I wouldn’t say he is a nerd, but he is certainly an odd duck. I wouldn’t say he is a great student, because he gets straight “C”s – and I’m serious, six classes, six “C”s, not a plus or minus among them. I wouldn’t even say Crash is a great athlete, but he is the best quarterback in South Dakota.
He’s not fast. It’s been said that he is deceptively slow and limps for no apparent reason. Crash can’t even throw a spiral, but he can throw a ball sideways 60 yards. His right arm is actually bigger than his left, like he only lifts weights with the one arm, which he does. “Seems like a waste of effort to do both,” he says.
Crash has an uncanny knack for not getting tackled. I’ve seen many a linebacker have a bead on his #9, get ready to wrap him up, to screw his head into the ground, and all the LB comes up with is air. Crash ducks or trips, regains his balance and throws, not a wounded duck but a goose with seizures. The ball wobbles just over the charging defensive end, flutters, just out of reach of the D-back, and lands in the hands of his receiver – score!
I haven’t seen it happen once; I’ve see it happen 53 times. Crash had 19 touchdown passes our sophomore year at Shindler High School – and didn’t even start until the third game of the year. He has 34 scoring passes this season alone – going into tomorrow afternoon’s state semifinal game against arch-rival Rowena High.
Crash, who claims to be a distant descendent of Napoleon Bonaparte and has the family tree documented on an Excel spreadsheet to prove it, is 5-foot-11, much taller than his second-cousin 43-times removed. Crash weighs 165 pounds, has curly dishwater blonde hair to the tip of his boney shoulders, and used to wear glasses until he bought contacts. The fact that he wears contacts would usually be so meaningless as to leave out of this important story, but for some ungodly reason only Crash knows, he chose to purchase black ones.
Some high school kids get ink (tattoos to you old-timers) to express their individuality, even though everybody else has them. Some even choose to get piercings to express their individuality, even though everybody else has them. Crash Bonaparte has eerie black contacts. Nobody else has those.
I asked him once after practice why he got them and he paused for an uncomfortable amount of time, as is his annoying tendency, and told me: “Because.”
I asked him: “Because why?”
He stared at me with those spooky black eyes and answered, perhaps honestly, but who knows with him: “Because I accidentally ordered them online when I hit the wrong button.”
“What kind did you intend to buy?” I asked.
Pause. Pause. “The ones with lightning bolts.”
“Oh,” I said.
He claims they are a blessing in disguise, as they tend to reduce the glare of the stadium lights, and that if he had bought the lightning bolts they would have increased the glare and it might have resulted in more interceptions and fewer touchdowns.
And who am I to argue with Crash? It would only lead to more confusion, as arguing with him is useless and extremely painful to the brain of anybody who tries.
Almost everybody at one time or another asks Crash what his real name is. They figure it is something exotic or so weird that he wouldn’t want to use it, but they would be wrong. His real, God-given name is Crash. Seems his mom was about eight and a half months pregnant and driving home from running errands in Sioux Falls. She was driving past a Liberty Tax office and was waving to one of those people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. Mrs. Bonaparte is a friendly woman. She’s also easily distracted and rear-ended the FedEx truck stopped at a light in front of her. The crash apparently induced labor, but no injuries. An ambulance whisked her to Sioux Valley Hospital, where Crash was born 45 minutes later. He’s still happy he wasn’t named FedEx.
Crash just turned 16 last month and is old enough to drive a car, but chooses not to. He can afford to, as he’s made more money in his part-time job than the rest of our classmates combined, but says he has no intention of ever driving an automobile. It’s not that he is some environmentalist afraid to add some exhaust to the ozone; it’s because he is afraid of squirrels. Not frightened of them like they are going to attack him or scratch or bite him. He’s afraid of running over them.
I asked about it once during some quality one-on-one time in the middle of one of our thousands of ping pong games. He told me what he considers to be his deepest darkest secret.
It seems Crash had a dream one night that his favorite singer, Miley Cyrus (yes, you heard me right), had morphed into a squirrel and Crash was driving the brand new Mustang he’d been saving for all his life, when the squirrel/Miley ran into the street and he accidentally smushed it/her. From that night on, he vowed never to own a car. Guess he didn’t want to take the chance of killing Miley – though I would swerve onto the sidewalk to do so.
