One Last Look Back
The miles pour by, pushed incessantly into the distance by the insistent hum of the tires. The dotted lines fly past at seventy-five miles per hour, en route to stationary points unknown. Sleep is unthinkable, as our exhausted minds and bodies are still exhilarated. The darkness of the desert cannot press into the cabin of our Winnebago, for it is filled with the afterglow of victory.
We swap tales like warriors returning from battle. How one couple held their son's picture up so that he could see the game. How two other folks found out that things went better when they sat on their seat-backs. How one guy put his finger in his belly-button when we were on defense because it had worked all year. I don't have any stories like that. I stood, I cheered, I yelled. Like every person who sat around me, like an entire stadium, like an entire state put every ounce of being into that game as though our sheer willpower could help our team win the final victory. But I sit with them and talk and laugh and break the game down into every nuance as we all try to come to grips with the minor fact that the only thing we really saw on that field was the impossible.
The college football world gave a laugh when the Buckeyes earned the right to play for the title. "No way they can hang with the Hurricanes. Miami is too fast, too powerful, just too much." It was funny, I realized later, it was like Miami and Ohio State had been playing entirely different sports. It was like matching the Buffalo Bills with the Calgary Stampeders. Simply different leagues. But there they were, pitted against each other in this mysterious, unimaginable tangle.
It is a strange team that won through. Here, a quarterback who knew how to do nothing but win. There, a running back who lived in his own maelstrom of controversy. An offensive line that had maligned all year for its ineffectiveness. A unbelievably white boy standing isolated out on the corner. A safety who had been blamed for every defensive lapse in the last four years. A kid who spent half the season playing well over 100 plays per game. A punter who could make game-saving tackles. A kicker who finally pulled his act together after being one of the team's biggest liabilities one year previous. An All-American safety who returned for his senior season only because he had won the title at every other level and would not miss another one. And the final hero of the game, a kid who had spent five years trying to find a place on the field; a square peg in a world full of round holes. And as people slowly fall to the sweet release of sleep, I think about that team with one nagging thought: it just isn't my team anymore.
The wind beats against the windows. The toss of the cabin makes it hard to standup. I gaze out the window to peer at things I cannot see. A Toyota Four Runner speeds by, past our headlights and into the inky distance; its windows emblazoned with "Tempe or Bust". Like an old Yogi Berra quote, you don't know what it's saying, but you know exactly what it means.
It grab a beer from the fridge, not so much for wanting one, as the simple fact I can. I sip it slowly. Maybe sleep will come soon. There's no one else awake, except for the driver, consumed in his own world of wheel, gauges, pedals and speeds limits. The sound of the rushing air brings a silence all its own. But the thought won't leave. This isn't my team. I know this now. I know because my team was the one that always lost the big game. The one that couldn't break through. I'd seen them strive against their opponents, against fate, against themselves. They battered walls that only broke our hearts.
I finish my beer and toss it in the garbage. The couple sleeping on the couch stirs but does not wake. I walk back to the bed that, for some reason, only I know how to use. But I don't lay down. I sit on the bed and watch the traffic behind me. I'd never seen the road like this. As it shrinks away into the night, the headlights of cars chase each other down the highway in a game won only by getting where they're going.
So many times, I had hopes. So many times they fell. So many times the laurels had slipped away into illusions. So many times, until I'd forgotten how to hope anymore. Then hope came again, unbidden. It blossomed unexpectedly. Then it bloomed into something beautiful I don't know how to understand.
This isn't my team. This is a team for bright, youthful faces that still look forward to chasing rainbows. This is a team for young men and young women to hearken to with a beautiful optimism of futures unclouded. This is a team that, for life's longest moment, sent a ball slowly arcing into the sky and to let fall to the welcoming earth. And when that happened, it made everything possible. This team doesn't belong to me anymore. I knew it when I saw the ball land and an entire stadium erupted in jubilation. Because, when it did, I didn't know how to feel anything. No, this isn't my team. And I love them for it.
Sleep will wait. I'm content to just sit on the bed and watch the miles recede into the darkling past. And I look back. And I look back. And I look back.