Football is not what it used to be. During my golden years, AKA the Great Depression, we were all in it for the brain injuries. My own greatest hope was to achieve the American Dream: play a phenomenal game of ‘ball and pass away shortly afterwards.
Everything about football was more intense back in the day, especially in my home state of Kansas. Our field was the entire Dust Bowl. Our quarterback Pete was a small tornado we recruited after our original quarterback died in a different tornado. Our football was a football stuffed with dust. That was mostly an aesthetic choice.
The biggest game of my life ended in a ten-person pile-up. A windstorm was touching down in the next town over, and 60mph gusts were whipping up our dust-field. Pete was even quieter than usual, which was unsettling. The other fellows were struggling as well: our running-back Marvin had Dust Lung, which is like pneumonia but with more dust, and our wide-receiver Thom had a nasty case of Dust Cancer. That was our name for normal cancer.
Before the game, my father said to me, “Son, you know what you have to do.” He meant die and lighten the financial burden on my starving family. More than anything, I wanted to make Father proud—but despite my best efforts, I failed to kick the bucket during the consecutive football seasons of ‘34, ‘35, and ‘36. I spent the 1937 season in a coma, but unfortunately recovered just in time for the 1938 season. The shape of my head would never be the same, and neither would Sunday dinner.
While I was in my coma, I had this brilliant dream: in it, I run through the dust, kicking up clouds of the stuff with my feet. This other fellow charges towards me, head-on. We both lower our skulls and prepare for the Moment of Impact, fingers crossed that it will be gory and slow. I close my eyes. My parents and siblings cheer in the stands. “Blood!” my kid-sister yells. “We want blood!” A quiet prayer slips past my lips—and dust slips in, like it does every time I open my mouth. The other runner is ten feet away now, five, two—one. “End my life,” he shouts, death-lust thick in his raspy Dust Lung voice.
We miss, though, somehow. In the stands, each member of my dream-family sheds a single grimy tear—and I will have to eat dust for dinner. That’s not a punishment, though. That’s just daily life in the Bowl.