The Girl and the Game and Other College Stories/The Girl and the Game
THE GIRL AND THE GAME
THE GIRL AND THE GAME
The rest of the team are down in the banquet-room. The dinner is over, and they are singing now; I can hear them away up here, and I am all alone in a hotel bedroom, stretched out on a sofa, away from everybody, and that is where I ought to be. My right foot is in a bandage, and I'm glad of it. Sometimes it throbs like the dickens. Let it throb.
It was near the beginning of the second half, while the score was still 0 to 0, that this play happened—not the other play (I'll tell you about that later), but the one that really caused the other. The score was still nothing to nothing, and we were still sticking to the kicking game. And they were trying mass-on-tackle and guards-back plays, and the ball still staid in the middle of the field, and all of you thousands of people were staring at us, I suppose, though we didn't know nor care about that. Then this play was made.
They had the ball. "Twenty-nine—seventeen—forty-five," yelled their captain. Now something inside of me said that that signal meant a kick. "Here's where I block it," I said to myself, gritting my teeth; and the instant the ball was put in play—bang—I went through my man, yelling as I did so to the rest of the team, "It's a kick, fellows!"
He is a lighter guard than I, and I went at him with all my might; but, great Scott! I didn't expect him to fall back that way; but he didn't fall, he jumped back, just as I came at him, and pulled me with him, and I was the one that did the falling. I had misunderstood the signal. Instead of a kick, it was— You know what happened. It was a hole big enough to drive one of the yelling four-in-hands through! But it wasn't made by their system; it was my foolishness. At any rate, straight through the opening shot their interference in beautiful compact form, while I was sprawled out on the grass like a wooden man, and by the time I was on my feet again, they had got past our entire line (my yelling "kick" had helped the cause), and there I saw the man with the ball scudding diagonally across the field with only two of our backs between him and the line—well, I needn't tell you how they each missed him; nor how the field looked when the subs came running up the side fines shrieking, "Touch-down!—a touch-down!" waving blankets and sweaters in the air. (O Lord!)
I saw and heard and felt all this, and it was my fault, and I knew it; and up there some place in the crowded grand stand, sitting in the same section with some of you, she saw it all, too, and she understands football better than you do. And she knew it was all my fault! And I knew she knew it. So I turned my back on the grand stand and kicked myself, and swore I would redeem that mistake.
Jack, the trainer, is right—football men have no business thinking about girls; it makes them worry, and then they get off condition. I went into the game in good enough condition, but I knew she was there, and was looking critically at me, and I knew that she wasn't surprised to see me make a fool mistake. I remembered what she had said to me in the morning. "Oh," she said, "so you haven't got over your big head yet, have you? You will this afternoon." It was only this morning she said that: It seems years ago. It was right here in this very hotel, and I only grinned like a big awkward fool, and tried to be nice to her aunt to show I didn't care. Then little Howland came in. He was the one I wanted to spank all last summer. He came in with some nice clothes, and a big bunch of flowers in his hand. They were his college flowers. So then I guessed why she hadn't put on the ones I had sent up to her room. I went away without saying good-by. Sort of an ass, wasn't I? But I sneaked down stairs to the team and swore that I'd put up such a game that I'd make her proud to be my friend—that I'd make 'em all cheer for me, and get wild over me, and carry me off the field on their shoulders, while nobody stopped to look at little Rowland with his nice clothes and his New York manner, who would be sitting beside her—so close beside her—on the grand stand.
"Ten minutes more!" shouted the time-keeper.
You'll remember this play, I know—when the ball was on their thirty-yard line and they dropped back for a kick? You remember we had worked the ball steadily up the field from our twenty-yard line chiefly by that series of tandem-mass plays. Somehow Cap was sending them all through on my side. But we were moving together in great shape, and we were desperate. Great Scott! how we were smashing their line, and how those fellows tried to use up time! I'm only a big ungainly guard. We fellows don't make any of the brilliant dashes that you people yell over. There's nothing romantic about our job; we just get down close to the ground and work and sweat. It isn't much to my credit that it was on my side that the ball was gradually lurching forward toward their goal, yard by yard, for I thing I was sort of drunk. I didn't know anything except to tear holes in their line, and I felt that nothing could stop me.
Anyhow, they couldn't, I noticed. So they began banking several men there opposite me. Did you notice that? Then, you know, Cap tried the other side, and then—we lost the ball on downs! For Heaven's sake! what made us do that? Now came the play that I started to tell you about.
It was their ball on their thirty-yard line, first down. I was nearly crazy at our losing the ball, and we had only a few minutes' play left. And just here came my chance.
Their captain gave the signal, and their full-back dropped back as if for a kick; and "Look out for a fake kick!" suddenly called Shorty, our quarter, to all of us.Now though there wasn't time to say so, I felt sure they weren't going to try any fake kicks on the thirty-yard line, with their score six to our nothing; so, with a sort of wild yell—whiz! bang!—I tore my way through the line (they didn't even seem to try to stop me), and—sure enough I was right this time—there was their quarter socking back the ball. I heard him grunt. Boyle tried to block me; I brushed him over. The full-back was now catching the ball. He drew back his foot to kick; high up in the air I jumped in front of him. I heard a double "thump, thump!" I felt the ball bounce off my chest; saw it bounding and rolling innocently off to the right, ten yards away, all alone with nobody between it and the good goal-posts. I swerved toward it—on the next bound I would scoop it up; I thought of Ann; it bounded crooked. (Why?) I grabbed at it, juggled it, dropped it, dropped on it. Then they began dropping on me, and for the first time that day I heard the roaring of the many thousands around the field. My chance was over!