So instead of buying the cherry-red Mustang, he bought a cherry-red electric scooter. And it’s no ordinary scooter. It’s a high-end, 600-watt Tiger Shark that can top out at 18 miles per hour, 19 if he’s going down hill with the wind at his back. He has deemed the Tiger Shark scooter to be “squirrel-friendly.”
But don’t make fun of Crash. He’s my best bud and I’d have to kick your butt. As his left offensive tackle, I watch his back on the field – and off. My name is Badger McDougal and tomorrow is game day. So back off.
Shindler High is the smallest school in Class 9C, which pretty much makes us the smallest school in the entire Rushmore state. There are probably smaller schools out there, but they don’t have football teams; so I don’t think they count as schools. We have 34 kids total from freshmen to seniors – 17 boys and 17 girls, which works out well for the school dances. All 17 boys play on the football team, some better than others but all pretty well. We’ve never played in a state championship game, never been to the DakotaDome. They say it’s a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Our nickname is the Snapping Turtles. Yep. When our school honor roll is printed in the newspaper, it’s called Shindler’s List. Yep. Our school color (not colors) is brown. Our football uniforms are all brown, pants, jerseys and helmets. We look like crap, but we don’t play like it.
People used to make fun of us because of our uniforms and because we played so badly while wearing them. They don’t mock us for that reason anymore. Now about the only thing they have on us is our school building. We don’t have a brand spanking new school spread over 20 acres with water fountains and archways leading into it. We don’t have a fancy mural painted on our gymnasium walls. Heck, we don’t even have air conditioning.
As if you didn’t already know, our school is located in the former Shindler elevator – you know, the place where farmers sold their corn and beans. Our old school burned down 12 years ago. Fortunately, for us, but not so much so for area farmers, the elevator went out of business about the same time. Our school board bought it from the bank for $1. Smart folks those school board members are.
There are four small rooms in the old office portion of the elevator. The principal and secretary have the tiniest room, which Principal Potter likes, but his smokin’ hot secretary Miss Tate not so much. The other three rooms are for math/science, English/literature, history/government. The computer lab is in one of the storage bins, while industrial arts/shop is in another storage bin. The third bin is the teachers’ lounge. The metal bins work pretty well until about April, when your average sunny 70-degree day pumps the temperature up into triple digits, and don’t even get me started on the month of May. Needless to say we don’t have many fat teachers – not anymore anyway.
I’m pretty sure we have the hottest, dustiest and tallest school in South Dakota, so that’s something.
I was sitting on the endgate of my 1986 Dodge Ram with Tena Swenson, our foreign exchange student from Sweden, waiting for Crash before school.
I say “our” foreign exchange student, not like we owned her or anything, but because she had kind of adopted us. Tena actually adopted Crash because she said he seemed so “European” – whatever that means – and I was just there as part of the package deal. Crash and I are kind of a buy-one-get-one-free kind of thing like LeBron James and Duane Wade or, more aptly, SpongeBob and Patrick.
Wearing my brown #99 jersey, I was anxious to show Crash the catch from my morning trap run – three muskrats and a mink – and was equally anxious to watch Tena freak out when I pulled the tarp off their corpses.
We didn’t say much, me and Tena, as we sat there like Israelites waiting for Moses. Finally we heard the buzz of his scooter and saw him turn the corner, decked out in his dorky black bike helmet and gray parka.
Crash never got to school more than a minute before the final bell, because he worked until the last possible second. He had a different job than any other kid I knew. It wasn’t mowing at the golf course or sacking groceries at the store. Crash was an on-line day-trader. I don’t have the slightest clue about it, except that he says he can get a half hour’s worth of work done before school because the markets open an hour earlier on the East Coast. It’s the darnedest thing.
Crash even has one of those Blackberry things, not just your average flip phone like the rest of us, and when a particular stock he’s bought reaches a certain level he gets an automated email telling him such. So at various times of the day, when his pocket vibrates, he asks the teacher if he can go to the bathroom but instead runs down to the school library or just into the hall and gets on the Internet to buy or sell whatever he’s got going on. He actually had his doctor write a note to the principal claiming Crash has a bladder condition, so all the teachers let him go whenever he asks. They think he has a weak adolescent bladder, but actually he is pulling in more coin in a week than they do.
