A football player trying to live his dream.
Becoming Green and Gold
There was a loud rap on the hotel’s door, immediately waking Ben. “Just one moment,” he sleepily said. “Just one minute.” Ben rubbed his eyes and walked over the door, unlocking the hinge that held the door shut.
At the door was Coach Morton. He was wondering why he was here, but he knew it couldn’t be good. “Coach McCarthy wants to see you,” Coach Morton sadly said.
Leading Ben down the hall into the grand office, Ben noticed the intricacies of how the wall was painted and the pictures of past and current players that cluttered the nicely painted yellow walls.
“Good morning Ben, please sit down,” Coach McCarthy quietly said.
"Hi coach," Ben sleepily said. He hated being dragged out of bed at 5am, but he knew he must do it for the team. But, why was he meeting with Coach McCarthy? The butterflies had turned into knots that twisted his stomach.
"Good morning, Firestone," Coach McCarthy paused and Ben noticed a slight sadness about him -- "I guess you know why you're here."
"No, coach" Ben whispered, "I guess it's not good news?"
"No. We have to cut you from the team. I'm sorry. You have such potential and I think you should finish college so a college coach can work with you to hone your skills."
Ben was devastated. His twisted gut proved him right.
"There's only so much a professional team is willing to work with. College coaches can work with it. We're the best players; in college you learn to become the best you can be."
"I understand, coach." Ben turned away from coach and headed back to his room to pack. He had to contain his tears; he wanted to work with the Packers.
"What if I didn't make it?" Ben said as he bit his nails. The waiting was killing him.
"Honey, don't talk silly. If you weren't good, you wouldn't be here," his mother reassured him.
"It's true, if you weren't good at football, we wouldn't be sitting here waiting. Be patient."
"Well, this happens from time to time," Ben meekly said as his confidence was beginning to wane. He had let out a sigh and breathed deeply to calm himself down. The tension in the room was thick, he could hardly breathe. His sister, Lily, his father and even his mother beyond the calm facade, were on edge and anxious for Ben. Like Ben, they were just as nervous.
"You still have a year left of college, son," his father said to break the brief silence that had filled the room.
"I know dad," Ben responded with a touch of irritability. This did not comfort Ben. He knew he had a year of school left, if he makes a team, he would be take online classes and have his degree mailed to him. He had it all planned out, he spent a year planning. It wasn't easy, either; it took several months and a lot of talking with administration to clear him from learning in person to online classes. Now, after all this work, he was unsure what would happen to him. Ben's stomach began to knot - he felt physically sick.
"Excuse me," he quickly said and runs to the nearest bathroom. He had shut the door and the toilet became his best friend for what seemed to be an eternity.
"Ben, honey, are you okay," his mother's voice muffled through the light knocks on the door.
"Yes, I'll be right out." Ben felt better; he washed his face with cold water and stepped out into the strained environment. "God, I wish they would call," Ben thought to himself.
I don't know if it was a box or a bag; the ringtone shocked Ben, but this is what he had been waiting for. He froze.
"Ben, why don't you answer," his mother whispered. Numb, Ben answered his cellphone with a simple "Hello."
"Ben Firestone?" The masculine voice barked through the phone.
"This is him."
"Congratulations," the voice sounded happy, "you have made linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. You are twenty eighth pick."
Twenty-eighth pick, he was low on the totem pole, but he was happy he made a team. Green Bay Packers. He loved the Packers. He grew up watching Brett Favre gracefully run through end zones and launching into the goal line to make touchdowns. Brett Favre was his idol until he left abruptly for other teams. But, it was not only Brett Favre, Ben just loved the Packers.
"Please report to training camp on August Fifth." The voice broke his train of thought.
"Thank you, sir." The call ended.
"So," his mother asked with a tint of happiness and nervousness.
"Green Bay Packers."
"Honey! That's great! You made your team!"
"Congratulations, son," his father smiled.
