By Mike Stevens
“Hut one, hut two, hike!” came the cry from quarterback Colt Slinger. ‘Squatbody’ Sam Splunger went from his position at fullback, out on his pass route. Towards the sidelines, about 15 yards up the field he went. He turned, and there was the pass. He cradled his arms, made the catch, and went tumbling out of bounds.
“Great catch, # 44!” yelled Head Coach Adam Archdale.
Sam was happy. Even though the coach didn’t remember his name, he had been singled out for praise. Sam had told himself this was his final shot, that if he failed to make the team this time, he’d hang up his cleats and get a so-called real job. Making a pro football team had been his dream ever since he had seen his first game. He had tried out for, and failed to make, 3 different teams, and his parents were hinting they wanted him to move out of their basement. He’d told them if he failed to make the team this time, he’d get a real paying job, and move out. This time he was desperate!
Practice was over, and Sam was walking back to the locker room, when Coach Archdale’s voice stopped him.
“Wait, 44, I’d like to see you in my office. Oh, and bring your playbook!”
Oh s**t! He’d had to do this 3 times before, and knew he was being cut. He totally went off.
“S***w you, Coach! You brainless fricking wonder! I know I can play in this league, but nobody sees my talent. All you guys see is a dude with no neck, short, stubby legs, and no visible talent. No one looks beyond appearances, and sees my heart. I’m telling you, I can play! If you weren’t so fricking blind and stupid, you’d see that.”
Coach Archdale replied, “Well son, I was going to add a play with you as my secret weapon, but if you’re not interested…”
Sam couldn’t believe his ears! He had expected to be s**t-canned, but here was Coach Archdale telling him, with a straight face, he was putting in a play just for him.
“I’m so sorry, Coach; I thought you were cutting me. Yeah, I’m interested, you bet!”
“Cutting you? No, no, we’re going to put you to good use. You’re chunky, you’re short, and we’ll use those things to our advantage. No one in their right mind would ever expect you to slip out of the backfield and go long for a pass.”
Sam was a little bit annoyed at being called chunky and short, but he was excited for the opportunity. “Gee, thanks Coach, I guess, and I won’t let you down!”
It was game time. He hadn’t played a down during the pre-season, and now that the games counted for real, Sam was so nervous, as he paced up and down the sidelines.
“For crying out loud, would you give the pacing s**t a rest? You’re making everybody nervous!” chastised Coach Archdale.
Sam physically stopped moving, but mentally, he kept pacing. He was struggling with impatience. Come on, kick off the damn ball already, he thought to himself. This waiting c**p was too fricking hard. Soon, he’d have a chance to prove them all wrong, the coach, his parents, his teammates, the opposing team, the T.V. audience, the referees, the stadium employees, and the fans in attendance.
There were only 10 seconds to go in the game, and his team was behind by six. Sam was seething with anger at the coach. The whole game, he’s been primed to enter the game and run the special play, made just for him, and now the game was almost over and it looked like Coach had forgotten him. He was so hacked, when Coach yelled, “#44!” he almost didn’t hear.
“#44, get you’re a** over here.”
Sam freaked, grabbed his helmet, and ran up to Coach, blurting, “Here I am, Coach. I’m ready!”
Coach told him “You know what to do. Curl out of the backfield, go long, and Colt will find you. Now, we’re down by 6, so we need a touchdown. Can I count on you?”
Sam practically shouted, “You know it Coach! You can count on me!”
“Alright then, get in there.”
Sam almost tripped over his own feet, as over the loudspeaker, he heard,
“Now entering the game, #44, Splunger!” As he excitedly ran out to the huddle, a chorus of unrestrained laughter erupted from the stands, the opposing team, and his own players. Ignoring that, he entered the huddle, and told Colt,
“Coach says run play XX34.”
Colt stared back at him with incredulity “XX34? Are you sure he called that play?”
Sam answered in the affirmative.
“Okay, listen up, everyone. XX34 on 3. Ready, break!”
Sam ignored the hostile looks he received from his teammates, and concentrated on the play. This was the moment he would make the name ‘Squatbody’ Sam Splunger a name among the immortal heroes of the gridiron. Colt was set to take the snap. He screamed,
“Hut one, hut two, hut three!”
