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The MVP of the Losing Team
Buck Anderson placed his hands in his sweaty palms. The banging of helmets and the slamming of shoulder pads rang in his ears. Losing game after game was hard. They had now lost their second to last game, and the last game as against the best team in the division.
“You played hard out there, boys. We need more effort on the field, though! If you were to play how you practice, we could win!” Coach Rob Zinger howled, and Buck sensed disappointment in his voice. Coach Zinger was Rob’s uncle, though no one at the school or on the team knew that. Coach Zinger gave everyone a fair chance, and rumors about favoritism were the last thing they needed.
Football had always been a tradition at Radley High. They had a legacy of championship players and coaches that had gone on to bigger and better things. Coach Zinger had coached five championship teams in his prime. That was when Buck was still crawling. He had been a living legend on campus just years before.
Now, things had taken an abrupt turn for the worst. They had not won one game the whole season , and they were looking forward to their last game against their rivals and the best team in the league. To make things worse, there were rumors of Coach Zinger losing his job.
It was Buck’s senior year, and he had had high expectations for the year. He was starting quarterback, and everyone said he had massive potential. Well, everyone on the coaching staff.
Outside of the coaching staff and his fellow teammates, football was a laughing stock. They barely had enough funding, rallies were a complete bust, and popularity was out of the question if you were on the team.
What had happened to the tradition? The school spirit and the energy?
Buck could only guess that it was their terrible record. No one wanted to follow a team that lost constantly. He really tried his best, both for the team and for himself. Coach Zinger had dedicated himself to the team also. It just wasn’t there year. As a team, they weren’t meshing on the field. Off of the field, they were almost ashamed to admit that they enjoyed the sport.
The locker room cleared out pretty quickly, but Buck hung out behind. He busied himself with “organizing” his things in his locker.
“One more game, Anderson,” Coach Zinger said sadly behind him.
“I’m sorry, Coach. I really tried out there. Either I didn’t catch the snap or it was a bad hand-off or a bad pass. And if I was on, someone else was off.” Buck shook his head, frustrated. He wanted to win. It was his senior year. What was so bad about wanting to win at least one game? He knew how it felt his freshman, sophomore, and junior year. Sure, they hadn’t won a lot of games, but they had won some. In fact, they squeezed out a winning season his sophomore year.
“No excuses necessary, Anderson. I saw how hard you played…it was your best game yet effort-wise.” Coach Zinger sat down on the bench next to Buck.
“We lost 31, 14, Coach.”
“As a whole our team has been off all season. That doesn’t mean that the whole entire team has been off every game. You did almost everything right out there tonight.” Coach Zinger sounded stressed to Buck, but he was hesitant to ask if everything was okay. He glanced around and saw that they were the only two left in the locker room.
“My parents both had to work tonight, Coach. Could I get a ride home?” Buck asked, figuring that they would be bale to talk freely in the car. That way he was sure that no one would overhear anything in case it was private or not supposed to be talked about yet.
He nodded and stood up. “Get your things together, Buck. I need to talk with your mother also.”
Buck stood up and packed up his backpack. After he was sure that he had everything, they shut off the lights and locked up.
“Do you think that next year will be a better season? Because I want to come visit from college when I can,” Buck said, and he saw his uncle and coach shake his head sadly under the dim lights.
“This is my last season as head coach, Buck. I don’t want to go into the history books as the worst coach in history. So I hope that this season will be forgotten and the championships will be remembered.” There was a definite pain in his voice, and had be been any less of a strong man Buck guessed that he would have broke down crying.
“You love coaching though, Coach!” Buck exclaimed.
“Get used to calling my Uncle Rob from now on, Buck. We only have a week left of this coach stuff.” Buck was surprised how much the bad season had taken out of his uncle. He knew how much he loved football, and because he had had three girls he had passed his love for the game onto Buck.
“Wait, everyone had bad years, though. Why did they take your job? You’ve won them championships, and that’s what they’ll remember,” Buck said, still in shock.
“They didn’t take my job, Buck! I resigned!” he snapped as they approached his car. When they both sat in the car, he sighed. “I will still be teaching physical education courses and health classes, but my days as head coach are over.”
Buck threw his backpack in the backseat. “That’s crazy, though! You’re the best coach they’ve had in decades. It’s not your fault that our team sucks!”
He started up at car, and Buck leaned back in his seat, fuming. His uncle loved football, and all biases aside he was a fantastic coach. How could one bad season kill his spirit so much that he resigned as head coach? As far as Buck knew, football was everything he lived for other than his family.
“Buck, I have enjoyed many years as head coach, and I didn’t want to tell you until after the game next week. I couldn’t tell you that things were looking better next year if I wasn’t coaching, though,” his uncle said, sounding like he had calmed down a bit and was willing to talk.
“This school needs you to coach, and you love it. Why would you suddenly want to quit because of one bad year?”
“Things do not seem to be looking up, and I do not want to be the one that is remembered for ruining football at Radley. I have an old-school mind in a newer game. It’s time for me to resign for my own good and the good of the school. The assistant coaches will decide who becomes head coach, and I hope that whoever takes my place will have a successful career.”
“So that’s it? You’re scared of your rep being soiled, so you quit? Do you really think that they’ve forgotten the championships? You took a losing school and turned it into a championship-winning school in five years. That’s why they didn’t let you go. You out of anyone can turn this around.”
He shook his head as they came to a stop at a red-light. “I’m not so sure that I can, Buck. I’ve thought about that, and that was their argument also. It’s time for me to move on, though.”
“So you’re just gonna be a teacher?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said, and left it at that. Buck could tell that there was more to what he was saying but would not let on.
The rest of the car ride to Buck’s house was in silence, though he observed his uncle curiously. The fire had not escaped his eyes, so he was not completely defeated to becoming only a teacher. There was something that he was not telling Buck, and maybe he did not see fit to discuss it with him until after their final game.
