Fallen Fourth Down

Page 78

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“Gentlemen,” he looked at each person, holding their gazes for a beat before moving onto the next person, “this is the first game of the playoffs. This is the game that when we go out there, we either win or we lose. If we win, we keep going. You keep doing your jobs. If you lose, we’re done for the season.” He shook his head, taking off his hat. As he did, he rubbed a hand over his hair before putting the hat back into place. “For the veteran players, you know how I get during playoffs. I don’t believe this is the last game. It’s the next game. It’s the next win. We keep going. We always keep going. Sometimes we go all the way and sometimes we don’t. That’s fine. You can go home, rest, and enjoy the off season. You’ve had a good season so far, but the playoffs…” His voice was soft, but everyone could hear him. Everyone was so still. “The playoffs is where we make our season great. That’s my job. My job is to keep you going, to remind you how great we can be as a team, that there’s a reason our stadium fills up every game.” He pointed out the door. “Do you hear that?” He paused and the buzz from the crowd filtered into the room. “That’s our fans. Those are your fans. We love them. We’re grateful to them, but we’re not here for them. You’re here for you. We aren’t playing against the other team. We’re playing against ourselves. Each game, to do better. Be better. Each game, play as if we’re six down, thirty yards to go, and we’re at fourth down. It’s the next play that’ll make or break the game for you. Fourth down. That’s our mindset. Every play, we go hard. Every play, you strive to be perfect. Every play is fourth down. You got that?”

No one said a word. No one looked around. We were all focused on him.

“How are we playing?” he asked us.

As one, we answered, “Fourth Down?”

“How?” he raised his voice.

“Fourth Down!”

“HOW?” He cupped the backs of his ears. “I WANT TO FUCKING HEAR YOU!”

The other coaches waved their arms in the air. “Stand up!”

“Get to your feet!”

We stood. The ones who were kneeling clambered up and as we did, Coach jumped up on a chair. He yelled, his hands around his mouth, “HOW ARE WE PLAYING?”




“I WANT TO HEAR YOU SAY IT ONE MORE TIME!” He jumped off the chair and the assistant coaches started clapping their hands. They started to chant, “Fourth Down. Fourth Down. Fourth Down.”

Matteo was intense. He was waiting next to me, cheering with the group, but he was watching our coach. When he nodded at Matteo, it started. Matteo jumped into the middle of the circle and started bobbing up and down. They were still chanting Fourth down, but it was going to change. Any second. The adrenalin was coursing through me. In this moment, we were one. We were going out there. We were going to conquer, and Coach was right. It was us against ourselves. To be better. To be the best. To be perfect. Every single word he said resonated through me. It resonated through all of us. We were proud to be at Cain U. We were going to keep being proud. Matteo tipped his head back and let out a battle cry.

Everyone started banging their helmets against the lockers. Those in the middle stomped their feet and Matteo started the next chant.

“Cain U. Cain U. Cain U.”

We kept going, kept banging our helmets, but there was another section. Drew would lead us out and we would keep chanting as we ran out of the locker room and onto the field. We were just waiting. It would be any moment. The longer he waited, the higher our adrenalin grew.

He stepped forward. He was the signal. Everyone turned. We fell in line, single file, and started from the locker room. He led us out, taking over as the leader for the chant. Matteo fell in line behind me. We stopped banging our helmets. Instead, they were held at the waist by both hands. Our heads went down and our shoulders hunched forward. It was a sign of respect to those who followed Cain U’s traditions. We entered the stadium like this every time, like gladiators going out to fight. As we jogged out like that, each assistant patted us on the shoulder, giving us their approval.

We ran down the hallway, our feet a constant clattering sound against the floor, echoing around us. We could hear the crowd in the stadium. Music, cheering, announcements. We kept chanting the whole time. It was this moment that I savored the most, when the crowd heard us coming. As they did, the volume dipped for one second. There was a slight pause and a cheer erupted. They started cheering with us and it would spread through the entire stadium.

Cain U.

Cain U.

Cain U.

Drew paused at the threshold. He held his helmet up and started ahead. We didn’t jog. We ran out. The crowd stood and waited with their hands lifted. Drew waited on the field, and still in single file, we ran around him to form a circle. His helmet was still in the air. Then he brought it down and we finished the chant. Everyone did.

“Cain U, conquers you!”

After that, it was time to play football.


The state meet was a two hour drive from Fallen Crest. With most away meets, we traveled together on a bus and were allowed to get a ride home with family afterwards. But since this was the last meet, Coach wanted everyone to travel back together on the bus. We were a team on the way there. He wanted us to keep that unity on the way home, at least for this last time. After showering and changing, everyone agreed to a celebratory pizza stop.

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