It works quite well for me too, as I give him all my trapping money and he’s parlayed that into about 10 times what I would normally have. My mom thinks I’m dealing drugs. For all I know I could be but they’d be Pfizer or Merck.
This morning’s trading must have been good because he had an exceptionally goofy grin as he pulled in next to us.
Most guys might be a little tense or nervous on game day, but I knew better than to ask Crash if he was as wound up as I was. He didn’t get nervous – just wasn’t in him. We could be standing on top of a burning building at midnight and rather than scream for help he’d be more apt to look around and say: “Hey, Badger, look to the north-northwest and you can see the Big Dipper.”
There is only one thing that gets Crash upset, and that’s losing. He is the worst, sorest loser I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often. It doesn’t matter if it is ping pong, football or trading stocks; he is an absolute idiot when he loses. Crash still hasn’t gotten over our only loss of the season, in the second game of the year. It turned out to be the reason we were playing on the road tonight and not hosting the playoff game.
It’s a long, strange story, but, hey, that’s why you are reading this crap. Right?
It was a Saturday afternoon game against the Norway Center Sardines and I’d finally convinced Crash to go out with me the night before to teach him how to shoot pistols.
We went out to my dad’s pasture and I set up some targets. I gave Crash a couple ear plugs and we got blasting.
After we’d each fired off about 20 rounds from my dad’s .357, I turned to him and said: “We’d better head in. It’s getting dark.”
Crash looked at me and screamed in his nasally voice: “What?”
I said: “We better get back.”
He screamed again: “What?”
I hollered as loud as I could: “Take out your ear plugs!”
When he pulled them out of his nose, I knew we were in trouble. Unbeknownst to me, he’d put them in his nose instead of his ears, because, as he would later claim, he thought they were to keep him from inhaling gun smoke.
Crash was still deaf as a bat at noon the next day, two hours before kickoff, so he devised another of his genius schemes. It would not have been a problem running the plays in and out from the sideline to the huddle, but the problem was Crash hearing what the play was. And we couldn’t exactly holler it to him, as odds are the other team hadn’t been out the night before shooting pistols with ear plugs stuck in their nose and would hear us.
So Crash thought it would be cool if he used his Blackberry to get plays. Coach borrowed another Blackberry from the doctor in town, and Coach emailed the plays in to Crash and we would all read the play off that. Then Crash would stuff the Blackberry down the front of his pants, run the play, and we went on to stuff Norway Center 52-0.
All was good, as Crash’s hearing began to return on Monday, just in time for the announcement from Coach that we had to forfeit the game because the Sardines’ coach heard one of our fans bragging about our system. He turned us in to the South Dakota High School Activities Association and some tight-ass there said it was illegal and made us forfeit.
Crash went home, made a fat cardboard silhouette of the Norway Center coach, came over to my house and fired 50 rounds through the .357 – pretty much turning the cardboard cutout into confetti.
The good news is – he stuck the ear plus in the right holes this time. After all, Crash is no dummy.
Coach Ed “Fitz” Fitzpatrick is in his third season as the Snapping Turtles coach. He came to us after retiring from a stellar 40-year coaching career at some school in Boston. They say he was the second-winningest coach in the history of Massachussetes.
The old Irishman says he moved to South Dakota to get some fresh air and catch walleyes. After a year of sitting in a boat pretty much non-stop, he got sick of fishing, sold his boat and announced his intentions to take over one of the worst football programs in the state so he could turn it around and show he “still had it.” Shindler won the bidding war between Sturgis and Mitchell.
Rumor has it the deal-maker was an unlimited tab at Stan’s Corner Bar. Stanley Tucker is the team’s biggest booster and swears on a stack of Field and Stream magazines that he would never engage in such underhanded and immoral recruiting tactics, and the nosey Activities Association wasn’t able to prove such, so Coach is our coach. It’s just coincidence that nobody has ever seen Coach pay for a beer at Stan’s despite going through about a case of Sam Adams a week.
