The Big Game
It seemed to Tim that Enoch had gone crazy. He suddenly wanted to win the next game, a home game against one of the league leaders. Tim remonstrated, “But Enoch, you’ve always said that you just wanted to run up yardage in garbage periods.”
“Well, Tim, I might have said that. And that’s a good thing to do.”
“But, now, you want to win the game.”
“And you’ll be helping. I’ve convinced the coaches to let me play on the punt team at right blocking back. I’ve always been a good blocker, and I won’t let anyone through on you.”
It was true that Enoch, at six three and two fifteen, was one of the best blockers among wide receivers, but no sane coach would ordinarily have risked such a valuable man on the punting team. When Tim wondered about that, Enoch explained, “I convinced them that those Harvard plays will work against a team that isn’t expecting them. The coaches opposing us aren’t spending the week analyzing Ivy League films.”
“I guess the coaches realize that it’ll take something weird to win this game.”
“Particularly after the last game. And, of course, Diana will be in the stands, watching along with Sharon.”
So that was it! Tim asked, “If it works, is she going to do a lot of ‘my hero’ stuff on you after the game?”
“It’ll be better than putting on a Superman outfit.”
“I dare say.”
It did look as if Enoch was going to play the game of his life. The Sailors won the toss, and Enoch managed some circus catches of balls that Bo Nelson, fearful of interceptions, threw in places that no one else could have reached. Tim had to punt a couple of times before Enoch finally broke a fifteen yard pass for a long run and a touchdown. That got a lot of formerly apathetic fans excited.
The Sailors’ defense had been holding together quite well, but Tim expected retribution when it next went out on the field. After being marched in reverse down the field, the Sailors got a lucky interception on a tipped pass on their own thirty.
The coaches called two running plays that got stuffed, and, on third down, Enoch was so tightly guarded that Nelson threw to the other side of the field without success. Tim went out on to the field to execute what had been named ‘Ivy 2.’ It was simply a sprint to the right sideline from punt formation, and then a long high pass downfield. Tim did make a quick punting motion to get the rush coming right at him, and then eluded it. At the sideline, he briefly headed forward and put lots of air under the ball. He then got quickly out of bounds. Standing on the opponent’s side of the field, a linebacker who had been chasing him also crossed the sideline and stood next to him, both watching. It looked as if Tim had overthrown Enoch, but Enoch made a catch worthy of Willie Mays near the goal line. After saying ‘shit’, the other man half-shouted, over the noise of the crowd, “That fucker played for us once. There’s just no predicting him. There were times when he’d sulk and not even bother to move if his number wasn’t called.”
“He’s been throwing pretty good blocks on punt formation.”
“He can do any fucking thing he wants! If he happens to feel like it.”
As Tim trotted across the field to his bench, he did feel as he had in once getting a hole-in-one in golf. In that case, a good shot had been crowned by luck, in this case, by Enoch. Tim didn’t think he was being irrationally exuberant, but he certainly did feel good. What had worked in the Ivy League had, amazingly enough, worked in the NFL. And, not even in a garbage period!
When Tim reached his bench, he got mobbed by his teammates. It was funny to see Coach Higgins standing off at some distance with an unusual neutral look on his face. Tim could imagine his thinking, ‘It was only one play. No telling what that conceited intellectual bastard will do next.’ It was always fun to cause a little internal turmoil here and there.
Tim also wondered what the other players would think when he did some of the things he’d been considering. He supposed that he’d be regarded much as the linebacker on the other team regarded Enoch.
The Sailors were lucky to hold the visitors to a field goal on the next series. After the kick-off, they got one first down on a sideline pass on which Enoch dragged his feet crossing the line. But, then, it was fourth and long again. This time, it was Ivy 3. It was the play that Tim really didn’t think would work, the one where he would dash to the right, reverse his field, and then throw long to Enoch, who had lined up on the left.
It started all right, even though the defense, the ordinary third-down one, quickly moved to seal off the right. However, when Tim looped back, there was a defender waiting for him. There was nothing for it, but to turn up into the mob and throw long without even being able to see Enoch. He just got the ball off before being hit. In fact, he got hit from several directions, a huge man pancaking him backward. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Tim heard a sharp crack, almost like the discharge of a firearm. There were players under him and others on top of him. As they were beginning to untangle, there was wild cheering from the stands. Enoch must have caught the ball.
Tim first experienced trouble breathing, but realized it was because his ribs, with no protective padding, had been whammed. They probably weren’t broken. It wasn’t until a man had climbed off him that he looked down and saw a right angle bend half-way between his left knee and ankle. Instinctively, he reached down and straightened his leg. He then realized that he shouldn’t try to get up. There was no pain in that location, but there was a problem.
Injuries were so frequent that a special squad was always ready to come out. While Tim had mostly straightened the leg, it still had a suspicious look to it. The trainer looked, and said ‘shit.’ His assistant looked and said, ‘Holy fuck.’ It wasn’t what they considered a proper football injury, and it caught them briefly off balance. But they had a pair of padded splints in their kit, and they soon velcroed them around Tim’s leg. Various players of both teams stood around, some claiming medical knowledge, and others just shaking their heads. The golf cart was summoned, and Tim was lifted on to it. A special device in the back supported legs that didn’t want to be bent.
