tagMatureRemember the Beavers Ch. 01

Remember the Beavers Ch. 01


To call the local San Mateo football rivalry a "rivalry" meant that the observer was clearly making an assessment from somewhere unsuitably distant; maybe across the bay or perhaps from even as faraway as a set of bleachers on the east coast. The high school gridiron competition between the Aragon Bulls and the Hillsdale Beavers, characterized each year by a match known as "The Battle of The Fleas," was an event which consumed all of San Mateo County. The infamous rivalry left none of its district residents straddling the fence about which team they supported. The Battle of The Fleas had commenced in the 1940s as a friendly affair between the budding youth (fleas) in each community, but during the following decades, any hope that it would bring these two divisions closer was revealed as a fallacy. If anything the notoriety and excessive hoopla only heightened the stakes of the rivalry and turned football into more than just a game of pigskin; it emerged as a way to put San Mateo on the map as something other than a dot com bust. Succesful young football players acquired celebrity-like status which was reinforced by gifts from parents, adoration from peers, and the promise of a future paved in green. The Battle of The Fleas became so important and so highly scrutinized by anyone who hadn't been living in a cave, that players were essentially guaranteed a full-ride with any sports loving school in the country in exchange for a touchdown, interception, blitzing, or proof that he was a big rolling flea. Fleas indeed.

It was particularly during the previous 20 years which culminated at the approaching season that the two teams adopted different approaches. The Bulls were in it to win it. They had become a talent and recruitment pipeline which caused even college athletic departments to blush. The boys from Aragon were on a roll. "A steamroll," their coach grinned to the press. "That's what we're going to do to the Beavers again this year. Is it any wonder that a beaver has a flat tail?" Aragon had unfailingly clobbered Hillsdale for the past 18 years, creating an historic streak which only served to draw increasingly overzealous fans. "Will they do it again this year? Will they succeed?" It was the question on everyone's mind even if the conclusion seemed forgone. During recent years, Aragon alum who'd gone on to play ball professionally had returned (in private jets, limos) to watch The Battle of The Fleas, and to relive fond high school memories. To them there was nothing as satisfying as stepping on a Beaver's tail, and the match game into a near red carpet event due to the media circus which made its way across the bay. Tickets for the battle became so expensive that the standard issue set given to a player's parents sometimes found their way onto EBay. Of course it was only Beaver parents that would ever sell their seats to the epic event. With the Bulls standing so invincibly tall, their shadow was long enough to eclipse, humiliatingly, an entire generation of fearful Hillsdale footballers. The ferocity of a team like the Bulls created a fecund environment in which their rivals' fears grew fat and ripe on the vine.

As for how the Beavers approached the rivalry; terrified; weak-kneed; trembling. It was particularly on a beat-up, yellow team bus that the silent band of young men, setting out for the gates of Aragon, no longer looked like players on their way to a game, but rather like overmatched soldiers headed into the grim business of war. Year after year they faced certain annihilation at the hands of an adversary armed to its proverbial horns.

Speaking of teeth, the slogans and cheers invented by the Bulls each year became sharper and more incisive. Approaching the 2010 season, "no teeth, all tail," was the early and popular characterization of their competition. If Hillsdale had come up with a retort, it had been washed out to sea in a swell of support for the Bulls. No one wanted the streak to end. This most recent slogan was considered fit to print, and found its way onto bumper stickers, t-shirts, and a local billboard. Each occurrence included a cartoon picture of a silly toothless beaver which seemed concerned by the large hoof print on its tail.

Secretly, there was also a subculture of cyber bullying which was only evident to the students. According to some virally perpetuated myth, Beaver Moms were easy targets for the Bulls. The play on words was almost too delicious for those who understood what the term "Bull" meant in sexual parlance. Other less publically appropriate slogans navigated the chasms of Facebook and MySpace like digital phantoms; "I pasted a Beaver today;" "Stick it in that Beaver;" "Mrs. So and So took this Bull by the horns and liked it;" "Bulls go in bare;" etc. Some of the more inspired Bull enthusiasts had even invented nuances to the mythology; a short statistical report demonstrating how the birthrate in Hillsdale (i.e. Beavertown) always spiked slightly but significantly at exactly nine months after The Battle of The Fleas. The reason of course, its Aragon writer opined, was that "Beaver moms, unable to handle the thought that their sons would naturally succumb so easily to the virility of the fellas from across town, couldn't help but to make themselves vulnerable to the Bulls' offensive line. Like mother, like son."

