Knights of Andreas
Chapter Seventy-Two – Sons and Daughters
Maverick takes the snap and the Texans defense spreads out. Maverick throws right for Wilkes, open near the sideline. The twenty-yard strike puts the Knights on the Houston thirty. Maverick looks up at the clock as he hurries the offense into formation.
He drops back again and fires for Bishop over the middle. Bishop gets hit but keeps his legs churning for a few extra yards. McKenzie looks up, considers a timeout, and calls the next play.
Knights 22, Texans 3, less than a minute until halftime.
This week’s Monday Night Football game has been a one-sided clunker, but the Knights offense has been entertaining to watch. They have moved the ball at will against Houston’s defense, and they have debuted an apparent new strategy: two-point conversions instead of an extra point attempt. They’re two for three tonight, with Wilkes and Harper each with an end zone catch.
Still in a five-receiver set, the Knights line up ten yards from the end zone. 0:37, 0:36… Maverick takes the snap and surveys—everyone’s covered. Pressure comes up the middle. He rolls left, looking for Wilkes, who has three short defenders around him in the back of the end zone. Yeah, why not. Maverick sets his feet and fires into triple coverage. Wilkes tries to time his jump perfectly, using his six-foot-five frame to outreach three white jerseys, grab the ball, and get his feet down on the purple grass.
Farmers Field celebrates the fourth touchdown of the half, cheering extra loud for the ridiculous pitch-and-catch. Maverick and Wilkes get the sideline star treatment, and the offensive coaches can’t help but pat Maverick on the back for such a horrendous decision. Two-point conversions no longer seem necessary, so McCabe makes it 29-3.
The lull during halftime calms the fans, but the Knights offense doesn’t relent. McKenzie operates out of the five-receiver set, which is near unstoppable. His top trio of receivers is as good as any in the league, Bishop is a matchup nightmare in the slot, and Johnson can’t be covered on short crossing routes. All of this helps to reduce Jameson’s touches, an old goal of McKenzie’s that he finally has the offense to accomplish.
On the other side of the ball, things are just as ugly for the visiting team. The Knights hone in on Lamar Miller, limiting him to a paltry 2.2 yards per carry. This forces Brock Osweiler to carry the Texans offense, an onus that has gotten Houston across midfield once between multiple punts and two interceptions.
Field position gives the Knights offense a short field, and they go 56 yards in five plays, with Jameson’s first touchdown of the night making it 36-3.
On their next drive, the Knights show more balance, with Jameson going into closer mode. Houston can’t stop this either, and with the third quarter almost up, the Knights reach the red zone again. Maverick fakes a handoff and drops back, throwing a perfect back-shoulder fade to Wilkes, and the receiver whose touchdown streak was broken last week finds the end zone for the third time tonight.
Coach Harden calls off the dogs in the fourth quarter, giving several starters some rest, though the Texans still can’t score. The game becomes excruciatingly boring, even for the home fans celebrating victory. The clock eventually runs out, and with a dominant 43-3 thrashing, the Knights win again, joining the Patriots and Steelers at 10-0.
Logan’s eyes blink open and he rolls over, seeing an empty side of the bed. Jolting awake, he springs out of bed and finds Ashley in the bathroom, but she looks calm.
“Not yet,” she says. “Just had to pee.”
“Oh. Feel okay?”
“Beyond the usual? Sure.”
Logan breathes, equally thankful and disappointed. He has lost count of all the close calls over the last week, every painful contraction making him think he’s an hour away from fatherhood.
Logan takes a five-minute shower, checking on Ashley again before he gets dressed. On his way out, he takes a long look at the baby’s room, finished crib and all. He keeps his phone within sight the entire drive to the MedComm Center.
Players spread out across the practice field and stretch, warming up for their first day of preparation for the 4-6 Panthers. Coach Harden marches through rows of players and coaches, feeling confidence in the air and doing nothing to temper it—for now.
The Knights are not only undefeated; they’re four games ahead of the Broncos and Chiefs in the West. They’ll get a crack at the Steelers in a few weeks, but for now, they’re in as cozy a spot as they can be with six games remaining, and they should be proud of that.