Despite the massive hops intake, Coach remains a fit and wirey 155 pounds. His temper still goes from 0 to 60 in four seconds and his players would run through a brick wall for him. He loves us and we love him. But man can that dude yell.
Coach always wears his Red Sox cap backwards and pulled down tight to his baggy ears. He is apparently oblivious to South Dakota winters, or maybe his blood always has enough of Stanley’s anti-freeze in it, as every day he sports a plain white t-shirt, black shorts, sweat socks pulled up just below his knees and white Nike running shoes – not very original but a morning time-saver for him for sure.
After seven winless Turtle seasons, Coach Fitzpatrick came on the scene and we won two games his first year, then four the second year and now we are 9-1 and a game away from playing for the state title. Thank you, Stanley Tucker. Wink, wink.
Crash flicked down his kickstand next to us, took off his helmet, gave me some knuckles and Tena a “hey babe.” She swooned. I rolled my eyes.
It’s not that I’m jealous of Crash. I just can’t figure out girls and am sure I’m not alone in that confusion. It’s just that Tena doesn’t give me a second look. Sure, I’m no Brad Pitt, but I’m not a chunk of hamburger either. I’m 6-5, 240, with long sandy brown Kid Rock hair. Not fat, pretty muscular in fact. I’ve won the battle against acne, a two-year war with Clearasil and Proactive as my only allies. Still, nada attention from her. Only thing I can figure is that it’s my right index finger, or more precisely, the lack of one. I lost that in a hair-trigger raccoon trap. I subsequently lost my job as center on the football team, as it’s pretty much impossible to hike the ball accurately without one and was moved to tackle. I’m hoping to catch me one of those handicap parking stickers someday, since I didn’t catch the coon.
So since I know I don’t have a chance with Tena, given her apparent disdain for the disabled, I’ve given up trying to impress her, which makes a relationship with a high school girl a lot easier. That being said, I asked Crash: “Wanna see my catch from the morning?”
Before he could answer, because he probably would have answered “no,” I flipped back the tarp covering the corpses. The muskrats and mink stared at us wide eyed. Tena returned the favor and covered her mouth.
“Ewwww!” she screamed.
“Cool,” Crash said. “Thirty bucks worth?”
“Cool,” he reiterated and began walking to our first-period class - psychology. While I prefer easing into my school day with a slack class, Miss Hewitt makes it interesting. This week we’re studying death and dying issues. I hope it’s not an omen.
The class is all juniors and seniors, 14 of us. Crash gave a peace sign salute to all as we walked in. I did the same, but not as effectively given the missing finger. Tena sat in the front row. Crash and I sat in the back between the twins – Vernon and Virgil VandeVanVanderVeldeHuesenkamp. They’re seniors, but nice to at least two underclassmen, Crash and me, because they are wide receivers on the team and like to stay in good graces with Crash so he will keep chucking them the rock.
To make matters easier with the identical twins, we call them Dutch and Old Dutch. Virgil is Old Dutch because he was born two minutes before Vernon. I can’t tell them apart so I just call them “dude” every time I see them. They are built like scare crows, about 5-10, 145 pounds, but tougher than nails – easily the roughest, meanest, soul-less guys in school and even more so on the football field.
I pretty much steer clear of them. Not because I’m afraid of them. I’m pretty sure I could take them one on one, but they don’t work like that. They come at you in pairs, like coyotes. I’ve seen them in action and it’s freaky scary. Okay, so I’m a little afraid of them.
My dad hired them once to help us shell corn. We had a crib full of ear corn and we had the job of shoveling the corn into the auger that goes into the sheller that spits out the cobs on one side and the kernels of corn into the wagon. If you’ve ever shelled corn (and who hasn’t?), then you know that when you get to the bottom of the crib, there are usually a couple rats that scamper off. Since we have the laziest cats in Lincoln County, we tend to have more rats than usual. I usually try and club them with my shovel and usually miss because they are fast and I am slow, but Dutch and Old Dutch had a different method and it caught me off guard. It was quite awe-inspiring actually.
