The Big Bite - By Charles Williams


They said it was going to be as good as ever, but it wasn’t. You could see that by the end of the first week of practice. They’d stuck it back on, all right, and it looked like a leg, but something was gone. McGilvray, who’s probably the best T-formation quarterback that ever lived, was handing the ball off a half stride ahead of me. We’d played together two years in college and five in the pros, so he knew where I was supposed to be. I did too, but I wasn’t getting there. About the tenth time they unpiled the beef off us after the fumble he spat out some topsoil and said, “We’re just a little rusty yet, Harlan. Maybe I’m leading you too much.”

“It could be, dear,” I said. I knew better.

The next time he handed the ball off to me where I was, instead of where I was supposed to be, and two rookies smeared me back of the line. Not the Cleveland Browns; just rookies trying out. It went on that way. When they ran off the pictures looking for the missed blocking assignments, you could see it wasn’t that at all. They open it up for you, but they don’t guarantee to keep it dredged out all summer like a ship channel. When you’re a half stride slow in the National Football League you’re an old lady trying to walk up Niagara Falls with a crutch; they run down your throat faster than you can spit out your teeth. The old man gave me every chance in the world, and even tried me out in a defensive spot before he let me go, but it was no use. I couldn’t pivot and swing fast enough to go with the play even when I saw it coming, and they ran through me like B-girls through a sailor’s bankroll. I’d racked up a lot of yardage for him in five seasons and he didn’t like it any better than I did, but in the pros when you haven’t got it any more you’re out of anything to sell. He came in when I was cleaning out my locker the last afternoon and even became emotional to the extent of lighting the cold cigar they said he’d had in his mouth since the flying wedge went out of style.

“Rough,” he said. “Like a cob.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But cheer up. That colored boy can carry it for you. He runs pretty good.”

“In three years he’ll run pretty good. And then maybe some goddam drunk’ll knock his leg off. But I meant you. You got any plans?”

“No,” I said.

“Ever think of coaching?”

”I’ve already got a crock leg,” I said. “What do I want with ulcers?”

“You’d have had five more years. At least.”

“Yes,” I said. “At fifteen thousand a year.”

He grunted. “Maybe.” He took the cigar out of his mouth and threw it fifteen feet across the room where it hit the wall and bounced into the urinal. “Drunks,” he said.

I went back to the hotel to pack and check out. Four or five sports writers were hanging around the lobby. They slapped me on the back and told me how I’d be back next season and the leg would be fine and I’d rack up a six-yard average. I said, “Sure, sure,” and after a while I got away from them and went up to the room. I undressed for a shower, and looked at it. It had knitted all right; I didn’t even limp. It didn’t feel awkward or look any different from the other one except for some scar tissue. It was just great, except that it wasn’t worth a damn any more. The only thing I’d ever owned in my life was a mechanism that ran like something bathed in oil and now it had been smashed and when they put it back together something was gone. Maybe there isn’t any name for it, actually. The medics will give you a song and dance about co-ordination and instantaneous response and frammis on the updike, but I don’t think they know either. The nearest you can come to it is that it’s a smooth surge of power from dead standstill to full speed in about three strides, and you either have it or you don’t. If you have it, you can sell it—or at least you can until you get past thirty or thirty-two and it begins to slow down on you. I’d taken a short cut. A