Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Football

This is a story first published a long time ago in a magazine called Strange Days. I reprint it every year at the start of football season.

The Red Shirt Freshman of Notre Dame









 


Otis Claverson didn't look too good when the trainers carried him off the field. His eyes were glazed over and his usually smiling face had been replaced by one filled with searing pain. "Seventy-three," someone kept yelling. That number seemed familiar. Lizard Murphy glanced down at his jersey. He was number 73. He looked at Elmo Bruno, defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. "Lizard in," the crusty man with the thinning crewcut ordered. Lizard put on his helmet and trotted onto the field. The last game of the regular season, a bowl bid and a national championship were on the line and Lizard had never played for a single minute during the entire season. He lined up at the right middle linebacker spot, replacing the injured Otis Claverson, who was in for only two plays for the starting linebacker.

He grunted and looked mean for the benefit of the big tight end on the other side of the ball. Lizard glanced down and realized they were practically standing on the end zone. They were down by three points and there was only a minute left in the game and New Mexico State was about to score again — New Mexico State.

The instant the ball was snapped, the quarterback stepped back to pass. Lizard scrambled after the tight end. Lizard ran like a truck and had been put in to stop the anticipated run. For a big man, their tight end was fast—much faster than Lizard. Lizard tried to keep up. Suddenly the tight end turned back toward the quarterback. Lizard was behind him—way behind him, and the ball was going straight at the tight end, who was now five yards in front of Lizard.

Then something strange happened that would change Lizard's life forever. The New Mexico State tight end vanished—just disappeared. The ball sailed straight into Lizard's gut. Somehow, Lizard managed to hang onto it.

"Down it you meathead!" he could hear coach Elmo yelling.

There were a lot of the other guys between him and the other end zone nearly 100 yards away, but time was running out. He put his helmet down and charged ahead. The first state guy made contact on the five, a stiff arm sent him to the turf. By the 20, Lizard's lungs were hurting and he still had 80 yards to go. A second guy missed a tackle to his legs. Lizard looked over his shoulder. Micky D. was only a few yards behind him. The free safety was so much faster than he was. He tossed the ball—a perfect lateral to his teammate. Lizard stopped. His teammate sailed past him, dodged two tacklers and headed into open field.

A few seconds later Notre Dame was back on top as Mick D. Spillner ran untouched into the end zone. People everywhere on the sidelines were cheering and jumping up and down—at least everywhere on the Notre Dame side. The State guys were jumping up and down too, but they were screaming and shaking their fists.


The New Mexico State coach, finishing an undefeated rookie season, disregarded the fact that Notre Dame was setting up for the extra point and stormed out onto the field. The referee threw a flag and blew his whistle to stop play. "Where the hell's my tight end?" he yelled to the official.


After a five minute consultation, the referee ruled that the touchdown stood, and that there were ten seconds left on the clock. Campus security would have to deal with the mysterious disappearance of Buz Bombarella, star tight end for New Mexico State. Disappearing during a play was not covered in NCAA rules.


Lizard was touched when Mickey D. gave him the football he'd lateraled to him. He vowed to cherish it forever.

That evening, he was walking back to his room in the company of Juliet Mills, one of the cheerleaders who had suddenly taken an interest in him. He was about to explain how he'd come to be named Lizard, but he had an uneasy feeling that something wasn't quite right. Tearing his eyes away from he r, he looked around. There was a flying saucer hovering over the dorm. He broke into a run. In fact, if he'd ran that fast earlier, he could've scored the touchdown himself. He charged up the stairs and busted through the door to his room without even stopping to turn the knob or unlock it.

A little green guy with black eyes and two antennae sticking out of his head was climbing out the window — with the game ball. Lizard lunged after him and grabbed onto the ball. The green-guy jumped off the ledge and pulled Lizard off with him. Instead of falling, they ascended. Three seconds later, they were inside the flying saucer.

Lizard kicked the green guy with enough force to get his football back.


Five other green guys were standing around him, each one had a shiny cylinder pointed straight at Lizard's head.

He let the green guy take back the football.

"It's you!" someone said. Lizard turned around. There was another green guy, but this one was wearing a Notre Dame jersey. The other green guys bowed. "I can't believe it's you. Would you autograph the football?"
"Hell no."
"Please?"


"No way. It's my ball." Lizard crossed his arms and tried to look as defiant as possible.
"We'll kill you."

Lizard accepted the pen one of them was now holding and scrawled something with his right hand. Lizard was a southpaw and figured that was about as good as a bad forgery. They didn't seem to notice. "What's with you guys?" He handed back the football

"Go Irish!" they all yelled in unison.

An ugly thought entered his mind. "You guys do something to that  tight end?"

They all started looking toward the ceiling. The one in the football jersey finally gestured for the others to put away their weapons. "You would've lost the national championship."

"There were only fifty seconds left," the others said, again all in unison. "A touchdown would've finished you."

"Where is he?" Lizard asked. "Did you transport him up?"
"Out of range," they all said.
"We vaporized him. Maybe we got a little carried away."

"This is too weird. Keep the damn ball."

"Ah, thank you," the one in the jersey said. "You are too kind."

"When we go to the Fiesta Bowl, you guys aren't going to . . . ?" Lizard asked.
"No. We regret that little incident."

"Besides, Miami doesn't have a prayer. Go Irish!" they all yelled.



 

"You wanted to see me?" Lizard asked as he stood at attention in Elmo Bruno's office.

Bruno turned down the sound of the television. He'd been watching Jeopardy. "This ruckus about yesterday's game. The Fiesta Bowl just backed out of their invite. The boss is in there now trying to get us booked in some bowl in Alaska."
"Alaska?"

"Yeah, and they're talking about going with Alcorn State instead of us."
"Alcorn? I don't even know where the heck that is." Lizard sat down in one of the comfy leather chairs. "I wouldn't worry about it, sir. I think Notre Dame is entering a new era of football." "How so?"
The news team interrupted Jeopardy on the television to bring a report that the stadium in Arizona that was used by the Fiesta Bowl had just been leveled by an apparent earthquake. Police were denying rumors of a flying saucer sighting just moments before the quake.




 

 


Author’s note: The way college bowls are awarded has changed substantially since this story was first published.

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