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Saturday morning I went about the chore of moving.
Like my campus apartment, the basement of the house where I’d be living was fully furnished. It was more one large room than an apartment. The bathroom was in a separate room, but that was all.
One corner had a sofa, chair, a table and television. Another corner was a complete kitchen set-up; small, but it had everything I needed.
A huge, king-sized bed took up most of the space in another corner. My first reaction upon seeing the bed was “Great! It’s big enough for Denny to sleep comfortably.”
I sadly realized I’d be sleeping in it alone. No Denny – No Lane – only me.
I focused on the job at hand. It was impossible to shut-out the fact I’d lost two boyfriends in one day, but I did the best I could.
Since I didn’t have any furniture to move, the hardest part was the massage table. It took me an hour to take it apart then I struggled carrying the heavy sections and loading them in my car.
I moved the pieces into my new place, but decided against setting it up. What was the point? Denny and Lane would never be over here, and besides, I remembered the last thing Mr. Hanson said to me: “Maybe you can give me a massage on that table of yours!”
That creep couldn’t have been serious, could he? The very thought of my hands massaging his flabby flesh made my skin crawl.
No, I thought. Keep the table out of sight.
Even though my new place was only a mile from campus, traffic was at a near standstill because of the football game that afternoon. I finally packed the car with my last load and was ready to begin a new life when my curiosity got the best of me.
I decided to forego the traffic and walk the three blocks to the stadium to see for myself what was going on. Once the game started, there would be less traffic and an easier drive to my new place.
Headlines in the news the past couple of days screamed about a group of evangelical Christian protestors who were going to picket outside the stadium. They were demanding that Denny be kicked-off the team because he is gay.
Even though I’d been moving and working up a sweat, I hadn’t showered or shaved. I figured I’d try my new shower when I was finished.
I wore a ballcap pulled low over my eyes. As I was leaving I saw myself in the mirror and was instantly reminded of Lane. My heart stirred; I felt very lonely.
When I was close to the stadium, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The usual hordes of people were milling about the vendors and casually strolling into the entrance gates. When I made the walk around the far-side of the stadium I saw all the commotion.
Dozens of bright television lights and cameras were pointing at a small area. My view was blocked so I slowly squirmed and twisted my way thru the crowd until I was in the front row – one of the advantages of having a smallish body.
There was a group of eight people, holding signs, basking in the attention the media was showering on them. I looked around and estimated there were fifty reporters and technicians giving eight people national and world-wide attention.
All of their signs said the same thing: GOD HATES FAGS. The banner behind them shouted: DENNY JOHNSON IS A BLASPHEMOUS HOMOSEXUAL.
It was the most ludicrous thing I’d ever seen in my young life. The longer I stared, the more my blood began to boil. I wanted to rush them and tear the signs out of their gnarled fingers.
I could not believe the attention the media was giving this tiny group of bigots, homophobes and hate-mongers.
Whatever happened to reporters covering ‘real’ news? It seemed to me the media was here to promote a circus to raise ratings, news value be damned.
This ‘religious’ group was well-known around the country protesting gays, abortions and birth control. They created a media storm wherever they went.
Rational people wondered why the media treated a tiny group of extremists as news.
The ‘minister’ in charge of this ‘flock’ was a loud-mouthed crackpot who discovered early-on the more outrageous and crazy the rhetoric – the more media coverage he received.
Even the journalism majors I knew at school agreed the major media had become an embarrassing joke with their non-stop coverage of non-important-non-events.
I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder and heard an ominous voice behind me.
“John, what are you doing here?”
The hair on my neck stood straight – chills ran up-and-down my spine. I knew that voice and it scared the hell out of me. No, it wasn’t Mr. Hanson; the voice belonged to someone much more sinister.
I turned and saw his face. He looked older than the last time I saw him.
“Oh…uh, ‘hi’ dad…” I said.
“How have you been, son? Your mother’s been trying to reach you but you never return her calls,” he said in that stern voice of his.
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell him the truth. I didn’t want to admit that I had nothing to talk about with either one of them; that they bursa escort wouldn’t understand my life any more than I understood theirs.
“I know you’ve been very busy…” he said.
What did he mean by that? Uh oh-does he know what’s been going on in my life?
