The heaving shoulders of the 291-pound figure kept rhythm with the sobs echoing off the deserted lockers. The massive frame slumped on the bench holding his tear-streaked face with his incompetent hands. It was a routine snap. He had made thousands of them in his career, but not this one.
The announcerís call haunted him as an incessant reminder of failure.
One more kneel down should wrap up the Comets first Bowl victory in school history. Harris lines up under Jacobson. Thereís the snapĖ Wait! Itís a fumble. The ballís kicked around. Jansen picks it up with nothing but green in front of him. This is unbelievable! Heís at the thirtyÖheís at the 20Öheís at the 10ÖTOUCHDOWN! The Cougars upset the Comets in a last second thriller.
The All-Conference center knew the importance of the snap. His high school coach beat that into his head.
Jacobson, as center, you are the ignition of this offense. If you muff the snap, the offense canít even get started. It all starts with you, son. The exchange between you and the quarterback is most important. Got it?
Those words now beat him like a billy club. Everything was ruined. Todd picked up a black velvet case resting next to him on the bench and carefully pried open the lid. The dreary lighting still managed to dance off the faces of the one-karat diamond inside. Todd had planned on proposing to Sara after the game, but he couldnít face her now. How could he? His hall of shame performance probably ruined any chance of him being drafted.
A knock on the locker room door jerked Toddís head to the side; he snapped the case shut and closed his hand. A captivating brunette with deep brown eyes and a slender build crept through the doorway. Her smile unveiled the love and compassion welling within her for this dejected form.
"Todd," Sara said softly, "your coach said I could come in. How are you doing?" She eased down next to him on the bench and began caressing his left shoulder with her tender hand.
Todd hung his head once again. "Coach Miller use to tell me, Ďthe exchange between the quarterback and the center is most important.í And I blew it. Iím so sorry, Sara. Iíve ruined everything. "
"No you havenít, Todd. You did your best. The team would have never made it this far if it wasnít for you."
"Itís not just the game. Itís our future. I ruined it."
"What are you saying?"
"I wanted to provide a great life for you, Sara. And now- nowÖ I donít know."
Todd wanted to cry, but the tears had run dry. He fixed his eyes on the floor and clenched his right hand.
"Todd, whatís in your hand?" Sara asked.
Todd slipped his hand to his side and said, "Itís nothing, Sara. Donít worry about it."
Sara however persisted, "Todd, I know youíre hiding something. Please, show me what it is."
The beaten down warrior had no energy to resist and conceded to her plea. He raised his hand and revealed the velvet case. Saraís eyes widened and her face flushed with excitement. "What is this?" she asked.
"I wanted to propose to you, Sara. But I donít know how, now that Iíve ruined everything. I doubt Iíll make it to the NFL. Teams want players who step up in big games, not ones who fall apart."
Sara opened the case and her heart raced as she gazed at the beautiful symbol of his love. "Todd," she gently placed her hand on his cheek and turned his face toward her, "it doesnít matter to me whether you play another football game in your life. I love you because of you, not what you do. I would love to be your wife if youíre willing to make that proposal."
Todd looked into her hope filled eyes and felt a smile creeping over his face. He took the case from Saraís hand, lifted the ring from its silk bed, and cradled her hand in his. Then, with the ring readied for placement, he asked, "Sara, will you marry me?"
Todd slipped the ring on her finger; Sara wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips against his to seal the engagement. Then, with a momentary release of their lipsí embrace, she whispered, "Nothing against Coach Miller, but this exchange is most important. And you executed it perfectly."
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