Note: This is a massive experiment. If you don't know the Friday Night Lights book (or the movie at least), it might not make much sense, but basically McKinley is football obsessed and there is no glee club. Go!
On the Line
The first game of the season.
From inside the locker room, the roar of the crowd is a dull, muted rush through concrete walls. They're encased down here, under the stadium, in a tomb.
Schuester paces the length of the room like a caged lion, playbook in one fist, pounding it into his other palm.
Sweat drips from a nose, blood from another. Hudson, the quarterback, busies himself with tying and retying his cleats. Puckerman's got a hold on Hudson's neck, squeezing. With the other hand, he holds an ice pack to his knee.
Schuester clears his throat and even the crowd outside seems to quiet. "It's not enough to be good," he says, words like lava dripping from his lips. "It's not enough to be great. Not this year. This year, I need you to be perfect. Can you do that?" He surveys the room, catching the eye of each boy, dressed up for war in shoulder pads and red jerseys. "Can you be perfect?"
Tell us about yourself.
"Yeah, my name is Finn Hudson. I'm seventeen, eighteen in two months. I've played football forever, varsity since my sophomore year and first string since junior year."
How much pressure is it being first string quarterback?
"Yeah, I mean, it's a lot of pressure. Sure it is. I don't really think about it. Sometimes, it seems like everyone else thinks about it a lot more than me, really. Someone's always coming up to me, wishin' us luck, telling me what play to run or what play we should've run. I just try and keep my head down. I just try and get through."
Get through what?
"Today, I guess. Life."
Anyone who spends any time at McKinley High School quickly becomes aware of an order, a hierarchy.
There's football players.
There's the cheerleading squad, the Cheerios.
Then, there's everyone else.
Tell us your name and what position you play.
"Noah Puckerman, but you can call me Puck. I play running back."
You're obviously a force on the field.
But, your record shows a few scrapes with the local law en-
"Wait. Who the hell gave you my record? Shit. I don't need to be here. This interview is over."
Third game of the season.
Schuester is quiet on the sidelines, fingers covering his mouth, playbook under his arm. Beside him, the offensive line coach, Sylvester, throws everything in arms reach at the players on the bench.
The lights in the stadium are up, casting everything in hyper-shadow.
At the line of scrimmage, twenty-two seconds left, Hudson visibly shivers with nerves. Puckerman was sent out at halftime for holding and unnecessary roughness.
On the sideline, Hummel, the kicker, sits beside Artie Abrams. They hold hands, with each other and with the Cheerios, heads bowed in prayer.
The clock starts.
The clock stops.
Kurt Hummel is an unassuming figure with elven-like features and a clear, lilting voice. He has better posture than anyone else in any given room and seems completely unaffected by the noise and hysteria of a post-pep rally McKinley.
"I'm the kicker," he says, bouncing one foot up and down in an easy rhythm. "I kick the ball. Are you going to ask me about Finn?"
What about Finn Hudson?
"Finn is my step-brother. I thought you knew that. But, I'd rather talk about something else if it's all the same to you." Hummel sneaks a glance at the door of the empty classroom we sit in. Outside, students bellow and roar, racing through the halls, getting ready for the night's game. "I want to be an actor. I can sing. I can dance, a little."
Do you feel that playing for the Titans will help you achieve those goals?
"I don't feel that living in this town will help me achieve those goals, so no. I never meant to play, it just sort of happened. All for the best though. Playing football is the only thing that's allowed me to survive this long."
"At McKinley, if you play football, it's like you're a celebrity. You're floating above the ground. You're safe."
Hummel stops the even bouncing of his foot and frowns. "Safe from everything, from everyone else. You-"
The door to the classroom pops open. A boy with slick, dark hair pokes his head in, looking anxious. "Sorry. Are you done?"
Hummel is already reaching for his bag. "We can finish later, right?"
He doesn't wait for an answer.
"My name is Arthur Abrams. I'm seventeen. I was the fullback for the McKinley High Titans."
Tell us about your injury.
"Yeah. It wasn't football. Everyone thinks it was, but it wasn't. Last winter. A car accident."
You lost your mother in that same accident?
"She was driving."
What's it like missing out on this season?
"I'm still here. I go to every practice, every game. I'm not missing one minute. In spirit, man, in soul I'm the strongest player out there. I'm the mascot, you know?"
It's been a rough year for you. How are you coping?
"Hanging tough. Next question."
The locker room is a powder keg, ready to explode. Players line the benches, the floor, a few stand slumped against the walls.
