“That speech was pretty amazing,” Joey said as the team bus rumbled toward the stadium.
“It wasn’t really my speech. It was Shakespeare’s.”
“I mean, coming up with it, reciting it, before the game. The guys look up to you. Out of all the admirable athletes and great students, they look to you. You have a gift.”
Willy stared into Joey’s eyes and said nothing for a moment.
“I’ve always looked to you that way,” Willy said. “I never thought they might think I was anything special.”
“And there you have it,” Joey said. Now he looked out the window and away from Willy before looking back and adding, “That’s why.”
Joey had no way of knowing if Willy understood what he had said. It was true though. Willy had a knack for deflecting attention. Joey had seen on more than one occasion Willy speak to a fellow teammate and in the process change a bad situation to a positive. Humility. That was it. That was Willy.
The bus rolled down the interstate approaching the stadium. Willy had begun humming a tune that Joey couldn’t place, but it was pleasing and instead of thinking about this afternoon’s game he closed his eyes and listened without realizing that that was what he used to do when Michelle was alive. It never failed when she was bustling around the house doing whatever she was doing she hummed, sometimes stopping long enough to sing the words to the song in an indistinct, melodic blur almost like background music.
Joey opened his eyes to listen to Willy speaking.
“I meant what I said.”
Joey’s expression must have told Willy he had no idea what he was talking about.
“I mean, you have this wisdom about you.”
“I’ve seen lots of things I wish I hadn’t,” Joey said. He thought of Michelle once more. “You have too. Someday you’ll get married, get a dog and treat it like a child, and then finally you’ll have real children running around the house. You’ve got a great life ahead of you.”
“I wish I could be as certain about that as you are.”
“You’ve got more time than I’ll ever have. I’m pretty sure of that.”
They didn’t speak again on the bus ride. In fact, no one spoke much right up until kickoff.
Florida’s best defensive lineman went out with a knee injury weeks before the two teams lined up to do battle, but you couldn’t tell it in the first quarter. Even Joey’s elusiveness failed to produce more than a couple of first downs. Willy didn’t have much luck either. The corner assigned the task of covering him cheated up to the line and hit him as soon as the ball was snapped. Somehow he managed to stay on him so close he never got much of a chance to get down field, and when he managed to begin to get open the line was unable to keep the defensive linemen at bay. If the defense didn’t sack Vandy’s quarterback, they hurried him or chased him around. Nothing was working.
In the second quarter though, Vandy ran a draw, perfectly executed. Florida, thinking pass, left a wide open and gaping hole that Joey ran through. Impossible to corral in the open field, Joey romped 72 yards for the game’s first score.
Vandy ran an onside kick and recovered, then on the first play from scrimmage dropped back as if to pass deep. Letting the defense rush in, Vandy’s quarterback Couch dumped a screen to Joey who had lots of blockers and went 55 yards for the second score. Bang, bang, bang and Florida was down two scores. That took the fight out of the Gators. The rout was on.
Final 35-0. Vandy was 9-0.