What Harden needs to stop is the growing obsession with statistical accolades. Maverick’s 29 touchdown passes and Wilkes’ 15 touchdown receptions are both on pace to approach legendary records. The offense’s 314 points scored is, too. And, of course, there’s the most elusive record of all, nine wins away.
Coaches on both sides of the ball keep their eyes on Bishop and Luck, men scheduled to become fathers this week. The Knights haven’t celebrated a birth since Tatiyana Rose in 2013, so it’s cool to have two around the corner. On the other hand, this creates complications for coaches responsible for a game plan.
Harden and McKenzie walk towards #89, staying casual and not wanting to draw attention. They want to get this over with and start practice.
“Alright, Logan,” Harden says. “When’s Ashley due?”
“Thursday,” Bishop says while stretching. “It’s basically any day now, at this point.”
“Try not to get too stressed about it,” McKenzie says. “Our first was the same way, biting fingernails and bouncing off the wall for days. It’ll happen when it happens.”
Bishop nods and Harden steps closer. “Listen, Logan, we have to ask—and there’s no shame on either side of this—if it goes down on Sunday or close to it, are you suiting up?”
About ten yards away, Luck overhears this conversation, but he can’t make out Bishop’s answer. He focuses on his stretches, trying to think only of football. A minute later, Harden and Ripka approach him.
“You heard?” Harden asks, motioning his head towards Bishop. Luck nods. “Alright then. Same question, Sam.”
The locker room is relaxed and festive after practice, as it has been lately, making Bishop and Luck outliers in a room of confident men. Luck hasn’t even gotten all his pads off when he walks toward Bishop’s locker.
“Coaches talked to you too, right?” Luck asks.
“About Sunday? Yeah, of course.”
“I was honest. I don’t want it this way, but I’m not missing the birth of my son. I hate to miss a game—never lost a snap due to injury at Stanford or here—but this is different.”
“I don’t disagree with that.”
“What did you tell them?”
Bishop hesitates. Before he can answer, the sight of Penner approaching distracts him.
“Papas to be,” Penner says jovially. Luck and Bishop ease up a bit. Penner throws his arms over each man’s shoulder. “Now both of you listen to me. You both still got years left in this game, so take my advice: make the most of every offseason. And I mean every damn second. Because from week 1 until the end, you’ll barely have a family. And it’ll hurt. But what’ll hurt even worse is realizing how much time this game takes. And you never get that time back.”
“We’re playing this game for a reason, Penn,” Luck says.
“You think I’m not? Just giving you two some advice.”
“We get it,” Bishop says. “Thanks, Brian.”
Eavesdropping, Schwinn walks up behind Penner and says, “Listen to this, y’all. Brian Penner the philosopher!”
A few players look toward the gathering. Some had noticed Penner talking to Luck and Bishop and wanted to mind their own business, but Schwinn’s presence greatly increases the potential for entertainment.
“We should be thankful you ain’t having kids,” Penner says. A few players react to the zinger, well aware this is just friendly ball busting.
“Hey man, I’m serious about that philosophy shit.” Schwinn reaches out to touch Penner’s stomach. “A few more pounds here and we could pass you off as Buddha.”
In a blink, Penner snatches Schwinn’s arm and spins him around, tangling him up as his shoulder twists awkwardly.
“Ow!” Schwinn cries out, fighting for leverage. “Ow! C’mon, ease up, partner!”
“Say uncle, motherfucker.”
The whole locker room enjoys the show, laughing and cheering at the sight of Schwinn flailing his one free arm through the air, completely trapped.
“Ow, that hurts! Damn it, man!”
“Ah! Okay, uncle. Uncle! Uncle!”
Penner releases, and Schwinn sprints to the other side of the locker room. Before he can say anything, Coach Harden’s voice bellows towards every locker.
“What the holy fuck are you assholes doing?”
Nobody responds, instead resuming the process of changing into street clothes and leaving for the day.
“Queers,” Harden says, walking back to his office.
Merle drives himself home from the hospital, thankful tonight was just an appointment and not another round of chemo. He gets home in time for dinner, he thinks, expecting to smell Melinda’s cooking as he walks into the foyer with Bowser excitedly circling him.
“I’m home,” he announces.
“What did Dr. Kern say?” Melinda asks from the kitchen.
