Striped Fiction: The Trials of Victory

 

Andy could handle the doubters. More accurately, he fed off them.

He’d been doubted in high school, when he only got the starting nod halfway through his junior year as a particularly gangly signal-caller. He led his team to state—Texas state—a year later, but they doubted he could do it at the next level.

Again and again and again, at a school they doubted, as a prospect they doubted, as a draft pick they doubted … as a rookie they doubted … on a franchise they doubted … with a giant contact they doubted.

Turning out the noise, turning inward and recognizing what you had, that came natural—well, at least it had long since had become so.

Now, though, now.

His team was thriving—3-0 and it felt like double that.

The offense was clicking, the defense was fierce. They had won close games and won via rout. The division was weak, through years of mismanagement and an all-consuming scandal and loyalty to the point of complacency.

Now, his team was being floated as a dark horse, a contender, a favorite. They were acclaimed locally and acclaimed nationally.

The praise made Andy’s skin crawl.

He sat in his sauna, torso surprisingly void of its standard crimson and purple hue following yet another comfortable victory, and struggled to shut it all out.

Andy heard the cheers breaking through the hiss of the steam and saw the glowing headlines floating in the mist. He felt the confidence seeping in, the hubris that comes from having your particularly gangly signal-caller catch a touchdown pass in a rout.

The upcoming stretch of games was manageable but tricky, a potpourri of former champions and future challengers.

Andy ran through his standard mental play-by-play, preparing for the post-bye-week games one down at a time.

He felt himself falling into the three-step drop. He saw the rush of big bodies, palmed the leather ball in his hand. A.J. was breaking into the open area of the cover-2 on the left sideline. His pass was perfect, and A.J. caught it in stride before stepping out of bounds with a big gain. He heard the roar …

Andy—in the steam room, eyes still closed—grimaced.

He ran the play back again. Three step drop, sound and fury up on the line. A.J. broke behind the sitting cornerback.

This time, though, the pass was wobbly. It hung in the air long enough for the safety to crash over the top for an interception.

This time, Andy felt a rush of relief run down his arms all the way down to his toes. He smiled.

He could handle the doubters.

Matt Pentz covers the Seattle Sounders FC for The Seattle Times.  You can follow him on Twitter at @mattpentz. 

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