J.T.'s plan is to get his players refocused on the things they can control: the
game, the ball, their effort. For parents, games quickly become a lifeline, a
welcome break from their battles with FEMA officials, insurance agents and
blighted homes. As one parent puts it, Friday-night football is "what gets
me through the week."
Some of Joe's
teammates are living in FEMA trailers, others are crammed into relatives' homes
or shelters or temporary apartments. At night after practice many Patriots help
their parents rip out soggy carpeting and mold-caked Sheetrock, then collapse
into the small cubby beds of their 240-square-foot trailers. In class students
are tired and distracted. They are desperate to return to their old lives.
For Joe there's no
such going back. The friends' and relatives' homes that had been his crash pads
are uninhabitable. Joe's mother and brother had been living in the house of
Joe's grandmother, which was flooded, and now they're in a one-bedroom
At J.T.'s house
Joe's new life is, at first, complicated and disconcerting. Joe hasn't been
accountable to anyone for years. Now J.T. and Lydia are always asking, Where
are you going? When will you be back? But after a few weeks Joe begins settling
in. One night Joe and Tank are sitting in the Curtis living room, watching TV
and waiting for dinner. Joe asks Lydia why J.T. is running late tonight, and
she says he's probably still in the coaches' office.
Joe says, "call him up and tell him his two kids are HON-gry." Joe and
Tank burst out laughing. It's one of the first times Lydia has seen Joe
By november the
Patriots have jelled as a team, and their 5-1 record earns them a trip to the
playoffs. In their first playoff game Joe scores both times he touches the
ball, and John Curtis wins in a 53-13 blowout. In the next game, Joe scores
three times, and the Patriots romp again, 50-18. In four playoff games Joe
scores a dozen times and his team outscores its opponents 184-38. On
Thanksgiving morning Joe is the focus of a gushing Times-Picayune article that
calls him "Curtis' do-it-all performer."
speed," the article says. "Call it a burst. A wiggle. On punts, he has
the ability to make the first guy miss. Then he accelerates in a step. Call it
a balance most people do not possess. Or call it an indescribable
something." The writer quotes a rival coach who declares that Joe is
"ready for the NFL now."
After Katrina the
Patriots had not expected a normal year. They just wanted a football season.
But suddenly they're headed to the Class 2A championship. The Superdome can't
host the games anymore, so they'll be played in Shreveport.
gather before their 1 p.m. kickoff. J.T. searches for the right words. Opening
a tattered Bible, he says that Psalm 127 was a favorite of his father's.
J.T. reads slowly, "Sons are a heritage from the Lord. Children are his
reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, sons are born to one's youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of children."