Home > DECKER : Changing the Play

DECKER : Changing the Play
Author: Kayley Loring





DUUGRRHHH! That was the combined sound of a two hundred and eighty-pound lineman driving my 6’4”, two hundred twenty-five-pound body into the ground and my accompanying grunt. Number 74, defensive lineman for the New York Rebels, took his time rolling off me before I slowly peeled myself off the ground.

Slower than I used to anyway.

I was only thirty-six. I mean, you had to throw “relatively” in front of “young” now, but “young” was still in there. As a man in the world, thirty-six was still pretty good. As a QB who had taken hits from guys who were built like rhinos that moved like cheetahs, I was getting up there. That would slow anyone down.

It was the 4th quarter, almost over. One minute, fourteen seconds left with one time-out, down 4 points, so a field goal wasn’t going to help. We were only 18 yards away from the end zone. In my younger days, I’d be frantically moving everyone to the line, checking down and distance, making sure I ran through the play in my head before the snap. I’d been here many times before. Been down and needing a touchdown. Maybe I was physically slower, but my ability to process that game had never been faster.

That gave me time to check in with my teammates. They still had gas in the tank, but they looked tight. It was only our second game, but I understood why.

We played like shit in our third preseason game, the one where the coach played all our starters. We lost our first game when the real season started. Everyone believed we were a playoff team. We had talent. We still had a chance to end this season with a Super Bowl. But we certainly weren’t playing like it.

We needed this win.

I searched the stands. In the third row I clocked a hot chick jumping up and down screaming at me. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she was wearing a vintage Decker the Panty Wrecker T-shirt—a nod to my…faster youth. Her outfit was complete with official team-sanctioned fake tattoo sleeves that mimicked my own real ones.

I sauntered up to the huddle. “Section F, row 3,” I said.

The guys looked confused, racking their brains for that play. Then it clicked, and they all turned around, except our rookie running back, Dee Jones. One of my linemen turned him around to help him find what I was talking about.

“Damn,” Jones whistled.

“You hit that, Deck?” Maurice “Mo” Woods, my longtime go-to receiver and best friend asked.

“Nope.” I winked. “Not yet anyway.”

Lame joke and I wasn’t that guy anymore, but everyone laughed, and I could feel them loosening up. Good. Mission accomplished.

The offensive coordinator sent the play into my helmet, and I relayed it to the team. The first option was a run for Jones. Made sense. Get the first down, call time-out. Three shots at the end zone. The other play, that I could “kill” to, was a pass up the seam for Mo.

The offense and defense lined up. “50’s the Mike!” I yelled, pointing out the Mike linebacker so everyone knew their assignments. I took a moment to scan the defense. They expected us to run. They were acting like they were playing the pass, but my guess was they wanted us to hand it off.

Yeah, I’m getting this ball to Mo. We’re ending this.

“Kill! Kill!” I yelled, telling everyone that we were changing from the running play to the pass play. Jones shifted. I barked out, “Hut!” and Bull, the center, hiked the ball to me before the defense could communicate the change. What could I say? They were just too slow.

I dropped back. Mo slipped past two defensive players, got to the middle, and I hit him with a laser in stride. He dove toward the end zone just as the safety tried to tackle him, but he broke the plane with the tip of the ball.


The whole stadium erupted in an eerie moan in honor of Mo’s nickname, “The Ghost.” He did stuff like that—disappeared on the defense, reappeared in the end zone, and didn’t make a sound after he scored. He calmly handed the ball to me, and I spiked the shit out of that fucker. The crowd went nuts.

I jogged back to the sideline.

“Left a little time out there,” I heard from behind me. I turned to see Dash Taylor, our huge rookie defensive end, putting on his helmet. Kid had a lot of talent and was built like a freight train, but the reason we were even able to draft him was because no one else wanted to deal with that attitude.

“I didn’t know if you could handle it, Rook. Next time I’ll do my job and yours.” I gave him a satisfied half smile, moving deeper to the bench before he could come up with an obnoxious reply.

The defense did hold—helped by a sack from Dash no less—and we won our first game. 1–1 on the season.

Later in the locker room, after the highs had been fived and the daps had been dapped, there was a hush that settled. Where was Coach Bud? He’d usually be here by now to give the post-game speech. We could all feel it.

Coach came in, followed by our team secretary, Nancy. They were both crying. You’d think that seeing our coach crying would be the bigger deal. But it wasn’t.

Buddy cried.

All. The. Time.

After a win, after a loss, after a particularly great pastrami sandwich—didn’t matter. He was an emotional guy. We loved him for it.

But Nancy crying? She was a tough old broad. That concerned me. It concerned all of us.

“Can I get everyone’s attention please?” Buddy asked, though we were already silent. “Jerry…” Buddy struggled to get past his tears.

Everything slowed down. I thought about Jerry Strong, owner of the Boston Tomcats, the man who’d drafted me. I thought about how much it meant that he believed in me, as a man and as a quarterback. I thought about the big things we shared. The joy of winning Super Bowls. The unbelievable pain of losing the last one we were in. The frustration of not being able to make it back. I thought about the small things. The jokes we shared, the late-night talks. The simple phone calls. In reality, there was probably only a second between when Coach said Jerry’s name and the next time he spoke, but time was slow enough for me to weigh an entire decade’s worth of friendship in that instant.

Buddy cleared his throat and took a deep breath.

“Jerry’s dead.”









“I can’t believe you own an NFL franchise. Even if it’s the team that rhymes with Schmomschmats,” Jen muttered into her laptop. Her husband, the New York Rebels fanatic, wasn’t even at home as we FaceTimed, but the word Tomcats was never to be used in his presence unless preceded by the words those fucking. Their team colors of red and black were not allowed to be combined together in the family wardrobe. “I mean, they probably won’t make the Super Bowl this year, but it’s still a huge deal. Bigger than huge. I can’t believe he left it to you.”

I stared at my reflection in the hotel room mirror. “I still can’t believe he’s dead.”

“Oh my God, Hannah,” she gasped. “I’m so sorry. I’m such an asshole.”

I didn’t even realize I’d said that out loud.

“No, you’re not.” I had to laugh a little at that. My best friend was the opposite of an asshole. She was more like two really cute and cuddly butt cheeks that surround an asshole. “I think I might be an asshole. I still haven’t cried yet.” It was Tuesday morning. I found out on Sunday evening that my father died suddenly of a heart attack. Monday afternoon I was informed by my father’s attorney that I’d inherited the Boston Tomcats. A few minutes later I called the attorney back and confirmed that he wasn’t kidding.

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