I watched the runner from where I stood at the forty five yard line in front of the opposing team’s bleachers while on the opposite side of the field at the 20 yard line the runner caught the punt, took two steps backward, tucked the ball into the crook of his arm, lowered his right shoulder and began running a looping arc toward where I waited.
I felt a collective sense of awareness from fans on the opposing side bleachers when we both realized the runner and I were on a collision course.
I took a wide stance lowered my butt closer to the ground, bent my elbows, curled my hands into loose fists and waited.
A voice inside my head whispered, “You will not let this son of a bitch get around you!”
I watched the runner curve closer to where I waited.
I knew that he knew we would soon make violent contact.
I rocked left to right on the balls of my feet anxious to feel the pain. A sense of rage pumped from my heart and lungs into the center of my brain. I felt like a predator ready to pounce on its prey.
I pictured the runner’s helmet split down the middle like a pumpkin dropped from a two story building.
Fifteen yards away I spread my arms as if to embrace the runner.
My legs became coiled springs that I would unleash at precisely the right moment to stop the runner in his tracks, to drive him into the ground!
I narrowed my vision, focusing on my target; the area below the sternum where both sides of the rib cage join below the heart.
A split second before contact I saw the top half of the number on his jersey the outline of his helmet against the lights of the scoreboard, his head barely lowered his eyes wide with fear.
At precisely the right moment I unleashed the coiled power of my legs. I felt my body spring forward. My left shoulder sunk into the soft spot below his rib cage. With my right arm wrapped around his back my hand clenched into a fist, I pulled the runner tightly into my grasp hearing a forceful “whoof” as the air was forced out of his lungs.
With the runner held tightly within my grasp I opened my eyes. Green grass, grains of dirt, part of a white chalk line, the numbers on the score board blurred across my field of vision.
With my left arm curled around the other side of his body I lifted him off of his feet then, driving downward with the help of gravity completed the full 180 degree arc of the
tackle sending the runner crashing to the ground.
I heard the clatter of shoulder pads, the dull thud of the runner’s helmet bouncing off the ground then the desperate sucking noise you make when the wind has been the forced out of your lungs.
I lay partially on the runner listening to him struggle to catch his breath; familiar with that momentary sense of desperation you feel when you think you’re going to suffocate to death.
I knew that within ten seconds or so he would realize he wasn’t going to die.
Adding insult to injury, I placed my right hand against the runner’s chest pushing myself myself into a standing position.
My mind was empty of thought but a persistent sound drew my attention to the left … toward the opposing team’s bleachers.
When I` turned to look I was astonished.
Many of the opposing team fans were standing, clapping their hands their eyes fixed on
where I stood wearing smiles of respect or wide eyed wonder.
I turned and trotted toward my side of the field.
Their applause sounded like heavy rain drops splattering against concrete during a summer rainfall.
Each time my cleats sank into the ground the applause grew softer until finally it seemed I had emerged from a heavy downpour on a summer day into a cool autumn night, the smell of burning leaves in the air.