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so that he seemed a geyser of displaced energy from the first quarter on. And he was quite a sight on that rainy, frigid Friday night in November, watching from the sidelines as we demolished Waterson’s first team. We had barely began to digest their third wave of hopefuls as the second half began.

“We been talking trash to you all night,” said one burly lineman, “and you don’t pay attention. You boys just aren’t intimidated,” he shook his head. “What’s the deal?”

I motioned toward the sidelines where Coach Demeritorious paced back and forth. He was dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt, sporting a black tie with training table soup stains. He wore faded slacks reflecting the frugal salary paid him by holy mother the church. Parochial sports. His spikes connected him to the planet. He had no coat or hat and in the sub-zero drizzle he looked like a popsicle, slowly thawing and then freezing back up often at the speed of light.

“Look over there,” I gestured to the overweight lineman in a mud-covered jersey.

“Whoa,” was all he said. “That man looks mad.”

“You should see him after a loss,” I smiled, knowing full well that I’d only experienced that pleasure once in my three years as a soldier of his terrible swift sword. “He’s never said a word to any of us in conversational tones. He just yells and paces and frowns. I wonder how his kids survive.”

“He wins football games,” said the lineman as the time out ended and players shuffled back to the huddle for another assault on the patchwork wall of humanity, by then begging for the game to end.

It’s really too bad that some folks attain a level of success and can’t enjoy it. It’s neurotic. It’s obsessive. It’s like finding oneself counting tiles in some nightmare men’s room at the end of the road.

“Ready – set – 21 – 66 -Red. Hut – Hut – Hut!” barked their quarterback like the death chant of a warrior, outflanked by his own shaggy militia. His artillery long quieted by countless assaults by fresh cavalry.

“You’re not hitting,” said Coach Demeritorious, now working himself into a frenzy. “You’ve got to hit!” he screamed.

We’re up by the lopsided score of 56-0 and the man’s concerned with esthetics, with the cosmetic application of fundamentals.

“We’ll play this fourth quarter as if it’s the entire game,” he jerked. “There is no score. There is no score up there on the board. Anyone sandbagging will run laps on Monday till they drop. Anyone not playing full tilt will ride the bench against Chaminade next Friday,” he raged. Do I make myself clear?

By now most of us were breathing a sigh of relief that soon we would be cruising with our girlfriends in Ford and Chevy chariots. To the victors go the spoils even though it would be only cokes and pizza since the sexual revolution of the Sixties had not made the front cover of Time, even though in was already 1966.

I looked up into the stands to catch a glimpse of my father, who would congratulate me after the victory, touching on every tackle, celebrating every sack, sharing the triumph as just one more feather in the cap of the conquering hero.

“It’s great,” he would say, “but it won’t be so easy next week.”

As the fourth quarter snailed to an end Coach Demeritorious stopped dead in his tracks, his knees wobbling, his hand to his throat. No one went to his aid for fear of reprisal. We backed away and watched as he hit the hard cold ground of Southern Ohio.

“…that it’s only a game,” my father would say and if you hope to get into college you’d better pay attention to…”

And then, all at once like a Fourth of July in some distant galaxy Coach Demeritorious exploded. He didn’t spew or rattle or tremble. He blew up. Horrified we stared as he burst, erupting, then fizzling out as an ambulance arrived to collect his pieces, which were now scattered all over the field.

This wasn’t the half-time show.

At the memorial service the assistant coaches talked about his winning record, his dedication to football, his accomplishments on the field. I looked over to his family. His son didn’t cry. He tired wife just stood there stunned, anxious to get the thing over with and get on with a life minus a tyrannical knight without a chink or detectable humanity in his glowing armor.

No one whispered a sentence relating to Coach Demeritorious that didn’t contain the word “football”.

The next day’s paper featured a whole section on the deceased coach. He made the front page, the sports section and the obituary page all in one. Sadly, he would be remembered as a pit bull with a clip board and a whistle. He might have been remembered as a good man with the right intentions. Even sadder, he would quickly be forgotten.

The next week, prior to the Chaminade game our new coach calmly laid out the game plan in the locker room.

“Let’s pick up where we left off last week,” he said, “and play this one for our fallen coach. Play hard and have fun. We’re a better team. We’re ranked fourth in the state. We deserve it.”

– Kevin Haley

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