Coach Schuester is on guard, hands clasped, eyes like steel as he watches Coach Sylvester spew ugly words of deprecation. She is all fury, her voice bounces off the concrete walls and surrounds the players.
One boy lowers his head, shoulders shaking.
Abrams is in his wheelchair, off to the side, nodding, surveying his peers.
Everyone knows what he's thinking.
I would have done better.
Sixth game of the regular season.
The whole team is tense, shoulders up to their ears. It's raining. Their white away-game uniforms are stained muddy brown.
At half-time, Hudson is bleeding from the mouth. It's hard to tell if it's lips or teeth or something deeper. Puckerman looks ready to kill.
Hummel sits patiently on the bench under a huge golf umbrella. He's scored them three points already, perfectly pitched through the big, yellow arms.
It feels like a loss.
Finn Hudson, up close, is a tall, lean figure in plaid and jeans. He smiles as he talks, eyes averted, scanning the floor and the ceiling.
"People look at me as a leader. All the time. I didn't ask for that. I don't know, my girlfriend says I'm a natural. A natural leader."
When did you start playing football?
"When I was a kid, probably six or seven. You know, we'd throw around a ball in the backyard."
Who did you play with?
Hudson shrugs, not with his shoulders but with all of his arms, palms up to the ceiling. "Puck. Puckerman mostly. We grew up together, right around the corner."
Not your dad?
"No. Not my dad. He died when I was a kid. He was in the army, so I didn't really know him. Anyway, Puck's dad wasn't around either, so I guess that's why we're friends."
You must be close with your mother, then.
"Sure." For the first time, Hudson's smile seems less than sincere.
"My name is Burt Hummel, owner of Hummel Tire and Lube here in Lima, representative for the U.S. Senate, father of Kurt Hummel, and step-father of Finn Hudson."
You've got a lot on your plate.
"I've got a big appetite."
What are game days like at your house?
"Same as anyone else's, I imagine. We eat a nice dinner, we get suited up, and we get to the field."
Do your politics affect the way you parent?
"It's the other way around. The way I parent affects my politics. There are certain things I have always believed. Love your child no matter what, never let them know you're disappointed. When the boys come home from a hard game, it's the same as an easy one. In the senate, when we come off a hard debate, versus an easy call, you have to react the same way. We've made ourselves steadfast that way, unflappable. Our goals are always in mind. I've taught the boys that as well."
Thank you for your time, Senator.
"Anytime. Listen, I've got a question for you now."
"Are you ready for friday night?"
Noah Puckerman is a surprisingly wiry kid under layers of flannel, jeans, and bravado. The shave of his hair adds to the hawk-like predatoriness of his expression.
What would you like to talk about?
He says nothing, slouched in his chair, arms crossed.
How about your best friend, Finn Hudson?
How do you feel about the upcoming game against your rivals, the Dalton Warriors?
"We're going to kill them, as usual."
Any nerves before a big game like that?
Puckerman smirks wickedly. "John, Jack, and Jose take care of that for me."
Last game of the regular season.
A win means the Titans go on to the play-offs. A lose means the Dalton Warriors will be the ones headed to Columbus.
The Warriors play ball like a well-oiled machine. They're synchronized, fast, each member in harmony with the next.
Coach Sylvester finds their weakness. Coach Schuester orchestrates a play to take advantage of it. The Titans execute their game without flaw.
At the end of game huddle, Schuester stands still in front of his team, hands in fists at his side. "It's a hard thing to measure the size of a person's heart. I cannot use a ruler to tell you how hard you've worked. I cannot use a stopwatch to tell you how much you've given to this team. What I do know, is that the Warriors are headed home tonight with heavy hearts because they know that what they encountered here on this field tonight was a group of men with more passion and heart than they could have ever prepared for. We beat the Warriors, and we will win at state. Do you know why?" He stops, takes his time to meet the eye of every boy kneeling in front of him.
"We will win at state because of our heart. Gentleman, if your eyes are clear and your hearts are full, you cannot lose. Do you hear me? Clear eyes, full hearts."
"Can't lose." The team responds as one.
Schuester nods. "Thank you. Now, let's pray."
Having the three star Titans in one room together is like sitting down with the President and his cabinet in the oval office. There's a stateliness about them that exceeds the flimsy balloons and crepe paper that decorate the gym, post-pep rally.
Finn Hudson, what are your plans for after graduation?
Hudson smiles, but his posture is tense. "The army."
He looks bored, buffing out his nails with an emery board. "New York City."
Hudson sighs loudly. "You haven't been accepted to any schools. You don't even have any experience acting." It sounds like an argument they've had before.
