Hate Me Now

"Aren't you afraid," the quarterback asks me.

"Bitch never," I yell back in his face.

Forty seconds left on the clock. We're down. If I can get close enough for a field goal, we can tie the game. A touchdown will win it. Just a regular game. Problem is I've been in this position before. Last year, I tried to make the game winning run. I got knocked out, and woke up with a broken rib. I hadn't played in anything more than practice since.

Coach thinks I'm fragile. The team thinks I'm weak because I didn't play through the pain. I never lost my hunger nor my drive. I've been waiting to step foot back in the game and when I saw my moment, I took it. Our running back sprained his ankle. Coach tried to skip over me. He tried to play a freshman but this is my moment. I was determined to take it at any cost. Nothing could stop me from redeeming myself.

I've got nothing to prove to them. Nothing to prove to the scouts. After tonight my playing career is over. I'm not going to play in college. I just need to prove to myself what happened was a fluke. I need to know I'm not a fragile butterfly, that I still have it inside me to fight through and make it to the goal line. This is about me and nobody else. Am I afraid, no. I've been craving this moment.

"Last time you touched the ball you bitched out. Don't do it again and we can win state," an offensive lineman who wasn't playing last year had some comments. I ignore him.

"You sure you got this," a wide receiver with more concern that criticism.

"Everyone just shut the fuck up, block your man and clear out of my way," I'm ready to do this.

We line up and nobody in the crowd goes wild. They're still mad at me for calling it quits last year when I got knocked out. I know they hold it against me. I could have finished the game with a broken rib but it wasn't worth it to me. I sat the second half, and we lost. It still hangs over my head everywhere I go in this small town.

Someone across the line on the other team has something to say. I can't hear it. The crowd has realized I'm back in the game and started to boo. Fuck them too. I never needed their approval. They just have to sit and watch what is about to unfold. The refs blow the whistle signaling the start of the play clock and everyone gets set for the snap. Our QB quiets the crowd. They respect him almost as much as they hate me. They respected me like that once.

The QB starts the play and jams the ball into my chest. I cover it with both arms and put my head down. I rush straight ahead but the line is too crowded, I can't break through. I back out and head around the left. I feel a hand on my ankle but I refuse to be tripped up. Five yards, and the first hit comes. I shrug it off and keep moving. A clear route ahead of me if I can get past the safety. He dives at me and I stop in my tracks. He misses and I stumble over his body as he picks himself up from the turf. I'm winded, I haven't had to run like this in a long time. It's different when there are people chasing you. Another hit, this time a fallen body coming from a wide receiver block. I'm gassed, but I put everything I have left into my next few strides trying to make the goal line. I feel a hand wrap around my ankle just inches from the line. I muster the strength and jump for the line, hoping he would fall. But he doesn't. I extend my arm as I drop to the turf hoping for the best. I slam down and the ref blows his whistle immediately.

Nothing but silence falls over the field. The crowd erupts as I roll over. The ref ruled it a touchdown. No flag on the play. I did it. I can't make it to my feet before teammates start a dog pile. The same ones who had written me off. It's a mixed moment. The satisfaction of knowing I could still get it done. The fact that I proved them wrong. Still outweighed by the fact that everyone had written me off. Nobody cared about me, or trusted me until I crossed this line. Sports fans, fickle and entitled. Still, this is my moment. They're cheering, but they can still hate me now.