At 7 a.m., several of our players showed up at our meeting place staggering and woozy and asleep on their feet. I drove them to Mississippi anyway, believing an hour of motion might prove a miracle cure. I couldn’t have made a worse decision. One player needed my Styrofoam coffee cup for a sick bag.
In Biloxi, the team stepped onto a freshly chalked, dew-bejeweled field. The soccer balls looked spanking new. We watched the Keesler boys thunder through their warm-ups in fine new uniforms and the latest flashy Nikes. Our team looked self-consciously at our blue thrift-store T-shirts with ironed-on letters.
A whistle blew to start the game.
Imagine baby rabbits in the path of a steamroller.
The airmen attacked. When they went for the ball, my guys went upside down. Their kicks knocked our players back like cannonballs.
Keesler scored a goal in the first 30 seconds of the match. Two minutes later, they netted a second. Ibrahim, our striker, sent a corner kick just wide of the Keesler goal with a nice header, but then he couldn’t remember where he was for a few minutes.
Humiliation can be expressed in many ways.
This day, two of my players expressed theirs by sitting down at midfield. Another player loudly threw up, something purple with yellow clots. The worst, though, came after a sixth or seventh first-half Keesler goal. The skinniest, wiriest player on our team slipped behind the Keesler defense to urinate on the Airmen’s goal, an obvious foul.
As he drained in full view of both teams and a mixed audience of astonished spectators, the midfielder lifted one leg, then the other. He looked as if he were being slowly electrocuted. It took him a long time.
In unison, the Keesler airmen turned to me, Coach C, their eyes flinty, unforgiving.
Suddenly, our team hustled for the first time that day. Our rescue van waited in the parking lot. Everything in a blue T-shirt moved that direction in a blur.
I broke Mississippi laws leaving town. I got us on I-10 eastbound, gunning a getaway car filled with hung over or heartsick soccer players who had disgraced themselves with bad play and even worse behavior. As we burned toward home, the screaming, bat-waving Air Force boys in their thundering Mad Max muscle cars grew ever larger in the rearview.
Freedom is losing a game but winning a desperate race to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.