They would see a rat, drop their shovel and lightning fast grab the rat with their gloved hands, just quick as a whip, and then they would ring their neck and toss them to the cats sitting outside the crib. I’ve never seen anything like it, not before and not since. They must’ve offed a half dozen of them. I think it even concerned my dad because he never hired them back even though they were the hardest working kids we’ve ever had on the farm. My dad keeps reminding me of that fact.
The game day dragged on incredibly slowly, as most Friday’s do, and finally seventh period came, where instead of world history we had a pep rally. We held it outdoors at the football field. The football team sat on folding chairs facing the aluminum bleachers.
It was kind of an odd spectacle as you might expect, since all 17 boys in school are on the team. That left only 17 others to take part in the pep rally, and of those, nine of them were cheerleaders, who, as the name suggests, led the other eight in cheers. So eight girls sat in the bleachers. One of them was Tena, who although she is the prettiest girl in school, is not a cheerleader.
It’s not that she didn’t want to be a cheerleader, and it’s not that it takes much to be a Snapping Turtles cheerleader. Anybody who tries out makes the squad. It’s the school rule.
Seems she showed up to try out, but that’s where it got a little sensitive. Apparently many European girls don’t shave their armpits. That’s what the Internet says anyway. And it seems Tena was living proof that everything you read on the Internet is true. She showed up at tryouts in shorts and a tank top, and Miss Mortimer, the cheerleading advisor, had a bit of a conniption fit because it looked like Tena had a squirrel under each arm. Miss Mortimer didn’t think it seemed appropriate and kindly convinced Tena that she could be better utilized cheering with the other seven girls from the bleachers – in a sweatshirt.
The pep rally took the place of the evening bon fire, which was cancelled after last year’s incident that sparked a wild fire and burned about 20 acres of Gerald Swenson’s corn field. He was a good sport and didn’t sue the school, but did issue a stern warning to the administration that they probably wouldn’t want to do that again. And they didn’t.
Coach Fitzpatrick introduced all the cheerleaders and the players, as if everybody didn’t already know everybody else. Then he asked Crash to say a few words to fire up the crowd. This was unexpected, as usually a senior does the honors, but the Dutch boys couldn’t speak four words without three of them being swear words, so he turned to Crash.
Crash seldom swears, but he also doesn’t say much, so I didn’t know what to expect. But I didn’t expect him to take the microphone and say this:
“Snapping Turtle fans of the world unite! (Fist pump)
“It is time to repel the rabid horde of Rowena Rabbits from their attempted invasion on the Dome. (Fist pump)
“We all know the story of the turtle and the hare. If you don’t, allow me to ruin the ending for you. The turtle wins! (Fist pump)
“And that’s just a regular ol’ turtle. What they don’t tell you is that the snapping turtle doesn’t just defeat the hare. He kills it. He runs over it, squishes it, flattens it like rabbit road kill, guts and brains oozing on the pavement.
“We are Snapping Turtles. We are Killer Snapping Turtles. Let’s go kill some rabbits!” (Double fist pump)
The players rushed around Crash cheering. The cheerleaders shook their pom-poms. The crowd wandered off to find their rides to the game.
You know how when a school has used their bus for 10 or 15 years and pretty much run it into the ground, then they sell it an auction? Then some aspiring rock band or church youth camp buys it for $500 and paints it white and splashes their name and logo on it and they drive it for another five years? Well, after they are done with it and it’s held together by baling wire and duct tape, that’s when the Shindler School District buys it from them for $250. Smart folks those school board members are.
So that’s how it came to be that we loaded all our gear into the cream-colored bus with “Little Disciples Bible Academy - Repent or Go to Hell” sketched in purple lettering on both sides and a giant purple image of Jesus’ face painted on the hood. It didn’t exactly strike fear into the opposing team when we pulled into their parking lot, but we are about the only team that other fans genuflect in front of. So we got that going for us.
Our bus driver is Elton Johns. He always says he’s one letter away from being famous. Elton is a retired truck driver. He’s 82 and lives with his mom who is 99. Elton once told me he hasn’t renewed his driver’s license since he got out of the penitentiary 15 years ago. Apparently our school board isn’t big on background checks.
