The inscription upon the uprights. The cowardly. The refusal. The mob. Darkness.
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO SUFFERING
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO CONCUSSION PROTOCOL
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO SYSTEMIC MALE VIOLENCE
ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE
You stare at the words emblazoned upon the over turned goal post. Its narrow beam stretches through the clouds. Its twin yellow prongs are buried deep into the ground.
“uhhhh, maybe I should just go home?” You say.
“What? No way man.” Peyton Manning sounds convinced. “ When I’m done with you, you’ll definitely get drafted higher than the rest of these clowns.”
Peyton does not answer you. He wraps his pasty arm around your shoulder. You walk, side by side, in an awkward stumble. You are unsure that he has ever held someone this way before. You pass through the gate. Out of the mist you see a great field of fire and smoke. On each side an infinite line of men mill about anxiously in football pads. Men wearing dumpy sweater-vests, oversized head-sets and curled-brim baseball caps stand just inside the sideline. They chew gum anxiously. Occasionally, one of them whispers something mysteriously into his headset and a player exchanges places with one on the field.
On the field, men stumble through football drills. An army of instructors yells indeterminately. Affirmative ass-slaps are traded. A multitude of quarterbacks throw errant passes to receivers who have poor timing. The footballs are made of stone and whenever a receiver is hit they fall in the mud and fire of the field and lie there, unmoving, until another receiver drags them back to the sideline. Eventually, the quarterback’s arms tire and fall to the ground limply.
“Who are these people?” You ask Peyton. He shakes his head glumly.
“Practice-squad. Sad sight, isn’t it? They’re just bodies, man. No loyalty to any team. They drift from squad to squad, scraping by – and they have the nerve to call it football. They don’t know the craft – but you will.”
Peyton gives you an ass-slap. You think back to the locker room in high-school, the pressure to deliver the exact right touch to the right or left cheek. Peyton’s touch is smooth but firm. Your own lacked direction, inspiration, just like your team.
“C’mon, lets get out of here.”
You and Peyton pick your way through the crowd. Players push each other and claw closer and closer to a great black board. In front of it a crazed man with eyes like fire yells names
“With the 476,778,587th pick, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Demarcus Johns!” A man clamors up excitedly in a horrendous suit and smiles.
Suddenly, the old man with eyes like fire begins to yell at you.
“Blue 42, Red nineteen, WATCH THE SWITCH WATCH THE SWITCH.” You listen, confused.
“OMAHA, OMAHA, SWITCH, SWITCH” Peyton begins to point his fingers, players line up in a strange formation you have never seen before.
“HUT, HUT” Peyton snaps an imaginary ball. The players he has assembled push through the crowd. You and Peyton make your way toward the draft board.
“NO WAY MANNING. NO WAY.” The man’s eyes burn and burn. You and Peyton push on, the players mobbing around you. Suddenly the plane of the field shifts and everyone begins to slide toward the draft board at an impossible angle. The ground shaking and a blood-red wind blurring around you until a man on your blind side tackles you and everything goes black.