“Told me to stop yelling, of course. Thinks I need to do more chemo even though it’s football season. The usual shit.”
“And the cancer?”
“Again, the usual. Where’s Trish?”
“Upstairs. She’s sick.”
“What, got the flu or something?”
“Not the flu.”
Melinda gives Merle an all-too-familiar look, and he understands exactly what has happened. He feels his heart thumping as he walks up the staircase towards Trisha’s room. He knocks a few times before opening the door, seeing Trisha sprawled out on her bed, beads of sweat running down her face. A rotten stench hits Merle’s nose.
“Smells like puke in here,” he says.
“I got the toilet, mostly,” Trish grumbles, rolling over.
It breaks Merle’s heart to see his daughter like this. It’s a sight he hasn’t experienced in a while—one he thought he was done with.
“We just had a little too much wine. It’s okay, dad, really. It’s okay.”
Merle can’t find any more words, so he sulks back down the steps, not looking at Melinda on his way to the living room.
“Merle,” she says, “don’t be upset.”
“I’m not upset. Just tired. I’m watching football. Let me know when dinner’s ready.”
He lays down on the recliner and turns on Thursday Night Football, barely following the game as Bowser lays down at his feet.
Players gradually fill the locker room for Friday’s practice. Almost everyone stops by Luck and Bishop’s lockers, each getting the same story: no word, could be any minute, just waiting.
Maverick follows the same pattern, particularly concerned about Bishop’s presence (or lack thereof) for Sunday’s game. He has made the mistake of deeming Bishop a replaceable piece of the offense before. With no news, Maverick heads for his locker and starts dressing. He doesn’t hear the footsteps behind him, flinching in surprise when he spins around and sees Coach Harden in front of him.
“You better get your act together, and fast,” Harden says.
Maverick looks around. So, he’s really doing this right here? In front of everybody?
Among the first to notice the confrontation are a group of linebackers, among which Martin is the first to speak.
“You know,” he says, “I’m surprised it took this long.”
“Maybe something went down behind the scenes,” Randall suggests.
Maverick does his best to look relaxed, finally saying, as softly as he can, “It was no big deal, coach.”
“My ass,” Harden says, his voice anything but soft. “Forget Trish for a minute. On a practice night, you pull that shit?”
“We had some time to kill.”
“That’ll be the last time I end practice early. You’re out of control.”
“Bullshit,” Maverick says confidently, ignoring the spectators around him. Harden is pulling a cheap move, doing this in the locker room to get the upper hand. But Maverick isn’t backing down.
“You got some fuckin’ balls, Mav.”
“We were having a fun night. We had a little too much. It happens, coach. We’re normal people.”
“Trisha is not ‘normal people.’ After what I’ve been through, I know it, and I don’t give a damn if you think you know better. Get yourself together.”
“I’m not out of control.”
“You don’t see anyone staging an intervention for me, do you?”
“You ungrateful little fuck…”
Harden grabs Maverick’s neck. Maverick instinctively reaches for Harden’s hands as he gets shoved backward. The back of his head slams against his locker.
Every man in the locker room swarms the fight, and the nearest players have the two separated instantly. Nearly everyone focuses on Maverick, who looks shocked but physically okay. He rubs a growing lump on the back of his head, but he feels fine.
A few turn their attention to Harden, separated from the crowd, in an apparent coughing fit. He hacks away uncontrollably, coughing into his arm, which he uses to cover his watering eyes. He coughs and coughs, while everyone stares, until he finally rights himself, straining every muscle in his body and fighting his dry throat to utter the words, “Practice field. Now.”
Minutes later, players are on the field getting loose. Maverick is examined briefly but displays no concussion symptoms, so he’s good to go. It isn’t long before the Knights are mastering Sunday’s playbook, and the locker room scuffle becomes forgotten in the face of practice—though players will discuss it later.
Hardly anyone notices an intern running out of the building onto the field towards Coach Ripka, who pulls Luck out of formation. Everyone understands what’s happening when they see Luck sprint back inside.
“Good luck, Sam!” they all yell, in one variation or another.
Bishop looks toward the building, but the intern walks back inside. There is no news for him yet.
Players take their seats in the auditorium, ready for another quick and confident walkthrough. Harden scans the crowd, and all conversations stop.
