The Jaguar kicker kicked off the ball under an arsenal of chants from the rowdy Jaguar crowd. "Defense! Defense!" they shouted, leaving no mistake their team was up by one point. And the defense came through. On the Titan opening drive of the second half, they held the Titan offense to minus five yards in three plays.
Faced with fourth down and a long fifteen for a first down, Titan coach Gableman elected to punt, sending the punt unit out and quarterback Bobby Ross to the sidelines. The ball was snapped. The punter caught it, took a step, then a second
Suddenly from the left flank, two ferocious Jaguars charged and, with vicious hits, demolished the kicker. The ball popped free. Red and black jerseys dove to the left and right. A Titan jumped on the bouncing ball. It squirted free. A Jaguar pounced on the ball, when no less than seven bodies piled on top.
A referee, running toward the heap of body parts, tossed a late flag, apparently at an illegal chop block. After untangling the players, the referees gathered to make sense of the play, having to twice shoo away nosy captains. Finally they reached an agreement; one of the refs faced the stands. He motioned toward the east end-zone then shouted some official words. And when Jaguar fans saw their team's defense jumping up and down, they erupted into cheers and hoots.
But not Hank, the king of all Titan fans; he belched in disgust. "You suck ref!" His jocular opinion kicked off a barrage of four-letter suggestions, as bitter words banged back and forth between the Jaguar and Titan fans, until the Jaguars ran the ball into the end zone, adding to their lead.
Jaguars 14 Titans 6
Tannerville seniors, angry at the ref's call, started chanting for the ref's head. Suddenly a bottle hurtled through the air. No one saw who threw it but it came from the Jaguar side and it was going straight for Hank's head. At the last second, Hank ducked. The bottle sailed over the top of the bleachers and shattered on the cement below. Face boiling red, foam or maybe suds spewing from his mouth, he shot a look at every Jaguar fan, pausing long enough to make eye contact. And then he met the rambling eyes of Jamal Henderson and his brother. Unable to suppress his anger any longer, he charged, his cronies close at heel.
Brawling fans kicked and screamed and punched anybody wearing the opposite color. Jaguar black stomped on Titan red, and red pummeled black. Mixing white faces with black, the town rivals unleashed racial hatred that had been stashed for years. Punches were thrown. Beer was spilled. Young children scurried away. Seniors and juniors from each school attempted to prove their mite.
Not a fan paid attention to what brought them to the field in the first place the football game. Nobody had seen the Titan offense make a 15-yard run straight up the middle for a touchdown; or on the point after attempt when the Titans elected to go for two points instead of one; or when they converted the two point play tying the game 14-all.
The action was drawn from the Titans and Jaguars on the field to the hoopla in the stands. A role reversal, the players, coaches, and refs looked on in dismay at their towns fighting and shoving.
Until Jaguar coach Abrams started shouting at the Titan bench. Titan coach Gableman shouted back, when his assistant restrained him. But Coach Gableman shouted over his assistant's shoulder. Then Coach Abrams stormed over. He huffed, and he puffed, and he
The referees broke between the two coaches, which only deflected the anger toward them. Gableman and Abrams pointed fingers, shoved each other, shoved the refs, and kicked dirt. They disputed earlier calls the Jaguar blocked kick, the first quarter touchdown, a petty offside call. They even went so far as to agree that the refs sucked. They did!
Titan players on the bench, supporting their coach, stood and pumped their helmets in the air and hollered at the opponent bench. A racial slur slipped out. Jaguar players went berserk. Retaliating, they stormed over. A Titan player was shoved. He tripped on a patch of grass and hit the turf. When he got up, he clocked the Jaguar that pushed him. Punches were thrown. Choice words spit freely from player's mouths. The plague from the stands had seeped onto the field.
A call for peace finally sounded over the public address system and a horn sounded. But nobody in attendance heard. Hank, drunk and now bloody, was a bloody drunk. And Jamal and Terrell were no better off; they were sicker from too much liquor.
While this was going on, something on the field was taking place something nobody saw, nobody except for the twenty or so involved. The Titan defense and Jaguar offense were still on the field watching the mayhem. Arms dangling by sides, heads hung, they did not join in. They did not kick, punch, or shove. Instead they watched sadly, shaking their heads at something that was now bigger than the game. For that's all it was, right?
From the Titan bench a handful of players jogged away from the fighting. At midfield they greeted their defensive line. Then from the Jaguar bench, those who were not throwing fists, joined their mates on the field, all in attempts to steer clear of the mess.
