Brett Gunnels had an intimate relationship with his clipboard.
After all, that clipboard was where he played his game, not out on the football field. Every Sunday during the season he could be found standing on the sideline, clutching his worn clipboard and making notes.
Today, like any day, Brett held his clipboard and roamed the sidelines, calling out to the Seattle Lumberjacks starting quarterback when he saw something. Not that Tyler Harris would hear him or listen if he did. A couple penalties set them back to the 49ers’ forty-yard-line on third and twenty-five, fifteen seconds on the clock and out of field-goal range.
Harris took the ball from center and stepped back, staying in the pocket with the coolness and finesse of the elite quarterback he was. A second later, the pocket collapsed around him, he scrambled, running for his life while looking for an open receiver, only every one of them was covered. He never saw the guy coming from his blindside.
Brett cringed, as a 49ers’ linebacker put a vicious hit on Harris. The Seattle Lumberjacks quarterback was known for his toughness, but from Brett’s point of view, knees didn’t bend like that.
As his teammates returned to the huddle, a couple of them looked toward Harris, as if expecting him to bounce to his feet because he always did. Sprawled on his back, the two-time championship quarterback didn’t move. Not even an eyelash.
A hush came over the crowd, eerie in its silence, while a cold wind of fear blew through the stadium. Harris’s cousin and the Jacks number one wide receiver, Derek Ramsey, knelt beside him, as the coaches and trainers hurried onto the field. The offensive line huddled nearby, pretending not to stare but doing so anyway, worried etched on the big guys’ faces.
Brett might not like Harris much—not many guys did—but his grudging respect for the guy’s talent and try overrode any personal issues he might have. Besides, no one wanted to see a teammate laid out on the field like that. An icy shiver radiated up Brett’s spine as his brain transported him to another time, sand stretching as far as the eye could see, another body not moving. Nothing. Not even an eyelash. Just like Harris was now. Brett shook his head, forcing those memories back into the compartment they’d briefly escaped from.
This wasn’t a war zone—well, not exactly—and his teammate was known for his dramatics. He was probably taking a two-minute fiesta at the expense of everyone’s nerves. He’d hop to his feet in a moment and chastise them for being such dumbasses.
Only Harris didn’t. Brett couldn’t stand on the sidelines and do nothing. He ran onto the field to join his teammates. Harris’s chalky face looked like death. Brett swallowed back the fear and bolstered his courage. He’d be okay. He had to be.
After several tense minutes, Harris sat up and shook his head. The team breathed a collective sigh of relief. Groggily, he accepted assistance to his feet, only to have his knees buckle. He went down again, clutching his leg, pain carved into his usually stoic face as he rolled back and forth on the turf. A few seconds later, two linemen helped him onto a cart, and they zipped him off the field and down the tunnel.
Only then did Bret realize the coach was yelling at him. “Get your helmet on.”
Standing on the fifty-yard-line, the guys in the huddle stared at him, their faces expressionless, yet Brett read their minds. They thought he was a fucking idiot. Frantic, he looked for his helmet but couldn’t find it, until Zach Murphy, their all-pro linebacker, shoved it in his hands. Strapping it on as he ran, Brett got to the huddle, only to find the mic in his helmet wasn’t working, and he didn’t have a fucking clue what play to call.
Embarrassed, he signaled for a timeout and jogged back to the sidelines accompanied by a smattering of boos. Great confidence booster for a guy who rarely played a down during the regular season.
Back in the huddle, he called the play, a quick out-pass to Derek, hoping to catch the defense expecting a run because of the quarterback change.
Brett took the snap, stepped back, and tossed an easy throw to Ramsey only to throw it short. A linebacker picked it off and ran it back for a touchdown. Game over.
Frustrated, Brett slammed his helmet to the turf. He didn’t glance at the crowd or the bench. Avoiding the coaches, he sprinted for the locker room to drown his incompetent ass in the showers.