The pressure is undeniable, and yet I know I will be taken for granted. I sit on the sideline. We need seven points, not six, but seven, to win the game. You see, the other extra-point kicker missed his attempt. Poor bastard. I watched as his team celebrated, jumping up and down the sideline, the score 27-21. I watched as half the people still cheered while that seemingly insignificant extra point dangled in the air. I watched as his team clacked helmets, congratulating each other, completely taking for granted that their kicker would no doubt nail the extra point. Just like me, he’s probably done it forty, fifty times in a row. It’s been seared into his brain. Take three steps back, two steps left. Breathe. Breathe. I watched him do the age-old routine. I watched him breathe, then breathe again, while everyone slowly came off their touchdown high. Good snap. Laces out, ball struck cleanly. All he did was hold on to it one millisecond too long. He pulled it. And the ball bounced off the post and landed in the end zone. Suddenly the crowd hushed. I can hear them now. What the hell? He should make that in his sleep? His only job is to kick the damn ball. How does he mess up? What does he do all week? Pick his ass? And if he had made it? Nothing. Perhaps a slight nod from the fevered fan. Yes, everything is going to plan. Yes, we will be fine. Yes, we are amazing. Not the kicker… us.
We’re on the one-yard line. We’ll score, I just know it. The defense has their hands on their hips after a long, eight-minute drive that has left only four seconds on the clock. One last play.
I go through a couple more kicks into the practice net. It feels good. My right leg is warm, but every other part of me is numb, on the verge of vibrating. Yes, I’m alone. The punter talks to me, but most of the time he’s arrogant, saying he has to do the dirty work. I could kick field goals. Hell, my leg is stronger than yours. He thinks I get all the credit, all the points I collect throughout the season. You see, I’m the leading scorer. Thirty field goals, forty extra points. That’s 130 points. The punter says I at least get to be the hero from time to time. All he gets to do is pin the other team on the one-yard line. Who cares about that? he says. And he’s got a point, but damn will he never feel the way my stomach feels right now. Twisted, upset, ready to heave at the slightest twist of fate.
We score on a play action pass. The stadium explodes. Hugs all around. High-fives. Screaming until voices are but raspy whispers. I get my call and out to the field we go. The defense is already on my ass. Don’t choke, Maloney. I take one look at them. They’re digging in. They’re demons. My teammates huddle around me for a brief second. Keep it simple, my place-kicker says. Just like practice. It’s you and me. No one else. Block it out. No one’s here but us. But I can’t block it out. Suddenly everyone is paying attention. Suddenly everyone in the entire world cares about Maloney, the skinny kicker who rarely goes to the gym. The beanpole playing on a field of giants. Suddenly everyone wants to make sure that I do my job. Just finish this off so we can celebrate, they think. Just do what you’ve done all year. We don’t care about what you’ve done last week, or the week before. Just get it done. And once you’ve done it, we’ll celebrate the touchdown, the offense, the true skill players. You, sir, are a craft. A practiced routine. A robot who feels inferno-like pressure.
Do your damn job.
I take my three steps back and two steps left. Dead center. Right in the middle of the field. A straight line I mentally project in my head. A laser beam into the AllState advertising netting. The crowd dies down. Perfect snap. Laces Out. And for three or four seconds, I forget absolutely everything. Nothing exists, not even myself. Just a leg, a ball, and a target. I hear nothing, feel nothing. The ball is up and through. Victory.
First comment I get is from the quarterback. Player of the game. Mr. Everything. He hits my helmet hard, his sweat flying into my eyes. Maloney, I would have kicked your ass. I smile. The teams meet in the middle of the field, cameras everywhere. I find the extra-point kicker on the other team. He’s still on the bench, head in his hands. I pat him on the shoulder and take a deep breath. I walk away.
Currently Patrick Parr lives in Japan, where he’s an ESL Teacher. He received his Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2006. Previous work has appeared in Byline, Elements, and The Storyteller.