Buck went up to his room while his uncle went into the living room to talk with his mother. When he shut the door behind himself, he was determined to win the next game. Not only was it his last game in high school (and possibly his last game ever if the college he’d signed with backed out after such a terrible year), it was his uncle’s last game to coach also. He would do anything in his power to make the game memorable, and he didn’t care what kind of underdogs they were. He would win that game for his uncle and cause the greatest upset in school history.
That determination kept him practicing harder than ever that week. The Coach acted surprised, though there was a knowing look in his eyes. He and Buck silently shared the same determination to win their last game.
The days passed by, and Friday finally came. They boarded the bus and prepared to play the best team and their rivals on their home field.
“As a team, I could not be more proud. It is not the record, but it is the effort,” Coach Zinger said during the pep-talk minutes before the game. “If we play our best, then that is all that counts. We can win this just like anyone else can, and we can cause the biggest upset in school history!” The team let out a cheer and began chanting “Radley! Radley! Radley!”
“Okay, everybody in…upset on three…one, two, three, UPSET!” Coach Zinger roared, and the team filed out of the locker room, jumping and more pumped than Buck had seen them all season. They ran onto the field and were met by “boo”s, which was expected when in a rival’s stadium. The game kicked off, and Buck tried his best. He pushed hard for the first half, focused and alert. When the team went back into the locker room, they trailed 21, 7. Buck had been hoping to do better than that, so he vowed to try even harder in the second half.
It was not possible to try harder than he did that second half. The third quarter was grueling, and the fourth quarter was the hardest work out of his life. They came back and tied it up 21, 21 with three minutes to go. After they kept the other team to a field goal, Buck felt everything on the line.
Down 24, 21 with the second ticking away, they had the entire length of the field to go. Their defense and the opposing offense both felt that the game was on their shoulders.
It was an exhausting journey, but they made it down to the Red Zone with only 20 seconds left. They needed at least a field goal, but Buck wanted the touchdown. First down: Incomplete Pass. (He was lucky that it hadn’t been intercepted.) Second down: Gain of two yards. Third Down: Another Incomplete Pass.
Fourth down came with three seconds left. Coach Zinger immediately called a timeout and called to offense over.
“Do we put the field goal unit out to go into overtime?” the running back asked.
“This is the closest we’ve come to winning. We should just go into overtime,” the center agreed.
Buck closed his eyes for a moment. “I wanna win this, Coach. Put us back out there.”
“No way, Anderson! You’ve thrown two incomplete passes!” the running back snapped.
Coach Zinger stood there for a moment. “I want to win this, boys. Our team is tired, and they’re ready for overtime more than we do. I say go out there and go for the win.” He straight at Buck, and he nodded.
“Pass to the end zone?” the wide receiver asked, sounding nervous.
Buck nodded. “We’ve got this.” They ran back onto the field, and Buck felt as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
In what felt like a lifetime, the ball was hiked. He saw his receivers in the end zone, and one of the two were covered. His best receiver was the one covered. He didn’t pause, though. He just hoped that the other receiver was on, though he hadn’t passed to him all game.
The ball left his hands, and as if in slow motion it floated towards the end zone. He saw it go right towards the receiver, a perfect pass. It was going straight towards his hands. He saw the receiver catch it, and he jumped up. As he continued to watch, his heart sunk. The receiver juggled it and dropped it. It rolled out of the end zone, and the game was finished. Buck put his hands behind his head in disbelief. They had had that game. They had been able to come back, and he had thrown a perfect pass to an open receiver. How had he not caught it?
The locker room was silent aside from the clanking of helmets and the running of the showers. Coach Zinger gave a good end of the season talk, but it could not change that they had lost every single game that season. The ride home quiet also. When they arrived back at the school, everyone went their own separate ways. Buck slipped into the passenger seat of his uncle’s car and slouched down.
“That was a fantastic game, Buck,” his uncle said, starting up the car.
“I cost us the game. We should have gone for overtime.”
“They would have creamed us. I have never seen you play better. Thank you, Buck.”
“So I lost your last game, and you’re thanking me?”
He let out at laugh, and Buck that it sounded like a relieved laugh. “I knew that we were going to lose. I was already resigned to that and had accepted it. I had not idea that we would come so close to winning. I owe a lot of that to you, Buck.”
“I’m still sorry that we lost your last game.”
His uncle nodded. “If we had won, I would have named you MVP. You would have deserved it.”
“Thank you, Coach.”
His uncle smiled over. “It’s Uncle Rob.”
Buck was still disappointed, but after that game he felt closer to his uncle. Over the summer he practiced football drills. He was going to red-shirt at a local college in the fall and was looking forward to it. The summer flew by, and before he knew it, he was moving into the dorm. He had settled in and felt like he would do oaky his freshman year. The first practice finally came around, and it consisted of fitness training and countless simple exercises. Towards the end of the practice, they set up a scrimmage. They alternated the different strings, and finally it came Buck’s turn as quarterback.
He was hiked the ball, but the defense broke through the line and he was sacked. He lied on the ground for a moment, stunned.
“Anderson, get off the ground!” he heard one of the coaches yell from behind him.
He stood up, knowing that he would be sore the next day. “Sorry, Coach.” He looked up and did a double take. There stood his Uncle Rob in a coaching uniform.
Buck walked over to him. “Uncle Rob?” he whispered.
“It’s Quarterback Coach Zinger, Anderson,” he said, a small smile on his face.
Buck smiled back and went back to his spot in line. No wonder his uncle seemed to be hiding something. He knew that he would be coaching Buck the next year and had been surprising him. He hadn’t quit because of a bad season. He had quit because a better opportunity arose and he took it.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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