POETRY & PROSE
Board Games | Andrea Avery
The Jacket | Ari Holtz
The Turkish Poetry Spitball | Chris King
Goal Line Stand | Jim Klenn
Runners are Weird | Tom Weber
ART DIRECTION BY
Jessica Baran, Aaron Belz, Thomas Crone, Andrea Day, Caroline Huth, Nick Findley, Emily Shea Fisher, Thom Fletcher, Dave Gray, Franklin Jennings, Chris King, K.E. Luther, K. Curtis Lyle, Richard Newman, Greg Ott, Stefene Russell, Dana Smith, Brett Lars Underwood
Goal Line Stand | by Jim Klenn
A lifetime ago, back when I was still playing sports instead of just watching them, a single down in a Chicago Park District touch-football game had such a profound impact on me that almost thirty years later I can still recall it frame by frame with crystal clarity.
From the opening kick-off the boys and me had pretty much been kept back on our heels, overmatched on both sides of the ball by a much better team. But we werenıt going to let the fact that our opponents were bigger, faster and stronger than us shake our confidence. And the skill-level disparity certainly wasnıt going to stop us from playing our hearts out, and our asses off, on every single play.
Then, before we knew it, we found ourselves with our backs to the wall and to our own end zone with just seven seconds left to play in the game. Our opponents were on our four-yard line, with just enough time for one last play. And judging from the way they had just marched the ball the length of the field, there was no reason that an objective observer should believe that they werenıt going to punch it in on this final possession.
But we werenıt exactly objective observers. Although we may not have been the best athletes in the world or even the best athletes on the field that day there wasnıt a man among us who didnıt know that what is lacking in athletic prowess can sometimes be made up for with heart and teamwork. Thatıs why everyone on our team gave their all, no matter how bleak our chances might look, until the final whistle blew and the game was over. And this game was not over.
And while our situation didnıt exactly look optimistic, there was still one more play...
Whenever I replay the last down of that game in my mind, itıs always in slow motion.
We clap in unison and come out of our defensive huddle...in slow motion.
The other team comes out of its huddle and lines up...in slow motion.
The opposing quarterback barks out his signals...in slow motion.
The center hikes the ball...in slow motion.
Their quarterback drops back...in slow motion.
(By the way, each team was made up of seven players which meant that most of the time only one guy rushed the quarterback. And on that particular day, on that particular play, that particular guy happened to be me.)
And while everyone around me was moving in slow motion, I was still moving at regular speed.
And to my amazement, as the play unfolded, I found myself reading the quarterbackıs mind.
Okay, maybe I was just reading his body language and his eyes. But it sure felt like I was reading his mind. Because I knew with absolute certainty that he was going to throw the ball right over the middle.
So when the ball was snapped I charged forward three or four steps, stomping my feet, snarling like a dogand then dropped back, drifting like a balloon borne on the wind, to wait for the ball. And just exactly as I had seen it in my mindıs eye, the quarterback floated that pass right over the middle. And since it was moving in slow motion, it was easy even for me to reach up high with both hands and pluck that ball out of the air like a ripe piece of fruit.
In an instant, the situation flashed through my mind: I had the ball, a yard deep in our own end zone. No matter how it panned out, this would be the last play of the game. Three opposing players stood between me and their goal line and I knew I couldnıt outrun any of them.
But I knew who could J.B.
J.B., our soft-spoken, hard-hitting linebacker and defensive captain was one of our best, most instinctual players. He was also one of our fastest.
Still moving in slow motion, every other player on that field reversed direction to converge on me and that football.
Every other player except one J.B. who started rolling...rollin...rolling right, three yards behind me.
I was lucky enough to spot him, and was as surprised as anyone when my underhanded toss led him perfectly in mid-stride.
The instant the ball touched J.B.ıs hands, the scene froze for a split-second.
Then suddenly, everything exploded into super-fast motion especially J.B.
He rocketed toward the right sideline like heıd been launched from a slingshot.
The he turned the corner and scampered up that sideline the entire length of the field with 13 other players and two officials in frantic, futile pursuit. J.B. crossed the goal line after his hundred-and-four yard run, without having been touched.
The referees signaled the touchdown and blew their whistles to announce the game was over.
We danced like children around the smiling, winded J.B., who had taken a knee in the end zone. We were jumping and shouting and laughing and clapping each other on the back.
I remember feeling sorry for the other team as they wandered off the field, shocked and spent, muttering to themselves and shaking their heads as they watched us celebrate as if we had just won the Super Bowl. After all, it was only a park district touch-football game. And after all, theyıd just beaten us 35 to 7.
So we got creamed that day. At least we didnıt get shut out.
And I knew then, years before I ever heard Rosie Perez say it in ³White Men Canıt Jump,² that ³Sometimes when you lose, you win.² And while we chalked up an ³L² instead of a ³W² that day, you never would have guessed it by the celebration that followed at ³The Gin Mill² a local watering hole that used to stand on the corner of 47th and Pulaski.
And while The Gin Mill has been gone for many years, the lessons I learned on that long-ago day remain.
First: Donıt ever give up before time runs out, no matter how hopeless it looks.
Second: No one else can define ³winning² for you on a ball field or anywhere else.
And third: When the clockıs ticking down and you need a miracle...give the ball to J.B.
Oh. I almost forgot.
I learned one other lesson that day.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all.
Never, ever, ever mix draft beer, champagne and tequila on an empty stomach even if someone else is buying.
Jim Klenn is a writer, editor and filmmaker who works for Southwestern Illinois College and lives in Belleville, IL. Despite having grown up a White Sox fan on Chicagoıs Southwest Side, he was hit by the thunderbolt in 2000 and has loved Tony LaRussa and da Cardinals ever since.