No Fun League or One Good Play Deserves Another
Sensationalism and showmanship in sports is a double-edged sword. For one, athletes know that this is the best way to sell themselves, but what happened to athletes being role models for the good of the game? Where have they gone? This is the lesson that Arthur Read learns today in the oddest way possible.
DISCLAIMER: 'Arthur' the series and the 'Arthur Adventure' series of books are not a property and/or trademark of Rave The Rich. Marc Brown started it all, PBS, Cookie Jar Entertainment (formerly CINAR) and WGBH-TV in Boston produced it all. Please do not flame or sue. I have no money and no patience for nonsense.
"Okay, guys. Listen up," Francine speaks to the huddle of ten other players. She can see the downtrodden looks on the faces of her teammates and tells them very forcefully, "Now, snap out of it! We're not out of this yet! When I look at that clock, I don't see zero! I see that we have five seconds left. Five seconds to make a play and win this game! Now get those looks off your faces!"
"Why?" Buster chimes in to the shock of everyone in the huddle. "How are we going to get the ball across the goal line eighty yards away with five seconds to go?"
"With teamwork, that's how!" she answers.
"By my pure estimation, I'd say that the only way we could win this game would be a downright miracle and seeing as how miracles can't be proved at the moment…"
"That's the kind of thinking that will get us nowhere, Brain! Now let me see your game faces, now!"
Many members of her team find it difficult to keep the intense looks on their faces. For the lot of them, this has been one of the most difficult football games that the students at Lakewood Elementary have played in their young lives. It is a very hot Saturday afternoon outside in what has been a surprisingly exciting and competitive game between Lakewood and cross town rivals of Mulberry. Lead changes, ties, game-changing penalties, breathtaking runs, passes and scrimmages have formed the current score of 31-28. The action has tired out not only the players but the fans in the stands who have cheered every bit of action without fail. Many parents and guardians tape the action and root for each of their favorite players. Even those who have less than a passing interest in the game are looking closely at the action for what will happen next.
"Look, I just want all of you to look for me to go long, because a run won't cut it. Make sure that there is always someone behind you in case you have to lateral back. First off, offensive line, hold your guards with all your might or we can just forget it. Binky, I know I don't have to worry about you. Just do what you've been doing all day. Everyone else, keep in mind we've got six people here that can catch this pass. Six! If any one of you steps up and does it, we can still win this. Hands in here, now!" At that moment, eleven pairs of hands come together in the huddle. "Let's hear 'one pass' on three, ready? One, two, three…"
"One pass!" says the huddle as they also bring their hands back to clap in unison. Like most other pep talks in this situation, Francine has more than come through in the clutch and inspired the team at large to go for a win. The only other option would be poundings across the board from the tomboy and she just didn't have the time or the patience for it.
As the players line up in their formation with nothing but wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and no halfbacks behind the quarterback, the side of Lakewood gives off fervent cheers and once again chants the names of all players involved. In response to this cheering, the rooting section of Mulberry breaks out in a chant of 'DE-FENSE' while at the same time holding up signs for their team and favorite players.
While Coach Oliver Frensky looks at his team break from their huddle, the offense sets up in their format and Mulberry's defense responds by going into their prevent defense. Three tackles are placed at the line of scrimmage with the other linebackers and defensive backs lined up several yards behind them in the backfield to prepare for the inevitable long ball.
Both sides are ready for what should be the final snap of the game. Francine looks for all of the players and reviews their routes in her head. Once prepared, she shouts, "Down!" to alert every player on the field to get down into their stances. After a second, a second call of "Set!" is screamed and she places her hands between the legs of her center, the Brain.
At that moment, everything remains still. While Francine knows that catching a lineman on an offside penalty really doesn't do her team any good at this stage in the game, it was worth a shot to at least try. Lifting up her right leg, Francine gives the signal to wide receiver George Nordgren to go in motion and set his stance to her right. As George runs across the other end of the field, Francine puts her final bit of strategy to work. She hikes the ball before George can complete his motion. While it seems odd, George did have a tendency to run quicker routes while he is moving instead of when he is stationary.
Using this unique bit of knowledge, Francine begins the play early in the hopes that she can catch the cornerbacks off kilter. Taking seven steps back from the line of scrimmage, the quarterback surveys the field in the hopes of finding a place to pass the pigskin. Unfortunately her strategy does not work out the way she planned as the defense of Mulberry wizened up to Francine's play with George and had three players near him to stop any potential play going his way.
She has to think of something else and quick. Francine notices that the members of the offensive line are struggling to keep the defensive ends away from her so once again, she surveys the field and can see a bit of an opening near Arthur's direction. Near Buster, Francine can see some daylight, but due to his lack of speed, she can also see that the defense is catching up to him around midfield.
Running out of choices and time, Francine decides to chuck it in the direction of Arthur. Even though he is not her first choice for receiver during this critical time, she does not have much say in the matter and just goes for broke by taking a few steps forward and throwing a bomb.
