Editor’s note: The following selection comes from Ted Prokash’s new book – awaiting publication – The Brothers Connolly. “It is a story of hometown and family,” says Prokash.
The team arrives at Stockbridge school at 12:30. They find out their locker room, walk on the grass of the field and nose around the facilities with subdued interest. Two hours until game time. Only a muted version of the team’s usual callow camaraderie is entertained.
Back in the locker room; the clanging of metal locker doors and the zipping, ripping sound of athletic tape wrapping wrists and ankles. Then the clicking clacking of shoulder pads being donned, adjusted and slapped. Finally, the report of hard rubber cleats raking over the tile floor.
The team gathers. A few words from the coaches in turn before it’s time to take the field; platitudes, exhortations, inspiration. You may lose and you may win, but you will never be here again, etc. Bobby speaks last of all. He is calm, his words measured. Fundamentals, game plan, execution – block and tackle…football. The boys only half hear him over the pounding of their hearts, the firecracker twitching of nerves and the clenching and unclenching of fists. Before turning them loose, Bobby feels compelled, finally, to touch himself on the significance of the moment. “You’ve got a great opportunity today, boys. Most kids that play football at Napawaupee go four years and never come close to playing in a game like this, never get a sniff. I know guys who would die tomorrow if they could come back and play in this game today. That’s no lie.
“Now you’re all going to go on to school or have careers and families and do a million other things that are more important than high school football. But this, here and now, is something you can never do again. And this is the most fun you’ll ever have in your life.” Looking in the man’s face, no boy could disbelieve him. “So for Christ’s sake, go out there and have fun.”
Ready now, wrapped and armored and implored to action by their unflappable chief, the Indians take the field.
The day is eerie. Saturday afternoon. A pale grey sky and the faint ghost of snow instead of the high halogen lights and electric air of Friday night. The fans set back from the field, looking paltry in number in the stadium bleachers that would accommodate all of Napawaupee two times over. The sound of the band and the crowd, instead of roaring and thumping in the players’ ears and charging in their chests – a distant murmur, mostly had by the whipping wind. This field is a barren rock, some obscure moon where the godforsaken battle for survival before alien audience.
Both teams are business-like warming up. They ignore each other’s presence on the field. A superior feat of will. For half an hour the tension continues to build, whipped on by the wind, then, finally, the trite old song and it is time to play.
The coin flips for Little Stevenson and they choose to defer. They’ll take the howling wasteland wind at their backs in quarters two and four. The kick-off, as always, like a great spring snapping. The players are hurled toward one another like shrapnel. The machine gun crack of plastic pads and hats and the skirmish is on. At last these eager young men are delivered from the nauseous, paranoid tedium of peacetime.
Ted Prokash is a founding member of the elusive art-rock combo, Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones. He lives in Algoma with my wife and three children. To check out his first novel, A Fool for Lesser Things, email [email protected].