"Congrats!" Lily also smiled.
"I report to training camp on August Fifth, exactly two months from now."
Ben woke up in sweat, he was disoriented for a moment; he looked over at the clock: 8am, it was time to get dressed and meet the other recruits for breakfast. He had to shake off the nightmare he had of his dad shouting in the bleachers saying “you no-for-good son of a bitch, you throw like a girl!” Today was the day and Ben didn’t want this dream to ruin his game.
His hair, a dirty blonde, was slicked and pulled back in a black hair tie. He was wearing his favorite Packers shirt; yellow with GREEN BAY PACKERS written horizontal green block letters and 1921 in vertical white cursive letters. A football with a runner was below the green block letters. Black cargo shorts were worn; he assumed this outfit would be okay for breakfast and it was nice and cool before he had to change into the hot, heavy uniform.
"Firestone! Glad you woke up and joined us. I didn't have the heart to wake you this morning," Pat said as he stuffed scrambled eggs into his mouth. Pat was loud, but compared to roommates he lived with in college, Pat respected boundaries and was a kind spirit. However, when it came to the game, Pat showed no mercy to opponents. Ben witnessed this yesterday as Pat the wide receiver "murdered" the other team. Today was Ben's turn to prove his fierceness.
Coach McCarthy and the personal trainings had told them the night before to eat a lot of carbs and eat as much as humanly possible for breakfast. A banquet fit for a queen, princess and prince lay in front of him. "Holy shit," he thought to himself, and his once famished stomach twisted and turned yelling at him to help himself to croissants, bagels, bacon, fruits and a the numerous entrees laying in aerial view.
"Ya know, ya can't sleep in every morning and mama ain't here to wake ya," one of the recruits told him viciously. He almost reminded Ben of RGIII; this dark player was muscular, and someone the opposing team wouldn't want to meet.
"I know dumbass," Ben had mumbled with some French toast stuffed in his mouth.
"What was that, boy," the man had said in a thick Southern accent. He stood up and angrily stared into Ben’s eyes. He snarled, “what did you say? Don’t make me make you regret it!” He bunched up his fists ready to start a fight.
Ben was nervous. I should have kept my mouth shut so he didn’t want to knock my loud mouth out. Instead "I know," loudly came out of Ben’s mouth. "By the way, my name is Ben. I'm linebacker."
"Antoine, wide receiver." He puts down his fists and backed off from Ben.
Ben sighed. He sat down and continued eating his breakfast.
"Where you from?" Antoine asked as he pulled his dreadlocks back.
"Oh, Ravens country!"
"Yeah," Ben blushed, he never was a Ravens fan unlike his family and neighbors, "how about you?"
"Ah, Falcons territory!"
Antoine gave a loud chortle that was almost on the obnoxious side before biting into his bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Ben assumed that like himself, Antoine wasn't a Falcons fan. A fan wouldn't do that or would they?
“How long have you been playin’,” Ben asked to break the ice some more.
“17 years, since Kindergarten,” he replied, “and you?”
“About 12, since sixth grade.”
“You relatively new to the sport then,” Antoine said with a big grin on his face.
“What made you get into football?”
“It was always on in our house and although my dad likes the Ravens and is a fan, he doesn’t pledge allegiance to any team; every game was on in our household. I loved the way the Packers played; I admired Brett Favre and his lightning speed running and his quick passing techniques. He was, in my eyes, the god of quarterbacks. I wanted to be just like him. So, I decided to join a local team in sixth grade. It turns out I was pretty good at it and won some championships.” Ben never liked to brag and was always modest about his accomplishments in his favorite sport.
Ben's stomach continued to grumble; he ended his conversation with Antoine and returned to his French toast; stuffing it down his throat. He hoped there were opportunities for more food. He felt ravenous.
"Attention," said Chad, who was the Special Teams manager, "breakfast is over. Please report to the training field." With that said both the rookies and the professionals finished whatever food they had in their mouths and cleaned up around themselves.
