So many lives distilled into a single intoxicating, loaded moment: the scores hang on the board. Under the steaming, shallow breaths taken by enraptured fans, fists wrinkle cups. These kids have shut out the world, have specialized to the detriment of any other future, the billion grueling squats and sprints and laps and drills so that the muscle and sinew adhere loyally to the bone, legs and arms can hurl ball or body. These are the minuscule, Herculean exertions of The Team. Bellowed orders and count then the whip-like snap. Torsos and shoulders break over the line of scrimmage in a forward-crushing phalanx. Ten yards are needed, nothing more. A grandmother outside Des Moines tilts tea down her Barcalounger’s arm. That’s her grandson on whom those hoodlums are bearing down. On the field the scrawny QB wiry from bailing hay hears not the subsonic rumble of the mob’s feet shifting on the iron stands. They groan and mutter and egg ‘em on. He drops his head and spins, side-stepping a three-hundred-pound defensive lineman from Gary, Indiana, the first male in his family to go to college who bears, coach often points out, a more than passing resemblance to William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
The quarterback grew up in Iowa, in a small ruined town where football has replaced the family farm and industry. The old timers can forget all this while they watch the squads duel. The wide receiver came up on a west Philly block, played ball like his life depended on it, because his life depended on it. When mother heard he’d gotten a scholarship to play football she started speaking in tongues, didn’t stop for three days. The family and friends of every member of the team, the alums, the die hard fans who traveled in hundred-mile-long caravan: they’re all there, if not in the stands, then in living rooms permeated with cooking smells, their eyes level on the screen the way the eyes of hungry hunters saw only the prey and only factors relevant to the kill. The sustenance sought, not nutritional, is essential: this secular communion among thousands . . .
In Gary, IN, the defensive lineman’s kin, great aunt Bernice and the fourteen-year-old twins included, have been guzzling Miller High-life following a repast of 24 lb deep-fried turkey, and, on breaks, they sprint around the house en masse, tossing one of those tiny plastic footballs over the head of Billy, their rottweiler, whose teeth have marred both the ball and the left earlobe (accidentally snagged while wrestling) of the defensive lineman who now, following a side-stepped lunge, barrels on, plowing into the red dirt where he lies and thinks of the deep-fried turkey they’ve promised to save him. The QB gets a look, plants, fires. Grandma covers her eyes as he’s clothes-lined ‘round the middle. The ball, or rather projectile, hums. That west Philly kid in the moment of his leap transcends mere matter, becomes all consciousness, flesh bent to the plucking of that missile from the air, another thing that has transmogrified into so much more than just a thing, the yearnings and the aches, the love of the neighborhood where he has already become as a returning, triumphant king. Friction singes his glove as huge hands choke the skittish ball and he’s got it, hugging that somehow sacred object to his chest for the return to earth, for he has forgotten all about his body and such inconveniences as gravity. All that matters is the completion of the pass. And he’s got it, done good. He plummets; shoulder-rolls; is hit, more theatricality than anything else, and he hunches over the ball under a mountain of bodies, as the umpire in his woodpecker garb throws up the sign.
Ma Flo in Philly leaps from her wheelchair, her coronary artery and papery living room both taxed to the point of rupture by blood, by relatives near and far and friends. The front door is open and a crowd on the sidewalk peers in and with that catch, they surge, as do the small room’s occupants, between couch and wall and a television bought that very morning from H.H. Gregg that is connected, through a complicated arrangement of coat hangers, wire and duct tape, to the neighbors’ cable box, a delicate operation performed, under cover of darkness, by one Cousin Dave who’s on leave from the U.S. Army. “HOW YOU LIKE HIM NOW! YOU WANT A PIECE OF HIM? YOU WANT IT?” Ma Flo bellows, before collapsing back into her wheelchair and ordering her youngest grandson to get her the phone, she has people to call and brag to, given what she suspects to be the imminent of collapse of her poor old heart. She picks up the phone, dials a phone on a side table beside a Barcalounger.
“Dora? You catch any of that? You see what my son just did?”
“Your grandson? My grandson threw the dang pass!” And the thing of it is, those boys have completed the longest pass in history–half a continent’s worth, a bomb from the vicinity of Des Moines to just short of the Schuylkill and back again at the speed of something like light. -Ed Scripsi