Every Friday Night
They had argued angrily, again, just before Todd left for the stadium. The fight had been a mirrored image of the one the previous week, and the one the week before that. Todd hated football, and wished he could quit. His father Daryl (Digger) Crockett hated the fact that Todd wanted to quit.
“I don’t even care if you hate playing,” yelled Digger, “But don’t you dare go making me look like a laughingstock! Quitter,” he muttered disgustedly. “Didn’t I teach you anything?”
“Yeah. You taught me to hate football. Just because it was your thing, does not make it my thing. I have other things that I would like to do, such as not get the shit beat out of me every Friday night.”
“Hell, you need some of that-you’re so full of it. Besides, if you were more aggressive, you wouldn’t always be looking up from the ground. You’re supposed to be looking down at your opponent.”
Digger was a former defensive lineman, known as one of the Brighton Bulldogs, even though the official team moniker was the Brighton Bobcats. The line had toughened up as both the games and the season had come to a close, netting the Bobcats/Bulldogs the state championship, establishing a league record for the stingiest defense. The title game was a 24-0 gem, and Digger had been All-League.
Todd was a tight end, and that meant that he was in on all of the plays, only not in the way he might have envisioned, catching balls over the middle, and plowing his way forward for however much turf he could capture. No, the glory went to the wide-outs, who did the crossing patterns down-field, and who were the go-to guys in Brighton’s offense. Even Todd recognized that he did not have the required speed, so he blocked, and he decoyed in order to be able to block, and then he blocked some more. He was in on all the plays all right; he in the whirlpool afterwards, though, every single game.
Tonight the opponent was Westfield, the cross-town rival, and reigning league champion, though they had not advanced in the playoffs the previous year past the first game. Brighton had felt that the better team had watched the post-season from the bleachers. This year, the Bobcats had vowed to not allow the insult to be repeated. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on the team to perform.
As Todd ran out for the opening series, he tried to put the argument out of his head, but it would not quit.
“You lack the tenacity of a real Bulldog,” his father had spat at him, as if he were some kind of worm, or worse, some kind of a loser.
“Don’t you mean Bobcat?” Todd had asked.
“That’s the difference between me, and you,” Digger went on. “You’ll never be a Bulldog!”
“That’s right, Dad, but then again, I don’t want to be a Bulldog. I never did. You wanted me to be a Bulldog. You. Not me. So if I don’t measure up, maybe it’s because I don’t want to. Maybe I don’t want to look down on them, after I have vanquished them. Maybe I just want to live my life without having opponents, and without having a dad who won’t accept me for what I am, or rather, for what I am not. I am not a Bulldog.”
But the kid who matched up against Todd was a jerk. He was loud, he was offensive, and he made it personal. His red hair projected out from beneath his helmet, and the sweat on his face, gave his army of freckles, a sheen, out from which they peered, as if observing his play. He had a thing about smash-mouth football; he elevated it to a new art.
Red lined up from Todd from the very first play, and started in on Todd’s mother. It was not the first time an opponent had taken this route, and Todd ignored it. He did not care what some yahoo thought of his mother; it was an old tactic. Red then started talking about Todd’s girl.
Now Red didn’t know Todd’s girl; he didn’t even know for a fact that Todd had a girl, so he was just fishing. So when Todd heard the first insult come out of the jerk’s mouth, he was completely prepared. It didn’t even matter what Red was spewing. He expected that some clown on an opposing team, would start talking trash about his sweet Ashley, so he dealt with it, just as he had been instructed.
Now as Todd lined up against Red, the insults started flying again. Red had noted the calm, and so he now redoubled his efforts. Right out of the blue, he lashed out at Freddie, the team water boy, who fulfilled his responsibilities, unfailingly, having been the team water boy for seventeen seasons. Freddie was 31 years old, and autistic. He was the son of the coach, and had been serving the team in his role ever since he had come to Brighton High. The team loved Freddie, unconditionally, and kept an eye out for him, in all venues.
As the ball was snapped, and Todd prepared to complete his assignment, Red bellowed, “Brighton can’t even find a real water boy. They need a retard.”
Digger’s words came hurtling back at Todd, “You’ll never be a Bulldog,” and suddenly Red found himself opposite a true mad dog, complete with foaming mouth, as Todd screamed incoherently at him, and charged. As he lambasted Red squarely, shoulder to chest, Todd dug his toes into the turf, and propelled himself forward, with a prodigious heave, a shove of such Herculean proportions that it accomplished two things: the first was to surprise the snot out of his opponent, who realized he had prodded the Bulldog, once too often.
The second thing that happened, was that Red still did not realize that the tables had been turned on him, and that when he tried to up his effort, it was already too late. His left cleat, extended just out behind him him, caught on the turf, leaving him off-balance for the briefest of heartbeats, and that’s when Todd’s second effort hit him. Red actually screamed as Todd landed on top of him, but it was stifled in the roar of the crowd, as the ball-carrier went right over the top of the sprawled out Red, on his way to an untouched score. It was right there for the whole stadium to see: brilliant and beautiful, a true Bulldog at last.
In the stands, Digger stared, thunderstruck, and said to himself, “I am a son of a bitch. He had it in him all along. I am a son of a bitch.”
Later, after the lights were out, and the team had scattered to all parts of the county, and beyond, to celebrate a hard-fought victory, Digger waited out in the parking lot for Todd.
When Todd joined him, Digger waited for his son to say something, anything. When Todd remained silent, Digger started up the car and headed out, speaking tentatively, “OK, Todd, Son, if you want to quit, then that’s all right with me. I don’t mind you quitting, now that I see you can fill my shoes, with the best of them. I just hated the thought that you could not do the job, and were quitting because of that. Now I see that you do not do the job each week, because you don’t want to. I see a huge difference, and I won’t stand in your way.”
Now it was Todd’s turn to wait. After a long moment, he said, “That’s all right, Dad. Now I don’t want to quit. I only did because you wouldn’t get off my back. Besides, I got me a rep now, and I have to keep it up.” And they drove the rest of the way home in companionable silence, each content to let white waters calm, if only for one special Friday night.