“Twenty-six hours to kickoff,” Harden says. “First order of business…congratulations to Sam!”
In the middle of the seats, Luck glows with a smile as everyone applauds and cheers.
“Any details, Sam?” Harden asks once things quiet down again.
“James Samuel Luck, eight pounds, five ounces, a healthy baby boy.”
Another round of applause fills the auditorium. Among the first to stop clapping is Bishop, checking his phone yet again.
The Knights proceed through their eleventh walkthrough of the season, and it feels very much like the first ten: Harden details the intricacies of his blitzes, repeatedly reminding his players how things can go wrong; McKenzie tests Maverick on every nuance of every audible of every play, and the quarterback knows them all.
Once everything wraps up, the buses line up in front of the building for loading and transportation to a downtown hotel, the Knights’ designated location the final hours before kickoff.
The coaches invariably gather towards the side of the locker room, and Ripka asks Harden, “Want to go through the audibles again, coach?”
“No,” Harden says, thinking. “In fact, in light of recent events, I think we’ve all earned a little family time.” The other coaches stand up a little straighter, blinking their eyes, wondering how far Harden is going with this. “Take a few hours, relax, and make your own way to the hotel by 7. No beef if you’re there by 8, but we don’t need a goddamn players’ rebellion if one of us misses curfew.”
“You sure, Merle?” McKenzie asks. “I mean, we haven’t even looked at—”
“The playbook’s fine, Mac. Everything’s fine. We’re gonna kick Carolina’s ass tomorrow. Take a few hours. All of you. Get out of here.”
Despite the surprise of a few free hours, Chet knows immediately where he’ll go. He drives home, changes into street clothes plus a hat, to avoid being recognized, and heads for his son’s high school. He texts his wife to make sure it’s a home game.
He finds a parking spot and heads for the gymnasium, glancing more than once across the athletic complex at the football field. He pays for a ticket, enters the gym with the game ongoing, and finds a quiet spot on the bleachers. The game is tied, 20-20, with a few minutes to go in the second quarter.
Chet identifies Chris, playing a combination of small forward and shooting guard, and watches him play. Chet is far from a basketball analyst, but Chris’ footwork looks good, he’s fast, and he knows how to create space for himself to put up shots. Over the next few minutes, he puts up four points on three shots and plays solid defense.
The clock runs under thirty seconds, and the home team has the final possession before halftime with a slim, 26-25 lead. They try working it down low, but the opposing team plays tight defense. The point guard puts up a shot that bounces off the rim. With 2 seconds left, someone passes it back out to Chris, who puts up a three. The buzzer rings and the ball flies through the inside of the net.
The modest crowd cheers for the home team as the players and coaches walk toward the locker room. Chet stands and claps too, watching Chris proudly as he walks with his teammates. Chris looks up to the crowd, scanning for his mom and catching a glimpse of Chet at the last second. The smile fades from his face, and he bows his head as he leaves the court.
Chet stops clapping and walks along the bleachers, looking for his wife.
Unlike the players and coaches staying downtown, Chance is not under curfew tonight, so he enjoys a rare opportunity to eat a sit-down dinner with his family.
Table talk is the usual, with Melissa prying the kids for info about school and each of them deflecting with minimal answers, but Chance enjoys it nonetheless. He spends most of the dinner catching up on the lives of his children, on the things they or Melissa haven’t told him (or he hasn’t remembered).
Maintaining family life while working in the NFL is a tightrope Chance has walked for years. It’s something he and Melissa got used to early in their relationship, and it has never, in Chance’s opinion, put a serious strain on their marriage. But as his children are growing up, it is wearing on him.
Both the Knights and the Phillips family, he begins to suspect, need a fully committed Chance Phillips to thrive, a commitment only one can receive. With what’s on the horizon, however, it won’t be long before that happens.
The bus leaves the hotel on schedule, making the short drive to Farmers Field, where men in suits get off and head for the locker room, purple jerseys waiting for them.
Players hit the field for warm ups and return to the locker room to put on pads. Bishop does so nervously, trying to think about today’s playbook (which features him more than most games this year) when his phone lights up.
“Hello?” he says.
“Water broke!” Ashley says, sounding panicked and excited.
