There are days that feel like the big game is resting squarely on my sore shoulders. I’m the quarterback, the clock is running out, and gigantic dudes who get paid to lay me out are snarling threats inches from my face. Yet the job requires a cool head and clear thought process if I’m going to be anything that resembles successful. Part of the contract I signed in blood dictates that I must maintain a sense of calm because the rest of the team is relying on me.
Some games are easier than others. My team is up by so much that a fumble or interception doesn’t mean our collective demise. Mistakes go largely unanswered, and a tired victory is eventually ours.
Then there are the games where it’s do or die. Win big or lose bigger. It’s those games that have me sweating and praying the defense doesn’t know about my bum knee. Because if they know my weakness, they will expose it. And then trample it. And then river dance on it and make my weakness their bitch. You can’t blame them, though; it’s just what they know.
It is in the nail-biters’ precious moments where one play seems to last forever, but the reality is mere seconds. Life inches along to an almost halt, blurred images moving at 100MPH are now in slow motion. It is then that I feel the pressure. All eyes on me, nagging personal pride poking a bony finger in my shoulder, the voice of reason drowned out by the chaos.
Ever since moving from man-to-man to zone defense, I feel a little more vulnerable. It’s probably pretty natural to feel overwhelmed when something high-stakes is riding on one person’s ability to manage not only herself but an entire team, but the Monday morning quarterbacks don’t help.
Posted in their recliners, yelling at my every move with hindsight as clear as Bora Bora waters, these people don’t offer to lend a hand. They’re not offering to leave their comfortable living rooms or put down their beer to go over plays or watch film with me; they simply want to tell me what I’ve done wrong. Sure, maybe they were captain of their high school football team, or maybe they even played college ball and have a better knowledge of the game than the general public. But more often than not, these couch potatoes have zero first-hand experience of what it’s like to be in the pocket during a playoff game with a wall of giants moving in, ready to suffocate me. Yet after I’ve been flattened, the ball in the clutches of my opponent, angry spectator fists will shake at the sky and curse words will fly because I have let them down. I have let my team down. And while I shouldn’t expect an outstretched hand to help me to my feet, I am almost always guaranteed a heavy foot pressed to my chest, pinning me to the ground until I cry out.
Sometimes, I don’t want to be the quarterback. It’s too damn much responsibility, and I don’t think I have it in me to be a leader all the time. I imagine being able to let my hair down, longing for the good old days when I wasn’t in the spotlight, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that someone would snap a clandestine photo of me and social media would give the people further fodder for judgment. So I hunker down and do the only thing I know: call my team into a huddle and prepare for the next play. Understanding that fingers will point regardless of challenges or triumphs, I try and hold my head high. I do my best to communicate with the players that it’s not the end result that is most important; it is the lessons we learn from the game that have the biggest impact. These lessons result from both wins and losses, can scar a person for life, or make a man a hero. The games are temporary, but the experiences permanent. And if your only experience is from the sidelines or from the sweet spot in your La-Z-Boy, the lessons are simply beyond you. Wave your Terrible Towel, shake your pom-poms, but if the Monday morning quarterback urge is too strong to resist, I suggest donning a uniform and joining the rest of us on the field. Otherwise, you are a spectator at worst, a water boy at best.
Can I go home with you?