What happens when a gridiron hero’s days are over? (1/2004)
It’s so quiet. I knew it would be quiet, but I didn’t think it would be this quiet. I’m not used to quiet. I’m not sure I like it.
Just yesterday, the energy was electric. The noise was deafening. The raucous, adoring fans were cheering wildly.
It was disappointing, sure. We lost the game in the final seconds, falling to 10 – 6. We missed the playoffs by a game. It was the first time in league history that a team with ten wins didn’t make the playoffs. It’s only the second time in my career I missed the playoffs. At least I scored two touchdowns and rushed for ninety yards.
Just a week ago, we came from behind, from 21-one points down, to win in our archrival’s stadium. The place went from pandemonium to silence. But an electric, hairs-standing-on-end quiet. It was sweet.
Just 17 weeks ago, we played our season opener. I remember the smacking of the pads, the crunching, the grunting, the banshee yells from Smitty and Mongoose. I remember everything, vividly.
Just two years ago, we won it all. Super Bowl champions. I scored three touchdowns and was named the MVP of the game, which we won convincingly, 37 – 10. My elevated heart rate, the blood pumping in my head, my euphoria, I remember all of it. I hope I always do.
Five years ago, we won the Super Bowl, too. It was my first Super Bowl. The press was everywhere. Light bulbs flashing constantly. The parties were endless. The cocaine and booze endless too. The parade downtown was awesome. Confetti falling everywhere. The mayor congratulating us in front of the entire city. They even made a bronze statue of me, Number 18. I still see it whenever I’m downtown.
Ten years ago, I was a rookie. The first time I took the field was incredible. Over 70,000 fans, clad in black and green, our colors. All screaming at the top of their lungs for us, their gods. I remember running through the tunnel and on to the field and seeing the sea of black and green under a bright blue sky, hearing the roar of the crowd as we took the field, feeling the soft turf under my cleats.
Eleven years ago, as a college senior, I remember being handed the Heisman Trophy. I remember thinking how heavy it was. The cameras were blinding, going off like crazy. The best college football player in the nation. I remember that. That’s what they called me. The adrenaline rush was second only to winning the National Championship by just a single point. I scored the game-winning two-point conversion. Student Body right. I had to shove three defenders back in order to cross the plane of the end zone. But I did it and the crowd went berserk. I was carried off the field on the shoulders of my teammates.
Fourteen years ago, as a college freshman, I remember playing my first game in the Coliseum. Capacity 68,000. I remember how warm it was. I remember the smell of the grass. I remember the screaming fans going crazy as we crashed through the banner as we came out of the tunnel.
Fifteen years ago, I remember graduating high school, having earned four letters in varsity football, not to mention the twelve others I won in basketball, baseball and track. In four years, our football team didn’t lose a single game. We won the state title each of the four years I was there. We were even featured on ESPN once.
Eighteen years ago, as a high school freshman, I remember joining the high school football team. Saturday night game nights were where it was at, I tell you. The team had won three straight state titles going into my freshman year. And we didn’t disappoint. I started as a freshman. I was an instant star, rushing for over 2000 years my freshman season. I scored 37 touchdowns, too.
Eighteen years ago, my freshman year in high school, was when I met Jackie, my wife. I had my pick of the cheerleading squad, the whole school really, and I picked her. She was a cheerleader, naturally. I fell in love with her curly blonde hair, her bright blue eyes, and her radiant smile. She fell in love with me, the football star, too.
Fifteen years ago, our senior year, we got married. We both turned eighteen and didn’t want to wait. She wanted to come with me, wherever I went for college ball.
We ended up at Southern Cal. She looked great tan, in a string bikini. I looked great in maroon and gold.
Fourteen years ago, in my first game as a freshman at Southern Cal, I ran for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown. I remember looking into the stands and seeing Jackie with her arms held high, jumping up and down, cheering for me. I remember seeing her this way for every touchdown and every big play of my college career.
Eleven years ago, when I received the Heisman, I remember her there in the front row, staring up adoringly at me. I was her hero, she’d said.
Ten years ago, when I was drafted as the number one pick in the lottery, Jackie was there with me as we packed up our stuff and moved 3,000 miles from the beaches of southern California to the frozen tundra of the northeast. She traded her maroon and gold for my new team colors, black and green. I was so in love with her. She was so proud of me, she’d said.
Five years ago, when we won the Super Bowl, I couldn’t wait to get out of the champagne-sprayed locker room so that I could hug my Jackie. I was her Man, she’d said.
Two years ago, when we won the Super Bowl for the second time, I paid a security guard to sneak her into the locker room. I doused her with champagne. She returned the favor. She was so proud of me, she’d said.
Just 17 weeks ago, when we played our season opener this season, Jackie was in the stands. I had told her it was going to be my last season. My knees are ripped to shreds, you see. I can barely walk most days. Still, she was there for me. She was so proud of me, she’d said. But she had tears in her eyes.
A week ago, when we came back to win the game and kept our playoff hopes alive, Jackie was there, sitting in the stands. You’re still my man, she’d said, barely holding back her tears.
Yesterday, Jackie was in the stands for my final game. She cheered both times when I scored, but it wasn’t the crazy, jubilant cheering of years past. When the game ended, I looked up at the scoreboard and then at my wife. She could not control her tears. After I finally made it out of the locker room, she hugged me and told me that I was still her hero. Would always be. She sobbed until her eyes swelled and then finally dried. We drove home in silence.
Now, here I am, sitting on the edge of my bed. It’s not yet 6:00 a.m. Still dark outside. Jackie is still sleeping peacefully. It’s time to get up and take a shower. But then what do I do? Where do I go? What do I do with myself? How do I fill the hours of the day?
And what of Jackie? Now that I’m not the star, will she still want to be with me? She says that she loves me and that I’m still her man, but does she really mean it? Will she come to miss the spotlight? How soon will it happen? Will she leave me? How soon will it happen?
It is so quiet. I knew it would be quiet, but I didn’t think it would be this quiet. I’m not used to quiet. I’m not sure I like it.