|"There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment." - Unknown
"You can't honestly mean to tell me you're on the football team! Andrea, you'll be murdered out there! How can you even attempt to play football? It's a man's sport, that's why men play it! Andrea, are you listening to me?"
"No, not really," Andrea replied, turning to her friend Jennifer. "And, will you pass me my shoulder pads? I can't exactly play without them." Jennifer grimaced as she picked up the large, yet surprisingly light piece of equipment and passed it over to Andrea. "Thank you, Jennifer. Now, do you really think I'd play if I thought I couldn't do it?"
Jennifer nodded enigmatically. "Yes! You'd play just to learn how to do it, even if it meant breaking something! Remember the issue with the Rugby team? You were in a cast for three months and then you had to have the surgery done on your shoulder! Remember that, Andrea?"
Andrea Minor sighed and nodded. Putting her long, dark brown hair up into a ponytail, she pulled on the shoulder pads and made sure they were secure before pulling on her jersey and taping up her wrists. She knew that Jennifer was right, that she had severely injured her right knee in an attempt to play Rugby. But, Jennifer hadn't been there at any of the games; she hadn't seen that Andrea had tried harder than anyone else just to experience the game her father had loved so much before his death. She had only been there at the hospital as Andrea struggled to keep from falling into unconsciousness, her knee ligaments torn from the bone because of a bad hit; had only seen the pain that comes from euphoria. No, Jennifer did not understand. Jennifer was too much of a girly girl.
"Jennifer, when's the last time you put on a pair of sneakers, sweat pants, and a t-shirt? Forgot about the make-up and just put your hair up in a simple ponytail? Have you ever even attempted to play a sport?" Andrea turned to Jennifer and studied her for a moment. Jenn had on a short "hootchie" skirt, as Andrea called them, a pink halter-top, and a pair of high-heeled sandals. As usual, her make-up and hair were perfect and she looked around at the girl's locker room as if it were part of a conspiracy to ruin her look. Andrea picked up her helmet and rolled her eyes; Jennifer had no adventure in her at all.
"Why, I've never done that! Sports are for men, not women! And, all you're doing is ruining your beauty by going out there and playing football tonight! You'll never get a guy playing football because guys like their girls to watch them play, not play on the field with them!"
Andrea shook her head and stretched her legs a bit. "I don't really want a guy right now, thanks. Not if he's only going to like me if I wear what you wear and act how you act. That'd be the most painful thing in the world. At least I can say I tried something new. Now, I have to get out onto the field. If you're going to watch, go out to the stands. If you're going home, I'll see you at school on Monday."
Jennifer sighed. "I guess I'll stay and watch. See what makes sports so important to you," she replied, standing up and brushing herself off. "Jeeze, except for the hair and the fact that I know you're Andrea, you can't tell that you're a girl."
Andrea laughed slightly and walked over to the locker room door. She was ready to play her first game as starting Wide Receiver for the Varsity team and, secretly, she was glad that Jenn'd be there to watch. She wouldn't admit it to her friend, but Andrea really needed to know that someone out there wouldn't be laughing at her, or against her because she was a girl. The guys on the squad had been really cruel until they'd seen her catch, when they'd realized that Andrea was an asset to the line-up. Andrea was nervous, incredibly nervous. But she wouldn't show that; no, she wouldn't show it. "C'mon, Jenn," she said opening the door and walking out. Jennifer followed her and gave Andrea a big hug before walking out to the stands.
Andrea ran down the stairs and waited just outside the guys' locker room until she was told that all the guys were dressed and she could come in. Walking into the room, Andrea smiled at the guys slightly and sat down on one of the benches. Putting her helmet next to her, Andrea listened to the coach.
"Tonight is a very important night for two reasons. One, it's the first night of our new Wide Receiver, Andrea Minor and two, it's the State Championship. We beat the Colts tonight and we, the Nikrikey (Nih-KRIH-key) Navajo's, will be the state champions for the first time in 10 years. Now, let's go out there and win!"
"Yes coach!" Andrea shouted, while the others merely mumbled the words. None of them actually thought that they could beat the Country Road Colts, as they hadn't done it in ten years, but Andrea obviously didn't know that. And her enthusiasm startled them.
"Hey Minor! No need for the enthusiasm- we're gonna lose anyway," David Michaels, the quarterback shouted. Andrea looked over at him and laughed.
"Well, if we already know the outcome of the game, let's just go and get some pizza. Unless any of you are psychic, I don't believe you know that we're going to lose until the score at the end of the game proves it. For right now, in my opinion, we can win this game, hence the enthusiasm. Now, are we gonna play or are we going to stand around and talk about why we don't need to play because we're going to lose anyway? Come on!"