The good thing, the only good thing, about our bus and small team is that we each get our own seat. The Dutch boys sit in the back seats, and Crash and I sit in front of them. From there, Crash holds court like Socrates. He randomly offers bits of wisdom, historical facts about the places we pass, and motivational tidbits he’s gleaned from the Internet.
Today, on this short trip, he claimed that Rowena was the birthplace of Greta Van Susteren of FOX News fame. I was pretty sure he meant Mami Van Doren, but not being big on Dutch history, I wasn’t about to argue - didn’t want to throw off his karma.
In fact, as we pulled into Rowena, I noticed a sign saying “Birthplace of Mami Van Doren.” But a little revisionist history never hurt anybody.
Rumor had it that tonight recruiters from the University of Minnesota and Iowa were on hand to see Rowena linebacker Gotfreid Johnson in action. Most everyone just calls him “Got,” since Gotfreid doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. The Rabbit cheering section was even wearing white t-shirts with black lettering saying: “Got Got?”
Gotfreid was built like a hay bale – as if a round baler had run over him and he came out the back end with his head sticking out one side of the bale and two legs out the other side. Yet he is fast and outrageously strong. Gotfried can bench press 280 and that’s not just country legend. I’ve seen it. Heck, everybody’s seen it because Rowena actually has a weight bench on their sidelines, where some teams might have an exercise bike, and during pregame and at halftime Gotfreid pompously pumps iron in front of the cheering crowd. It’s pretty obnoxious, but to our credit, nobody can out-obnoxious Crash.
So it was that the team captains gathered at midfield for the coin toss. Dutch, Old Dutch, Crash and myself represented the Snapping Turtles and Gotfreid, Boyd Jensen and Carter Ott represented the Rabbits. We all knew each other well. In fact, on any other day we’d be considered friends. Some mix of us at one time or another had hunted, canoed or chased girls together on weekends or during the summer. But none of that mattered now.
Big Dutch called “heads.” The coin came up tails. Big Dutch dropped a string of profanities and before the game had even started we received an unsportsmanlike conduct flag. Rowena deferred, so we’d get the ball first and the referee signaled such. Then Crash started talking.
“Hey, Got,” he hollered just as Gotfried started to turn away. He turned back.
“Did you see the Gophers and Hawkeyes scouts here to watch me?”
“They ain’t here to see you, geek. They’re here to see me.”
“Ya think? Apparently you don’t read. They’ve already got all their linebackers signed for next season. They’ve moved on to the juniors now – for the next year, ya know.”
“That’s a bunch of crap. They’re here to see me.” Got tapped his fists against the pair of “4”s on his jersey.
“Sorry dude. The Gophers coach texted me last night. Told me so.”
“They text you?”
“Sure. Don’t they you? They said you’re a helluva rusher, but you can’t play pass defense. And they need that when they play the Ohio States of the world.”
“Bull.” His face was turning an angry red.
“No bull, Got. Sorry. Seems they don’t think you can even handle one of the Dutch twins here, so how you gonna handle Michigan State’s wideouts?”
“Well I’ll show them!” Gotfreid hollered, spun back toward his sidelines and stormed off.
Crash turned to me and grinned. “I just made your day a lot easier.”
“But not ours,” the Dutchies said.
“Don’t worry,” Crash said as we jogged off. “He can’t cover you both. I’ll throw it to whichever one of you he’s not covering, and since he’s not rushing me, I’ll have all day back there to throw you a perfect spiral.”
“Perfect spiral,” Old Dutch chuckled. “Ya, right.”
“Don’t worry boys. Game is good as over. We’re going to the Dome.”
The way he said it, I didn’t doubt him. Neither did the Dutchies. Crash had that way about him.
The game went pretty much as Crash called it. Gotfreid fell for Crash’s lies and his imaginary conversations with the college recruiters and decided to forego the pass rush that had made him famous. Instead, Got chased the Dutch boys around the field like a lost puppy – a big puppy. Crash had gotten into his head like a tumor.
The scouts later lamented the fact that Got never rushed the passer, never recorded a sack, didn’t even try. They labeled him a head case, over-rated, and vowed never to believe the Rowena coach again if he told them he had a “can’t-miss” prospect. Got eventually earned an online degree in criminal justice from Phoenix University - his Big 10 and possible NFL career ruined by a trash-talking geek from Shindler during a coin flip. I feel a little guilty about it. Crash does not.
