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But Not Men
by H. Fox Goldman
When he wasn’t watching film, he was watching films. All week long it was game tape. Play. Pause. Slow-motion. Rewind. Play. Pause. Slow-motion. Rewind. He would see all the tells. A slight limp. Hands on hips around the third quarter. A slight shiver in weather that wasn’t quite November cold. Few would see what he saw, and no one else would understand how studious he was leading up to his taking a spot on that line. He was a stone in the fortress of the wall, upright and steadfast, dedicated to guarding the prince who would lead them to victory if the players could protect him. If they could lead him, to be more accurate (even though the crowd never thought of it that way).
During the off-season, Stu’s other love was films. He loved the stars but, as was his bent, he also gravitated toward the supporting actors, the ones the stars played, the darkness of the galaxy that allowed them to shine. He preferred Cruise to Hoffman in Rain Man. O’Donnell to Pacino in Scent of a Woman. The support over the flash. When he was playing for LSU, he was a film minor and something his professor said about Brando resonated.
“When you think of The Godfather what do you think of?”
“Brando!” the whole class shouted.
The professor always had them enthralled. “Good! You’ve learned something this semester. Marlon Brando as “The Godfather” looms large. He towers over the film like a 5th grade schoolyard bully standing victorious over a 2nd grader as drips and drops of the tuna sandwich he stole from the boy descend on the 2nd grader’s head like WWII fighter planes dogfighting over a forestry landscape. Drops of toast and fish like the flotsam and jetson of a wrecked Spitfire." He paused. "How long does Brando grace the screen? We think the whole 175 minutes are his and his alone. Alas, it is only for 40 minutes does this gift from the Hollywood Gods walk among us anonymous mortals.”
Only 40 out of 175. Stu calculated that to be 22.85%. Brando was in less than a quarter of the movie and did more with that time than any other player in film history.
For 66 minutes that sunny, hot day, Stu was perfect. But he was involved in 67 plays. Dressed for rehearsals in practice, he studied to get off book and put on his make-up and lined up for this day’s performance. When he thinks about it now, he knows he didn’t spend the whole day on the field. In fact, he looked this up too once. The average NFL game was about 3 hours and 10 minutes. The ball was in play the entire day for about 11 total minutes. He himself was in play for only 4 minutes total. He knew that percentage, too, which was around 36%, but he was actually involved on the day’s action just a little over 2% of the whole game.
The crowd didn’t care about hard work, footwork, work ethic, ethics, or anything he did right. They didn’t care that he showed up an hour early before game day with four sets of cleats so he could test the best way he could run on that particular day on that particular field. Today, he didn’t even lose the game for them on a missed assignment, sloppy footing, or being overpowered by the freak across from him; someone three inches taller and thirty pounds heavier. Someone whose name the Crowd did know. A high draft in most Fantasy Leagues. Nothing he did or didn’t do on that 67th play impacted the outcome of today’s win. They didn’t even lose and no quarterback’s helmet was hoisted by the opponent on this day. It was just a play. The middle of the second quarter, he was involved in double-covering the titan across from him, and Stu and his linemate led him outside. The freak double-backed and the quarterback, looking to run, ran into him for a suicidal sack. It wasn’t even the 67th play. It was somewhere lost in the middle, the time when people tend to get out early to skip the half-time beer lines.
But Stu knew that during the postgame, after the victory high fives, showers, medical treatment, endless ice, interviews, and fan autographs; when the coach would have all scores of players assembled, when every dirty mistaken wound of the day was pointed out, picked out, and scratched to make it worse; his turn would come and, in front of everyone, he would be exposed for having a bad day. Not a bad second. Not a bad percentage. Not a bad series or moment or anything small. Just a bad day. Stu will remember that for eternity and the sound of the Crowd, the groan, like there is much at stake, though he does not recall what they looked like as the coach shames him. There was no mention of the 66 times Stu was victorious as he ushered the running-back along, a shield dangling on his left, or defended the honor of the prince.
As Stu gets in the car, it is almost evening now. The 1:00 p.m. game and the aftermath took their time. Stu takes care of his family. Methodical, he crosses items off his list, beheading errands as he moves forward in accomplishment. Pick up the dry-cleaning for his wife from Imperial Cleaners, the only cleaners in town that is open late on Sundays. Gather AAA Batteries, tissues, and 7oz. paper cups from CVS. He does not forget the prescription for his wife either. Milk for his mother. She will be joining them for dinner tonight and will take it home with her.
He feels good as he stops at one of his son’s friend’s houses and recovers a baseball mitt he left there. Stu starts thinking about percentages and wonders how often his life is consumed with this mundane drama. If something gets by him here, a sock left on the floor at home as he hurls the laundry to the laundry mat; it shouldn’t matter. There is no force impacting those he is supposed to protect. He thinks of the hundreds and thousands of items he has checked off over the years, each one a smile granted to someone who depends on his durability.
The food he picked up that day was transformed into something miraculous by his wife. Each individual item blending together into the perfect meal. His Grace is meaningful, and his mother nods her approval as she looks at the family she, and her son, have created. Three generations huddled together over the food earned. There is little talk of today’s game. More about next week’s game in Cleveland. Stu plays better in cold weather, and he already has his four sets of cleats packed for the trip.
As he walks his mother to the car that night after she stayed late to tuck in the kids, he begins to leave the past behind him. Sunday has become Monday, and he will play. Pause. Slow-motion. Rewind. Game tape will secure what was torn in him today until what happened today will not happen again. His mother starts pulling away when she slams on the breaks. For a moment, Stu is concerned. He sprints the three feet to her side of the car as she rolls the window down.
“The milk,” she says. Stu realizes he forgot to bring it inside, and it has been going sour. She assures him that it's okay.
As his mother pulls down the road, Stu rewinds. Plays. Pauses. Slow-motion. He inspects the movement of his mother’s eyes shutting just a bit too fast before she'd said, “It’s okay,” and it reminds him of the way the crowd sat down after his quarterback was sacked.
H. Fox Goldman is currently an administrator at a high school in the New York area. He enjoys reading, writing, and meeting authors. He also plays competitive Settlers of Catan and other boardgames with his wife and three children.