Logan’s heart pounds. His eyes dart around the locker room. Of course this happens today. Of course. He spent the better part of last night thinking about what he would do in this exact situation, so he already knows his decision.
A few players notice as Bishop runs off toward the coaches, then comes running back, gathering a few of his things and taking off before anyone can talk to him. A minute later, Harden addresses the players, most of whom are still getting padded up.
“Logan’s off to the hospital,” he says. “Ashley’s going into labor and we should have a baby Bishop by the time this game’s over. Just so there’s no bullshit, I would have made Logan go if he asked to stay. Anyone got a problem with that?”
More than a few players find the concept of bailing on a game this close to kickoff uncomfortable, but none of them vocalize that feeling.
“Good,” Harden says, going back to the coaches, where McKenzie has gathered the entire offensive staff to dissect the playbook. “The hell’s the matter?”
“This is bad,” McKenzie says. “Half the playbook needs to be scrapped. We drew up so many plays with him in the blocking scheme, and I don’t feel comfortable sliding Arcana into that role.”
“Stop bitching, Mac. You’re the goddamn coach. Figure it out.”
Ashley walks through the crowded hallway, nurses and patients flying by, with Logan at her side. The doctors encouraged her to walk up and down the halls to speed things along, but she doesn’t feel any closer. After a few more steps, they reach her room again.
“Another lap?” Logan asks.
“I don’t know. Isn’t the doctor about due to come around?”
Logan feels his phone buzz and looks down. “Oh, my brother’s here.”
“Great! Go say hi, I’ll wait here.”
“It’ll be fine.”
“Be back in a minute.”
He kisses her on the cheek and scurries to the waiting area, where among a set of couches sit two unrelated men. Logan approaches the one closest to him, who doesn’t see him coming, eyes fixated on some nearby object.
Victor Bishop looks up, sees his older brother, and rises from the couch. Logan hugs him before he can brace himself.
“Good to see you,” Logan says.
“This game, man,” Victor says, pointing to a nearby TV.
Logan looks up and sees the Panthers/Knights broadcast. The scoreboard shows a 14-0 lead for Carolina, and the camera cuts to a shot of Coach Harden screaming at someone. Logan looks away.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” he says.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. How’s Ashley?”
“Five centimeters dilated, so, soon.”
“Oh man, I got here just in time. Awesome.”
“Mom and Dad on their way?”
“Yeah, they just left the house a few minutes ago, actually.”
“Good, so they should make it. Listen, I’m gonna go check on Ashley. Text me when they’re here and I’ll come out if I can.”
“Okay, great. Well, good luck, man.”
The brothers shake hands and embrace one more time, and Logan disappears down the hallway. Victor falls onto the couch, and the happiness he feels for his brother wanes in favor of frustration at the football game.
With three seconds before halftime, the Knights line up for a forty-two-yard field goal. Everyone on the home team’s sideline stands, wanting to get to the locker room as soon as possible.
After a good snap and hold, McCabe boots it from the right hash. The kick sails wide left, missing the upright by about ten yards.
“That figures,” Harden grumbles to himself as he removes his headset. Fans around the stadium boo with the Knights trailing, 17-6.
Harden enters the locker room, and he can feel the frustration in the air, a feeling the Knights have experienced only once this year. A historic comeback saved them then; today, Harden has no idea what it will take. Before he can gather his defensive coaches, McKenzie walks up to him.
“This is a nightmare,” McKenzie says.
“We’re only down eleven.”
“Every play I call they’ve got the perfect defense for. We need to scrap everything.”
“Then do it. I look like I coach on your side of the ball? And the offense has looked like dog shit since kickoff. You’re just figuring out adjustments now?”
“That’s not fair, Merle. Haven’t you been paying attention on the sideline?”
“I’m busy on defense. Don’t break my fucking balls, Mac.”
Harden walks away and finds his defensive staff. They have no good ideas, of course, so Harden figures the second half will provide continued suffering.
The Panthers get the ball, and Cam Newton moves the chains with ease, as he has all afternoon. The Knights, with a predictably dominant Grantzinger and a surprisingly productive Harrington/Brock rotation, have gotten plenty of pass rush, but Newton’s scrambling ability has negated it. Of the Panthers’ 12 first downs in the first half, 6 came thanks to Newton’s legs.
