Teamwork

Shawn Vestal

Summer 2019

Coach says we are the sorriest bunch of lazy-ass motherflippers he’s ever seen in shoulder pads. If we don’t start acting like we want to win, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. Coach says we must be a team—twenty-six boys, all on the same page. Coach says we have to execute. If every one of us would just execute, there’s no reason on the gol-dang planet every play shouldn’t go for a touchdown. But no. We don’t execute. Not us.

It’s halftime at the Declo game. We are in the locker room. We are five points down.

He says, “Maybe some of you guys don’t need to be out there anymore.” He says, “Maybe some of you prima donnas need some time on the bench.” He says, “Try me. Just try me.” Red in the face, he waves his arms around like he’s being attacked by bees. He says, “You gotta get out there and fuck-dang hit somebody!”

He throws his clipboard against the wall and stomps out.

Everyone relaxes. Charles Qualls III hands out speeders—tiny white pills he orders from a magazine. Everyone treats them like they’re cocaine or something, like it’s doing drugs, like Charles is a drug dealer, but they’re just caffeine.

Still, they get you up.

Cleats clapping on the concrete, Charles mutters, “Speeder? Speeder, dude?” as he walks past each of us. Our quarterback, Jason Ashman, is sitting on the bench and praying. He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t take a speeder. He leans forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped, head bowed between his hulking shoulders, asking God to help us win.

With 3:42 left, Charles Qualls III takes a swing pass from Jason Ashman out in the flat, stops in his tracks as the cornerback flies past, and runs twenty-four yards into the end zone, right onto those big orange Declo letters—HORNETS. The little bank of home-team bleachers goes quiet, while the even smaller bank of visiting-team bleachers sends up its puny cries of elation into the night, drifting into the atmosphere of cow shit and cut hay.

We hold them on their next possession and win; and thus we, the 1983 Gooding Senators, the pride of Idaho’s Magic Valley Conference, the smallest eleven-man farm-town league in the state, take our record to 1-2. Afterwards, in the celebration huddle, Coach says we should thank our lucky stars Declo is so terrible, because the way we’re playing right now we couldn’t beat a team of fourth-grade girls, for cripes’ sake. He looms over us, a Senators cap on his head and a whistle around his neck, taut globe of belly swelling against his shirt. We better decide that we want to be here or we’re not going to be here anymore, Coach says. Our problem, Coach says, is we have too much wanna and not enough hafta. He nods as he says this, as though he’s finally landed on it, as though after all this time trying to diagnose just what in the Sam damn hell is wrong with this team, he has seized on it at long last. Too much wanna, not enough hafta.

“OK!” he says. “Touch somebody.”

This is his signal to pray.

Shawn Vestal is the author of the novel Daredevils and the short story collection Godforsaken Idaho, which won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. He lives in Spokane with his wife and son. 

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