Why English Majors Don't Go Pro
“Pick up those goddamned feet! You’re linemen for fuck’s sake! I wanna see those fucking feet in the air!”
I couldn’t make it all the way through the tires. My feet were just too big. Coach Barnes never believed me, though. Coach Barnes did believe that expletives were a football player’s fuel. If that’s the case, he could have supplied the entire NFL.
“If you aren’t in the fucking backfield before the fucking ball is snapped, you’re both fucking cut!”
It was an empty threat. Charlie and I were the only defensive tackles on the team and Coach Barnes wasn’t going to find many big boys like us in a hurry. He had plenty of running backs and quarterbacks and wide receivers and wide receiving cornerbacks and a six-foot-nine safety that couldn’t catch a cold. The line belonged to Charlie and me. Charlie was fast and big, I was big and strong. The line’s ends were just a little over half our size. We could get away with murder during practice.
“Stop grabbing each other’s asses and get over here!”
Everyone obeyed and huddled around Coach Barnes. Charlie let out a fart. Coach Barnes’s face blanched.
“Boy, if you’ve got shit on those pants again, I’m going to sew your ass shut!”
Everyone laughed. Coach Moore, the brains behind the State Champion varsity squad, jogged over and whispered something in Coach Barnes’s ear. Coach Barnes nodded and then cleared his throat.
“Now boys, we face CH tomorrow night. Coach Moore was able to sneak a looksie at their practices this week.”
“How’d he manage that?” asked Kyle, a safety.
“Shut your fucking face, boy. I’m talkin’.” Coach Barnes’s eyes began to bug out of his head. He looked a bit like a fish. Charlie snickered.
“As I was saying, Coach Moore says that CH is really tough this year. We gotta win this one to say alive. But don’t just win it for that. My girl will give me head and maybe some ass if you boys win tomorrow night. I want that to happen. Win it for me and my dick.”
Before the game the next day, I got word from Coach Barnes that my old elementary school pal, Antonio, was now the center for CH. I would be lining up against a friend.
“I don’t give a fuck what your relationship is with that damn center, you get around him any fucking way you know how. Confuse him, punch him when the ref ain’t looking, spit in his eyes, do fucking something because the kid is good. Coach Moore says he’s going to go pro one day. I want you to show that son of a bitch that you’re the one going pro.”
That Coach Barnes had faith in me bolstered my hopes for the game. Yes, I would beat my old friend. I’d swim right through his block and knock his coveted quarterback on his duff. I’d go pro. No doubt about it.
As CH was being introduced to the fans that had trekked out to our little field on game night, I was being interviewed in a van. The school’s audio-visual department wanted something to play on the next morning’s school TV show.
“So, which one of the cheerleaders do you like?”
“Uh, none of them?”
“Well, which one do you think is a babe?”
“How do you put your cup on?”
I was promptly shoved out of the A/V van. Slightly miffed, slightly bored, I lumbered back over to the bench and sat down. I pulled a novel from beneath my shoulder pads. Uncomfortable as it was, it was the only way I could sneak books onto the field from the locker room.
“Whatcha readin’?” asked Charlie as he sat down beside me, a Gatorade cup in his hand.
“Why’s it so thick? Lots of drawings?”
“No, it’s just words.”
“Shit! Why ya readin’ an adult book, dude?”
“Because I want to.”
“Man, you’re weird. You wanna read MAD? I brought one out with me. I heard Jerry’s got a Playboy in his locker. I could go get that.”
“What in the fuck are you two jabbering about? You’re about to be introduced!”
Coach Barnes knelt down and took the book from my hand. He gave the back cover a glance before tossing it into a nearby trashcan.
“The hell you reading that for?”
“I want to?”
“A football player don’t need no damn book. You need balls. And strength. And some more balls. Now get out there and fuck those fuckers up!”
It turned out that Antonio was good; really good. It only took two plays to realize that he was going places. Antonio was so good that he was able to hold Charlie and me back while knitting a sweater and doing a crossword.
Coach Barnes railed on us during halftime.
“Damn, damn, and more damn! You fucking shitheads are losing the fucking game. You’re supposed to be stopping the run and adding pressure on the pass. What in the hell is wrong with you two?”
“Sixty three is too good, sir,” replied Charlie.
“No, he ain’t. He’s the enemy. Fucking treat him that way. Stop givin him head on every play and get the fuck around him. The fucking score is sixteen to zero. How in the hell did this happen? We won State last year!”
Kevin, the starter quarterback, raised his hand. “Sir, that was varsity squad.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
Coach Barnes spent the rest of the break mumbling curses under his breath and throwing spare helmets against lockers. I started making up headlines in my head about the magnanimous Coach Barnes dying of a heart attack, age forty-three. Film at eleven.
We would go on to lose that game, not scoring a single point. The only highlight of the night came in the third quarter, when I was able to best my talented friend for the first (and ultimately last) time.
“Havin’ fun yet?” Antonio asked me as we set ourselves for the next play.
“Sure,” I replied, smiling.
“You ain’t getting around me. I’m markin’ you.”
“Wow, does that mean that you get a plus-2 on attack rolls for the duration of the encounter?”
Antonio’s brow raised and his eyes glazed over. It was all I needed. He absentmindedly hiked the ball. I rammed my strong shoulder forward and caught him in the chest. Calves bursting from the effort, I shoved both forward and up, knocking my friend on his back. I felt Charlie rush past me. I saw him collide with the quarterback. The ball popped loose and Mark, our undersized left end, scooped it up and ran it home for the score.
I threw up my arms in triumph and leaned over the mighty but fallen Antonio to see a yellow marker stuck beneath his helmet.
“Pass interference! Number twenty-three, defense!” yelled a referee to the crowd. The PA announcer echoed him a moment later.
“Damnit,” I moaned.
“Fucking Kyle!” yelled Charlie, slapping his own helmet.
I helped Antonio back to his feet.
He nodded his thanks and then pointed at me. “Good one. Won’t happen again.”
And it didn’t. I quit football a year later and eventually sought a Bachelor’s in English while Antonio had a stellar college career and will be entering the NFL draft this April.
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