Nobody doubted that Ian Micheals was a natural Bull. He could still remember marveling over newspaper clippings and photographs of his grandfather striding into the Beaver end zone. His father, a respected coach who had retired just before Ian's first year, would laugh and tell the then youngster to keep checking his head for an early set of horns. Before seven years, Ian realized that the old man had just been joking, though the growing youth came to know that he didn't need horns. Bred from the stoutest Bull stock on the team, he was the first tight end in many years to make the varsity grade as a sophomore. He spent the next two seasons solidifying his role in the team's dominant offensive line. Known for his sharp wit almost as much as he was known for his playing abilities, Dozer, short for "Bulldozer," would push the rivalry between the two teams to an entirely new level that year. Perpetually confident, Ian's love of making mischief, "just the natural order of the universe," he'd claim sheepishly, matured into something utterly inconceivable that summer. It happened at Alameda football camp where he'd decided to go for pre-season priming.

Ian wasn't exactly looking forward to attending the nationally acclaimed program, even though it received regular visits from members of the San Fran Niners. To the Bulls it was considered a finishing school for guys that wanted to play on the team, and there was an unspoken rule that you didn't see any turf time unless you spent at least one summer practicing with the bruisers in Alameda. What set the camp apart from other camps according to experts, was its discipline, ethos, experience and unconventional training. Somehow, a military vibe from the nearby naval complex seemed to creep out of the base and into the heads of the coaches who ran the show. Participants were expected to "perform," and at the end of the summer there was a little ritual amongst the guys. It was the type of tradition characterized by the clichéd, yet accurate "what happens in Alameda, stays in Alameda." On the final day, after all players had been assessed and ranked, the senior coach, on advice of his juniors, handed a pair of scissors to the lowest third of the class. Nothing was said, but the guys all knew what it meant. "Cut the umbilical cord and stop being such a momma's boy." True to form that bottom third rarely went on to play ball in college or professionally.

Such traditions seemed to fit perfectly with the myths surrounding a team like the Bulls, and the camp environment was highly conducive to crude jokes and quips. A Bull knew, long before he arrived, that there was a team reputation to uphold. He was almost expected to offer something like "your mom felt that one," each time he put an opponent onto his back. It was entirely remiss to forgo the opportunity when the opposing player was a Beaver. Such communication was the norm in polite Alameda football society.

Ian, because his brothers had attended the same camp during their high school years at the advice of their father, was well acquainted with the etiquette of things up north. While he wasn't looking forward to a summer of being cooped up at the sausage factory, he knew that the benefits would be worth it. To clarify, he never worried that he wouldn't play tight end for USC, after all he had been the first sophomore recruited to his high school's varsity team in over a decade. It was more accurate to say that he realized that there were some requisite steps to ensure his path. Alameda was one of them. It wouldn't have been so intolerable if only the camp would have let them bring laptops or mobile phones with them. Each player was permitted to use the internet for two hours each week from a publicly domiciled stone-age computer. The session went for ten weeks, meaning that each player had less than one full day of internet use for the entire summer. Alameda camp living conditions and regime were known to be utterly Spartan, and he tried not to think about the long and productive summer ahead. In his generation of digital devices and instant gratification, 24 hours of being unplugged may as well have been a lifetime of living on the moon.

Fortunately he knew of two friends that would also attend that summer, seniors who played varsity for the Bulls.

