I played football for my tiny South Dakota high school. We were 9-man, if that means anything to you, and had a tradition of not being very good. There was even an urban legend saying Johnny Carson had mentioned us on the Tonight Show back in the day due to a record long losing streak we experienced. My sophomore year though, we felt we had a shot at making the playoffs.
Despite the size of our school decreeing that everyone saw playing time, I didn't venture onto the field a whole lot. Most games I stood on the sidelines with my best friend where we talked about our team the same way those old guys in the balcony would talk about the Muppets. That would change on a freezing cold October night.
We were playing Centerville, a rival we had upset in triple overtime the year before. They were apparently still pretty pissed about that loss and it showed when they led the game off with an onside kick. Poor Ben Johnson grabbed the ball on the front line and proceeded to take a hit that would probably warrant a fine in the NFL. Ben fumbled, Centerville picked it up, and Ben trudged to the sideline complaining that his shoulder felt funny. All of us, coaches, players and fans on the track looping the field, called Ben a pussy. Ben believed us and went out to play another couple of downs before asking out of the game. Turns out Ben had a broken collarbone. For the record, Ben was usually kind of a pussy.
This meant Ben's up-back position on the kick return team needed to be filled. Coach turned to me and said, "Don't fuck up."
Centerville scored in about 30 seconds and it was time for another kickoff. With my hands shaking from a combination of cold and nerves, I took my spot with nothing but 15 yards separating myself and the guys who had sent Ben to the hospital. Coach had told me to watch out for another onside kick, and sure enough that's what they did.
The ball took a low bounce off the tee and rolled in my direction. At first I ran toward the ball, but then, for reasons I still can't explain, I stopped.
My mind went through the following monologue:
"I'm gonna grab this ball and run into the endzone!"
"Oh man these guys are getting a lot bigger the closer they get to me"
"Wait, I shouldn't touch this ball unless it goes 10 yards!"
"Oh my God did it go 10 yards!?!?"
"Should I grab it anyway!?!?"
"AM I GONNA FUCK THIS UP!?!?!?"
"SYNTAX ERROR; SYNTAX ERROR"
"Wait... It doesn't matter if it goes 10 yards, I'm the receiving te-akglnfeoangowniaon"
At this point I got my shit rocked. The ball had rolled to a spot about five feet in front of me, all I had to do was fall on it. Instead, I stood there and stared at it until a Centerville player sent me flying. The whole sequence probably lasted two seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. When I regained my senses, Centerville had the ball again and there was nothing I could do but walk to the sideline and pick the turf out of my facemask. On my way there, our star QB/CB offered a nice pick-me-up: "Way to go fucktard."
We got mercy ruled a minute into the second half. We didn't win another game all year.