On the third ‘Hut’ Sam was off. He curled out of the backfield, and just as Coach had predicted, no one had covered him. He was wide open! He sprinted up the field, turned, and there came the ball, arcing lazily toward him. The home crowd was on their feet and screaming; they could sense looming victory. Sam prepared himself to make the grab. Now, he had to remember to score a touchdown, although, the way the pass floated towards him, staying on his feet should be no problem. It was coming right to him. He cradled his hands, ready to catch the pass softly in his arms, and—missed it! The ball bounced off his hands, and high in the air. He could still catch it. He started to lunge high, and his cleats caught in the turf, sending him sprawling, as the football thumped harmlessly to the turf. From the ground, Sam heard a collective groan from the crowd, and then the booing started. He couldn’t believe it; he’d had his big-time dream right in his hands, and he’d fricking let it slip through away, along with the football.
The booing grew more intense, and he heard horrible taunts from the crowd, but the worst was from Coach:
“Ah, s**t! You screwed that one up, but good. You suck steaming s**t, you fricking reject. Yeah, that’s what you are: a steaming s**t-sucking reject!”
As he ducked all the debris thrown out of the stands, and made his way to the sidelines, he felt, rather than saw, the angry, dagger-like stares from the other players. From somewhere down the bench he heard,
“Just keep on going, there, #44, you’re through playing for my team!” from Coach Archdale. Great! Now what?
He strode confidently into the gym. He heard the others laugh, and kept his head down. Sam (Squatbody) Splunger knew he didn’t look like anyone’s idea of the classic basketball player: tall and lanky. No, he was short and chunky, but inside him beat the heart of a warrior, the heart of a champion! After failing in four attempts to make it in pro football, his best sport, he had been totally depressed. It didn’t help much that his parents called him a loser, and kicked him out of their house. He’d found a menial job, rented a one bedroom dump of an apartment, and lamented the fact he had failed to make in his dream of playing pro football. After wallowing in self-pity for three or four months, he began to revise his dream: if he couldn’t make it in football, maybe he could in basketball. True, he sucked at basketball, but he had enough heart to get better, quickly. And so, when he’d seen in his newspaper there was an open tryout for the Duluth Tusks of the Junior Round-Ball Outdoor Basketball Confederation, he’d jumped at the chance. And so, here he was, and found himself surrounded by 6-6 or taller dudes who looked at him , and they all started laughing. Then the coach, who was also laughing, said,
“Eh, ha , ha! And just are you? Whoever’s playing the practical joke, it’s a good one. No more jokes. Let’s start practice!”
Sam replied, “This is no joke; I want to try out to make your team!”
“As what? The new mascot?” shot back the coach.
Sam had his feelings hurt, and retorted, “Not the mascot; as a ball player!”
The coach looked incredulously at him, and said, “Phi, Slama Jama, you? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No, I’m not kidding; this was supposed to be an open tryout, but I guess not!” Sam yelled at the coach.
The coach replied, “Okay, sure; you’ll get your chance!” then, to the others, he said, “Let’s begin with a scrimmage. You, you’re over here!” he said, pointing to Sam, and, after choosing nine other players, and, after taking the others off to the side and whispering something, the scrimmage began. Sam ran down the court, and screamed,
“I’m open!” and the ball was passed to him, much too hard he thought, and as he tried to catch it, bounced off his forehead, and flew out of bounds.
“What was that?” yelled the coach. “Take it out right here,” he then added, pointing to a spot on the sidelines right in front of him.
The ball was thrown in to him, and Sam somehow hung on to it this time.
“Shoot, shoot!” he heard someone yell, and so he turned towards the basket, jumped into the air, and cocked his wrist to let the shot go. As he reached his release point, a big tall guy suddenly loomed right in front of him, causing him to lose control of the ball, as the tall guy’s fist smashed down on the top of his head. With the impact, he summer-salted, and landed hard on the court.
“Foul! That’s a foul!” he said loudly.
“I didn’t see a foul; play on!” replied the coach, who was refereeing the scrimmage.
“What?” Sam screamed in a rage.
The coach answered, “No foul, I said!
Sam couldn’t believe his ears. “Come on; how could you not have seen that!” he snapped.
The coach replied defiantly, “Are you calling me a blind liar?”
Sam answered, “Not a liar!”
The coach then said, “Well, never let it be said I didn’t give you a shot; I’m trimming down the roster a little, as we have too many players. Consider yourself trimmed!”
“What? You call that a fair shot?” Sam shot back.
The coach replied, “I never said anything about fair!”
Sam walked dejectedly towards the locker room.Behind him, came the sound of catcalls and open laughter, and Sam whirled around to see that not only were the players pointing and laughing, but so was the coach. Damn them all!