The Case Against WilliamBy: Mark Gimenez
"Flex Right, X Right, three-twenty-four Train, Z Colorado on two hard—"
"Wait! What do I do?"
William looked at D'Quandrick Simmons, number eighty-eight, on the far side of the huddle staring back at his quarterback with wide eyes. D-Quan—his street name—stood six feet four inches tall, weighed two hundred fifteen pounds with four percent body fat, ran a 4.4-second forty-yard dash, and could go airborne to catch any ball thrown in his general vicinity. But he wasn't so good with the playbook. They were coming off a timeout, so William had time to explain the play to D-Quan. He pointed at the other receivers.
"Cowboy, he's lining up left and running a deep crossing route to freeze the free safety. Cuz is going in motion right—I'm hoping he takes the strong safety with him—then running a deep out. Outlaw's running a short out. You're slot left. I'm trying to iso you on the corner deep, so you're running a Train, hitch-and-go at fourteen—"
William sighed. Every player—except him—suffered brain farts, moments in games when the pressure or the excitement or the exhaustion caused his brain to cease functioning for all intents and purposes. He just played on adrenaline and innate street skills. D-Quan was experiencing a brain fart. That, and he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. William had learned that at times like this with D-Quan, it was best to keep it simple.
"Just run down the fucking field and catch the ball."
D-Quan pounded his chest twice with his fist then fashioned goal posts with his thumbs and forefingers, his signature gesture.
"End zone, baby."
They were huddled up on their own thirty-six-yard line in the center of the field of thick green turf in the bowl of the ninety-thousand-seat stadium. The tight space inside the huddle reeked with the scent of sweat and testosterone oozing from every pore on the eleven large male bodies. The five offensive lineman, white guys weighing in at over three hundreds pounds each, stood bent over with their hands on their knees, panting like wild beasts, spitting saliva balls, and sucking oxygen, their massive bodies pushed to exhaustion from blocking equally massive defensive linemen for three hours in the ninety-degree heat of mid-October in Texas. Ty Walker, aka Cowboy, the tight end from Amarillo, spit tobacco juice through his facemask; he had grown up bull riding in rodeos, so a football game barely provided enough danger to get his blood pressure up. Ernie, the halfback from Houston, was cool and black and headed to the NFL; he just wanted to get out of his final college season with his knees intact. And the three wide receivers—Maurice Washington, aka Cuz, Demetrius Jones, aka Outlaw, and D-Quan—all tall and black and blazing fast with tattoos emblazoned down their long sinewy arms and dreadlocks hanging out the back of their helmets, stood with their hands on their hips and their 'hood expressions on their faces, as if questioning whether their white-boy quarterback could come through one more time.
William Tucker, number twelve, was the senior quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. He was six-five, two-thirty-five, and fast; he could throw, and he could run. He could have gone pro after his sophomore or junior years, but he wanted a national championship trophy sitting between the Heisman Trophy he had won last year as the top college football player in America and the one he would certainly win this year, the first back-to-back Heisman winner in forty years. They were undefeated, 8-0, and ranked number one in the nation. Oklahoma, their opponent that day, was also undefeated and ranked number two. The winner of this game—known as the Red River Rivalry and played in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas each year during the State Fair of Texas—would be the odds-on favorite to win the national championship. They were down four points with eight seconds left in the game. So far that season, they had won five times on dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by William Tucker. But his teammates still didn't believe in his destiny.
He was born to play football. Specifically, quarterback. He had the height to see over the defensive line, the hands to hold a pro-sized football as if it were a peewee league ball, and the arm to hurl the ball far downfield, a requirement in the pass-happy offensive schemes employed by the pros. And the pros were chomping at the bit for William Tucker. He was the prototype NFL quarterback: big enough to withstand the physical punishment pro quarterbacks suffered at the hands of three-hundred-pound defensive linemen, strong enough to stand in the pocket and make the throw, and fast enough to evade the rush when his protection broke down and turn a negative play into a positive play. He was big; he was strong; and he was fast. He was the best there ever was. He was on the cover of the current edition of Sports Illustrated.