The sound of our cleats on the concrete echoed off the walls as we nervously jumped around the steamy corridor that would lead us onto the football field. The air was a thick mix of sweat, testosterone and adrenaline.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your Chesterfield Eagles!” The announcers words were our cue. The crowd was on their feet, yelling as the cheerleaders flipped their way across the field in front of us. We charged through the huge banner and in seconds destroyed what had taken the cheerleaders hours to make.
After the coin toss, the players took their positions on the field and I took my regular spot on the bench as the second-string quarterback.
On our first offensive snap, the first-stringer, Evan, desperately searched for an open receiver. I winced as two large opponents dog-piled him behind the line of scrimmage. Over the crowd I heard him swear as he picked himself up and dusted off his pants.
“You got to look ‘em up before you throw the ball,” Coach yelled to Evan when his next pass failed to connect with a receiver. Two more incomplete passes forced Evan and our offense to the sidelines.
“I’m not getting any time out there, Coach.” Evan kicked the bench in anger. I handed Evan a water bottle, which he took without a thank you. “My sorry blockers aren’t protecting me,” he yelled loudly.
The second half of the game didn’t improve for Evan, but the game remained close.
“Coach ought to put you in,” Darren, my best friend and fellow bench warmer murmured the same as he did every game.
“What? After the shape of my rump is so nicely worn into the bench,” I responded, but knew he was right. I had done all I could to prove I was worthy of the title QB1. I worked harder and did better in practice than Evan, who was arrogant and disrespectful. I even had the team’s support, but Coach wouldn’t give me a chance.
Despite a scoreless offense, our defense held the other team to six points.
“Come on guys. Give me more time to throw the ball,” Evan yelled.
“Evan,” the coach called after signaling a time out.
“What do you want?” he snapped disrespectfully.
Coach’s face turned red. He pulled off his hat and pointed to the bench. “You’re out.”
Everyone had been watching the duo, but at Coach’s words, I felt my teammate’s stares turn toward me.
My heart pounded as Coach looked me in the eyes. The sides of his mouth turned up just a bit as he spoke. “You’re in.”
As I fastened my helmet, Evan threw his down and kicked it towards the stands. He then took the spot on the bench I had vacated.
Dozens of hands patted my backside as I left the sidelines and headed toward the huddle where ten Eagles looked to me for direction. The roar of the crowd inspired me as I confidently shared the game plan.
When the center snapped the ball, everyone seemed to move in slow motion. I backed up, then tossed a screen pass to number twelve, who was in the right spot. He easily caught the ball and advanced twenty yards for a first down.
The fans were on their feet for the next play. I dropped back and looked left and right, but couldn’t find an open receiver. I looked down field and saw a clear pathway to the end zone. I tucked the ball under my arm and sprinted my way to a touchdown as the game clock expired.
As quickly as the exuberance hit me, so did a feeling of reverent gratefulness. Without thinking, I kneeled in the end zone. “Thank you, Lord.”
With the score tied, my hands were clammy as I held the ball for our kicker. The crowd erupted into mass celebration when the ball sailed through the uprights for the game winning extra point. My teammates lifted me up as they danced around the field.
When Coach approached us, they put me down. He extended his hand to me. I wondered if the others noticed that his eyes were damp. “I’m as proud of tonight as I have been every other night of your life.”
“Why did it take you so long to put me in, Dad?”
“I never wanted anyone to doubt that you deserved that spot. And I knew that once I put you in, I wouldn’t ever want to take you out.”
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