From the moment she released the pass from her hands, Francine could tell that something was amiss. The pass was fine, but a sudden gust of wind carried the ball to the center of the field, far away from Arthur on the left and closer to the defenders and Buster. The ball appeared to be heading for an incredibly large sea of hands with little to no chance of being caught.
Eventually, Buster had help in the form of several of his fellow teammates joining in the morass of players who congregated to the center of the field, just a few yards away from the end zone. When all of the members of the offense and the defense prepare to jump up in the air to catch the ball, a play maker from the other end of the field jumps up in the air directly in front of the pile of people and tips the football into his direction, catching it while on the run and taking a few quick strides past the goal line for a touchdown. The player who caught the ball and ran for the winning score then spiked the ball onto the turn, took of his helmet and pumped his fist high into the air. Number eleven on the team, Arthur Read, came through in the clutch and made what was by all accounts a miracle play.
As expected, the crowd, both for Elwood and Mulberry, goes wild. For the side of Mulberry they looked for a penalty flag, to no avail. For a lot of the parents and teachers in attendance, it didn't matter. For a great game to end in such a way was nothing short of icing on the cake for the fans.
For the side of Elwood, especially proud parents David, Jane and amazed sisters D.W. and Kate watched the scene in shock, but once that wore off, it was time to celebrate. They screamed their love for their son and brother from the stands and cheered the accomplishment of him winning for his team on the final play of what was a truly fantastic game.
He couldn't explain it, but the feeling of being hugged and congratulated by both teams and sides…did something to him. It caused his confidence to go up tremendously, and this is after he made the winning play to give his team the victory in the game. He starts to move a little bit on the field. This moving then becomes more coordinated and he continues his movement, which forms into one of the popular dances of the day. Arthur does this dance in front of his teammates who cheer him on, and the opposing team, whose members do not appreciate the lack of sportsmanship that he's showing at the moment.
Chants of 'Go Arthur!' are the specialty of the afternoon courtesy of his teammates at Lakewood who continue to give him support while he does his complex touchdown dance. Using elements from dances of generations past to now to form what would be an ultimate touchdown celebration.
"Hey, cut that out!" speaks one of the Mulberry opponents, Kaeden Klein. "We get it!"
But Arthur does not 'cut it out'. He is far to into his activity and far too excited to just cut it out. He continues to dance, like it was his own personal drug and he didn't know the meaning of the words 'high' or 'addiction'. All he knew was that it felt real good and that he wanted to do it some more, which he does. Despite multiple warnings from his adversaries, Arthur does not listen and ends up paying for it when a yellow flag is flown onto the field and a whistle is sounded by one of the three referees in charge of this afternoon's action.
There is a great deal of confusion in both the stands and on the field due to the throwing of this penalty flag. Many people wondered if it had anything to do with something that went wrong during the play and was called late.
The players on the field know what is up when the referee who threw the flag confronts his fellow officials and says, "I've got a fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on number eleven."
Arthur and Francine, the one-two combination that made the amazing, highlight-reel catch possible are pleading their case to the referee.
"I was just having some fun," Arthur claims to the zebra.
"Have you ever seen a play like that?" Francine inquires. "If that were me, I probably would have done a Brandi Chastain!"
While that remark from the team captain does elicit a chuckle from the referee who walks to the line and announces the penalty to the crowd still in attendance, it does nothing to change the call. Stretching his arms out from his torso the referee states, "Unsportsmanlike conduct, number eleven of the offense."
As expected, the fans on the side of Elwood do not like the call in the least bit. They share the same sentiment as Arthur on the field. It is their belief that the boy only had some fun after making a truly breathtaking play. They wanted to know what the big deal was. After all, isn't having fun a part of the game, as well?
And then, a call is made for the game that is questionable to say the least. "According to the rulebook, a game cannot conclude on an offensive penalty. Therefore, after the point after touchdown, we will give the Mulberry squad one final un-timed play in a kickoff with the penalty being enforced on the kickoff. Elwood's touchdown does, however, count. Touchdown, Elwood City!" The referee declares, holding both arms high in the air to signify the play outcome.
Well, if nothing else, the touchdown does count and the score, pending a point after by their kicker and the only other girl on the team Sue Ellen, will put their squad up 35-31. As the special teams comes onto the field, the talented foot of the Armstrong kid puts her squad ahead by four points without breaking a sweat. It's good for her and the team because she will have to use her skill and strategy for the very next play; a kick.
The well-traveled girl now stands by the sidelines to get a quick drink of water. She hears coach Frensky shout out "Squib, Sue Ellen! Squib!" and she knows that she is not expected to set some sort of record with this next kick, rather make it really difficult for the opposing squad to catch and advance across the field.
