What can happen in a second

The clock read 00:01.

The quarterback, number 10, stood on the sideline with one foot in the field of play and the other out of bounds, hands on his hips and his head down but his eyes up, listening to what the coach would say. His breath was rapid and made warm puffs in the cold air each time he exhaled.

Now the coach spoke and his breath made a paragraph of a cloud in the air as he explained what he wanted see number 10’s team do next. The coach removed his headset and pointed and 10 looked. The backup quarterback, number 4, leaned in and pointed too. Number 4, in a spotless uniform and covered up with a huge, full-length coat made his own big cloud with his opinion. Coach did not look at him. Neither did 10.

The coach added two more things as 10 turned to go back on the field before the referee could get to them and tell them to stop it. The quarterback stepped into the huddle, a circle of 11 men that his arrival completed. They all leaned in, to hear what the coach had envisioned, as relayed by 10. Puffs of warm air formed a circle above them. The frozen ground made a crunching sound as the eleven walked toward a football on the ground in front of another eleven. About half of each side rocked back on their heels, then rocked forward, bent, and put their hands on the ground.

From atop the stadium, the players helmets were obscured by the clouds of steam expelled by the two sides, which were poised for the inevitable collision, puffing like two opposed engines restrained by the brakes.

The ball was snapped and the collision came. The roar from 80,000 strong rose, pushing a gigantic ring of fog above the stadium. Number 10, ball in hand spun right and held the ball out with his left hand. A runner came up on the right and reached for the ball while the quarterback continued to spin clockwise. The runner’s arms clamped down and the quarterback withdrew his left hand and continued his spin.

The runner dove a bit above the colliding bodies before him and as he did more defenders rushed up to meet him above the fray. Another inevitable collision came to pass and players and officials and spectators tried to judge whether the ball had crossed the goal line.

It had not. For it was never in the arms of the runner. Number 10, who had spun away to the left while the runner dove right, carried the ball toward the goal and had almost perfectly open field in front of him. Almost.

From the edge of the collision at the line a defender spied the quarterback running in the open and began to pursue. He suspected that the ball was there. Now he saw the ball was there. He strained to recover the ground lost by the misdirection.

Another inevitable collision was coming. Another roar of thousands. Another huge cloud of steam. The quarterback dove. The defender dove. And now, not one puff of steam escaped from anyone.

The clock read 00:00.


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