The preparation room assaulted the senses immediately.
Hip-hop thundered into the ear canal, lyrics buried beneath the heaving bass. Competing underneath were the murmurs of innumerable conversations, between warriors and generals, between medics armed with fanny packs and holy men clad in the traditional white frock.
The luxurious rosewood stalls were juxtaposed with their smelly contents—any attempt at cleansing always defeated by the stench of 75 grown men.
Athletic tape lay scattered throughout the rubberized floor, slogans were scrawled in black marker on the walls, a clock ticked steadily toward the appointed hour.
Though they would do battle together, each man was an island unto himself. Some stared blankly into space, others bounced around bumping fists, thinkers and clowns side by side. Legs tapped anxiously, hands balled into fists.
The scene froze in place as the coach strolled in.
Months—years, careers, lives—of work poured into 60 defining minutes.
Adrenaline crackled around the room, bounced off walls, strained at its chain as it anticipated its release.
The coach felt it seep in, warming his blood. He prowled like a jaguar, studying the faces: A.J.’s smirk, Andy’s wide eyes, Andre’s scowl.
“For 15 weeks, we have bled,” the coach barked, filling the fresh silence. “Fifteen weeks.”
“Fifteen weeks of glory and embarrassment, of ground gained and loss. Let us not forget our fallen brothers (this, said with a nod to the hulking enforcer glowering in the back of the room). Avenge them.”
The coach felt doubt tickling the back of his neck, the memory of those past disappointments settling in. So many disappointments. He banished them to the back of his mind.
“For years, the Purple Reign has lorded over these lands. Even now, they don’t respect our claims. No longer.” The coach was practically screaming at this point, building toward his crescendo. “No longer. By the time the sun sets on this very day, they will know our names. Leave no doubt.” He was practically trembling, feeling every bit of the weight of expectation.
“Take what’s ours. This…is ours.”
The energy bubbled over, his troops storming toward the battlefield, tearing at each other to get there first, bellowing with madness, leaving the coach alone for a brief moment in the abandoned room.
The coach felt the dark shadow creeping upon him again, closing the door on it. He stepped into the sunlight.
This time will be different.