Firestone #55 his jersey read. For the practice he'd be the away colour -- white. He'd be training with Matthews, Hawk and the few other linebackers. Ben fumbled around a bit putting on his jersey, he's excited yet nervous at the same time. What if I mess up, he thought, I don't want to make a fool out of myself around my idols.
"C'mon Firestone, stop daydreaming," Antoine said as he tapped Ben's shoulder jarring Ben out of his thoughts. Ben quickly placed the jersey over his head and closed the glass door of his locker (Ben thought it was cool that his new locker was made out of oak wood, stained in cherry and had glass doors, pretty royal compared to his college days if you asked him).
I’m at a payphone trying to call home—Maroon 5 blasted in the distance. In the hot August Wisconsin sun, the fans sat in rows on bleachers. He could see from where he was standing behind the gate (as the professionals were signing jerseys from other adoring fans who camped outside Nitschke Field waiting for autographs) as well as the people standing with their backs toward Nitschke Field. Ben assumed they must be taking pictures. He admired the fans’ dedication and remembered the day he first traveled to Green Bay to see a pre-season game back in his freshman year of college. He and a buddy came and spent four days doing Packers related activities. Now I’m finally living a dream, he thought.
The moment was here. His jersey with a patch that read BELLIN HEALTH was rolled up to his stomach and he had his full pads on. Walking along the green grass, Ben walked to where the linebackers were told to stand. Ben was first on the field. He noticed the white markers carefully and neatly sprayed on the green, fresh mowed turf and he noticed how bright the sun was shining. Ben imagined that the fans must be dedicated to sit on metal bleachers that deflect sun onto their skin, but he remembered those days and it never phased him. In his semi-conscious phase of admiration to fans and daydreaming of his greatness, Nitschke Field filled up quickly with the other players.
I just met you and this is crazy—a new irritating song blasted onto the field that “okay, line up by your numbers in a straight line…” that Coach Morton was saying in a low voice was barely audible to Ben. Ben eventually heard him and followed his instructions. He was in between Jamari and Dezman, both rookies as well, and very muscular. With Jamari’s and Dezman’s long dreadlocks and full padded bodies, sweat rolled down their faces from the heat of August.
“Run on one foot, carefully hold the left knee,” the training coach said. Grabbing his left knee, Ben became unbalanced and toppled over.
“Wow, you need to get your balance right before you can play football,” Jamari snickered.
“Shut up,” Ben’s face turned as red as a tomato.
“You’ll be fine, don’t listen to him,” Dezman stood up for Ben and extending his arm out, Dezman helped Ben off the grass.
Now everyone was on the field. Ben grasped his left leg in his hand. The whistle blew, it was time to go. I can do this, I can do this, Ben thought. He was struggling; his leg kept slipping out of his hand. The whistle blew, it was now over.
The fierceness in the white of his eyes was hypnotizing. He stood left of Harrell, the rookie quarterback from Texas Tech, just waiting for him to toss the ball underhand. Although he was competing with other teammates (as typical in practice training sessions), he was ready. Let’s kick some ass, Ben thought, Matthews and me can do this. All of us can if we continue as a team.
Harrell threw the ball; it was time for Ben to react. The boys in green were encroaching on the white team. To keep things gentle, Ben lightly blocked a few guys; in Ben’s mind he was on top of the world as the white team won.
Game day. Green Bay went wild. Ben noticed everyone draped in their Packers jerseys, the Cheeseheads walking the streets and the talk of the town was the upcoming game. It was time to face the Seahawks. Ben heard on the TV after switching from Green Bay’s local news to ESPN that it was predicted that the Packers were going to sweep Seattle.