The Panthers reach midfield. Newton hands off to Jonathan Stewart on third and short, and Randall explodes through the line, crushing Stewart with a vicious hit that rouses the crowd.
“Oh!” Harden yells. “At least someone came to play today!”
Any momentum from Randall’s hit is squashed when a perfect coffin corner punt pins the Knights on their own one-yard line. McKenzie calls a few Jameson runs to get some space, then Maverick throws incomplete, and the Knights punt it back.
Harden’s defense finally remembers how to play football, and the Panthers endure their first three-and-out of the day. With less terrible field position, the Knights get something going. McKenzie isn’t being too creative; he’s confident his original game plan can work, Bishop’s absence be damned.
Maverick drops back near midfield on play-action, and the pass blocking picks up a blitz perfectly. Maverick steps up and bombs it for Wilkes, in single coverage. Wilkes catches the pass and outmuscles the helpless defender easily, waltzing into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day. Farmers Field screams in celebration with the Knights back in the game.
Lining up to go for two again, Maverick gets the defense to jump on a hard count, putting the ball on the one, and Jameson punches it in. 17-14, Panthers.
The Knights defense looks renewed, and the Panthers are on the verge of another three-and-out. On third and eight, Newton drops back and pressure flushes him left, running towards the Knights sideline. Harden backs up as Newton runs for the first-down marker, but with Flash closing, he won’t get there. Flash hits Newton on the edge of the field, and he falls out of bounds about two yards short. Harden starts clapping until he sees a yellow flag hit the ground.
“What the fuck?!” he says, running up to the nearest official. “That’s in the field of play! The fucking ball wasn’t even out of bounds when he hit him!”
The rest of the sideline protests too, to no avail. The personal foul gives the Panthers a first down, suddenly approaching midfield.
“Unreal,” Harden says to himself. “This guy hasn’t gotten one call all year. Today, they decide to call everything. Fucking assholes.”
Harden crosses his arms and watches as the Panthers grind out a few more first downs and Graham Gano makes a forty-yard field goal, extending the deficit to 20-14 as the third quarter ends. Above the stadium, the clouds from the first half have cleared up, and the sun beats down on the field in what is surely the hottest day of November. Just let this game end already, Harden finds himself thinking with sweat trickling down his neck.
In crunch time now, McKenzie gives in to his instincts and operates an all-out passing attack. The Knights offense has been at its best in those situations anyway. Still, Bishop’s absence means the five-receiver sets won’t work. Instead, the Knights send out four receivers with NesSmith in the backfield. NesSmith is a mediocre runner but a better receiver out of the backfield than Jameson, and his pass blocking has improved a lot over the last year.
Despite the shift in formation, Maverick has every nuance mastered. Blitz? Check it down to Johnson. Blanket coverage? Roll out and run or hit NesSmith on the option route. Cover two? Wilkes deep over the middle. Cover three? Harper or Watson toward the sideline.
Maverick puts his knowledge on display, throwing darts all over the field and gaining yardage in large chunks. Confidence filters back into the stadium with each first down, and the crowd has reason to celebrate when a highlight reel sideline grab by Harper puts the Knights into Panthers’ territory.
Maverick drops back against a blitz. He can’t see Johnson in the flat, so he scurries out of the pocket. Ready to run with green grass in front of him, he looks downfield and sees Watson wide open. He fires it as hard as he can toward the corner of the end zone. Watson slows down to stay in bounds with a defender closing, lets the pass hit him on the chest, and gets tackled. The ball is still clutched against his jersey, and he spikes it on the ground once the officials declare a touchdown.
Despite the tied score, Harden gives McKenzie the green light for a two-point conversion. Maverick lines up under center in a bunch formation. The Panthers make it clear they’re doubling Wilkes, so Maverick takes the snap and looks right. Harper breaks on his route, but he’s covered. Under pressure, Maverick has nowhere to go with the ball and just throws it out of the back of the end zone. Fans boo angrily; the Knights just cost themselves the lead with unnecessary aggression.
“Damn,” McKenzie says, knowing that Maverick normally would check that down to an open Bishop, and the Knights would put two points on the board.
Maverick reaches the sideline and says to McKenzie, shaking his head, “If only we had—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” McKenzie says. “Don’t worry; he’s having more fun than we are.”