Titan captain and quarterback Bobby Ross and Jaguar captain and running back Kobe Henderson met at the 40-yard-line. Hands pointing, helmets bobbing, it wasn't clear if they were ready to fight or share a joke. Then Bobby turned toward his teammates, who, huddled ten yards downfield, all stared at the rowdy fans, bickering coaches, and clueless security guards.
Kobe jogged away from Bobby, back to his fellow Jaguars. After explaining something, he ran back to Bobby, who was still at the 40. Waving hands and pointing to the stands, the fighting coaches, the other players, they dickered back and forth. Kobe looked ready to strike but instead turned and waved his team those on the field not fighting near. Bobby did the same.
After some sort of announcement, black Jaguar faces, grimy and rigid, showed contrasting white teeth, and then, marking some kind of truce, white Titan faces, smeared with dirt and sweat, smiled back.
Promptly, while the melee in the stands continued, the Titans formed a single line behind Bobby, and the Jaguars did the same behind Kobe. Pulling together, the two lines squared one red jersey with one black and joined hands. Without saying a word, they began walking off the field. Not a player in red or black looked back. A mind of their own, a purpose known to only them, the two lines, red and black, hand and hand, walked off the field. They had a game to play.
Proceeding across the asphalt track, they continued through the containing fence and started down the hill. Not a word was said. Not a head turned back. Each of the tired faces showed battle wounds, but they were bruises and scrapes and cuts from the game, not the havoc in the stands. Each, independent but together, let their heart lead, trusting it knew right from wrong, fact from fiction, black from white. For it was only together, black and white, not black against white, they would complete the game. The battle was between football teams and between towns, not between races, prejudices, and different ideals. They knew in their hearts this hatred didn't need to continue just because it was, because it's what they were born into, or because it's what they were led to believe.
As they quietly walked away, each team side by side, they removed their helmets and held them at their chests, as if ready to sing a united anthem an American united anthem that saw red, white, and blue, and black the same. Over the sound of equipment brushing and knocking was the sound of suppressed hatred from the stadium. Feint shouts, unabridged screams; two political parties with their own agenda, the two towns were determined to prove they were the best, for black and white, rich and poor.
On the horizon, the sun showed its face for the first time with a burst of orange and yellow surprise. Low and away to the sides, purple thunderclouds whisked away leaving in their wake an orange dot, which dipped quickly, as if ashamed.
Titans and Jaguars marched in two lines to the bottom of the hill. They passed the double doors leading to the locker room and continued along the side of the school to the bottom of the hill, where a weathered practice field awaited. A dark green and brown, the athletic field was waterlogged from the early morning showers. Two crooked uprights on either end, serving as end zone markers, welcomed their stay. And they did stay, that is.
The only visible trace of Georgetown Stadium, a distance of two football field lengths away, was the floodlights that, from down below, didn't seem so bright. The sounds of bitterness faded, but none of that mattered anymore.
The sun, ready to set on the horizon, grew brighter, more orange. Each second that daylight faded, it grew larger. Merely hanging in the sky, slightly above tree line, it was unreal. And as darkness crept in, it squeezed what rays it could from the sun. The few from the Titans and few from the Jaguars, black and white, rich and poor, held onto those rays
they had a game to play.
Bobby and Kobe, Kobe carrying the ball, walked onto the muddy practice field. Stopping at a barely visible white line, remnants of a 40-yard-line, Kobe set the ball down in the mud, marking the line of scrimmage, the exact spot where it had been on the last play before the interruption. Twenty boys, now caught up, huddled around the ball, when Bobby and Kobe and red and black set the rules, their own rules.
Kobe did it first. He removed his helmet, then his shirt and shoulder pads, and finally pulled his black Jaguar jersey back over his head. Confused, his teammates stared at him, then each other, then the Titans, who were equally perplexed. Realizing what he was doing, each Jaguar, in their black uniforms, and Titan, in red, followed his lead. They too removed their helmets, took off their shoulder pads, and piled them on the sideline. Returning, each pulled back on their jerseys. They were here to play football and football only.
Bobby Ross, without a helmet or pads or hidden agenda, lined his offense at scrimmage. Some key players were missing, but it didn't seem to matter. Bobby shouted the call, "Blue-42, hut-hut!"
The ball was snapped; the game went on.
Behind in the distance, up at the Georgetown stadium, the townspeople from Tannerville and Holland watched in awe at their teams on the practice field below. A pickup game of ball, the two teams, or what remained of them, with fans or no fans, finished the game.
On the horizon, the last bit of orange sun was shrinking smaller; it hung, and hung, until finally it dipped below tree line, the last drop popping from the purplish haze.
There would be no more shadows cast today.
Copyright January 26th 1999 by Thor Kirleis