ROSS The scene on the field played out like a stop-action shot from a movie. A horror movie. The roar of the crowd silenced as if 80,000 fans all sucked in a collective gasp. Tom Brandon, the star of the Bitsberg Knights, hit the field, crushed under the weight of a three-hundred-plus-pound lineman. There was nothing any of us could do but watch from the sidelines as he went down, and the ball went tumbling right into the hands of the Stormers. Shit Stormers, that is. I sent a wide-eyed prayer to the sky that he’d get to his feet, shake it off, and continue to play. That somehow, someway, it wasn’t as bad as it looked— or sounded. I looked for any signs of a penalty flag before turning my attention to the jumbotron to watch the replay in slow motion. But the seconds kept ticking, each one rolling slowly over the next. Finally, the refs raced in, separating angry players as they disputed foul play. With the flick of a wrist, our medical staff ran out onto the field. My eyes squeezed closed as the team doctor knelt down beside Tom and his face went dark. “Shit.” “Yep.
we’re fucked.” I shot a scowl at Matthew Jenkins, the rookie kicker standing to my left. “Eloquent, Jenkins.” He shrugged, his expression unchanged. “Just stating the facts, Leverette. This game’s a wrap without Tom. Fuck man, our season just ended!” I dared another glance at the scene unfolding on the twenty-five-yard line. Damn it. Jenkins might be an idiot in most things—but in this case—he was right. Coach “Wheels” Wheeler looked a little nervous, waiting for word, as the medical staff scraped Brandon off the turf. He couldn’t walk on his own. That was the final nail in our coffin. Something was fucked up, and it wasn’t going to get fixed with some athletic tape and a shot of painkillers. We were done. And it just fluttered away in an icy blast of wind over the field as Brandon, the greatest quarterback that had ever lived, headed to the locker room and the Stormers’ offense took the field to try and close out the game.
Coach clutched his clipboard, scratching his jaw as he looked over the options. Nervous energy rustled through those of us on the sidelines. Coach looked up and glanced at me and then his eyes landed on Wilson Peters. The two remaining options to take Brandon’s spot. I was a third-string nobody. Most of the diehard fans would be pressed to even know my name. Let alone my stats. And there wasn’t a chance any of them would remember the killer stats I’d racked up during my four years at Arizona State. No, it was a bad year to be a quarterback. There was an onslaught of talent, and even with my record—I was pushed down the pack and handed a third-string spot, riding the Knights’ sidelines with a clipboard in hand and ball cap on my head. I wasn’t even sure where my helmet was half the time. I was strictly a support role kind of player. Coach jerked his chin at Peters, and it was done. I knew it wasn’t going to be me, but it still stung as Peters strapped on his helmet and quickly started to warm up along the sidelines with a coach in each ear. I wasn’t sure if I should be pissed off or relieved.
I didn’t have much time to sort it all out. Instead, we watched in agony as the Stormers slowly moved the ball down the field and chewed up precious seconds on the clock. We had a one-point lead, and it was becoming evident that the Stormers were near field goal range and trying to set up a play for a game-winning field goal. My own stomach was churning like I’d just taken a ride on Death Trap, the roller coaster at my favorite amusement park. Beauman picked off a pass across the middle with seconds remaining and scrambled sixty yards for a touchdown as the clock ran out. The noise went from zero to deafening when Beauman crossed into the end zone. Holy fucking shit, we were going to the playoffs! I couldn’t fucking believe it, even when the scoreboard flipped over to reveal the final score. We’d done it! After four long seasons, I finally had a shot at going to the Super Bowl. Hell, even if I never took a snap in the big game, I would die a happy man. Streamers and confetti fell down onto the field and we all raced out to dogpile on top of Beauman. He was the rockstar of the night, the monster that stepped up to the plate to save not only the day—but our entire season. We’d won the Division Championship and now, we were all looking at a chance to win big in the playoffs. Less than an hour later, we were all back in the locker room, and the noise and buzz came to a sober stop at the news that Tom Brandon had fractured ribs and a nasty sprained ankle. He was out for the rest of the season. Coach spoke to us and then dismissed us to hit the showers and get ready for the post-game rodeo.
I sat on the bench in front of my locker and laced up my boots when Jenkins crashed down beside me, grinning from ear to ear. “Can’t fuckin’ believe it! Damn.” Jenkins was a rookie. While I didn’t personally care much for him, he’d decided I was his buddy and ended up at my side more often than not. “Not a bad year to get in on the action, huh?” I asked, flipping open the top of my water bottle. I downed half the contents, my throat scratchy from all the celebrating. “Nope! Can you imagine if I got a ring my rookie year? Damn!” I laughed and finished off the bottle. The cold, hard truth was that our chances looked bleak at best. Our starting quarterback went down hard, and the playoffs were no time to bring in a forty-year-old aging veteran. Peters had been in the league for sixteen seasons. He’d played for three other teams before signing with the Knights at the start of this season. Peters had skills and had one trip to the Super Bowl under his belt, even though he got blown out by the Generals five years ago. Since then, he’d strictly been in a backup role and was brought to the Knights just for that purpose.