Whatever Happened to the Football Legend

Back in elementary school I looked up to kids in high school, especially the football players. They seemed like they were so big and right on the verge of making it in the NFL. Somehow some of those guys carried an aura that lasted far beyond high school. Too bad though, that they never made it much beyond high school legend status.

The arcade at Busch Gardens was evolving. Pinball was giving way to Space Invaders and there was a new football game that everyone wanted to play. Crowds stood around the table looking at the field. Each player would select a play and control one player on the field. Once the play started the players moved based on their assignment. Moving the controlled player happened with a ball that the gamer had to roll. The faster the roll, the faster the player went. Getting to the game was tough because so many people wanted to play. The other problem was that some kids had the great idea to make the game “king of the court.” The winner would stay in control of the table and the challenger would have to pony up the fifty cents for the opportunity to dethrone the champion.

No one ever did. Steven Jackson was the best player on that table ever. He was a high school kid and solid athlete. In fact, his whole family had success in sports. Not only was he a local legend on the fields, he was also a player and partier. I thought he was kind of cool, but there was also something about his arrogance that rubbed me wrong. He came across as moody, bossy, and not at all concerned with anybody else’s feelings. Still though, he was one of those high school athletes that I admired.

I finally got the opportunity to play him in the arcade football game. I was dispatched from that game with the same ferocity one might expect on a true gridiron. There was no trash talk or boisterousness, but Steven did call out, “Next.” I walked away from the game a little lighter in the pocket, said for the drubbing, but not at all put out. After all, I had competed with a legend.

Things would change when I got to high school. Steven was off college age, although, I think he might have dropped out because he had an awful lot of time to come to the high school parties and run his video game dominance on any hope we had of getting a date with someone in our grade. Little shards of weakness were beginning to show in the once admirable Steven. He seemed to be losing his cool and becoming more dependent on whatever the substances, organic or alcohol based. The arrogance turned to an outright meanness that drove many of us away from hanging around him. Maybe hanging on to the legend was a better way of thinking about him. I let him go and he became an afterthought.

Thirty years is a long time to be away. My high school class was getting together to celebrate 1985 and I had not had much contact with many of my classmates. I wondered how everyone would look, bigger midsection, grayer hair, wrinkles; that was just me. I decided that I would make the trip a quick hitter and only go to the football game. My ten year reunion had been a nightmare of epic proportions and since I was free of the disastrous one, I figured it would be good if I hung out with my old friend, Allen. We could go to the game, check in with the name tag section, and then go for some of Kentucky’s finest somewhere. The night turned out to be great. My old teammates checked in. Kids that I had not seen since Prince was writing songs for the Bangles were there and even a couple of old teachers. Being back in Williamsburg with old friends was a little weird, but it was also so comfortable. It was home.

Then I saw Steven. At first, I thought of him as the college dropout who made a dating life competitive. Then I thought of him at the arcade. There were plenty of mixed feelings, but I didn’t feel the need to talk to him. After all, we had known each other from a distance even though I knew his brothers really well. He made it to the top of the bleachers and found an open space. He was carrying the cushions and bags of food and it looked like the years of creeping obesity had made his climb difficult. He sat down and settled into what was looking like a comfortable four quarters of football. Then the greatest thing that could have ever happened came to life.

“STEEEEVENNNN!!!!”

All heads, except Steven’s, followed the trail of anguish to it’s source. There was a woman at the railing of the bleachers with an insistent look and a menacing posture.

“STEEEEEEVVVVENNNNNN!!!!!!!” she yelled again.

As all the heads turning to the Williamsburg legend, he slowly looked up from his phone, and emotionlessly down to his wife. She gestured for him bring the stuff and get back where she was with due haste. Steven’s shoulders shrugged and he packed up his stuff and made the trip back down.

Before he got too far away, Allen asked, “C’mon, Steven, where you going? Who’s in charge?”

Steven never answered, although his slumped shoulders and quick stepping made it pretty clear who is the boss of his life. I could only smile. The dude who had been both an idol and villain to me was nothing more than a man. He was a man who had to answer to something greater than him, his wife. I didn’t have the angry reaction to seeing the image of Steven destroyed in the same manner as Jimmy in Quadrophenia. No motor scooters were sent of the cliffs at the sight of seeing Steven living the role of Sting’s Ace Face, but there were some rib busting laughs fueled by the drinks Allen and I shared afterwards.

So long, Steven, sorry about your spine.

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