“…what with school and your tutoring,” he finished.
I sighed in relief. He didn’t know anything. His golfing buddy, Professor Van Dyke, apparently hadn’t told him what was happening in my life.
He squinted at my ballcap and unshaven face and I waited for him to criticize my appearance.
“Are you going to the game?” he asked instead.
“No, ah…I just wanted to see this for myself,” I said, motioning at the circus.
He shook his head and said, “What a sorry spectacle…”
We had a moment of awkward silence. I was sad that I had nothing to say to my own father.
“You know, Thanksgiving is next week – mother is expecting you at three…why don’t you come early and watch the football games with me,” he said.
I was stunned! He never said that before; he and my brother always watched the games together.
“Uh, yeah sure, dad,” I replied.
There was something different about him. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but he was definitely not acting like himself.
“Do you want to go to the game? Charley’s not coming today,” he said. Charley was his friend; they went to every game together. “I have his ticket – you want to go?”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to go, but his face had lit up when he asked me.
Before I could answer he said, “Aw, you’re probably too busy…I don’t want to take you away from anything important.”
Truth be told, if he had just offered me the ticket I would have said ‘no’, but his last comment sounded almost like a plea for me to go to the game with him. I wondered what was going on for him to sound so desperate and pitiful.
“Yeah, sure – I’m not doing anything – I’d like that,” I said, with as much feigned enthusiasm I could muster.
I had one carload left and my move would be complete. It could wait until after the game.
I pulled the bill of my cap lower over my eyes and followed closely behind my dad thru the crowd with my head down.
Paranoid much? I thought. I had scoured the internet and so far hadn’t found the photos Mr. Hanson had shown me of me and Denny and Lane. There was no reason anyone should recognize me here.
My dad bought us hot dogs and cokes then we went to our seats which were almost on the fifty yard line. I’d been here before with him and loved the location of his season tickets seats. They weren’t too high up or too close; we had a perfect view of the entire field.
We munched our hot dogs in silence. My dad was a gregarious man with his friends, but always quiet with me. I thought it was sad we had nothing to say to each other.
The stadium rapidly filled. The adrenaline began flowing inside me.
It always excited me watching a game in person. The fresh air, the closeness with the people around you, the crowd noise, and the sense of camaraderie among the spectators made me feel alive.
I glanced at the far end zone where the students sat. There was a big campaign to get all the students to wear Gold jerseys to the game. Our colors were Maroon & Gold and there was a sea of Gold in the student section.
I briefly thought, like I always did, how strange it was the students had the worst seats for viewing the games. This was OUR school and OUR team yet we were relegated to the cheap seats. Oh well…
The stadium announcer came on the PA system and I felt my nerves twitch. I knew what was next: the introduction of the players, and I was wondering how the crowd would react to Denny’s name.
All of the players received hearty cheers and when the announcer finally called out “Wide Receiver – Denny Johnson” I swore there was a split second of total silence before the crowd reacted.
A cacophony of jeers and boos filled my ears from the old fogies surrounding me, but then I heard it. My fellow students didn’t let me down. A huge roar of approval from the student section drowned out the naysayers.
I was so happy to hear them my eyes misted over.
“Godless liberals…” I heard a man say from behind me.
His neighbor immediately said, “Maybe when they grow up they’ll know the difference between right-and-wrong!”
“I can’t believe they’re letting Johnson play,” said the first bigot.
“I can’t believe he’s still on the team!” replied the second one.
My dad remained silent through it all. I snuck a peak at him to see if he was alright.
Normally he would have been leading the chorus of boos. The look on his face scared me – he looked sad. His eyes were distant; somewhere else. The look of sorrow on his face frightened the hell out of me. He was deep in thought. I instantly knew what was bothering him.
OH MY GOD – HE KNOWS ABOUT ME! HE KNOWS MY DIRTY LITTLE SECRET!!
He had to, why else would he be so quiet and görükle escort act so strange?
When everyone stood for the national anthem I followed my dad’s lead by taking off the ballcap, placing it over my heart and bowing my head. The difference being I bowed my head so no one could see my face.
When the game started my jittery nerves calmed down and a thrill of excitement raced up my spine. I was glad I came. It felt good to be sitting with my dad at a ballgame again.
