Stillness crept throughout the room. The Old Gipper began to whisper:
“No one knows the day, my friends; No one knows the time or place. But someone always comes for you. Never be caught off guard. The game is never easy. At times you’ll get some bad calls. But remember to relax. It’s then you’ll get your chance.”
The Old Gipper now said: “My boys, we shall never lose! We are the best of all time! We shall reign Supreme!”
Down that dark stadium tunnel, slowly, we marched. I was nervous. I listened to my scrapping cleats, echoing on cement; saw the battle helmets gleaming before me. I saw just ahead, the crack of daylight coming from an open door. And then I heard the crowd begin to roar. I exposed myself to blinding sunlight. And the crowd’s roar increased louder and louder — to a fever pitch.
I pranced across the playing field. Black satin jerseys, flashing white shoes —- blurred in rhythmic motion.
Here then, was a gray old coach, who led a team of college-trained men: my own virtue, Stubb’s recklessness. Fletcher’s mediocrity. Could a team built this way, survive? For what was this old coach’s plan?
The Old Gipper withdrew his pipe. Loaded it, then rammed home tobacco with his thumb. He ignited a match across his hand then thought to himself: how different the game was played now. Not what it used to be, when he was very young. In the old days he’d scream out at his team — “My buddies, fight, my thunderbolts! Kick them on their ass, boys! Do that for me, boys…Take the fight to them…to them!!!! Oh, Lord, yes!”
So much time had passed since he’d played his last game. But even now, he hated those teams in Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit….All those places were devils in his dreams. But he had learned the game was savage. It dashed men on the rocks. The game overran the globe. The game was mysterious; its rhythms were Souls that ebbed and flowed, from tossing in their graves.
The Old Gipper took another puff from his pipe and simply stood still. His teeth clamped down. His veins swelled. “Get ready men!” he bellowed.
Then turning toward me, he said: “You’ve rehearsed it all before, my boy. Come stand near me. You see an old man, don’t you? But I am your coach, Michael. Go out into the world and remember what I’ve said. I’ve trained you well. D’ya feel brave today, my boy?”
“As fearless fire!” I spoke confidently. I was ready to lead my team. My goal was as theirs. That feeling crept over us all. The field was bright and feminine. We were masculine and bold.
The coach stood still. “Oh, Michael,” he confessed, “It was on a day like this, when I played my last game. Sixty odd years ago it was. Sixty years of playing games. The slavery of it all. Oh, Michael! What a fool, old fool I’ve been.
“Here boy, brush my gray hair aside and see if I look old. So very old, Michael? Bowed bones beneath this pile of time. The bitter mockery! Am I old? Come close my boy. Stand close and let me look you in the eye. It’s magic on the field, you know,” he whispered.
He looked off in the distance. “What is the meaning of Soul, my boy? Unless, by God — Fate is in your hands!”
This is the message I took on the field to my men: “Look over there across that line, my mates!” I greeted them all. “New York’s Giants —-!”
I moved back from our huddle to say —- “We’re going to give them hell today, my friends. Hell! Give them hell, my men! Fight and keep on fighting!
“Burst your lungs for me. Crack your bones for me. Leap into the fray!”
We felt the flashing waves. We secured our cleats. No other words were needed. Had death been just ahead, we never would have quit. We were professional fighting men.
The game began shoulder to shoulder. Gut to gut. We flung our bodies at the New York Giants.
“Hit him where he’s soft!” The Old Gipper’s words were in our minds. “In the knees, boys, come in low and strike them a rising blow.”
And as expected, New York started throwing their football. Thus began their demise. “We have them beat!” was our battle cry.
But over on the sideline, the Old Gipper quietly lit his pipe and puffed. Would Michael Stahr reflect his own style?
The game heaved and swelled….tumultuous mountains of flesh. And I was out there in it all, in my huddle—-taking full charge.
“Fundamentals!” I bellowed, seizing my precious time. “Clutch your teeth, clutch your Souls, my men….and fight for all you’re worth!”
Desperately, I shot through another hole then watched for daylight yet to come. There it was! Swiftly, I glided through it…cut past the violence a split second away. I was engaged in fierce combat, yet a dreamy solitude enveloped me. And I transformed into a Golden Panther, gracefully loping down the field.
But oh, swelling waves of grass. Oh, ever endless Soul; in you, Life! In you, Immortality. But advance comes oh so slow. Throughout boyhood’s naïve faith, at last old age, where doubt exists. Then disbelief. And so we trace around again, all over again…until the cycle becomes eternal in itself!