"Yeah guys, I think Andrea's got a point. Hey, Andrea, can we just call you Andy? We jocks, you know, we have a slight shortage of intelligence. Andy's fewer syllables," Came a voice from behind her. It must've been Kevin Anderson; the Running Back who'd had to miss practice the entire week because his grandfather had died.
Turning around, Andrea looked over at him and found herself nearly swooning. A sharp reminder that she didn't swoon kept her from doing so, but that didn't stop the fact that she found Kevin incredibly good looking. He was tall, about 6' to Andrea's 5'9, with shortish, dark blonde hair and light blue eyes which seemed to Andrea as the epitome of beauty, where her own, dark brown eyes, seemed mediocre in appearance. The thought of getting to stand next to him in the huddle sent shivers down her spine, but she didn't say that. Instead she merely laughed.
"Yeah, y'all can call me Andy, if you want. And, thank you for supporting me," she said, struggling to keep from running her eyes over his body. She knew she was pretty enough and that she had a good body, but Jenn was right; guys wanted their girls to be girls, not football players. Basically, she stood no chance with him.
"No problem. Now, let's get going. Coach is about to blow a fuse that we're not out there yet. C'mon, let's play to win, not just play and, hey, maybe Andy's right. Maybe we can win this game. Go Navajos!"
The rest of the team fired up at the thought that maybe they could win this game, picked up their helmets and ran out of the locker room. After they were all gone, Andy picked up her helmet and ran outside herself. Kevin came out soon after and then the team ran onto the field, ready to play the championship game.
By the end of the first half, the energy the guys had felt at the beginning of the game was all but gone. The Navajos were being crushed by the Colts 21-3 and even Kevin was beginning to doubt the words he had spoken in the locker room, but Andy was just as pumped up as ever and she showed it at half time.
"C'mon guys, we can still win this game! Y'all just need to play like a team. It's almost like it's every man for himself out there. Take risks! Go for interceptions! Don't try and keep yourself from being injured! Hell, I was in a wheel chair for 5 months last year at my old school because of my Rugby injury but, you know what, that game had been worth it! I played to win and didn't worry about self-survival. It was all about the team. We need to be like that and we can still win it! I know we can win it, even though I just started attending this school. I can feel it! David, get the ball to your tight ends more. Surprise 'em. And, give the ball to Kevin. Their ground defense is terribly uncoordinated. And, bloody hell; throw me the ball once in a while! Throw long and if it's in my general direction, I'll catch it! But, we've got to stop playing conservative and play!" Andy found herself shouting in her urgency to win and knew she was keeping the coach from speaking, but she didn't care. She knew these guys could win! They could win!
"Minor, may I speak now? I think you're right. We need to start playing like we mean it. No more conservative. Kevin, if you get the ball, run like hell toward the end zone and everyone else, block for him. If David is gonna throw the ball, create a solid pocket for him, and if he throws it to you, catch it! Defense, blitz blitz blitz! Don't let them make any more big plays! Intercept the ball! Make your own plays! Go for it and we can win! But, we need to play as a team. Defense, hold them back so that the offense can catch us up and Offense, if the defense gives you an opportunity, you take it! There'll be no more girly football tonight! Now it gets serious!"
"Yes coach! Go Navajos!" Andy shouted, showing once again, her enthusiasm and eagerness to play. The other guys, hitching a ride on Andy's party, cheered as well and Andy could see Kevin studying her, grinning from ear to ear. Smiling back, she ran back to the sidelines to wait for the offense's turn to kick some ass.
"Hey Andrea!" Andrea heard Jenn's voice from behind her and turned around. There her friend was in the stands, waving at her.
"Hey Jenn, you enjoying watching the game?" Andrea shouted back, smiling. "Sure, we're losing, but I'm having fun."
"They're not giving you the ball! Damnit, make them give you the ball! You go girl!" Jenn shouted back, catching Andrea off guard. She hadn't expect this kind of outburst from her prim and proper friend, Jennifer Mason. But, Jenn hadn't ever been at a football game, either. The sheer euphoria created by the noises and the presence of so many excited fans would crack even the most avid sports hater.
"Well, Miss Jennifer, I assure you that I will get the ball," Andrea shouted back, laughing. She would've said more, but it was the offense's turn to show what they were made of. The defense had stopped the Colts from scoring and had forced them to punt. Special Teams, apparently affected by the great enthusiasm which had entered the rest of the team, had made an excellent punt return, bringing it up to their own 45 yard line. Now, the offense had to take advantage of that and score.
