Enjoy this piece of fiction by Mike Price!
WITH SPEED TO LOSE
by Michael Price
“All right, that’s it! Line up for sprints!”
The twelve to thirteen-year-old Iris Park Redskins whooped it up; seven-thirty, practice was almost over. They assembled themselves in a straight line at the edge of the backstop, as they had at the end of every cub football practice for the past three years; five sprints down to the warming house and back, probably some sort of inspiring message from Mr. Schumacher (Tim’s dad, long time coach of the team), maybe something from Jimmy Goodhue’s father, who helped out whenever he had the time, and perhaps a “great practice, you guys earned it” trip to the root beer stand, Jimmy hoped. He was dry, and a little more tired than usual.
“Root beer floats for everybody after the game Thursday if anybody beats Jimmy!”
More teamwork generated whooping and clapping, artificially forced by all, was strictly a formality of sorts, a rah-rah, go-team-go bonding sort of formality; Jimmy smiled meekly. Coach Schumacher’s root beer float incentive
would not work, of course. Jimmy wasn’t that tired. But the rest of the boys didn’t care. Two years before, as fifth graders, despite their lack of experience and overall team body weight as first year cubbies, they had won twice as many games as they’d lost–which wasn’t too bad, all things considered. Last year they finished second in the league, losing a heartbreaking 21-20 thriller in the last few seconds of their final game to the always powerful Skyline Vikings, Jimmy scoring all three touchdowns from his tailback position but getting stopped short of the potentially game winning two-point conversion run by six inches. Now, as seventh graders, and in their final year of parkboard football, much of the team having had to diet to get down to the one-hundred-forty pound weight limit for the pre-season weigh-in (soon after which the boys’ weight rapidly returned–rapidly and with great interest, in every case), the Iris Redskins had utterly dominated the league, limiting their opponents to less than a touchdown per game and, offensively, scoring virtually at will, no matter what variety of radical defensive scheme the other team had devised to stop them–Jimmy in particular. Going into Thursday’s final game of the season, once again versus the mighty Vikings, Jimmy alone had averaged over three touchdowns per game but was by no means a one-man show. His friends had all grown bigger, stronger, smarter. As a team, they were very, very good.
After sprints and Mr. Schumacher’s pep talk Jimmy’s father related a tortoise-beats-hare anecdote from his own high school football career, many years prior, a tale in which he and his team regrettably had played the role of the hare, aimed at the eradication of any and all possible cockiness and overconfidence in the minds of Jimmy and his teammates. Brian Lundberg, the team’s center, left defensive tackle, and self appointed and team recognized comic reliever, as well as one of Jimmy’s best friends on the team, listened to the story and, even before Mr. Goodhue had the chance to finish, couldn’t contain a giggle.
“Something funny, Brian?” asked Jimmy’s father.
“No, no, it’s not that, Mr. Goodhue,” waved off the boy. “It’s just…don’t you think it would be a riot…I mean, it’d be kinda weird, I guess…”
Brian turned to the rest of the team for support. “Well…I think it’d be really cool if…,” now looking directly at Jimmy’s father, “You raced Jimmy.”
The team exploded with genuine exuberance, laughing and clapping hysterically, maximally re-energized. “Yeah! Yeah! Do it! Do it! C’mon, Mr. Goodhue! Race him! Do it!”
Jimmy’s face turned blank. He was not conscious of the fact that he was shaking his head no. His father was doing the same, behind a knowing smile, muttering “Oh c’mon, guys,” “I don’t think so,” and “Gentlemen, gentlemen, let’s all just go home,” and the like, but the clamor escalated to the point where no was no longer a reasonable option–not without a minor riot–and the race was run.
Jimmy held a healthy lead when they reached the warming house but ran out of gas at the end, diving head-long past the backstop finish line, sprawled out in the grass, and laid there, motionless, entirely spent–about a foot behind his father.
The walk home after practice that night was indeed a rambunctious one for the Iris Park Redskins football team, filled with much animated and mirthful banter amongst the boys.
Wow! Who’d have thought? Jimmy Goodhue! Whupped by the old man! Of all people! Unbelievable!
Two nights later they would top off their perfect season by walloping the once feared Vikings 44-13, with their star tailback leading the way with four long touchdown runs. It was to be the end of a season that cub football legends are made of.
Jimmy walked home with his father in silence that evening, fighting back tears.
Widely published in literary journals, Michael Price has been writing fiction for over 30 years. He earned his BA in Theater from the University of Minnesota in 1980 and performed his own one-man one-act play “No Change of Address” to considerable acclaim at the 2011 MN Fringe Festival.