The rain began Thursday night, but not with a gentle patter in the dark September sky but rather with a clap of thunder after the wind had begun to whistle through the window creases in the dorm. Joey leaned back in a chair, light over his shoulder with a text book now in his lap, and watched the water spray and streak down his window overlooking the courtyard. Tyler’s door opened, and the young man strode barefoot in a stupor into the common area. He wore sweat pants and a gray t-shirt with the word “Vandy” across the front. Joey hadn’t seen his face in two weeks.
“The hurricane got here,” Tyler said.
“I don’t think this is really Sally yet.” Joey closed his book and sat up.
“The wind,” Tyler began again, “will we have a tornado? Have you watched the weather?”
In fact, Joey hadn’t watched the weather. He only knew that instead of a short flight to Oxford the team would leave on buses tomorrow morning. The storm was supposed to pass Oxford early Saturday before the game, leaving behind only rain and wind, not the twisting action of what would be a tropical depression. For now, Ole Miss braced to be pounded by the hurricane.
“I haven’t watched the weather. I think we’re fine though.”
Instead of padding back to his room, Tyler turned and sat in a chair facing Joey. He rubbed his eyes and seemed to be thinking.
“Joey, how do you do this?” he asked.
Joey wasn’t sure exactly what Tyler was asking and he answered with the expression on his face.
“I mean, how do you go to class, study, play football, and hang out with the guys. You never sleep.”
“I sleep,” Joey said. He sat up straighter. “I mean, I don’t sleep much. I haven’t slept much in years.” He caught himself when he realized what he had spoken. What could years be for a nineteen-year-old who was really fifty?
“I want to be a real college student. I can’t fail though. My dad would kill me. I can’t go make friends and run around. What would they say if I had to come back and study?”
“Tyler, most students here say that. We all have to study. They would understand. More than likely they would try to convince you to discontinue doing whatever you’re doing at the moment, but they would understand.”
“You probably think I’m a freak.”
“No. No, I don’t. Why would you say that?”
“Because I’m never out of my room except to go to class.” Tyler looked away into the small kitchen.
“I don’t judge you. Truth be told, I don’t think others judge you as much as you think. They’re too busy worrying about being judged.” Joey laughed eliciting the same from Tyler.
Joey stood and looked out the window as the rain cascaded through the street lights in sheets that swept against the side of the building and blotted out all the details of the courtyard. The weather was going to make the game even more interesting. How could he run and utilize his speed in this?
“I’m going back to bed,” Tyler said.
Joey turned back around. He felt as though he needed to say more to his roommate, but he couldn’t decide what.
“Okay, good night. Don’t worry about the storm. I’ll wake you if it gets bad.”
Tyler stepped toward his room and stopped. “Joey, if you’re gone before I get up, good luck in the game. I’ll be watching.”
“You’re wise beyond your years,” Tyler said. “I could tell from the first time I met you.”
The buses pulled out of the parking lot at eight a.m. on the button, and rain buffeted the windows and the wind rocked the team back and forth throughout the four hour ride to Oxford. The team did a walk through indoors that evening, all under the watchful eye of the commentators for the SEC game of the week who sat in folding chairs on the sideline. That night Sally, barely downgraded from a hurricane, roared through town.
The rain continued under dark gray skies throughout breakfast, and by the time the team came out of the dressing room to begin warm-ups a steady downpour and intermittent wind gusts were all that remained. The turf held remarkably well, and Joey found that he had little difficulty cutting or planting. He seemed to be as fast as ever. By the time the Ole Miss band finished the “National Anthem”, a raucous crowd in the stadium full to capacity ignored the rain and waited to learn which team would walk out of the stadium 3-0.
Even though the wind was in his face, Joey put the opening kickoff deep into the end zone. The Rebels began to march at once, slipping a pass to a halfback on the far side of the field away from Joey. Then, the quarterback scrambled for fifteen yards before Joey slammed him to the ground. A counter play for ten more. Another pass away from Joey. Then a reverse to the five. It took Ole Miss three more plays, but they punched the ball into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
All of Michaels’ hopes of not using Joey to a great extent evaporated on the Commodores first possession. Three insignificant plays for no gain and a Joey Goodman punt inside the twenty. Ole Miss repeated their first drive and made the score 14-0, all with plays designed to steer clear as far as possible from Joey.
On Vandy’s second drive, Joey didn’t get a chance to make an impact either. With Joey split out wide, Couch muffed another snap and the ball got kicked around all the way to the end zone where the Rebels recovered it to make the score 21-0. The rain continued. It looked to be a gloomy day for Vandy all the way around. Every Ole Miss’ supporter was breathing a sigh of relief, and most certainly the announcers had been convinced that Vanderbilt’s fast start to the season was more a mirage than an oasis.
Vanderbilt’s spirits were low and heads hung as they came off the field.
“Get your heads up!” Michaels yelled. “It’s only over if you think it is. Joey! Run the kick back!”
Vanderbilt’s fortunes were about to change.
The Ole Miss kicker tried to pooch the ball to the sideline and instead the wind carried it all the way back to Joey on the goal line. Bloated raindrops fell in his eyes as he waited and by the time he caught it two Rebel defenders were bearing down on him. He sidestepped one and spun away from the second. Then he saw the wall, wide open on the far side of the field as if the Red Sea had parted. Ten, twenty, thirty yard line before one defender broke through, and Joey sidestepped and put his head down. Forty, fifty, forty, no one in sight. Touchdown Vandy. Joey’s extra point made the score 21-7.
The rain fell harder. Joey topped the ball on the kickoff bouncing it high, and as he ran beneath it he leveled the first Ole Miss player in his way. When it bounced again, Joey caught it in stride, eluded one man and outran everyone to the end zone again. Kick. 21-14. Now the fans had a ballgame as the wind and rain came harder.
Joey’s next kickoff was a line drive that careened off a player on the front line and all the way back to Vandy who fell on it. Vandy began to drive at once. Couch took the snap and ran a quarterback sneak surprising everyone and good for ten yards inside Ole Miss territory. Then, Joey went in motion and intercepted the shotgun snap, streaked around the end, made a man miss and scored again. After the kick, the game was tied.
The Vandy defense held on long enough for the Rebels to miss a field goal, now into the wind, and the teams were still knotted at the end of three quarters. The mood on the sideline was one of relief; a reprieve had been granted, and it seemed as though Vandy now believed they could win the game.
The fourth quarter was never close. The Rebels came back onto the field for the kickoff as if the rain and wind buffeted only them and as if they had no desire to be playing at all. Joey ran back a punt, picked a pass for a touchdown on the next play, and then returned another punt for a touchdown. He seemed to be everywhere. He wanted the ball every play. If he was on defense he often made the tackle. Joey scored on one more play from the shotgun giving him seven td’s and seven extra points on the day. Willie caught a screen and went the distance late in the game, and the final score was 56-21.
Vandy was 3-0, and Joey Goodman would become a household name by the end of the week.