It measures 20" in height, 7" in breadth, and 3 1/2" in width. Atop it: a football player striding purposely with the ball. Underneath it: a loving cup (a trumpet's fan, really) with deco wings attached, measuring a maximum diameter of 2 7/8". The wood is stained, cheaply in dark maple. The Ionic columns are flimsy plastic, such as would be found on handlebar protectors for the kid's bikes, or cheap garden hose. The gold is gilt, and all parts are pre-fabricated to bolt together easily in a thousand possible permutations. The trophy cost the team $6.72 wholesale from a sporting goods dealer who sponsored the third-place team.
Eagles flank the base of the horn like angry angels.
His name was Tom, or `Thomas' to his wife and his mother, `Tonny' to his relatives, `Miller' or `Mr. Miller' to his co- workers. He was dressed in sweat-stained gym-shorts, with a set of track warm-ups under them marked "Cal State," scuffed Nike soccer shoes, and threadbare athletic socks drooping at his ankles. He had on Miami Dolphins sweatbands, and a cut was oozing blood on his lip. The flag belt hung at his waist, useless.
He was thirty-six years old, and never been a jock. But he still played. He still managed to warm the bench well. And he was still a lineman.
His lip was bleeding because one of the defensive linemen with The Pizza Men had just thrown an illegal forearm in Tom's face on his way to sacking Tom's Quarterback. Now, Tom stood catching his breath in the huddle. He stomped the mud from his cleats, and looked up at the dark afternoon sky.
"Way to go, Butt-Face," the wide receiver said.
"Calm down," the Quarterback said. "Lionel, take a deep in;
Chuck, square out at five, and Manny, you run a down and up past the D-back. And keep going. You've got to draw him out of the deep zone."
He drew the pattern on the Center's chest.
They walked to the line. The Center turned and looked at him. "Keep 'em out," the Center said.
Tom looked at the asshole who'd cut his lip, who was grinning in front of him. He felt afraid. Just the same way he'd felt for twenty-eight years. Not good enough. Not tough enough. Not mean enough.
Just a bunch of guys getting together on Saturdays and playing. That was how he got into it. Choose up teams and play. Sandlot football. It felt good to Tom. Not like organized ball. Friendly. And then somebody got them into a League, and got a Sponsor.
Their first game was a laugher. They knew each other too well. Just like at the park. But with uniforms, and flags, and two rayon jerseys in black-and-white for anyone who wanted to referee.
They won. And even though Tom was unfamiliar with line play after so many years, an elbow in the throat brought some of it back to him. He hit somebody hard; there was a tugging at his balls, and he feared he'd ruptured himself. Too much beer. Too much flab. Too many years.
The second game went the same way. And the third. They had another team score on them in the fourth -- which was a surprise -- but it was still easy. That was the game Tom Miller promised himself that he would finally have that trophy.
Thirty-five years of competitions taught him never to hope too much. There had been the time in second grade when he'd won a pencil box. His father sat on it when they were getting in the car to leave the awards. Tom was spanked for leaving it there. And the time he'd almost been awarded a plaque for outstanding score in high school History. But that year the budget was cut back, and they handed out certificates instead. His never saw the light of day. Or the final year -- his senior year -- when the assistant coach inadvertently mistallied his log of minutes played. Tom
came out two minutes short of getting a letter, and letter-jacket in purple, with black-leather arms. How important that jacket had been, only Tom knew. He never said a word. It was tacitly agreed that all seniors would receive a basketball letter, but there was the "Minutes Played" rule, and they weren't going to bend the rules for a four-year bench-warmer.
The first half ended in a 6-0 score. Pizza Men up.
The Quarterback yelled for the snap, and the Pizza Man came at him, hard/ Tom let himself fall backwards, crumpling into a tumbleweed that somehow entangled Pizza Man's legs. He saw that the Quarterback was in trouble, got up, and ran back to help. He hit his man, caught him at the wrong angle as he whirled suddenly, and blasted him -- not away -- but into the Quarterback. Pizza Man raised his hand, clutching the Quarterbacks flag. And a flag was on the ground. Yellow.
"Clipping," the referee called, marking the spot. "Right here. Number Twenty Nine."
His teammates looked at Tom, and the large red "29" on his jersey.
"Jesus Christ, asshole!" the wide-receiver spat at Tom.
"You OK?" Tom asked the Quarterback. The Quarterback didn't even look at him. Tom didn't ask again.
The Pizza Men scored again. Tom's team ran the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, as he watched from the bench. The Pizza Men delayed, and there were only 48 seconds left when the offense got the ball again.
They stepped to the line, and Pizza Man grinned maliciously. He had Tom's number. He intended to keep ringing it.
The sky was darker, now. The clouds were getting blacker, and soon it would be over. The Game, the Season, and Saturday.
They were behind. It didn't matter: The first-place team had knocked them out of championship competition the week before. This was the 'Consolation' game. It was 12-7. Pizza Men up.
At fourth and twenty, they had to go for it. And Tom couldn't blame them for hating him. He'd let them down. No trophy. What else was new?
They came to the line with time enough for one more play. Tom saw the defensive back inching up to blitz. As if Pizza Man wasn't trouble enough, he thought.
The Quarterback called for the snap, and Tom did something he'd never understand. He went forward instead of retreating to pass block. He hit Pizza Man as hard as he could, twenty-five years of sorrow and grief welling up in him. He was hitting everyone, everything that had ever stood in his way, who had made him what he was.
He hit Pizza Man and drove him back into the defensive back, who was rushing in too fast to react. The three went down. But the Quarterback still hadn't thrown the pass. Tom stood up, and he felt different, somehow. He was lighter, faster, stronger, as he ran back towards the linebacker who was rushing in on the Quarterback. He ran through the man, and for the first time in his life realized it: "He's as scared of me as I am of him." The linebacker went down.
The Quarterback ran out of the pocket, and Tom led him through the hole. He felt the Quarterback's hand on his back, guiding him. And he felt like the men coming at him were very, very small. They were just too small to stop him. He moved up the field like a missile, unstoppable, immovable. He hit one man. Hit another.
Tom Miller hit the last defender so hard it rattled his teeth. He fell down dazed, and watched as his teammates danced in the end zone.
And it began to rain.
The trophy is only worth $6.72 wholesale. He could buy another one, a better one, with what he spends on cigarettes and coffee in a day. Tom Miller doesn't mind, though. He doesn't mind that his name is misspelled, or that his wife has him keep it in the garage, stuck away in a corner. He doesn't mind that it says flag football, or that it's just a bunch of Saturday warriors he plays with.
Some things have no price.