But where does life end? Are dreams a portion of dead men’s Souls?
New York’s Giants could break the Spirit, give a player body blows. The Giants were vicious and didn’t care how they played the game. The Giants would jack you up; then blow your ass away!
I couldn’t see their faces: no noses, eyes, ears or mouths. No features at all. The Giants had nothing but those broad black heads that tore a man apart.
“Yes! Yes!” I challenged, “They can’t escape us now. Blow your snouts,” I shouted at New York. “You ugly black bears. I’m coming to kill you, don’t you understand?”
For my fear had vanished. The winds of Fate had snatched my Soul. Recklessly, I plunged myself ahead, directed by the Old Gipper, who, on the sidelines, stood puffing on his pipe.
I flung my football, a blinding dart that struck New York’s heart. My team advanced steadily, suspended in rhythmic motion. “You dare me, do you?” I challenged the Giants, then said aloud to my men: “I tell you what, my boys—-The evil bear must die! But fight on with me, won’t you?
“Come, spill your blood with me. Don’t budge an inch for them. Spit fire for fire. See! Look at the gestures they make at us? What fools they are, boys. What d’ya say, Montgomery? Will you Fight with me?”
The Indian from Purdue replied, gallantly: “I say ‘Fight,’ gawdamn!”
So we began to gain momentum as we neared our first score.
But the big black bear was rough. The Giants came thundering back in mighty rage. The air was filled with sweat. It was a terrific, pitiful battle. The Giants rolled back and forth in faltering swells, rolling their heads with every Pittsburgh blow.
But I whispered to my huddle of men: “Dig in, boys! Dig in! Quick! Blast those sunavabitches! Let’s go!”
And then the swashing game heaved sharply against me. “Blast it!” I snarled, slipping down backward on the turf. But I recovered in time to say, “Huddle up, guys!”
My men were quiet now. Their eyes were gleaming stars. Gigantic MacArthur looked up, large before me. The open mouth of Montgomery sneered, revealing broken teeth.
But the big black bear of New York kept right on coming at me, to the very end.
So I countered by firing my football to MacArthur. Then I fired it to Nick, for twenty more yards. Then back to Mac again.
“Here we go!” I whispered inside my huddle. I sensed it was downhill for me now.
And then I spotted Nicholas, wide open in the end zone. But my ball must be thrown quickly, around the bear’s charge. I remembered what the Gipper had told me: “When ever you get in trouble, Michael, the bear becomes a Rhino. If you’re afraid of him, he will hit you just the same. So take your best lick.”
The bear was lucky; my ball was deflected beyond Nick’s reach.
“Kick ass, boys!” I reassured my men. “Don’t hurt yourselves. Take plenty of time, but kick their fucking ass!”
Now I whispered in my huddle: “Give’em the long stroke, Monty! Kick it, Monty. Kick it! Easy now, easy. Only kick some fucking ass and raise the dead this time. That’s all I ask of you!”
“Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!” screamed Montgomery in reply.
“Ka-la! Koo-loo!” howled Stubb, smacking his raw red lips.
And thus we Pittsburgh men kept moving straight ahead—yard by bloody yard. We tugged and strained, ‘til finally the Old Gipper shouted out: “Give it to them now! Boys.”
Then we all flexed up, ready to grab the mighty sword. ‘Game time!’ was near.
“Game time!” I whispered to my men. And then we tore through opposition. We were sharks with super fins.
I had found my perfect rhythm, a staggering business reached within this rocking chaos. I cleaved the ground, I cleaved the air. Relentlessly, I churned through the New York Giant’s men. A cascade of whirling, cracking bones—-but on I moved my football team, with Spirit of the Souls.
MacArthur, as usual, was at the center of the fray, as we fought our way ahead. Then suddenly the Giants slackened. Red blood was pouring from their eyes. Their bodies rolled up in blood. The slanting sun reflected red terror on their faces.
But through it all, the Old Gipper stood quietly on the sideline, puffing and puffing on his pipe.
Again and again, into the middle of the line, I slammed. I was slashing New York’s flank. I churned my legs, desperately seeking my final goal. But my goal was Life, itself! So of course the Giants bravely fought me back.
New York kept slugging me with sharp, crackling maneuvers, but at last, gush after gush of clotted red blood shot up into the frightened air; and fell back again, it ran…dripping down New York’s men’s faces.
And now, withdrawing his pipe, the Old Gipper scattered dead ashes across the playing field…of the city he had just beat.