Get the picture: A crisp, autumn day on a wind-swept football field. From end zone to end zone, bundled-up fans huddle along the sidelines, cheering and encouraging.
The score is 13-13, 20 seconds left in the contest. Home team is on the 20-yard line, poised to score the go-ahead touchdown and take the championship outright. A tie or loss and the trophy ceremony is delayed to another day.
The previous play was an incomplete pass. Clock is stopped. Among the chaos, the frazzled coach tries to get his players back in the huddle for the game-deciding play.
One player is chasing a butterfly toward the sideline.
Two players are grappling on the midfield turf.
One player is sucking his thumb, pulling on the coach’s shirt sleeve.
The quarterback is on the sideline, sipping a chocolate milk.
The center and running back are engaged in a “slap-fight” in the end zone.
Lombardi and the Packers of Green Bay, they ain’t.
Yelps of “huddle” from the coach are unheeded.
Instead, he jogs to each individual player, picks them up and carries them back to the huddle.
“Listen, guys, this is it, the last game of the year,” the exhausted coach said between gasps, channeling his inner Rockne. “This is it. Your last game. And all y’all seem to want to do is goof off.”
The players sensed an unfamiliar change in the coach’s tone.
“For some of you, this may be the last time any of you step on a football field,” the coach said to vacant gazes. “You may not want to play next year. You may lose interest. You may move to a communist country where they don’t play American football. Or your mommy just may not let you play. I don’t know. All I know is this, gentlemen, and little Keisha: At this moment, you have a chance to make history, to do something you’ve probably never done before — and that’s go undefeated, win every game, never lose in a season.”
As he was delivering his speech, in the distance, the coach heard the theme song from the television show “Coach” grow louder and louder.
“Trust me, I’m 40-something years old, and I’ve had maybe one undefeated season in my life, and that was in intramural basketball.”
“What’s intamoral basketball?” asked the tow-headed lad to the coach’s right.
“This is not a debate, Brandon,” the coach continued, softly putting his hand over Brandon’s mouth. “This is a defining moment. This is when you decide to win or lose. No more goofing off. No more playing. Let’s run this play right, and leave this season, and maybe this sport, by playing with everything we have.”
The third time the referee cleared his throat, the coach heard him.
“Alright, guys, time to get serious. It’s time to play football. If you want to goof around, the playground is right over there,” the coach said, pointing dramatically to the colorful, vibrant playground adjacent to the field. When he pointed, all the players followed his finger. Some drooled.
“So, do you want to play football or do you want to go play on the playground?”
Before the last consonant left his lips, the coach saw a familiar hand raise in the back of the huddle.
“Yes, son,” I said, realizing my mistake.
“I want to go to the playground,” my son said.
A note to all: 4- and 5- and 6-year-old flag football players don’t know what a “rhetorical question” is. Nor do they know what a huddle is.