Seahawks suck, his friends’ voices echoed in Ben’s head. He remembered the one time sitting around watching a game on TV and for some reason they were watching the Seahawks; it was probably better than the joke of the Bills/Jets game where the Jets massacred the Bills. Tebowing worked that time, Ben laughed to himself, no need for that “Hail Mary” pass that always saved Tebow’s ass from getting kicked off the Broncos. Shame it finally did happen, though. Ben always felt bad for Tebow—always the underdog, he never got credit where it was due and he ended up choking from all the pressure—opening a can of beer, Colt 45, their favorite, Ben’s buddy, half drunk, slurred, “Yeah, the Seahawks suck. Anyone can beat them.” Haha, Ben had laughed to his friends, this was true. They were all drunk; Sundays were their day that consisted of drinking from noon until the last game. “A hangover to be cured by another hangover,” Ben’s friend had said week after week—
“FIRESTONE!” Antoine yelled. Pat calmly said, “Get your head off the clouds and listen to the plays!”
“Sorry, won’t happen again—“ Ben bit his nails and the same queasy feeling he had on the day of the draft returned again. Gurgling, his stomach churned—he had to keep the food down to bulk up for tonight. Tonight, tonight—tonight was that game! Ben would debut.
“GO PACK GO!” The thousands of fans yelled and sang to a drum beat. The crowd was going crazy outside in Lambeau Field. Ben stood with the rest of the team in the hallway that led to the field. Running out the door in all his glory, Ben made it to the side where thousands of fans would be watching. Calm down, he thought, it’ll be just like a college game. Don’t panic. Hand over his heart; he followed the motions of singing the National Anthem to get his mind off the butterflies that danced around in his stomach.
The first string was thrown onto the field. Blinding, the Thursday night lights glowed green and the white of the numbers were neon; the crowd drifted in and out of the lights. Blinding and disorienting, but Ben could watch the first string play. Rodgers nodded to Nelson and the ball snapped. Running for a touchdown, Nelson ran the red zone with minimal coverage all the way to the end zone, scoring a touchdown. “YEAH!” Antoine had yelled, “this is fucking awesome!” Ben was surprised by Pat’s outburst. “This is great!” Ben glowed, he hoped he’d be just like Matthews—a great tackler—that was what got me awards, I’m sure the NFL won’t be as bad…
Quarterback sneak. Rodgers was amazing with those. Second quarter; the game is still 7-0. As soon as the ball was snapped and Rodgers caught it, Ben noticed that Rodgers astutely watched how the Seahawks emphasis of coverage was on the linebackers. It was only two yards to the touchdown; Rodgers along with the offensive line pushed Rodgers for a touchdown. 14-0. Wow, the Seahawks do suck, Ben thought as the whistle blew signaling halftime. Time for the show, Ben smiled as the butterflies float away, time for me to shine.
Leading the rookies to the field; Graham Harrell, backup for Rodgers, took his place. Rubbing his fingers through his brown hair, he nodded his head to Antoine, Pat, Ben and the others. Following the lead, the rookies took their place before Crosby kicked the ball to start the second quarter.
“Red 32,” Harrell yelled before the ball was thrown. What does that mean? Ben scrambled around; these damn butterflies are back and they’re flying up to my head. I have to stop this.
Harrell was sacked; Seahawk’s ball. I need to stop them; Ben’s guard goes up. Yet, he doesn’t tackle; in fact the quarterback flew past him scoring the first touchdown for Seattle.
The game was a disaster. “Blue 40,” Harrell shouted as the ball went to the Packers after an interception from Seattle. Ben was still confused, he had no idea what that code was. Coming face to face with an offensive player from Seattle, Ben could see the whites of his angry eyes.
Halftime. Sweat wreaked in the locker room. Circling the drawing board and ripping off his yellow helmet; his sweaty blonde hair hung at his shoulders. “Firestone, listen up!” Coach McCarthy screamed. Drawing on the board
“Firestone, you stand right here where the X is pointing to the O with the big circle. Got it?”
“Yes, coach!” said Ben as he wiped the mud caking his pale, freckled skin.