There were X-ray facilities right under the stands, and it was diagnosed as a clean break of both bones with no puncturing of the skin and no risk of infection. It was then decided that no ribs were broken. Sharon, followed by Diana, had managed to bust into the room, and was quizzing the doctor. The doctor, rather nonchalant, said, “He’s through for the season.”
Sharon burst out, “Is that all you care about?”
The doctor, a balding middle-aged man with a charisma deficit, bristled a little and stomped off. Tim sensed that he was at least as much football fan as doctor, the kind who sent players with concussions back into the game. In the circumstances, he, Tim, might be fortunate to have an injury that admitted of no ambiguity. Sharon said to Tim, who was lying fairly comfortably with a cast on his leg, “We’ll get you to a good doctor as soon as possible.”
Tim suspected that, whatever the doctor’s ideology might have been, he had done a decent job of putting the cast on. However, Sharon was not to be crossed at this time.
It turned out that there were players who, on crutches after an injury, returned to the sideline to watch the rest of the game. It was supposed to be a sign of having the right stuff. Sharon would have none of that, and responded obscenely to a trainer who suggested it.
Once outside, they proceeded to Diana’s rental car. Tim had been on crutches before, and made good speed. They had to tilt the passenger seat of the car way back to accommodate Tim’s cast, but managed it with Sharon squeezed into the back seat.
As they drove along, Tim suddenly felt a pain in his left shoulder which gradually spread to his neck. Sharon noticed his reaction immediately, and he explained, “I haven’t been wearing any of the pads because I was only punting. So I got pretty well mashed in that pile-up at the end.”
Diana replied, “I imagine you hurt all over. We could go to one of the hospital emergency rooms.”
“We’d have to wait for hours. Anyhow, I think it’s just bruises in various different places.”
Sharon rejoined, “Those assholes at the locker room didn’t care about you when they realized that you were out for the season. We’ll go to that rather nice hotel across from the marina where we can take care of you.”
“What about the boat?”
“We’d never get you up and down the ladders, Tim. Trust us.”
Tim thought that he could probably manage to get on and off the boat, but Diana, without arguing, drove to the rather nice hotel.
Once in the room, they laid Tim on one of the beds. He still had on his uniform with the left leg mostly cut off to accommodate the cast. Sharon said, “I’ll borrow some scissors at the office so that we can cut the rest off.”
The scissors turned out to be sharp enough to go right through the nylon of the uniform. When it was mostly off, Diana said, “You have regular gents’ underpants. I thought jocks wore jock straps.”
“I’ve never liked them. But, when I played judo, I discovered that there’s a throw, uchimata, which consists of bringing a leg up between the opponent’s legs, lifting him, and turning him upside down.”
“That sounds horrible.”
“It’s translated as the ‘inner thigh throw’, and it’s supposed to hit the thigh just below the genital area, but it was easy to imagine a miss.”
“So you did get a jock?”
“I even got one with a metal protective cup. But it was very uncomfortable, and I discovered that my legs were so long that people couldn’t reach the critical area. That was the end of my jock days.”
The jersey came off quickly, and both Tim’s attendants went to work sponging him off with warm water, towels, and soap. Sharon remarked, “We are soaking the bedcover, but that has low priority just now.”
When they got to Tim’s groin area, Diana said to Sharon, “I can do this part if you’d feel incestuous about it.”
Sharon laughed while Diana cut his underwear off and started with the soap and water. Tim lay back and luxuriated, the pleasure overwhelming the pain he felt all over.
After that, the pains came back, together with some obvious black-and-blues. It also hurt his ribs to breathe. They got the leg with the cast elevated with cushions from the couch, and Tim discovered that, as long as he didn’t move anything, and drew breaths as gently as possible, the discomfort was minimized.
Diana then got a call on her cell phone from Enoch, who was looking for them on the boat. Within a couple of minutes, he appeared, still in football uniform, but for the shoes. He burst out, “I’m sorry, Tim. I went crazy and talked you into this!”
Sharon replied, “It’s really not bad at all. Tim has the kind of injury that has no lasting effects, and, in the six months it takes to heal, he’ll be safe.”
“Yeah. Most football injuries involve the joints, and they’re usually crippling in the long run. Does he have any other injuries?”
“Bruises and sore ribs. He refuses to take ibuprofen.”
“Okay. This might be a sort of warning to exit the NFL before something serious does happen.”
“Yes indeed. What about you, Enoch?”
“After Tim was hurt, I recovered my sanity and stopped trying to win the game. We eventually lost by a couple of touchdowns, and I got my usual garbage period yardage. Statistically, it was the best game I’ve ever had, and I am tempted to quit right now.”
“I think the old adage is to quit while you’re ahead.”
“Exactly. Also expressed by the ‘It’s all downhill from here’ slogan.”
“If Tim quits, it’ll also be on a high note.”
“A very high one. He’ll probably be the only passer in history who’s completed all his attempts, all for touchdowns. That wouldn’t last long if he kept playing.”
That thought amused everyone. But Diana said to Enoch, “If you do
play the rest of the season, can you be cautious?”
“Playing safe usually results in a serious injury. But I have other ideas.”