‘Their team’ got the ball first and methodically marched down the field and scored a touchdown. It was a sloppy drive for our defense; missing tackles and allowing their receivers to get wide open.
‘Our team’ was a twenty-eight point favorite but they sliced thru our defense like a knife thru warm butter. They made it look easy.
When we got the ball our offense didn’t look any better than the defense. We ran it three straight then punted. On the next drive, ‘they’ once again rammed the ball down our throats and scored another touchdown. The crowd began to get restless.
Our notoriously high-powered offense fizzled in the first quarter. When Todd threw the ball it wasn’t to Denny, and the ball was either dropped, or the gains minimal. At the start of the second quarter Todd finally threw to Denny and the ball went thru his hands.
He should have caught it – he normally would have caught it. The assholes sitting behind me began their running commentary.
“Johnson’s killing us – they gotta get him out of there!”
“He’s killing the whole team – it looks like nobody wants to play with him!”
Just before halftime, we were losing 17-0, but driving the field. On third-and-eight, Denny faked-out a defender so badly the defender fell to the ground. Denny was wide-open in the end zone. Todd threw a perfect spiral to him and somehow, someway – Denny dropped it. We had to settle for a field goal.
A huge groan went up from the student section. The two guys behind me screamed.
‘GET THE FAGGOT OUTTA THERE!”
“QUEERS DON’T BELONG IN FOOTBALL!”
“FAGBOY HAS RUINED THE TEAM!”
Through it all both my dad and I stayed silent. At halftime we were losing 17-3.
My dad and I went to the men’s room then bought some popcorn and returned to our seats. Everywhere we went, the topic of debate was that Denny shouldn’t be playing; he’s detrimental to the team.
I was furious with these idiots but didn’t say a word.
We got the ball first in the third quarter. Denny was playing, but Todd never threw to him. We grinded out a couple first downs running the ball then the drive stalled and we had to punt.
That was how the entire quarter went; we couldn’t move the ball, but luckily, our defense held them to just a field goal. Going into the fourth quarter we were losing 20-3 to a team that had won only one game all season.
Our first drive in the fourth quarter was more of the same. Three runs then a punt. The crowd was getting ugly – even the students joined in the chorus of boos.
The guy behind me yelled, “THIS IS GOD’S PUNISHMENT-FAGS DON’T BELONG ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD!!”
I’d never been so mad yet so helpless. I couldn’t make a scene in front of my dad and besides, nothing I could say would change anyone’s mind. These people would be stuck with their bigoted beliefs their whole lives.
When our offense came off the field I watched in amazement as Todd ripped off his helmet and got in the face of the offensive coordinator. Todd was screaming at his coach. He was livid; he gesticulated wildly with his arms and hands as he shouted. Two players had to pull Todd away from the coach.
Todd stormed over to Denny who was sitting by himself on the far end of the bench. He looked as though he was barking instructions to Denny.
Denny listened then vigorously nodded his head and suddenly stood. He and Todd high-fived and Todd went to the offensive linemen and began shouting at them. He was obviously giving everyone a pep talk and by the player’s reaction, it seemed to be working – they all began pumping their fists in the air, and we could all hear them shouting grunts of encouragement to one another.
The other team punted and we started the next drive on our own ten yard line. As the offense ran out on the field the offensive coordinator was shouting at Todd but Todd wasn’t listening. Todd waved him off with a dismissive gesture.
Todd was a master play caller. He engineered a classic drive with a mixture of runs to keep the defense off-guard, with pinpoint precision passing. Denny caught six passes on that drive alone with the touchdown to Denny coming on a beautiful five-yard fade route in the corner of the end zone.
We were now down 20-10, and the drive inspired our defense. They forced a three-and-out and the other team had to punt again.
The crowd came alive; everyone sensed something special was happening here.
Their defense employed a three-deep zone forcing Todd to throw shorter passes. They were going bursa escort bayan to make Todd fight the clock; they were virtually giving us ten-fifteen yard passes, but time was becoming a critical factor. We still had to score twice, and these drives were becoming very time-consuming.
With four minutes to go, Todd lobbed a pass high into the end zone. We’d all seen this play before. It was a ‘jump-ball’ between Denny and two defenders and Denny somehow came down with it for a touchdown. With the extra point we were now down by three, 20-17.