Andrea jogged out to the huddle and grinned at the guys. David informed them that he would be throwing the ball to her and that she should go long, as close to the end zone as she could get. It would be a Hail Mary to save time. The Colts' last drive had taken up most of the third quarter and the Navajos still needed to score two more times after this. Breaking the huddle and lining up, the Navajos waited for the hike. It came.
Andrea had the feeling that the slow mode button had been pressed as she ran hard for the End Zone. Everything appeared to be moving slowly and it was almost as if time had stopped; that everyone in the stands held their breath. Slowly, as she reached the 10-yard line, Andrea turned around and watched as David hurled the ball toward her. She watched it fly through the sky and come falling down at her. Stretching out her arms, she felt the ball hit her body and quickly secured it. At that moment, everything seemed to go back to normal as Andy turned around and ran into the End Zone for the touchdown.
The cheering that erupted from the Navajo side of the stands was incredible. As Andrea heard her name announced over the loud speakers and saw her blocker run over to tackle her, she grinned. They were six points closer to victory. And with the "good" extra point kick, they were now just two touchdowns away from being the state champion. Andrea ran to the sidelines and gave high fives to everyone who came near her. She had never felt so invigorated in her life.
Once again, the Defense stopped the Colts from scoring. This time, Andrea was allowed to stay on the sidelines and cool off as she watched Kevin get first down after first down. She grinned as she saw the drive capped by a twenty-yard pass to Michael Hastings, a Tight End, for the touchdown. Jumping up and down and cheering as the extra point was good, Andrea hugged Michael tight as he reached the sidelines and did the same for Kevin. Andrea had to keep herself from fainting at the close proximity of Kevin's lean, muscular body to her own, but she managed to do it.
This time, the Defense didn't look so hot. Andrea had to keep her emotions in check as the Colts drew closer and closer to the End Zone. Andrea's heart pounded inside her chest and the tension in the air was fairly thick enough to reach out and take a bite of. If the slow mode of her touchdown catch had been slow, this one was going at a snail's pace. Closer and closer to the end zone the Colts drew, until they were merely three yards away. If the defense couldn't stop them now, the game was over for the Navajos. There simply wasn't enough time to score twice. The Defense needed to stop them, or the Navajos lost the game.
"Come on defense! You guys can do it!" Andrea heard herself shout, breaking the almost stupor like silence which had gripped the sidelines. Surprisingly, the others began shouting encouragement to the Defense, as well. Until the Referee motioned for them to quiet down, the Navajo offense and special teams called out to the defense, giving them the self esteem needed to keep the Colts from getting into the end zone.
"Alright, first and goal for the Colts at the Navajo three yard line. McGregor takes the snap and hands it off to Holmes who takes it to the one-yard line before being taken down. Second down and goal for the Colts, " heard the commentators voice come out of the speakers and nearly cried with happiness. The Colts hadn't scored yet. "Ok, it's Second down and goal for the Colts, who are at the Navajo one yard line. McGregor takes the snap and it's a quarterback sneak into the end zone. Touchdown Colts!"
Andrea felt as if someone had taken a sledgehammer and smashed her hopes to pieces. The sheer high she had felt while playing the game seemed to have disappeared with those two words. Never had she felt so low in her life. And yet...
"Uh-oh...it appears there was a flag on the play. Let's see which way it goes." Andrea looked up at the referee and found herself nearly praying that the penalty went against the Colts. Everything would be alright as long as the penalty went against the Colts.
"Prior to the snap, false start 81 on the offense. That's a five-yard penalty. Repeat second down." The Referee's voice had never sounded better to Andrea in her life. The penalty had gone against the Colts! There was still a chance! Andrea found herself cheering loudly as the line of scrimmage was brought back to the six yard line.
"Right, with that penalty, that brings the ball back to the six yard line of the Navajo. Second down and goal at the six. McGregor takes the snap and makes a short screen pass...INTERCEPTED! Intercepted by Scott McDaniel of the Navajo! Scott runs to the 10, the 20, the 30, 50, 30 and is brought down at the 29-yard line of the Colts. And, there's no flag that I can see, so...Navajo ball!"
"Oh my God! GO SCOTT! WOOO!!!!" Andrea jumped up and down like a little schoolgirl before jumping on Kevin and giving him a giant hug. "We have a chance!"
Kevin laughed. "Yeah, let's go get 'em!" Andrea jumped down off of him and ran out onto the field, waving her arms to get the crowd to cheer louder, and laughing as they responded. The Colts side of the crowd was still too stunned to boo, but that was soon over and the loud cheering of the Navajo side was nearly rivaled by the booing and hissing of the Colts' crowd. Andy ignored the boos and pretended that the entire crowd of nearly 3000 students was rooting the Navajo on, hoping that the victory, and the state championship would be theirs.