An arduous, emotional round of screaming culminates, and while neither Logan nor Ashley think to look at a clock, the doctors and nurses have this procedure down to a science. And so, on November 27, 2016, at 3:16pm Pacific time, Eli Nathaniel Bishop officially enters the world.
To Logan, everything happens quickly and slowly at the same time. The nurses perform a million tests, it seems, but Eli gets bundled up and placed in his mother’s arms. His heart rate, breathing, and all physical functions are normal, so he stays there. Logan and Ashley enjoy their first moments as parents, though Ashley is beyond exhausted. She fights it, and Logan doesn’t protest with the doctors giving her a clean bill of health as well.
Eli is too tiny to tell for sure, but Logan thinks he looks more like Ashley. It will probably be years before they know whom he resembles more, of course. Logan thinks about other things he’ll experience in the future—first words, learning to walk, teaching him football. They all seemed like dreams months ago, minutes ago, but now that he can see his son, now that he can feel his skin, they seem much different.
The medical procedures wrap up, and the new parents reluctantly give Eli away to take his place in the nursery. Ashley falls asleep almost instantly, so Logan sends for his parents. The new grandparents admire Eli from behind the nursery glass, between hugs and tears of congratulations and joy.
Victor is next, and Logan is so dazed he doesn’t notice the distressed look on his brother’s face.
“Yo,” Victor says, “the game—”
“Not right now,” Logan says. “Say hello to your nephew.”
He points through the glass, gives a few details, and Victor finds baby Eli in the crowd.
“He’s beautiful, man,” Victor says. “Congratulations.”
They exchange an awkward handshake that turns into a firm hug. Logan tells him to come back in a little while.
Those minutes go quickly for Logan despite not much happening. Ashley rests, and Eli cries in the nursery, still fully healthy. Logan makes a point of thanking the doctors and nurses one more time.
The euphoria begins to fade, and Logan decides it’s time for football again. Logan makes his way toward the waiting area, where he sees Victor pacing nervously, tapping away at his phone. They make eye contact, and Victor pockets the phone.
“Okay,” Logan says. “Fill me in.”
“Well,” Victor says, stumbling over his words, “there, um…”
“Did we win?”
“Yeah, we won, 27-23, but…”
“But? What happened?”
Victor looks around. “We should probably head to the south side of the hospital.”
“Because that’s where the emergency room is.”
Panthers 23, Knights 20, 4:32 to play. After a Carolina punt sails out of bounds, officials spot the ball on the Los Angeles thirty-two. The Knights are about thirty yards from a game-tying field goal and exactly sixty-eight yards from a game-winning touchdown.
“Let’s go, men!” Harden says to the offense as they run onto the field. He’s about fed up with this game, and he can’t take overtime. They need to win it here or be done with it.
Maverick drops back and hits Harper on consecutive completions. The Panthers have shaded increasingly towards Wilkes this quarter, which is fine. The Knights have enough receiving threats to go around.
Hurrying the pace with the clock ticking, Maverick gets everyone lined up, the entire stadium on edge. He goes through his cadence, working a hard count again. A white jersey jumps into the neutral zone. Penner snaps the ball, and Maverick takes a deep drop with a free play. He tracks Wilkes, steps up, and gets crushed, holding onto the ball.
Harden takes a few steps onto the field, not seeing a flag. “OFFSIDES! OFFSIDES!”
Officials spot the ball for second and seventeen as an incredulous Maverick pleads with the referee.
“HE WAS OVER THE GODDAMN LINE!” Harden yells as officials and coaches usher him back onto the sideline. He keeps working the refs as McKenzie calls the next play.
Feeling his throat dry, Harden tries to relax. But his heart keeps pounding, and it feels like he’s got a wad of mucus in his throat. Breaths escape his mouth as gasps. Gasps become coughs.
He walks toward a nearby table for some water. By the time he gets there, his hand trembles as he grabs the cup. He subconsciously blocks a hard cough with his hand, and he blinks repeatedly, feeling lightheaded and seeing a spat of blood covering his hand.
Players and coaches nearby witness Harden looking strangely at his hand before he stumbles, his face as white as the chalk lines on the field, and he falls to the ground.