"Jugs," short for Juggernaut was the nickname that Ian preferred for the team's starting fullback, Morris Caufield. Jugs was an imposing young man, and were it not for his bizarre sense of humor, the two might have never become as close as they had. Naturally, Dozer and Jugs, they always called each other by their nicknames on the field or when they meant business, worked closely together in punching holes through the defensive line. They'd actually done so for quite a few scrimmages without much more than terse game-related communication. It was thus one day in the locker room when Ian told Morris that he'd been calling him "Jugs" not so much because no one could stop the moose from breaking through their defensive line, but rather because he thought the fullback had nice tits. Morris assumed a deadpan mask of demure astonishment and lifted a protector cup in each hand (to this day, Ian still didn't know what circumstances caused him to be in possession of two cups at once) to cover the nipples on his exposed chest. Morris' pecs dwarfed the protective cups pinched between the thumb and pointer on each hand, and drew a hilarious picture where the fullback, having been caught in the throes of passion, had raised a dainty tea cup to cover each erect nipple. From there they became close friends. Morris may have been slightly larger than Ian, but what the former had accumulated in muscle, he'd never had in looks. Though the giant had no actual horns nor a large brass ring through his nostrils, Jugs was the spitting image of the Bulls' mascot, Charger, almost down to the steam which terrified opponents thought they saw coming from his mangled snout.

The third to their group was Jeron, a starting wide receiver. Where Ian and Morris had come from money, Ronnie had not. He was raised by his father, a Protestant deacon at the church where the young man was instilled, weekly, with Christian values for as long as he could remember. It was heavily embroiled in the young black man's psyche that he'd somehow lost out on life given that he was raised by only one parent. He compensated by focusing on his strengths. The outcome: he managed to break the school's record for the 40-yard dash when he ran it in 4.5 seconds flat. While Dozer and Jugs were both much larger and more muscular than the third and final Bull attending Alameda that summer, neither of them came anywhere near his velocity. Regardless, it still troubled Ronnie that while his position was designed to receive waves of adulation from the fans, something for which the speedy athlete secretly ached, Ian clearly looked as though he was going to steal the show. During their first game together during junior year, Dozer had caught two touchdown passes where each play was more than 10 yards of running. True experts might have blamed the little snafu on a quarterback's poor judgement, but that didn't seem to diminish the swelling popularity for Ian. Even though he wasn't scoring on every play, and sometimes not even during a game, his size (larger than Ronnie) and agility (faster than Jugs) made him difficult to stop when he had his mitts wrapped around the leather. Fortunately, all of Jeron's Christian values, values that he believed were important even if he questioned the deity from which they'd been espoused, prevented him from outward jealousy. He happily worked with Ian in order to put the game into motion, and to pursue the greater good of a Bulls victory. It was no surprise that he won the unsung hero award and received free tuition to Alameda's summer camp. Jeron quickly came to see Ian as a friend, and learned to bite his tongue around the mean and juvenile buffoon in Jugs.

The three boys therefore, surprisingly the only Bulls at Alameda that summer, came to be known as the Horns Triumvirate. They were a machine.

Long before the Horns had arrived at camp, they'd worked out a solution for the hardships they'd be facing during their ten week stint. First, they'd registered for a triple suite so that they'd all be sharing the same accommodation. Secondly, Jugs, "not just a pretty face," Ian joked, had a gift for computers and the web. He spent three days between the last day of finals and the beginning of football camp burning high-definition, pirated movies onto the new laptop that his parents had purchased for him. Laptops were strictly prohibited, but Ian's brothers had shared stories about teammates who managed to keep such devices secret throughout the summer. Jugs didn't tell Ian or Jeron at first, but he'd also stocked the laptop's memory with a virtual library of pornography, specializing in mature specimens. He reasoned that if the other two ever gave him shit, he could always shrug it off and claim, "I'm a Bull, aren't I? I need at least a mom a week to keep these horns pointy." Ever since the young man had watched a friend's mother preparing for her shower at a 12-year-old's birthday sleep-over, there was nothing Jugs loved more than watching a mommy get naked. He'd heard a lot of talk about the Bull's mythology, but quite disappointingly, he'd never seen any actual evidence to corroborate it. And finally, again on the advice of Ian's all-star brothers, the boys knew of a way to secretly get supplies (beer, cigarettes, etc.) in and out of the camp without the coaches knowing it. The supply line involved a distraction at the pay phone, a go-to pizza delivery guy, and a 20 dollar tip. That summer they'd work hard, but when the day was over and the boys had retired to the privacy of their suite, they'd play hard as well.