The fickle crowd that had been loudly booing just moments ago was now cheering madly. When the defense forced another punt and our offense took over on our own twenty-five yard line everyone in the stadium stood to watch the drive.
There was less than three minutes to go; a field goal would tie the game – a touchdown would win it.
Once again, Todd moved the ball at will, but this was when the referees stepped in and began calling penalties – all of them on us: One of the ‘holds’ was obvious, but two more ‘holds’ and an offensive pass interference call were blatantly unfair.
Denny caught a sideline pass, stepped out of bounds, and was hit hard by a defensive back knocking him into the other team’s bench. It was clearly a late hit but the ref’s ignored it. Now the fans were in an uproar. I’d never heard it so loud in the stadium before.
The clock was running down. It seemed like every time we gained twenty yards we were penalized ten. With fifteen seconds left in the game Denny caught a pass down the middle and made it to the five yard line before he was tackled. Todd immediately called a timeout.
On the next play, Todd threw the ‘jump-ball’ into the end zone. Denny was virtually mugged by two defenders but came down with the ball anyway. TOUCHDOWN!!
The fans went crazy. My dad and I stood with everyone cheering and screaming. No one could believe we’d come back to take the lead under such adverse conditions.
Suddenly, a hush fell over the stadium and a huge collective groan could be heard: the ref’s had unbelievably called offensive pass interference on Denny!
When everyone saw the replay on the JumboTron showing Denny clearly being held and shoved by the defenders the angry fans began shouting in unison “BULLSHIT—BULLSHIT—BULLSHIT…”
My dad was incensed: “Something’s wrong here – this is the worst officiating I’ve seen in my life!”
With three seconds left the coach sent in the field goal team to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Something caught my eye. Todd was the holder for all field goals so it was normal for him to be in the game. Denny was never on the field for field goal attempts, but there he was, lined-up as a blocker on the left end. Goosebumps covered my flesh; I knew something great was about to happen.
Before our opponents noticed that Denny was in the game, Todd took the snap, stood-up and lobbed a high fade into the corner of the end zone. Denny had feigned a block and ran gazelle-like to the spot where the ball should have been, but no, it was slightly overthrown and out of his reach.
As the crowd watched in frenzied anticipation, Denny stretched-out, leapt-off his feet and dove for the errant pass. The ball landed in his finger-tips, he grasped it tightly, and rolled head-over-heels in the end zone. He held onto the ball for the winning touchdown. Final score: Us-23 Them-20.
The students rushed the field. The scene was pure chaos and mayhem. Players rushed to Denny’s aide to save him from the frenzied crush of the ecstatic fans.
I watched the unfolding scene with tears in my eyes. My heart was bursting with pride and excitement. The man I loved went from pariah-to-hero with one catch of a football. I’d never felt so happy for someone in my life.
“THAT WAS THE GREATEST CATCH I’VE EVER SEEN!!” shouted one of the homophobes behind me.
“HE’S THE BEST THERE IS!!” said the second guy. “I DON’T KNOW WHY THEY DIDN’T THROW TO JOHNSON THE WHOLE GAME!!??”
I shook my head in wonderment. The rank hypocrisy of some people never failed to amaze me.
As was his custom, my dad insisted we wait in ‘The Gold Room’ while the eighty-thousand seat stadium emptied.
The Gold Room was a member’s-only bar and restaurant inside the stadium reserved for wealthy financial supporters of the university. My dad wasn’t that wealthy, but he was one of the original members when the club was founded.
After he signed me in as his guest, he walked straight towards two open seats at the bar.
“Dad,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder. “I’m not old enough to sit at the bar.”
He narrowed his eyes and said without a trace of humor, “Oh yeah, I forgot you’re still just a pup.”
We found a table and an older woman came to take our order.
“Marge,” said my dad. “I swear you look younger every week.”
She didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m worried about you, Fred – you better get your eyes checked.”
I imagined they’d said the same thing to one another each week for the past twenty years.
“I’ll have my usual, and get my son a coke, okay?” he said.
She squinted at me and said, “Maybe I should be the one to get my eyes checked – he doesn’t look like your son.”
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