It is Oct. 10 in the United States and America's 16-year-old son has a high school football game tonight. Home-grown and all alone, he is behind closed doors with the phone off the hook groping for his psych. It's somewhere in that room. He finds it there every week.
A man's psych is his castle.
Arm pads, leg pads, hip pads, thigh pads, shoulder pads. His body is a padded island of psychological motivation. A helmet over his head and a mirror over his desk make him feel so psyched, so detonated, he wants to obliterate his front door and raze every house, tree and white picket fence on his way to the 50-yard line.
America's daughter also has a high school football game tonight. She may play the game in a short skirt and pompons or she may play the game in tight sweater and tighter jeans. She'll definitely play the game on the sidelines. She'll get to the game on a set of mag wheels with a Camaro on top.
Finally, America's parents also have a high school football game tonight.They'll play the game out of uniform in golf jackets and moccasins. They'll play the game in the stands where they can cheer their prodigy on the field and watch their prodigy on the sidelines.
It's a family affair in a community chest. The community is inner city D.C. or suburban Maryland or ultrasuburban Virginia and they're all huddling around 100-yard centerpieces. Everyone's mind is in a different place but there's a football game to at least keep them in the huddle. They're psyched.
This scene could be in Des Moines but the signs say Fairfax, Va. The neighborhood around Robinson High School is a still life, dark and hushed.Amid the sleepiness, on the block with the graffiti documenting Robinson's past glory, is the current rage. The evening's activity is tucked in by floodlights. Even the crowd noise seems to stay under the lights.
They take their football seriously at Robinson. There are coaches on the sidelines with headsets talking to coaches on top of the stands with headsets, binoculars, charts and big ideas.
There is middle-aged Bob Bockman atop the press box taking films of the game for $37.50 a night. He can take you into the Robinson huddle or widen your horizons with a flick of the wrist but he says he doesn't need a job with CBS sports because he already works for the Department of Defense.
"Woodson gets a print because they're visitors and Robinson gets the film because they're home," says Bockman, zeroing in on the teams that get the film. "The coaches grade the kids on this stuff and they show college people the films to get these kids scholarships."
At halftime, Alex Bolling will get behind equipment from the media arts department of the school and tape his classmates doing double time in the marching band. "The band director asked to see if they have all the steps right and stuff. So we're always happy to oblige." Alex won't get $37.50, but these things look good on a college application.
America's son got so psyched in his room he admits that by game time he's looking for his second psych. Trying to get the feeling again. Sometimes he finds it just before the game when the team kneels around the coach for a prayer. America's son is praying that no one gets hurt. He is tempted to pray for a victory also but the coach says you don't pray for victories, you practice and block and hit people for that.
America's daughter is on the sidelines seeing who showed up and what they're wearing.
America's parents are looking for their neighbors whose week it was to get to the game early and save seats.
In northern Virginia they play as much pro football as possible. The expressions are all-NFL: "We like to establish our running game and then when we have to put the ball up it makes it that much easier," says a man named McGrady who has been watching Robinson play for years. "I live in the neighborhood and if you think these kids these young men, can't play football, well, I'll tell you. I get a lotta pleasure watching these games. Not like the pros. This ain't for money, it's for football."
Sure enough, they're running to set up their passing game. Unfortunately, W. T. Woodson is doing the setting up. It leads, 10-3.
Bolling is mildly peeved atop the press box because the social life is slow up there. He looks at sidelines. "Look at those kids over there," he says, pointing to a massive clutch of students who have just heard a rumor that Robinson is losing. "They're not too into the game. Even a lot of the parents aren't too into the game. They come to make sure their kids stay out of trouble."
The sidelines are very blond.
Marcee Larsen says she comes to the games for a good time. She does, however, love football. Much more than basketball, anyway.
"Football is a funner game," says Marcee.
With a smile, Marcee's friend Ann Bancroft introduces herself and talks about how football at Robinson is an all-day affair starting with the pep rally during first period.
After the game, Bolling's social life will pick up when there's a sock hop. "Sounds kind of silly, I guess, but everyone goes."
Fresh and wholesome, the whole scene has the face of Olivia Newton-John. Nothing silly about that.
It is halftime and everyone is on the sidelines. The two teams are sprawled in the grass on opposite ends of the field to get as much privacy as possible.
America's son is listening to his coach trying to make sense of what happened in the first half. "Remember what we've been working on all week," says the coach. "All I can remember is the first half," thinks the player. The coach says, "Okay, just relax and loosen up for the second half."
America's daughter is in front of the concession stand. She won't eat but she'll wait in line anyway to let privileged customers in front of her.
The parents have given up perusing sidelines. "There's too many of them."
Bruce Ellis, quarterback, Robinson High: "Being quarterback, starting quarterback, can be a big ego trip. But if I have a bad game, my ego can be shot. It all depends on how people react to you after the game.When people are telling you what a great game you played you feel great.
"In the beginning of the year, Mr. Henry told me 'You got the job sewn up.' It got to my head a little and I didn't play up to my ability.
"As quarterback, you always have to be above your teammates. You need their respect. They have to see you as someone who can lead them to the championship or the big win."
Somewhere between Neiman-Marcus and White Flint is Georgetown Prep. It is nothing like most high schools but a lot like most colleges. Big and green with penny loafers with pennies. If Robinson is Olivia Newton-John, this is Ralph Lauren.
It is Saturday afternoon on a three-day weekend and Georgetown Prep, which is about 35 percent boarders, has a small crowd because people have gone home for the weekend.
The referee fires another blank to signify the end of the third quarter. America's son has one more quarter to maintain that standard of excellence. His coach says something about momentum. He says something about being too involved in knocking people over to know about the momentum.