“Are you sure Firestone?” Antoine barked, “we came here to kick the Seahawks’ asses!” Ben felt Antoine’s spit as he screamed. Hands in a fist, Antoine meant business. Sweating, his back hunched up in anger, grunted, “good, you better!”
“I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying, I really am.” Antoine shook his head.
"Welcome to the Tundra, you hear the thunder," the song boomed, but the fan echoed "scream until you go hoarse, let them hear the g force!" The fans were excited, pumping Ben up to kick some ass.
Following his team back on the soft, shiny turf of Lambeau Field, Ben took his place in the lineup. Crosby kicked the football--it was time to begin the second half. Running, following Crosby, the Seattle Seahawk's receiver catches the ball and runs as fast as he can, rushing into the Packers offensive line where he is tackled; stopping short of the 40 yard line in Seattle's territory. Lined up in the back, Matt Flynn was thrown the ball. Ben had to try to sack him. Flynn positioned himself to throw the ball; Ben ran as fast as he could to sneak behind Flynn. He proved successful; Flynn was sacked and had one more shot with the ball. Flynn is given back the ball. Purple 14, he hears Flynn yell at his team; Ben wondered what that could possibly mean for the Seahawks. The ball spins and spirals through the air; Antoine signaled for Ben to move and Ben ran for his life. Ben reacted to the throwing motion by adjusting his position in the zone. He ran towards the 20 yard line, just in time when Flynn was throwing the ball to one of his teammates. Since the football was at the level of the numbers on Ben’s jersey and according to the rules of football, he needed to reach out with his palms up and their little fingers touching. Interception!
“Atta boy, Firestone,” Antoine enthusiastically shouted as they walked off the field. It was commercial time (when commercials are aired on public television, the players take a break by either staying on the field or resting on the sidelines for a bit). Ben chose to go back to the sidelines to gulp down some cold spring water. He wanted to rest before he could make the game winning plays that would put the Packers back in first place of the NFC North. After last season, they needed this win desperately.
“Green 40,” Harrell shouted as he stood behind one of the teammates. Ben tried remembering the plan; all those x’s and o’s, but some of them were hazy in the heat of the moment. Antoine was positioned next to him; he turned his head sideways and gave Ben a nod. At that moment, Ben had a little idea of what he needed to do. He’d protect Nelson and whichever rookie was put in his place. The ball was snapped, it was time to run and Ben ran faster than the speed of sound.
“What the hell kind of game was that,” Matthews was livid. “We were doing so well up until the third quarter! You rookies need to step it up!”
“Clay, calm down,” Coach McCarthy said as he stepped into the locker room. “We need better plays, this is professional, not college…”
In the locker room, Ben quietly stripped down and hopped into the shower. He didn’t say a word. He was so close, yet they lost. He really screwed things up. I’m so stupid, he thought, it’s too hard. The hot droplets stung his skin, yet he loved the steam that emanated from the shower and wafted up his nose, clearing his sinuses. He always found showers to be soothing, which as his dad said was a girl quality. Ben shook his head, shampoo fell out; he’s not allowed to bring me down anymore. I’m not the stupidest person in Baltimore. Grabbing the towel located on the metal bar hanging next to the shower, Ben grabbed it, dried off and dressed in his favorite Slayer shirt and a pair of ripped jeans.
“Hi…mom?” Ben spoke into his phone as he placed his duffle bag down. It felt good to be home.
“Honey!” his mother cheerfully squeaked on the other end, “how did you do?”
“Terrible, mom, just terrible. I’m not cut out for this job!” Ben began to cry.
“Don’t say that. You’ve always worked hard at football.”
“Well, mom, that doesn’t cut it in the NFL.”
“Me too. Well, mom, I’m tired. I gotta go.”
“Okay, sweetie. Sleep tight.”
He hung up, placed the phone on the nightstand and went to bed. Tomorrow would be another day.