “Maybe.”
I walked away and never saw him again.
“But he was only part of the story. The real reason I was walking out of an empty stadium was a little boy named Billy Watkins.
I looked down at the football I was carrying. I wanted to keep it as a memento of all those years. I knew I wouldn’t get anything else. As I looked at the PFA insignia on the ball and realized that there was nothing left to remember. I reached back and threw the ball as hard as I could into the seats. As I walked toward the locker room I saw the championship trophy sitting on a table near the sideline. No one else was anywhere around, it was just left there. I walked up and admired it. The chrome football gleaming in the sun made it look surreal. I picked it up reverently, and carried it to the locker room.”
Excerpt From: Michael Kelso. “Endzone.”