Once in the huddle, Andrea smiled. "We have 29 yards till victory and I, for one, am proud to have played this game with all of you. See? I told you we could win and we're this close to doing it. Now, let's get out there and kick major ass!"
David laughed. "Right! Everyone, just get open and I'll throw to one of you. Then run like hell for the end zone! Clear?"
"Right! Ok everyone, let's go win this game!" Andy said before the group clapped and broke huddle. Andrea walked behind the line, looking for a good place to run and ended up going left. She easily beat her defender and was wide open when she turned around. David looked in her direction. He threw. Andy watched the ball as it flew toward her and then watched in horror as the defender reached out and blocked it. In a blur of thoughts, Andrea dove forward and tried to get the ball in her arms. It bounced off her hands and headed back down toward the ground. Andrea grunted as she went for the ball again and nearly cried with joy when it hit her forearms and settled there. Andy quickly gained possession and held the ball to her stomach. Guys of both teams piled on top of her, almost cutting off her breathing air. Finally, the whistle was blown and the guys got off of her. Andrea jumped up and handed the ball to the ref.
"Where are we?" She asked Kevin as they walked over to the huddle. She was kind of wobbly and her head was pounding because of the angle she had hit the ground at, but she was determined to finish out this game. There were 45 seconds left on the clock.
"At the ten yard line. We're kinda trying to waste some time," Kevin replied. The two joined the huddle.
"Good work, Minor. Now, let's be different. Let's make Andrea a running back for this one play. No one will expect it. I'll hand it off to Kevin, who'll give it to Andrea. Andy, run like hell for the end zone. This is it! We've only got time for one play." David broke the huddle this time and hastened to get the hike.
Andrea saw David hand the ball to Kevin and took the ball from Kevin as she ran past him. Tucking the ball into her stomach and staying low, she ran forward, looking desperately for an opening. Suddenly, one was made for her as her teammates tackled people right and left, determined to win this game. Their sheer enthusiasm downright surprised Andy as she noted that, minutes before the game, they had been expecting to lose. And now...
Andy stepped into the end zone. For a moment, there was a quiet stillness as amazed fans and bewildered coaches and players stared at this girl who had run the ball into the end zone. This wide receiving female had not only won the game for the Navajo, she had done it as a running back. Then, suddenly, the barrage of wild screaming from her teammates, coaches, and peers broke the silence. Andrea looked up into the stands and nearly fell over laughing as she saw Jenn, girly, proper Jenn cheering her lungs out in the stands. Her hair was all mussed, her make-up had all but come off, and she had removed her heels to jump up and down. Ah, the joys of watching a football game, thought Andrea. Although, she never would've thought Jenn would do that. But, she didn't have any more time to think about it as her teammates had run over to cheer with her.
"We won! My God, I can't believe it, we won!" David shouted as he reached Andrea and pulled her into a giant hug. "You were right, Andy! We won!!!"
Andrea laughed and continued to hug every one of her teammates until she came to Kevin. She saw that his helmet was off and he was smiling. Of course, he was sweaty and dirty, but Andrea still thought him the best looking guy on the planet. Pulling off her helmet, she smiled. "Hey Kevin. We won!"
Kevin nodded. "Yeah, we won. And, I think I'm about to win even more..." Before Andy could ask what Kevin was talking about, he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. Andrea heard the entire team laugh and "Ooooo" and a few shouts of "Kevin is a lucky man!", but she was also aware of the fact that the team was keeping them from the view of the crowd. Finally, they were a team.
After Kevin pulled away, he smiled. "Andy, would you like to go to the party with me this evening? And, perhaps some dinner tomorrow night?"
Andrea nodded and found herself grinning madly. "Yes, of course I will! But Kevin, tell me something. How come it's me and not some girly girl?"
Kevin laughed. "Because you're enthusiastic, fun, and extremely hot. Are there other reasons needed? Remember, 'There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment'. Now, let's get going. We have a trophy to accept."
Andrea nodded. "What trophy? I have mine right here," she said, pulling Kevin to her and returning the kiss he had given her earlier. Damn, she thought. Who knew that enthusiasm could get so much. Yeah, we won tonight, alright. We won the championship, we won our confidence back, but most of all, we won the right to know exactly what it feels to be a team. Pulling away from Kevin, she smiled. "We won," she whispered.
"Yeah," Kevin replied, "but I don't think it's the same way as the rest of the guys." Smiling, he took Andrea's hand. Together, with the rest of the team around them, they walked to accept their victory.