The Lost Season

Soon, Coral Springs bulled the ball into our end zone, ending the scoreless streak. They wound up winning 14-0. Blitz News had a new story; it was Coral Springs the photographer shot after the game.

And 35 never got on the field. This time, though, he took it well, resigned to the fact that he'd been put in some strange doghouse and wasn't going to be set free. He told me after the game that he asked repeatedly to get in but that the coach wouldn't hear of it. "They're pushing around our biggest guys," he told him, as if that mattered.

The disease was really kicking in now. It actually began to affect my sleep. The wrongness of it all rolled around in my head like a fumbled ball in a blooper reel.

The writer's son, number 35, waits by his coach in hopes of playing time that doesn't come.
The writer's son, number 35, waits by his coach in hopes of playing time that doesn't come.
AYFL parents inevitably become passionate fans.
Laura Massa
AYFL parents inevitably become passionate fans.

If the other linemen were superior to 35, I wouldn't have complained. A couple were, but the line as a whole wasn't dynamic. There was a lack of discipline. It was, as Coach Joe said repeatedly, playing soft.

The head coach, meanwhile, complained about a lack of heart and harked back to the previous year's team as a model of togetherness.

And here they had a hard-as-nails, all-heart veteran defensive tackle who fired off the line as well as anyone sitting on the bench. It was baffling.

I'd think about talking to the coach, but then I'd remember that I had told him I wasn't going to bother him again. I thought of talking to Coach Joe too, but I knew that he didn't like to hear from parents and that it might work against the kid.

So I tossed and turned and did nothing. I cursed the coach's name in front of my son, something I knew was wrong. I began to dislike the team in general. I still rooted for it, but when the defense played poorly, it vindicated my viewpoint. I became convinced there was no way the team could win a championship. When the head coach told the players in one of the never-ending pep talks that they were going to take it all, I chuckled to myself.

Fools, I thought.

My son was frustrated too, of course, but it would surface only occasionally. I told him if he wanted to quit, I'd support him. He said he didn't, so the torture continued.

I understand there are thousands of fathers across the country suffering the same fate. Some of them right, some wrong. Football is in us. It takes our time, it takes our dreams, it takes our bodies. It's not just a disease; it's a religion. And I had become one mad heretic.

My son kept playing hard at practice, but he may as well have been invisible. During those practices, 35 injured two of his fellow players on hard hits, putting one in a cast and sling after cracking his shoulder and knocking another out for the remainder of the season.

They were injuries born of the kid's frustration, more visits to the dark side. Those hits alone were unfortunate testaments to his will to play, but the coach didn't notice any of it.

On November 8 came that playoff game against the Bengals from Pembroke Pines, the one we had to win to get back to the Super Bowl. And from the very first snap, it was obvious we were in trouble.

The Bengals controlled the line and ran all over us. We couldn't get anything going on offense either. They were up 7-0 at the half, and we were lucky to be that close.

The Bengals quarterback, when he dropped back to pass, may as well have been falling into his mother's womb, it was so safe and quiet back there. Of course, they didn't resort to the pass much. Why throw when you can run it down the other team's throat?

Then came that dreadful injury to our quarterback and a couple of unsportsmanlike-conduct calls on one of our coaches, who was ultimately ejected from the game.

There was no 35 until the very last down. I yelled something to the kid about not taking the charity. All the frustration of the season welled up in me. I didn't know what I was going to do, just that I was going to do something. When the game was over, I tossed down my yard marker, shook the hands of my fellow chain-gangers, and walked over to the D-line coach.

"You know what I'm not going to miss?" I asked him pointedly, expecting no answer. "Having to deal with you. You're the worst coach I've ever been around."

He said something like, "Oh, really?"

"All I asked you to do was to give him a chance, and you couldn't even do that. You did teach him one thing. You know what it was? How to lie."

I was talking about that Coral Springs game, but I didn't elaborate. I realized I was going a little too far, but I didn't care. I was going to finish this.

"If it was so bad," he said, "why didn't you take him off the team?"

"Believe me, I wanted to, but he wouldn't do it. He had too much class for that. He wouldn't quit because of you."

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