We scored on our first drive as Crash went four-for-four passing, hitting Old Dutch on each one, as Got chased the younger Dutch harmlessly around the field. Sophomore tailback Bobby Buffer capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle.
In the second quarter Crash connected on two scoring bombs with Dutch and we led 21-0 at halftime.
I think Coach had prepared to give us a rah-rah-win-one-for-the-Gipper halftime speech, but was caught off guard by our big lead and at a rare loss for words. He stood before us in the locker room and scratched his chin.
“Hmm,” he finally said. “You’re doing pretty good out there.”
He took off his cap and scratched his head for an uncomfortably long time before continuing. “Let’s do the same thing again.”
We all looked at Crash. He shrugged his shoulders and said: “Okay.”
It was all very business-like, right up Crash’s alley. So we did just what Coach ordered, went out in the second half and scored another 21 points, held them to none and left Shindler with an anti-climactic 42-0 win.
But to say it was anti-climactic is not to suggest we didn’t jump around like fools when the final horn sounded. We tumbled into the Little Disciples Bible Academy bus and rocked it the 20 miles home like it had never been rocked before.
We were going to the Dome!
The other 9C semifinal game pitted the Buffalo Gap Buffalo from the southwest part of the state against the Forestburg Melons from near Huron. The Melons were the top-seeded team in the state and lived up to their ranking with a 50-4 win.
We were ready for them.
The week leading up to the title game is a fun one. We were the talk of the town, heroes even. It’s not like we had the cross country team to compete with for glory. We didn’t have one. Shindler guys don’t like running any farther than to the mailbox and back. Besides, we deal in yards, not meters. Nobody on the team knows how far 5,000 meters is - only that we don’t want to run that far to find out.
So we reveled in our glory until we loaded up the bus at 5 a.m. on Saturday for our 8 a.m. game. Seems kind of goofy to be playing that early in the morning, but since South Dakota has expanded to 12 classes in football it’s a necessity.
I was a little concerned with how quiet our bus was though. Usually, we’re a pretty loosey-goosey bunch. Ninety-nine bottle of beer on the wall, and all that stuff. Not today. Seemed like we were going to a funeral. The only noise was Crash’s snoring - that is until we reached Lesterville. Then there was such an explosion, I thought we hit a landmine. Then I saw the smoke rolling out of the hood. It took about 10 seconds for the inside of the bus to become filled with black, choking smoke.
The Dutchies busted open the emergency exit, something they’d dreamed of doing for years. We caught the players, coaches and bus drivers as they did all sorts of dives out the back door. Coach Fitzpatrick was the last one out and immediately did a head count on all the players.
We were missing one. Crash.
I panicked. Smoke billowed out the bus windows. The front third of the bus was in flames. It didn’t matter. The Snapping Turtles never leave another Turtle behind!
I dove into the bus, busting through Coach’s arms as he tried to stop me. I couldn’t see anything, but felt in the back seat. I grabbed an arm. Heard him. Still snoring logs. That pissed me off. I yanked him toward me. He awoke, startled, hollered: “Miley, Miley, no!”
I threw him out the door. Coach caught him. Crash rubbed his eyes and yawned. I fell on the ground and coughed up a West Virginia coal mine.
Car after car drove by, no doubt feeling sorry for the poor Bible campers, but not so bad as to actually stop. We collected ourselves on the side of the road. The Forestberg team bus drove by and 12 Melons mooned us.
Old Dutch finally had enough. He scanned the highway and waited. A minute passed before he spotted his victim - a farmer in John Deere tractor pulling a flatbed of hay bales. Old Dutch jumped into the west bound land and held up his hand like a traffic cop ordering the vehicle to stop. The farmer did.
Old Dutch ordered him to take us to the Dome. (I think he might have implied that he had a handgun in his pocket, but I’m not saying he did.)
So we threw our gym bags and the equipment we’d managed to salvage on top of the bales and climbed aboard. Coach sat in the cab with the farmer.
It was by far the slowest and coldest ride of my life.It was 7:45 when the hay truck pulled up to the Dome. Any excitement we had for seeing the Seventh Wonder of South Dakota was frozen out of us - by cold and by the fear that we missed the kickoff.