When the pyramid untangled itself and got off, I did not get up, you'll remember. That was because a tendon in my right ankle was smashed. If it had only been a sprained ankle, as these evening papers say, why— At any rate, I was carried off the field. I am a Senior. There are no more games in my college course. That was the ending of my football career. I blubbered.
The rest of the minutes were over after a while.… Well, anyway, they didn't score again.
After it was all over, and the coaches began driving out, with the horns blowing and the flags waving and the thousands cheering, those of our team that could, walked over to the dressing-room, while past us rushed a mob of subs and coachers from the other college, carrying on their shoulders the other team, who looked happy—oh, but they looked happy!
I was carried off the field, too, but not on anybody's shoulders. A couple of rubbers carried me between them. I didn't look over toward the grand stand. I didn't care to.… Oh, well, it's all in a lifetime!
You probably don't know what it was like in the dressing-room after the game. We all got rubbed down for the last time. Nobody said much except one of the coachers. Most of us smoked. Shorty stood on a stool, naked, getting rubbed down, and puffing on his first cigarette since August. A couple of tears dropped down from his cheeks on to the wrist of the rubber. Maybe you think it's funny, but we didn't. It was all so different from the way we thought we were going to break training.
"Cap, we'll do 'em next year," said the head coach.
Cap only sniffled, and— But never mind all this. It's all over now, and the fellows downstairs are cheering themselves up with songs and things, and cursing me between times, I suppose. And I'm all alone in my room, with my right ankle bound up, and sometimes it throbs like the dickens, and I'm glad of it.
Jack, the trainer, was with me for a while, but he went down to the dinner again. He said I could come, but I wouldn't. I deserve to be left alone. I lost the game for the college, and I'm a big awkward kid, and— But I haven't been all alone all the time! Did you think I had? Listen.
I think I was groaning to myself. I didn't mind the pain much, but it feels better to make a noise. I'll bet you do, too, when you are alone. At any rate, the door was open, and I heard some one say (it's a smooth voice), "Does it hurt very much?"
I looked around. There she was, standing in the middle of the hall, just outside my room. I looked away again. "I'm sorry I disturbed you," I said.
She didn't seem to hear that. "Doesn't it hurt awfully?" she said, twitching her shoulders and pinching her left hand with her right; for I had looked round again.
I watched her a minute. Then I said, "I don't want your pity." That was a lie.
"But it does," she said. "I am so sorry." She came nearer. "Oh, don't get up; you mustn't," she said, backing off down the hall. "I was—was just passing by, and— Don't try to get up, please! Oh, Billy, what have you done?"
What I had tried to do was to stand on one foot, but it wouldn't work. I lost my balance, and like a fool stuck out the other foot. I would have gone over if I hadn't caught hold of the table. I hung there, gripping the table, the sweat breaking out on my face, and my hair sticking in my eyes. (I hadn't had my hair cut yet, like some of the fellows.)
"You'd better run along before anybody sees you," I said, trying to lift myself up.
"Billy, don't you move! Do you hear me? Stop it! I say stop it!" And the next thing I knew she had hold of my arm up near the shoulder (I don't believe both hands reach around), and she was saying, "Now, then, slowly; lean on me, Billy; I'm strong—once you told me so yourself. Now am I hurting you? Come down easy. There, now."
"Thank you," I think I said. "Now you had better go."
I suppose she ought really to have gone, oughtn't she? Well, be shocked, all you nice little New York people. Be just as shocked as you please. I don't care. She wasn't thinking about you just now; she had other things to do. She smoothed the pillow, then pulled the sweater down from my chin, so it wouldn't scratch, and dipped her hand into the pitcher of ice-water and touched my forehead with it—twice, I think.
"Now I must go," she said, energetically.
"But, Ann—" I began.
"Good-by," she said. "Would you like some of these?"
"These" meant the flowers she was taking from her belt. I looked at them. They were the flowers I had sent. It was after the game now, and we didn't beat. Just think of that a minute.
"Will you have some of them?" she repeated, "'cause it's sort of dreary in this room, I should think. Are you better?"
But I wasn't looking at the flowers now.
"Ann," I said, "don't go just yet."
"Oh, but I must." She started for the door.
"No, you mustn't," I said.
"I'll bring Aunt Sue to nurse you."
"But I don't want Aunt Sue."
She had reached the door. I groaned. And she came back, running.
"Ah, Billy, is it very bad?" She was at my side.
"Ann," I said, "I am awkward and overgrown——"
She wouldn't look at me, but shook her head.
"And ignorant and have the big head——"
She kept on shaking her head.
"And we would have won to-day if it hadn't been for me, and——"
"Keep still," she said: "if they had all played as well as you, we should have won by ten points."
Ann said that, and she knows football. But I only asked:
"Who do you say would have won?"
"We—you—we." Then she turned her back on me and started for the door.
Again I groaned. She came back again.
"Oh, what is the matter, Billy?" She came nearer to me.
Do you know what I said then?
"Ann," I said, "I love you." Yes, I did, right out that way.
"Oh, Billy, do you still?" She seemed glad about it. "Are you sure you do? Let me go!"
But I didn't just then. She's such a little bit of a thing.
"But, Ann," I called, as she was leaving the room, "wouldn't it have been awful if we had won the—the game to-day?"
Ann turned at the door and looked at me. "You're very unpatriotic," she said. Then she hurried off down the hall.
The rest of the team are singing down in the banquet-room, and I am up here in a dreary hotel room, stretched out on a sofa, with my right foot in a bandage, and I'm glad of it. Sometimes it throbs like the dickens. Let it throb.