Hummel rolls his eyes. "That's because this terrible school has no arts program and this backwards town has no theater. I don't need to be accepted to a school to go there anyway."
"Look, I barely plan beyond five o'clock, you want me to plan the rest of my life?" He slouches further in the metal folding chair he sits in. "That's crazy."
Hudson doesn't look happy about this either, but unlike with Hummel, he doesn't say anything, watching his friend with heavy eyes.
How do you boys feel about the upcoming playoff games?
"No sweat." Puckerman scoffs.
Hummel shrugs. "We'll be fine, I think. We're playing the Akron...what is it?" He looks at Puckerman.
"Yeah, we're playing the Akron Adrenaline next. They're pretty good."
Hudson watches each of them answer nervously. When the attention shifts to him, he runs his palms over his knees. "It gets harder now, more stressful. Every game is sudden death. If we lose now, we're out. If we win, we keep playing."
"Dude, chill out." Puckerman leans forward to see Hudson on the other side of Hummel. "We got this."
"That's easy for you to say," Hudson returns. "You don't have all this...this..." He struggles for words, but Hummel cuts him off.
"Your mother will still love you if we lose," he says dryly.
"What the fuck?" Puckerman looks stunned.
"Finn has this idea that he can never, ever disappoint his mother or she's going to quit loving him or something, which is dumb because she's actually very nice and quite attentive."
"To you," Hudson returns. "She's nice to you. She pays attention to you."
"I don't know why you act like you're so starved for attention. You are the star quarterback, you know."
"Right. And you're the star son. Stepson. Whatever."
The boy shrugs, arms crossed. "I stay out of their family shit, mostly. You're wrong though, Kurt. Finn, you-" He stops and waits for Hudson to look at him. "You know what I think, dude."
"No one cares what you think, Puck." Kurt tucks his emery board into his book bag and sits back, not looking at anyone.
Hudson is staring hard at the floor.
Puckerman seems to be searching out the nearest exit.
Is it hard to put all of this aside on game days?
They answer in unison. "No."
Game twelve. Play-off game.
The team from Akron wears neon-blue jerseys and their cheerleaders do complicated flips and tricks along the sidelines. The Titans red shirts seem a bit duller by comparison.
The Adrenaline plays dirty. Their coach is a tall, dark haired woman, prowling the sideline like a black widow. Schuester seems caught in her stare.
At halftime, Puckerman is limping, bleeding from his temple. Hudson is too winded to speak. For the first time, Hummel seems nervous.
Sylvester stands for a long time in the locker room, watching the team in silence. When she speaks, Hummel flinches. "Is this it, boys? Are we giving up? Do you surrender here, Hudson?"
"No, ma'am." His voice is a thready wheeze.
He stares at her, eyes a little unfocused. "No."
"Anybody?" The coach spins around. "Is anyone ready to surrender?"
The only sound in the room is the heavy, exhausted breath of thirty boys trying to be men.
Any final thoughts on the season, Coach?
"We played the best we could. I had a great group of guys this year and I'll be sad to see them go, but we've got some good boys coming up, too. We fought hard this year. We put it on the line. It didn't take us to the finals, but this school, this town should be proud of their Titans." Schuester's face is blank. He crosses his arms. "That's all I can say."
At the end of the day, the team cleans out their lockers, duffel bags stuffed full of dirty laundry. Hudson throws his bag over his shoulder and picks up his step-brothers, too.
Puckerman tags along after them to the parking lot. He nudges Hummel with his shoulder. "You got any cigs, man?"
Hummel rolls his eyes. "I thought you quit, Noah."
"For the season. I quit for the season."
"Of course you did."
"The season is over now."
Hudson laughs quietly at the two of them and Puckerman slugs him in the shoulder. "So, do you have any?"
"No, I don't smoke. You know that. I have standards. I'm trying to-" Hummel gestures at his face.
"What?" Puckerman laughs. "You're trying to be perfect?"
"Screw you, Noah."
"That's what your boyfriend said."
Hummel turns and smacks him in the stomach. Hudson worms his way between them, all three of their bags in his hands now. "Chill out, guys. We've got some in the car, Puck."
Across the dry, gravel parking lot, their shoes kick up clouds of dust.
"Hey, Finn," Puck says, suddenly smirking. "Why don't you be more like Kurt, here? Be more perfect."
Hudson shakes his head, grinning, and even Hummel laughs a little. "Fuck that. You be perfect, man."
Puckerman spins around them and throws an arm over each of their shoulders. "Maybe I will."
If you made it this far, that's amazing! Thank you so much for reading!