MONDAY NIGHT JIHAD
Jason Elam and Steve Yohn
Tyndale House Publishers
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Sunday, December 21
Golden West Stadium
“Praying in the showers! Praying in the showers!” Chaplain Walter Washburne yelled.
About twenty men slowly rose from the seats in front of their lockers and made their way to the large shower area for a pregame prayer. The players knelt, held hands, and bowed their heads. Washburne prayed, “Lord, thank You for these men and the opportunity You’ve given them to use their gifts today. Protect them from the other players but especially from these fans.”
A small chuckle went through the group.
“This stadium is the mission field to which You have called these men today. So give them the courage of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Samson, and the integrity of Daniel. Whatever happens here today with the game, help these men to be able to walk out of here with their heads held high. We ask that Your will be done in all things. Amen.”
Most of the guys rose and made their way back toward their lockers. Some remained on their knees, silently praying on their own. For many, this was one of the hardest times --- getting up to face the reality of game day. As long as they remained down on their knees, they couldn’t make mistakes and they couldn’t get hurt. Anticipation of the coming events played havoc with all of the players’ emotions, and each handled it in his own way.
Silence overtook the locker room again. The defensive linemen passed around an ammonia strip designed to wake the dead. The overwhelming smell cleared the sinuses and brought complete focus. As the strip passed from hand to hand, it left each man with tears pouring down his face and an overwhelming desire to go out and hurt people.
The offensive linemen were dealing with their own pregame tension. They knew that they were only noticed when they failed and the quarterback got smacked. Center Chris Gorkowski’s nerves were beginning to get the best of him. He grabbed a towel off the floor and began to make convulsive noises into it.
“Get that little demon out, Snap!” all-pro fullback Marius Washington blurted through the silence. “C’mon, get it out!”
That was all the trigger Gorkowski needed. After relieving himself of the morning’s breakfast buffet, he threw the towel on the ground. The lineman grabbed his helmet, leaped to his feet, and screamed, “WOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOO!”
Coach Burton yelled, “Bring it up!”
The guys huddled around him.
“I’d like nothing more than to embarrass this team in their own backyard. We all know they embarrass themselves enough. Just make sure each and every one of you leaves it all on the field today!”
Burton then led the team in the Lord’s Prayer, which for most was more a ritual of superstition than sincerity.
At the end of the prayer, the team ran out the door, through the tunnel, and onto the field. They were greeted with the thunderous sound of seventy thousand boos from the Bandit Nation. Most of the players ignored it, but a few played to the crowd, dancing around and waving their arms, trying to get them to yell even louder.
The Mustangs ran across the field to their sideline, where they set up camp and waited for the Bandits to take the field.
As the first Bandit emerged from the tunnel, the boos turned to wild cheers. The sound was deafening as the players sprinted onto the field to AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
A few minutes later, the Mustangs’ team captains --- quarterback Randy Meyer, defensive end Micah Pittman, and Riley --- met with the Bandits’ captains at midfield for the coin toss. The players all shook hands, and Riley took a couple seconds to say a few words to his old air force teammate, Bandits cornerback Alex McNeill. The coin tossed, Meyer called heads, and it landed tails, causing the crowd to burst again into an ear-splitting cheer. The Bandits chose to receive, and the captains went back to their sidelines to the jeering of the fans and the growing odor of stale beer.
Coach Burton walked down to where the defense was waiting. “Hey, fellas, just play your game and be patient. They will make a mistake.”
At 0–14, the Bandits would be playing hard for a number of reasons. First, they had no desire to go into the record books as the first team to go winless in a season since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Tarpons. That was back when there were only fourteen games in a season, so the Bandits had already tied that woeful record. The other reason they were playing hard was their rivalry with the Mustangs. There was simply too much history and too much hatred between these two teams for either franchise to lie down for the other.
For as far back as most fans could remember, there had been hatred between these two teams. If you asked ten Mustangs fans, you’d probably get ten different answers as to why that hatred existed. Some still despised the Bandits’ ex-coach-turned-announcer Jim Madison. Others took their aggressions out against the reign of ancient, tyrannical owner Arthur Drake. Still others were offended at the team’s bouncing from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland. And the Bandits fans each had their own reasons to hate the Mustangs. Ultimately, the rivalry had taken on an existence all its own. It didn’t need a plausible explanation; it just was. The players felt it too. That’s why, no matter the record, anytime the Mustangs and Bandits played, the outcome could go either way.
The game started at a quick pace. The Bandits began with their hurry-up offense, trying to catch the Mustangs off guard. Six plays into the drive, the Bandits were already past midfield. Riley was getting frustrated, and his frustration turned to anger when he missed the key tackle on one, two, three plays in a row by just a step or two.
The Bandits drove all the way to the Mustangs’ 10 yard line. It was third and five. The Bandits quarterback took the snap and dropped back a few steps. Riley held his zone. Suddenly he saw the quarterback’s eyes flash to the tight end. Riley broke on the ball, swung at it, and missed. As he fell to the ground, he heard a roar from the crowd as the tight end pulled in the ball at the goal line for a touchdown.
Riley slammed his fist into the ground, then popped back up. After the extra point, the defense ran off the field to regroup. Most of the coaches were yelling, “Keep your heads up!” and “That’s okay, fellas; just keep battling!” Riley was irritated at the way the game had begun, but he knew there was a lot of football still to play.
The sideline phones began to erupt almost immediately. On one of them, defensive end LeMonjello (pronounced Le-MAHN-jel-lo, and don’t you dare say it wrong!) Fredericks was getting some feedback from the defensive line coach. LeMonjello was affectionately known by his teammates as “Jiggly,” after the tasty kids’ treat. Coach Cox must have said something that Jiggly disagreed with, because he grabbed the phone with his enormous hands and ripped it off its mount. He held the phone up toward the coach’s box and yelled, “Coach this!” He slammed the phone into the trash can behind the bench and dropped himself back onto his seat. Almost immediately empty space opened on both sides of Fredericks’s huge frame. Apparently the rest of the guys on the bench felt it best to give Jiggly a little space
Excerpted from MONDAY NIGHT JIHAD © Copyright 2017 by Jason Elam and Steve Yohn. Reprinted with permission by Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
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