In the stands, down 35-3 with two minutes left in the fourth,
Fred Carson picks at the sticky, white remnants of a Coke bottle's label.
He leans over to me,
"Do you mind if I talk to you again?"
I don't, and haven't since kickoff.
"You know, I played running back on this same field."
"Oh yeah?" I say, allowing the story to commence.
"Started all four years. Rushed 1,000 yards as a freshman."
"It took five guys to bring me down by my senior year."
"I probably still hold the record for most rush yards,
but I doubt they keep up with things like that."
He takes a sip from his drink. It's half empty.
His hair -- greasy, most likely on its third unwashed day --
parts to the left and clings to his skull.
He's wearing a long sleeve, plaid dress shirt.
The shirt is buttoned to the top.
"Hell, that was back in 1968," slows, "I graduated in 19-68. Jesus."
Fred retired from the post office six years back.
He claims he's never missed a game of Blue Jay football since 1970.
The high school band starts playing in the section next to us --
a misshapen cover of "Louie, Louie".
Fred raises his voice,
"You know, I've been to every football game since 1970."
"Yeah, you mentioned that last week."
"I apologize. Yeah, if it wasn't for that first year of college.
I got a scholarship to play ball at Florida State.
Couldn't be there and here at the same time, you know? Kinda hard."
He runs his big-knuckled right hand along his khaki'd thigh, checking his pocket.
He checks the left thigh -- nothing.
Reaches into his shirt pocket and reveals a lighter.
Then a soft pack of Marlboro Lights emerge.
"You know, I ran the fifty in less than five seconds."
To the dismay of cheerleader moms sitting behind us,
he lights the cigarette.
He stares at the Bic lighter with some NASCAR driver -- number 88 --
I don't recognize.
The cutout of the NASCAR driver's scraggly face
sits atop a navy blue and spiraling purple backdrop.
He starts to scratch at the label on the lighter.
A screech from a clarinet rises above the rest of the band,
Fred grimaces, takes a drag, continues,
"The coach at Florida State said I was the fastest boy he'd ever seen.
He said I was going to go pro. Sure thing, he said. I rushed for nearly
300 yards in the first game my freshman year. After the game,
the coach was like, see boy, I told you. You are going to tear it up
The NASCAR decal comes completely off. Under that purple and blue label,
Fred uncovers a white lighter.
"Would you look at that. I wouldn't have bought the **** thing if
I knew it was a white lighter. That's bad luck, you know. Hendrix and
that--uh--Janis Joplin lady both died with a white lighter in their hand.
Bad luck. A white lighter is bad luck."
"What happened at Florida State?" I ask.
"Well, we were playing Notre Dame during the second game that season.
Down by five with three seconds left on the clock.
We were on our own thirty, and the coach of Florida State was like,
run the hail mary play. But in the huddle, I look the quarterback
square in the eyes, and I say to him, captain -- he was team captain --
I say, captain, I'm hungry for that ball. He knew I could do it.
He took the snap, the receivers rushed down field, and I bolted toward
that line of scrimmage, took the handoff and I was gone, baby."
The crowd begins to cheer as the Blue Jay quarterback throws a long pass
to a wide open receiver. Fred freezes mid-story.
The cheer blurs into a silence, as each person in the bleachers
watches the ball ascend.
For the first time all night, the band lowers their instruments from their lips.
Just a ball floating.
The buzz from the stadium lights becomes audible.
One person gasps.
Then like dominoes the stadium follows suit.
The high arc of the ball betrays the distance,
and the pigskin plummets sharply.
"Interception!" the announcer cries through the speakers.
"That's a **** shame. I thought he was going to have it.
What were we talking about?" Fred asks as he drops his
finished cigarette into the nearly empty, naked Coke bottle.
"You were talking about Florida State. You were down five and--"
"That's right. So, I break up the middle. I dust that noseguard.
I stiff arm a linebacker. I looked like a Heisman trophy in motion.
I travel 69-yards down the field. I'm slowing down at the endzone,
thinking nobody is around, and sure enough -- plow -- the cornerback
dives right into my leg. I broke all kinds of bones and tore all kinds
of muscles. The doctor told me, he'd never seen anything like it."
The band plays the fight song as the clock winds down and the Blue Jays lose.
I try to disappear in the sea of blue and silver exiting t-shirts,
but Fred slows me down,
"It sure was good talking to you. I'll have to tell you more about Florida State
next week. Be sure to sit by me."
"I will," I say as the band director, Mr. Morton, steps in front of me.
"Hey, Fred," Mr. Morton says. He looks at me, then back to Fred.
He's trying to decide whether or not I'm of relation.
"Son, I went to Seminole State Junior College with Fred here
when we got out of high school."
"Really? Did you guys play football together?" I ask with innocent inquisitiveness.
"No, we weren't really into that. Though, we were at all the games.
We were in band together. Until Fred's wild streak got the best of him,"
Mr. Morton laughs, "am I right, Fred?"
The fight song came to a close.
With a lowered head, Fred walked into the silver, blue crowd
with a plaid dress shirt buttoned to the top.