There was no flag, no whistle, nothing to nullify this unique event. We Irish had never had much occasion to celebrate, so it took us some time to comprehend the magnitude of our accomplishment before commencing the hugging and whooping ritual we had witnessed so often among our opponents.
Of course, my run roused the Spartans from their lethargy, and they marched downfield with a vengeance. But they fumbled on our six-yard line, and we recovered. We lost two yards in three plays. Punting deep in your own territory is not a happy prospect on a normal field, but trying to kick out of a six-foot-deep end zone is nearly impossible. Our punter was a nimble-footed little guy, with a glass eye, called Peg (short for "peg eye"). He positioned himself against the cellblock wall. The plan was for everyone to block left, allowing Peg to sprint toward the right and attempt a running kick.
Peg got off a side-winding line drive. The ball landed about 20 yards upheld and careened another 30, displaying the agitation of a Mexican jumping bean. The Spartan returner bobbled the ball twice. On his third attempt to pick it up, our oldest player, a 44-year-old named Lutz, crashed into him. The ball popped loose and was recovered by our youngest player, a 19-year-old.
We picked up six yards in four downs, surrendering the ball at their 37. Over the next five plays the Spartans devoured huge chunks of real estate, again pinning us against Cellblock C. As they lined up at our nine, their grim expressions warned us to step aside and let fate proceed as it was supposed to.
From my middle linebacker position I saw their fullback—nicknamed Four-by-Four because he seemed to be as wide as he was tall—start toward the line. Nobody could run as low to the ground as Four-by-Four. When he came through the line his legs were barely visible. He resembled a disembodied pair of shoulders piloted by a plaster helmet.
As I submarined into the line I realized too late that the handoff had been a fake. From flat on my belly I saw the quarterback pivot and prepare to lateral. Just as he was about to release the ball, however, his right foot caught on something (a rock perhaps), his arms jerked upward, and the ball shot straight up, bounced off his helmet and into the arms of one of our defensive linemen.
With the ball cradled in both arms, Charlie froze. Apparently his disorientation confused everyone else, because both teams just stood there looking at him for a second before someone yelled, "Run!" Charlie's baffled face turned toward this voice, possibly awaiting word on direction, before he finally tucked the ball under his massive right arm and lumbered toward the Spartan goal. Two Spartans rode him down at their 35. Halftime score: Irish 6, Spartans 0.
Word of the Irish leading anyone would have generated curiosity, but beating the seemingly invincible Spartans caused a flood of spectators to burst through the door leading into our yard. Loud cheers greeted us when we took the field for the second-half kickoff.
While the Spartans were playing perhaps their worst game ever, we were performing way over our heads—which still left them a vastly superior team. What tipped the scales in our favor was luck. Every fumble and every bobbled pass ended up in our hands, and, with the referees blatantly favoring us, all the crucial penalties went our way. Toward the end of the third quarter the Spartans finally scored, converting the point-after run (no goalposts) to take a 7-6 lead.
In the final quarter it appeared that the Spartans had overcome their fumbleitis, stumbleitis, bad luck and bad calls and would polish us off. They had the depth to bring in fresh players, while we had to go most of the way with our starting lineup. However, another freak play gave us the ball at our own 10. The Spartans had been ripping off seven, 10, 12 yards at a clip. With eight minutes remaining, they executed what appeared to be the game-breaker, a screen pass to the left with three blockers leading the way. The blockers and ballcarrier bowled over our safety and thundered down the sideline with a clear field. In anticipatory celebration, they strutted toward the goal line with upraised arms, while the ballcarrier held the ball aloft in one hand. Suddenly a spectator reached out from the sideline and swatted the ball out of his grasp before he had crossed the goal line. The Spartan convoy stopped and abruptly went after this flagrant intruder. As they mixed it up along the sideline, our safety pounced on the ball. When order was restored, the referees ruled that no outside interference had occurred, that the Spartan ballcarrier had dropped the ball. First and 10, Irish.