The Last Man in the World Ch. 03byMungoParkIII©
The football season in Mississippi was quickly slipping by; most of the schools had completed seven games and had only three games remaining for the playoffs. Of course Stephen D. Lee High School's team had given up all hope of the playoffs by the fourth week of the season, the big question now was will the team win another game. Starkville was another road game for them however it was not too far from home so the bus trip was short.
Once again the team was making changes to everything trying to figure out what combination of players on the field could possibly win a game. Jim was still a linebacker but the coaches moved him up to tight end to see if he could help blocking some. He also continued as the team's punter.
Practice was tough but the team still got the customary Coca Cola ( tm ) at the end of each practice so everything seemed good, or as good as a 1-6 team could be. When the team loaded on the bus that Friday afternoon on the road to Starkville Jim had no idea his career was about to end in complete humiliation. Not that the punt return touchdown that started off the losing season and the safety that capped off the teams worst losses were highlights, but they were nothing compared to what would happen that Friday night.
By moving Jim from fullback to tight end, the team lost its opportunity to run the quick kick so instead the offense had to try to make yardage for all three downs instead of just two before admitting defeat and kicking the ball on third down. For Jim, the first half of the game was unremarkable as he played reasonably well on defense and did pretty well blocking. His punting was fine so it just looked like the team was headed for a defeat, but nothing terrible.
It was just at the start of the third quarter, after a rousing half time speech by the coach about toughness and determination, when the offense went onto the field did absolutely nothing. Jim found himself ready to punt once again. As he counted back the yards from the line of scrimmage to line up to punt, he found himself standing in a puddle of mud, so he took about a half step forward just to get more comfortable.
While Jim was getting ready to punt, his deep blocker, the blocker closest to the punter was a different player from the one who had played there all season. "Damn, is there nothing the coaches will leave alone?" Jim wondered to himself getting ready to begin the snap count.
Yes, it was the first time this player had been the deep blocker and just as Jim knew himself to be the last man in the world, the coaches drilled it into the deep blocker's head that he was not, under any circumstances, to back up. Well apparently everyone on the team knew the deep blocker was not supposed to back up, everyone except for the player lined up as deep blocker that Friday night.
Well the combination of Jim stepping forward and the deep blocker not knowing the most important thing he should know brought about the chain of events that ended the last man in the world's football career in utter humiliation. Jim shouted loudly, "Down, set," and then he paused, inching forward just a bit more and then he flexed his fingers signaling the center he wanted the snap.
The ball sailed perfectly into Jim's hands and he took a step with his right foot, a step with his left and letting to ball fall from his hands he swung his right leg forward with enough power to normally lift his two hundred five pound body over a foot in the air as he kicked the ball. Except that night he never kicked the ball, instead as his leg shot forward it suddenly hit an immovable seeming object and as the ball tumbled on the ground Jim fell in pain.
As he kneeled on the ground, his leg searing with pain he heard the whistle blow and realized that the deep blocker had backed up. Rather than kicking the relatively light football and driving it down the field, Jim kicked his one hundred seventy-five pound deep blocker in the ass sending him tumbling to the ground. Unable to play linebacker with the pain in his leg, Jim limped off the field where the injury was immediately iced down.
After several minutes, when the offense went back on the field the coach sent Jim back into the game where he finished out about five minutes that was left in the third quarter. He leg hurt and he limped some but Jim tried to play his position. I wasn't until the team needed to punt again that anyone realized the injury was worse than anticipated. As Jim went to kick the ball, he found her couldn't straighten his foot, a necessary thing when you punt the ball, so when he kicked it, the ball went straight up in the air and fell straight to the ground.
Jim was pulled from the game and spent the rest of the game on the bench with ice packs on his leg. As the game was about to end the coach finally wandered over to check out how Jim was feeling and he asked, "Just exactly how did this happen? I know the punt got blocked but how did you hurt your leg?"
"Well you know Willie, the new deep blocker."
"Did anyone tell him he was not supposed to back up?"
"You mean he..."
"Backed up," Jim said nodding.
"And you did what?"
"I stepped forward and as I went to kick the ball I kicked Willie instead."
"So you kicked Willie in the ass and hurt your leg."
"You know I've been kicking that kid in the ass all season trying to get him to do something, I guess I just didn't kick hard enough."
"I think I did kick hard enough," Jim said.
"Well keep your leg iced down and we'll go easy on you in practice on Monday," he said, rubbing the hair on Jim's head.
By Monday Jim was in a cast with a hairline fracture in his leg. Though he tried to keep the events leading up to his injury a secret, word got out on how he broke his leg so as he hobbled on crutches the next six weeks he had to put up with the giggles in the hallways and even worse from the team as he hobbled out to the practice field.
Amid the humiliation of how he broke his leg and the realization he wasn't going to play football again, two positive things came out of the event. Willie went on to play linebacker and earned most valuable player in both of the last two games. The team lost both games but Willie was on his way to being a star player. The second positive was that Jim still got to share in the Coca Cola ( tm ) at the end of every practice.