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In the magnificent stadiums of our football-crazed land, towering steel-and-glass shrines shield public-address announcers and other media types from cheerleaders pushing raffle tickets. On infrequent trips to big games in really big stadiums, I stare enviously at their elaborate digs. I hear they have electronic gizmos that show each player by position. A glance at the board shows who's playing where. No. 75 made the tackle? A little light blinks beside his name, number, class, physical dimensions, father's occupation and girl friend's major.
In my press box there is seating for three. Last year's cigar butts litter the floor. A chicken-wire fence is all that separates the booth from the fans below; one must vault the fence to enter and leave. A huge wooden shutter swings up from the glassless window and hangs perilously over the top rows of fans; it is held open by a rope capable of withstanding winds of at most 12 mph.
The booth shivers in the wind. Through the holes in the floorboards, you can see small boys firing rocks, trying to hit our feet. I pour coffee on them, and they go away.
It is homecoming day at our high school. Snow is falling steadily. The football coach has skipped history class to plow the field with his Jeep, and the bench warmers are standing on three-foot snowbanks. The chain-gang members are stuffed into snowmobile suits. Somewhere beneath the snowbanks are the sideline markers.
We devise a system by means of which the public-address announcer—me—can advise the crowd where the line of scrimmage is: A small boy is sent to the sidelines to hold up fingers indicating the yard line. He keeps his mittens on.
"Will the boy indicating the yard lines take his mittens off?" I implore. Everyone laughs. I squint through binoculars to see how many fingers are displayed. Is that a five and a one, or a one and a five? A six or a 15? It doesn't matter; there is a fumble on the play and the other team recovers.
"Christ, another fumble," I say into an open mike. The parents of the fumbler stand up in the stands and glare at me.
The home team scores with seconds to go; we now trail by a point. Our big fullback, the first all-stater in the school's history, has ground out 274 yards and will try to punch in a two-point conversion. Prowling the other side of the line is an all-state linebacker; if it weren't for his dogged tackling, the fullback would have over 500 yards. Their collisions have been awesome.
Uniform numbers have been obliterated, but they see each other. In approaching darkness and swirling snow, the only light is from the few scoreboard bulbs that haven't yet been shot out by bird hunters.
The halfback plunges left without the ball. No takers. The fullback heads for a hole off right tackle. The snarling linebacker claws him to the ground six inches short. Five hundred people hear me utter a mild oath. We push some cigar butts through the floorboards, take down the rope and go home.