After each side takes a timeout to prepare and remind each player of their responsibilities, the whistle sounds while Sue Ellen remains in her stance. Taking step after step after step forward, the place-kicker thrusts her right foot forward, kicking the ball using the side of her foot and watching it bounce across the grass and into the hands of a Mulberry wide receiver about forty yards away.
"All right, tackle! Let's see a tackle!" Coach speaks, thinking that the victory is all but assured for his players.
Catching the ball at his team's thirty-yard line, Mulberry's number eighty-seven, Cameron Fitch, runs about twenty yards before throwing the ball back to his teammate number thirty-three Gil Vance. This begins a string of ten different laterals and passes backwards and across the field. Mulberry's attempt to get the ball across Elwood's end zone now has quite a bit of life and a larger sliver of potential.
Every one of the eleven players on the Mulberry squad touched the ball running away from Elwood defenders in an attempt to keep the play alive and not get penalized.
After a while, Lakewood's defenders begin to grow restless as they are not able to get a tackle and finish the play. Screaming back and forth occurs as the quickest player on the Mulberry squad, Landon Hamilton, now gets the ball. Maneuvering back, forth and through Elwood's attack, he jukes past the person who made the initial miracle play to sprint the final twenty yards for a touchdown. Arthur can only look towards the end zone from the ground to see the commotion occur as Landon's teammates surround him and give him the praise he most certainly deserves. Unlike his counterpart, Landon does not overdue the celebration and instead goes with his peers to the sideline to speak with the coach.
The whistle and the signal from the referees makes it very clear that the game is over, and in one of the most unusual sequences in all of competitive sports, Mulberry has won the game over Lakewood by a score vindictive of the style of play of the match up, 37-35. While still down on the ground, Arthur's teammates give him dirty looks through their helmets with some giving him very disparaging remarks about him costing their team the game.
"Nice going, Arthur," Francine says sarcastically.
After it appears that he will be left on the ground to think about everything that has occurred, he is helped up off the turf by his father, best friend and coach.
"You made a great catch out there, Arthur," Oliver says. "It's just that…sometimes it's best to leave well enough alone when you know you've done the job. I realize that you might see football players on television do things like that, but you gotta understand that winning is more than just showing off. If you are enough of a talent, then you don't need to be a showman."
"Coach is right, Arthur. He's right about everything," David affirms. "But despite your teammates wanting to…do bad things to you after such a hard fought game, you did well. Next time, just…remember your team. Remember the people…"
"Are you kidding me?" Buster interrupts. "Why are we sugarcoating this? Arthur cost us the game!"
"Coach, I'm sorry, but if Mr. Bojangles here didn't have ants in his pants, then we would have kept the lead. We wouldn't have had to kickoff! Arthur, we're buddies and we're gonna stay buddies for a long time but let's be honest; you lost this game for our team. You just…I can't stay here anymore! I gotta go!"
As Buster leaves, the coach feels it more important to take care of Buster and the rest of the team. It's his hope that he can convince the rest of the Elwood squad that the loss does not rest entirely on the shoulders of Arthur, but even he knows that that will be a difficult task given the circumstances.
"I feel for you, Arthur," Coach Frensky says before he leaves to speak with the rest of the team.
Once the coach leaves, father David is joined by his wife and daughters on the field with Arthur. At the very least, he is not alone.
"Well," David asks his only boy, "what have you learned from this, son?"
That's an easy question for Arthur to answer. "There is no 'I' in 'dance'. Just like there isn't one in 'team'. I let them all down, and I don't want to do that anymore. Dancing is silly and that's not me."
"I think I'm gonna be sick!"
"D.W.!" says all of the Reads.
"Hey, Arthur!" Buster yells running back to his best friend. After catching his breath, he says, "All right, I might have cooled down for a bit, but I still think what you did was dumb."
"Well, I know what I did was dumb."
"Coach wants you to come to the Sugar Bowl for ice cream. He says you can start…atoning for what you did there, whatever that means."
Arthur does know what it means and having his best friend there for the process will make the whole episode go by better. At least that is his hope. "Okay, as long as that's fine with my mom and dad."
"Go ahead, dear," his mom assures.
"All right," Arthur answers. "I'll see you guys later!" Now walking with Buster, he begins conversation. "So how about that game, Buster? Even without those two plays, it was really good."
"I'm just happy to have gotten that pass in the first quarter."
"Yeah, you did have a good pass, even though that tackle from Taylor John had to hurt."
"Ah, what do you do but shrug it off?"
"Come on, Buster! I saw you limping when you came off the field! Shrug it off, my foot! He knocked you on your behind!"
"Like this?" Buster asks before shoving Arthur down to the field. Arthur looks up wondering what his friend was doing before seeing a large grin on Buster's face. As he watches Buster run away and get a head start, Arthur gets back on his feet chasing Buster to the Sugar Bowl yelling at him to slow down.
The feeling of running without care felt better than dancing.