Everything was lining up in their favor, and though each of them publically bemoaned the idea of spending so much time with one another, underneath the complaints they were looking forward to a season of camaraderie and laughs. If only they'd known...

Jason Tuft was the wrench, metaphorically speaking, tossed into the finely timed gears of their plan. AND the means to a year of twisted debaucheries which would give actual purchase to the Bulls myth.

* * *

"What do you mean we don't have a triple?" Jugs practically exploded at the registrar who confronted the three young men that had just been dropped off by the fullback's mother. Their accompanying bags and trunks, one of which concealing a prohibited laptop lay conspicuously behind them. "I used your online system months ago to make sure that we'd have a triple. We're a unit! You can't split us up! We're the Horns!" He continued to protest with an almost threatening grumble.

The junior coach looked up at the largest of the three and quietly opined that "Caufiled comma Morris" must have been the largest and most imposing attendee he could remember admitting in his seven years of working at the camp. "Yes," he responded. "I can see here that you requested a triple suit, but the guidelines clearly state that while we attempt to bunk you with friends and teammates-"

"Right," Jugs interrupted. "Bunk us with our friends and teammates because we are a unit that needs to work together." Ian put a calming hand on Jugs' shoulder as Jeron blushed slightly at the increasingly unpleasant scene. At Ian's touch, Jugs calmed himself and tilted backwards. Only then did he realize that his torso had been towering imposingly over the junior coach. It was a little too early to be making enemies, especially with a hard nose like the one signing them in. Who knew? Within a matter of hours he might have been drilling them mercilessly through the tires or into the tackle dummies.

"As I was saying," the registrar in his late 20's continued. "We try to honor all requests, but depending on the availability of accommodations and the number of players who've registered for the camp..." He trailed off as he scanned up and down a list that was printed across three pages before pausing. "Ah, Caufiled. Here we are." He gestured to the paper. "Don't worry, you're not going to be alone. It says here we've put you into a double."

Jugs sighed loudly. The moron in front of him was missing the point entirely, but that didn't prevent him from continuing to examine the paper which he was now holding aloft. Authoritarian ran his finger across the page until it stopped on the name next to Morris'. His eyes went momentarily wide; the recollection of something; a discussion with the other coaches; an executive decision; pity. He looked behind the boys for a moment and then at the door leading to the living quarters. Realizing that they were the only four there, he leaned slightly forward. The hushed nature of his voice told Ian, an expert on these matters, that he was about to reveal something against his better judgment.

"Your roommate is the only guy from his high school who's been registered." While Jugs had been fuming at the situation, an angry beast preparing to charge, then penny dropped for Ian and Jeron. No one came to the camp without at least one teammate. While the training was supposed to be friendly and conducive to lifelong connections, it typically failed to do so between teams which were potential rivals.

"Christ," Jugs whined. "You're trying to tell me I'm stuck with the only loser who doesn't have any friends!?"

The junior coach, sensing that the explanation had calmed the behemoth enough, once again became rigid disciplinarian. "Look here Caufield. It would do you well to understand that this camp isn't an ice cream social. Yes, you're here to work as a team, though part of it is being able to anticipate the unexpected and navigate the unknown successfully. If you can't nut up and spend two-and-a-half measly months with a stranger, I really don't think this camp is for you. So tell me now if you're going to go with the program or if I should call your mother and have her come back to pick you up. I'd like to remind you that all tuition is non-refundable. I'm sure she'll be pleased about that. You can be our earliest dropout. Less than five minutes."

Jugs might have flipped the table and all of its neatly organized paperwork had it not been for Ian's hand which squeezed reassuringly at the back of the giant's shoulder. Their level-headed leader could feel the muscle tensing below and knew that Jugs was about to boil over. If the fury wasn't rapidly redirected, the Horns Triumvirate would fall apart. The task was like getting a bull, in this case repeatedly nettled by a picador-coach, to refocus on the flapping red cape and charge.

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