The quiet of the locker room unnerved Joey, but it was Downtown Kevin Brown that noticed the silence and mentioned it.
“Why is it so quiet?” he asked Joey.
“It’s been more and more this way each week,” Joey said as he glanced around the room then broke into a wry smile. “It’s pressure.”
“From what? I mean what are we pressured about?”
“No, you know, we weren’t supposed to win and now we’re favored every game. It starts to build and players begin to worry they’re going to lose instead of trying to win.”
Downtown had begun growing a beard, and now he rubbed his hand along his chin turning the revelation over in his mind as if he contemplated how he might change the situation. Willy did not know the meaning of pressure. If the week’s events had created a distraction, no one could have proved it by Willy. Dressed for battle and looking trim and fast, he walked up and stood in front of the pair of gridiron philosophers.
“This guy was watching Uga, the bulldog mascot, licking himself on the field one day,” Willy started. “Guy says, ‘Man, don’t you wish you could do that.’ His friend says, ’That dog’d bite yooooou.”
“Where’d you hear that?” Joey asked as the laughter subsided.
“I dunno,” Willy said and shrugged as he sat by his friend.
“You need to remember that one.”
Willy looked around for ears. “I saw it on a forum board.”
“What are you doing, man? Coach said we can’t get caught up in that. I know. I used to read them all the time. You start reading about yourself though, you know, it can’t be good.”
“I was bored.”
Michaels entered and gave his pre-game talk. The prep had transformed throughout the year. No motivation was needed. The team needed only to be focused and prepared to play. Then, Willy stood.
“Can I say something, coach?”
“You may Willy. Less than a minute though. We need to go.”
“It’ll take less than that,” he said. “Guys, seize this moment. Seize every moment we have. In Shakespeare’s immortal words - he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
Willy paused and let the words sink in before continuing.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.
At once every man stood and screamed with a primal and guttural yell. The locker room began to empty. Michaels, Willy, and Joey were the last to leave, and they looked at each other’s smiles.
“Willy,” Michaels said, “maybe you should have saved that one for a tougher game.”
“I hope you’re right, coach.”
Michaels was right. This game was never close.
Joey returned the opening kick for a touchdown. Willy scored twice on screen passes. The score was 35-0 at the half. Nothing could slow the Commodores, for this team now possessed an enchanted spirit. Even though Georgia might well have been the most talented team Vandy had played to this point, the final score was again 70-0.
There were no chance meetings with Al or Luan that weekend. Throughout preparations the next week for the following game with a depleted and reeling Florida team that was the worst for them in decades, life for Joey was like any other star football player but largely uneventful. They would travel to Gainesville on Friday and play the Gators on Saturday. By all indications the path to the championship and to the Heisman was clear.