The moment unfolded in super slow-motion, seconds drawn out so long you could physically sense the wheels of momentum creaking to a stop and beginning to churn the opposite way.
Geno was down.
The right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament of a previously invincible, conquering hero was shredded.
A calm in the middle of the storm, a defining flashpoint amid the swirling chaos, it was as if the entire stadium watched him fall. The silence—the eerie stillness that replaced the crowd noise—hit first.
The coach was stone-faced on the surface. Underneath? A boiling, seething rage. Not again. After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve gotten right. This can’t. It isn’t. Not now.
He was right, you know. The coach/general had marshaled his troops brilliantly from the beginning of the campaign.
City after city had been sacked, scorched earth left in their path. Visions of a triumphant, winter march on Boston had danced in his head, a quarterback turned into mash in Denver coming soon after.
Now… Not now.
Not Geno, this monster of a man, ripper of phone books and the opponent’s will to so much as step on the same field he reigned. He was worth ten others, the combined strength of a battalion rolled into one. The most feared, baddest man in ages.
Even his teammates feared him—gave him a wide berth in the locker room, kept their eyes burrowing into the ground when addressing him.
Now, they were stunned into silence. Even AJ. Yes, even unflappable, unshakable, 200-pounds-of-pure-confidence AJ the Conqueror. He spent the rest of the night in an aimless daze as violence swirled all around him, helpless to change its course.
For Andy—poor Andy—it knocked his hard-won center of gravity again askew. For weeks, the game had slowed back down. He was comfortable. He was in his smoothest groove in recent memory, could do no wrong.
Then somebody hit the fast-forward button again.
The rest of the game was a nausea-inducing blur of snapshots, most of them negative. Sacks flags interceptions a teal wave no time and, finally, a crashing halt within his own end zone, defeat behind his own lines.
Geno had long since been carted off, leaving neither with his shield nor on it, smaller in injury than had ever seemed possible in health. It left the team adrift, sapped of its power without its leader, its dark side.
The coach’s very own March to the Sea was halted in its tracks. Those crunching wheels had turned against him, visions of glory trundled by the harsh realities in front of him.
His boys looked broken as they limped off the battlefield. The orange and teal surroundings seemed to suffocate the coach as he tried to catch a breath, hyperventilating from that toxic brew of pent-up rage and crushing disappointment.
It felt different, now. Pointless, fruitless, a lamentable howl at an imaginary moon.
Retreat, for the time being.
Retreat, he feared, forever.