At the third-quarter gun, America's daughter is preparing for the fifth quarter. "Where are we meeting after the game? I hope we win so everyone feels like partying."
The parents are looking even farther ahead wondering if next week's game is home or away.
The locker room is just behind the field at Georgetown Prep. You can't hear any pregame strategy unless it gets very loud.
"STICK 'EM AS HARD AS YOU CAN ON THE FIRST HIT!!!"
Through the windows, the players can be seen testing each other's shoulder pads with downstroking, two-handed, close-fisted, karate chops.
"Why do they do that?" asks a woman in a tennis dress.
The coach recaps the blackboard strategy one last time before taking it to the gridiron. Another cram session.
Georgetown Prep Coach Jim Fegan: "The main difference is that at Georgetown Prep, we don't have that many people so we always have a bit of a depth problem. That's what sets apart this football team from others.
"Another difference is that my players probably get closer to each other. For the two weeks before the school year, the team sleeps on campus every night. I think that's why our mortality rate, well, our rate of people quitting the team, is so low."
The one difference Fegan is hesitant to mention is that his players are mostly from a part of society that isn't complaining about food prices. Even though a quick glance at Georgetown Prep makes you assume most of the students will go on to an Ivy League school to major in philanthropy, Fegan doesn't think that makes his football team any different.
"We go out and play football just like everyone else."
Today Georgetown Prep is playing Bullis, another prep school right out of "The Great Gatsby." Bullis lineman Mike Glaser is limping along the sidelines, out for the season, most likely. There aren't too many years to play high school football, so this really hurts.
"There's a chance I might be able to play again this year but I doubt it. I miss it. You get a lot of recognition when you're on the football team. People look up to you. If the football team shows pride the whole school will too."
On the day of a game, the Georgetown Prep football team goes en masse to mass. Fegan says, "It's very meaningful to the team. We talk about it a lot. I don't want to sound like some religious preacher because I'm coaching football, but it's very meaningful."
"People come up to me and say, 'It must be harder and harder to coach with all the problems kids have today and how the world is and all,' and I tell them it's easier. In the '60s everyone was disciplining kids, at least in the earlier '60s. Now there's so much freedom my players are eager to be disciplined. Maybe discipline is too strong a word. What I mean is that when we have a practice scheduled for 8, it means 8 and not 8:15. Too often, 15 minutes late is on time."
The game has two minutes of life left and America's son not only is thinking about how to pull this one out but also of making sure he's not the guy to make some tragic mistake and blow the whole deal. That's what really liquefies his knees. The word "goat" has deeper meanings at 16. "Don't make any mistakes now," says the coach. "Oh, please don't make any mistakes now," says the player to himself.
Rising to the overall drama of the moment, America's daughter suddenly is inching onto the playing field, leaning over, desperately screaming for the home team. "Defense! Score! Please!"
The parents are near the gate hoping to watch the last two minutes and make a quick getaway.
McKinley High School is nowhere near Des Moines and at least as far from White Flint, but it's very close to a Metro station. Convenient for coming or going but no one's going right now. It's Friday afternoon. No matter how the expression, "Thank God It's Friday" can wear, Interhigh football is a naturally choreographed, gleefully celebrated ending to another week. The crowd is big but not the biggest. The crowd is loud, definitely the loudest. Lungs like zeppelins and vocal cords like clotheslines keep the decibel level like that of the neighborhood around National Airport.
McKinley and Coolidge. Everyone knows everyone. Unlike other high schools, among these fans, these players, these cheerleaders and these coaches, there are no strangers. It's the T Street battle of the Capulets and Montagues.
Before the game, Coolidge jackets and McKinley jackets are leaning up against the school.
"You got that right."
"I don't want to see you after this game."
"I want to see you to laugh in your face."
A figure of authority approaches, "Either go home or watch the game but don't stand around here," she says.
They go to watch the game. Slowly.
This is as much a battle of cheerleaders as football players.
"It's the cheerleaders that make the school," says Angela Rene Garner.
"Angela, is he asking about cheerleaders? Hi, I'm Adrienne Green. We're Interhigh cheerleading champions."
"I'm Em'Ria Brisco. We show more enthusiasm than anyone. McKinley's No. 1."
Hey, you remember me? Adrienne Green. Coolidge cheerleaders? Yeah, I know most of them. They're friends. What? No, during the game they're not my friends."
Walt Yourich has been wearing a striped shirt and a whistle since 1943. He has been refereeing the Interhigh for only eight years. He knows you just can't officiate players. You have to officiate personalities.
"They like to win all the time in this league," says Yourich at halftime. "Sometimes it's like they have to win. I ref in Maryland too . . . all over, really . . . there's more enthusiasm and more rivalry in the Interhigh." o
In this typically wide-open game, McKinley connects on an 86-yard touchdown pass. The receiver, on his way to the goal line, is turning around and taunting a distant defensive back. Yourich throws a flag. The receiver feels 15 yards against the ensuing kickoff is getting off cheap.
America's son takes a look at the scoreboard. Coolidge 14, McKinley 12; Woodson 17, Robinson 3; Georgetown Prep 14, Bullis School 3. No time remaining. He takes a look at his coach. He shakes hands with players on the other team. He gets this warm feeling through his veins when the opponents say, "Nice game." His coach says, "Take it easy this weekend." He thinks, "Yeah, and you take it easy next week."
"Great game," says America's daughter. "You got a ride?"
In the middle of the night, Bob Bockman is putting "Robinson vs. Woodson, Oct. 10, 1980" on celluloid. For $37.50, he guarantees next-day delivery.