At 7am several of our players arrived at our meeting place, dizzy and dizzy and asleep on their feet. I drove them to Mississippi anyway, believing that an hour of exercise could be a miracle cure. I couldn’t have made a worse decision. A player needed my Styrofoam coffee cup for a sick bag.
In Biloxi, the team stepped onto a freshly limed field with dew rays. The footballs looked brand new. We saw the Keesler boys thunder through their warm-ups in beautiful new uniforms and the latest flashy Nikes. Our team looked confidently at our blue recycled T-shirts with iron-on letters.
A whistle sounded to start the game.
Picture your baby rabbits in the path of a steamroller.
The fliers attacked. When they went for the ball, my boys went upside down. Their kicks repulsed our players like cannonballs.
Keesler scored a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game. Two minutes later they scored a second. Ibrahim, our striker, sent a corner just wide of Keesler’s goal with a nice header, but then didn’t know where he was for a few minutes.
Humiliation can be expressed in many ways.
On this day, two of my players expressed their opinion by sitting in the midfield. Another player vomited loudly, something purple with yellow clumps. The worst, however, came after a goal from Keesler in the sixth or seventh half. The leanest, most sinewy player on our team slipped behind the Keesler defense to pee on the Airmen’s goal, a clear foul.
Deflating in full view of both teams and a mixed crowd of astonished spectators, the midfielder lifted one leg and then the other. He looked like he was being slowly electrocuted. It took him a lot of time.
In unison, the Keesler pilots turned to me, Coach C, their eyes fireproof, relentless.
Suddenly our team rushed for the first time that day. Our rescue bus was waiting in the parking lot. Everything in a blue T-shirt moved that way in a haze.
I broke Mississippi laws when I left town. Got us onto I-10 eastbound, firing at a getaway car full of hanging or heartbreaking football players who had shamed themselves with bad play and worse behavior. As we blazed toward home, the screaming, bat-wielding Air Force boys in their thundering Mad Max muscle cars grew bigger and bigger in the rearview window.
Freedom is losing a race, but winning a desperate race to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.