long-distance cat-and-mouse game continues Thursday. Macek skips seconds on the
roast beef and bypasses the chocolate cake for dessert, hoping to lose a few
pounds to counteract Carter's increased quickness. Carter learns of Macek's
shoulder injury and wonders how he might exploit it. Whoa, run that play again,
he says in the film room—is that a leg whip he sees Macek using against a
Raider lineman? By golly, it appears to be—not like Don to cheap-shot anyone,
but he files it in his memory to keep a lookout for on Sunday, just in
I wonder how
he'll react to my new stance, Macek is thinking; for the first time in his
career, Macek is keeping his right hand on his thigh instead of on the ball,
enabling him to get his palms onto the noseguard's chest quicker than ever.
When they were younger, these details might flit through their minds and
vanish, but now they bite their bottom lips and brood over them. Carter briefs
his team's center, and Macek his team's noseguard, on what they have seen on
film, asking them to simulate their opponents during Thursday's practice.
Diana Carter, a
substitute teacher, has no idea whom her husband is about to play against, and
she doesn't ask. The less she knows about the man, the easier she finds it to
root for her husband to dominate on Sunday. Don Macek? In this, the 10th year
of their rivalry, Diana had still never heard that name, and Rubin is too
private to bring it up between swallows of chicken at dinner.
Rubin Carter? Jan
Macek knows him. She learns of her husband's next opponent a few hours after
the game the week before, knowing that the following Sunday she can judge how
well her husband is playing by the number of times the P.A. man will credit the
opponent with tackles. She feels safer that it is Rubin, a name she knows, than
some rookie concealing unknown strength or danger. She wonders sometimes if
Rubin is married or if he has kids, as she and Don do.
Her husband is
busy watching TV and answering one million whys? from his 4-year-old son,
Scott. In Denver, Carter is strumming a little gospel or jazz tune on his red
guitar, never daring to sing, and reading his Bible. Noseguards make good
family men. "A noseguard is a homesteader," Carter says. "He has
his property, his land he's taken his stake in, and he wants to protect that. A
noseguard is a sacrificial lamb, but it feels great to be a sacrificial lamb in
our defense because we care for each other."
By Friday, so
much preoccupation with another man begins to tell, and a little trowel of
anxiety begins to dig at their insides. The tingle reassures them—it means they
Now it is
Saturday afternoon, and two physical men are weary of the mental game. They
want to pop each other and be done with it. Both feel the same need to husband
their energy, the same drowsiness. Now comes the warhorse's reward; while the
younger men fidget, Macek and Carter shoo each other from their minds and drift
There are several
types of nervous people in the locker rooms across the NFL on Sunday mornings.
Some of the loud nervous ones grab the game programs placed on the seat in
front of each locker and thumb straight to the head and shoulder photographs of
the opposing players without their helmets. "Oh my God, look at page
53," one of them will holler. "Is he ugly or is he ugly? I don't care
who we got to cut, that boy definitely makes the all-ugly team...."
Then there are
the quiet nervous ones, such as Macek and Carter. Both are among the first five
or six players on their teams to arrive at the stadium when they play at home,
wanting nothing to rush these last quiet hours of preparation. Both nibble
child-size portions of pre-game eggs and toast. "A hungry dog hunts
best," Carter says.
They ready their
equipment, each worrying how the other will exploit any loose part of their
uniform or pads. Macek's skill at holding helped drive Carter to wear a
skintight jersey. Carter is so proficient at grabbing, Macek first tried to use
two-sided tape beneath his jersey to make it adhere to his pads, then tried to
tie "down the loose cloth beneath his arm with shoelaces. "Neither
worked, so I gave up and accepted he was going to grab me," Macek says with