You never saw a group of Snapping Turtles move so fast as we ran to the locker room and listened to the introduction of the Melons while we changed into our uniforms. Two minutes to kickoff and we were ready to go, frantic and frazzled, but ready to go. That is, all but Crash. He couldn’t find his cleats. He told us to go out and he’d catch up. I sure hoped so.
Crash must’ve tried on every shoe in the locker room, but couldn’t find anything that fit. Turns out he has the smallest feet known to teenage boys - a size 7.
He missed the coin flip, and I was getting really nervous. The team was tense enough the way it was, but without Crash there to soothe us, we were babbling idiots. As we lost the flip, and the Dutchies were threatening suicide, I looked over and saw Crash in our fan section.
As is tradition, the fans for each team usually have a theme on championship day. Some choose hunter outfits, some beachwear, some shirtless with body paint. Ours chose pajamas. Fine - until I noticed Crash talking to Tena. Then I saw Tena take off her slippers. Then I saw Crash try them on. Then I saw him give her a high-five.
Then I heard 6,000 people in the Dome and the entire state of South Dakota laugh as Crash jogged onto the field to join our kickoff return team wearing Tena’s slippers … fuzzy … pink … rabbit slippers … with rabbit ears flopping.
Crash ran over next to me and hollered over the din: “Better than Nikes! Look at the grip on these suckers.” And he bounded back and forth. He was ready. So were we.
Unfortunately, so was Forestburg.I have to admit: Those were some thumpin’ Melons. We hit them hard. They hit us harder.
All the experts in the sports media predicted a high-scoring offensive shootout. They should stick to what they know best: Beer. Because this turned into a battle of punters. Three plays, punt. Three plays, punt, three plays, well I don’t have to spell it out for you.
End of first quarter: 0-0.
End of third quarter: 0-0.
It’s not that Crash was off his passing game. It’s that none of our guys could get open. He’d put the ball on the spot and it would get batted away or the Dutchies would get flattened by steamrolling Melons. Our running backs took a licking too.
And it was the same for Forestberg’s offense.
Nobody bent. Nobody buckled.
It all came down to the 10 seconds left in the game. We had the ball on the 50. Third down. Coach was thinking Hail Mary. I was thinking overtime.
Crash was in the huddle, just thinking.
He changed the play. He drew up a play on the palm of his hand. “Dutch go wide right. Twenty yards out, turn out like I’m going to hit you there. Old Dutch go wide left. Fake in, then sprint like you’ve never sprinted to the end zone. The ball will be waiting. Catch it. Everybody else, block those Melonheads.”
The thing is, when Crash said something, nobody doubted it. We broke huddle, knowing we would score. But only Crash knew how that was going to happen.
The ball was snapped to Crash back in the shotgun. He bounced on his toes, the rabbit ears bounced too. Our line blocked hard and well. The Dutchies screamed down the sidelines.
I caught a glimpse of Crash out of the corner of my eye. He had the ball tucked under his left arm, still in the pocket. I saw him lift his left foot and reach down with his right hand. He pulled off a bunny slipper. Set his feet and reared back. He looked right and threw that bunny slipper as hard as he’s thrown anything. It sailed toward Dutch. It was Crash’s first spiral ever. All the defensive backs broke toward Dutch. By the time they saw the rabbit ears unfurl, it was too late, and they knew it.
Crash then pulled the football out from under his left arm, reared back again and unleashed a 55-five yard bomb to Old Dutch flying into the end zone. Old Dutch dived. Grabbed the ball. Pulled it into his belly. Touchdown!
Time expired. We went nuts, The Forestburg coaches went nuttier. They screamed at the refs that something illegal must have happened. But the refs couldn’t find anything in the rule book about throwing a shoe, much less throwing a bunny slipper.
Final score: Shindler 6, Forestburg 0.
Amid the celebration, I returned the slipper to our Cinderella, Tena Swenson. She gave me a hug.
Crash came over and gave her the other slipper off his foot. She gave him a long Swedish kiss.
I’ve never had one of those. But Crash said it was really, really good.
And who am I to doubt him?