The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:
Someone on the field whistled. The football was placed on the ground in a patch of limp grass, then each team gathered in a huddle. The Giants huddle was rapidly generated and ill-formed. It dissolved almost immediately, and the defenders spread out in rough formation, awaiting the offensive alignment. The Redskins huddle was a perfect and intimate order, elemental and domestic, like a log cabin in the wilderness. Sarah and Deirdre, Brandon and Paul—they could perhaps sense in the huddle the origins of civilization. The men bent at the waist, hands on knees. Their helmets nearly touched inside the private sphere, where ten men listened for the secret, the invocation against evil. Their breath rose together from the center of the circle. They broke their huddle with a synchronized and disciplined clap, not bright but dulled by gloves and tape. They jogged to the line of scrimmage. Even the quarterback jogged. He wore number 7. His face mask was old-fashioned, a single bar. It was nearly ten o’clock, November 18. The rain fell steadily through the fog. Passing cars honked from the street, and a passenger in a truck yelled something mean-spirited and vulgar. It was odd, Paul thought, not to begin with a kickoff. He did not know what he hoped to see, failure or something else. The quarterback was under center. He looked to his right and then to his left. He looked again to his right, then to his left. He called, “Yellow forty-one,” he voice wavering. He called it again. The hooded man and the man with the baseball cap leaned forward, elbows on their knees. The sales associates sat closely together on the top row of the bleachers, their shoulders touching. The man in the yellow poncho stood completely still beneath the scoreboard. The ball was snapped then, and something happened, a single ruinous play, a discrete unit of chaos, violent and unlovely. The players grunted, their damp pads clacked through the fog. The entire play lasted perhaps five seconds. “Shit, flea flicker,” Brandon murmured as the running back pitched the ball to the quarterback. “Uh-oh,” he said. “Throw it, throw it.” But the quarterback had not thrown the ball. He had stepped up into the pocket to avoid the rush, and then crumpled beneath a lineback who had leaped onto his back. “That was not good,” Paul said. “Those old guys are not up for this.” Other defenders jumped on top of the quarterback, and a muffled scream came from the pile of bodies. Like a spell the scream lifted the players from the pile. One player, the one who had brought the quarterback down, gestured frantically to an empty sideline. He put his hands on his helmet. It was something the sales associates would remember.