by WES FERGUSON
This is a classic underdog story. A scrappy football team. No talent, all heart. Fighting for a chance at the playoffs.
The competition? Only the most skillful team in the league. A squad so overconfident, its captain says things like this:
“We never really practice. We just have game adaptability.”
The underdogs, well, they do practice. They showed up an hour before anyone else to run drills and draw up a few plays. Here’s one of them:
The quarterback lines up in the shotgun position. He’s riding a unicycle, because this is the Unicycle Football League in San Marcos. In this league, every player rides a unicycle — passes on a unicycle, catches on a unicycle, plays defense on a unicycle.
The quarterback flaps his arms like a bird. He squawks like a bird, too.“Ka-caw! Ka-CAW!”
On cue, the wide receiver goes in motion, pedaling down the line of scrimmage. The ball is snapped. The receiver, Jeff “Big Bird” Hogan, darts toward the end zone.
Quarterback Daniel “Air Dan” McCarthy lofts a spiral into the receiver’s waiting arms. Big Bird rolls in — literally, he rolls in — for the touchdown.
With plays like these, who knows?
“It’s going to be a hard fight,” Air Dan admits. “Our chances for beating them are slim.”
“Our chances are high,” argues his teammate, Dane “Toilet Face” Walter, “because we’re so awesome. We do drink more than the other team, so that gives us an advantage.”
Another advantage? The teammates, who call themselves the Illeagles, are wearing face paint.
Their opponents, the heavily favored Unicychos, stroll in just before kickoff. The Unicychos’ captain hears about the Illeagles’ new plays. He’s not impressed.
“Trick plays might work once or twice,” he says, “but we’re quick on our feet, so we know how to adapt to it.”
The game begins not with a coin flip but with a joust to determine which team will take first possession. It’s Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of a farmer’s market in San Marcos. Some 150 spectators have come out to watch the game.
And what a game it is. With only a minute and 21 seconds left to play, the Illeagles are losing by a touchdown. The score is 41-34, and this is the final drive. Can Air Dan march his team to a comeback victory?
Air Dan throws a pass to Toilet Face. The ball falls in and out of Toilet Face’s hands.
“Tensions are running high in this very close game,” says the announcer.
Next play: a quarterback keeper. Air Dan sprints around the corner, eluding a Unicycho defender and escaping out of bounds. The clock stops with 37 seconds to go.
He tries another sweep but can’t make it to the sideline in time. The clock is ticking.
Air Dan drops back to pass. Quarterback sack.
Seven seconds left. There’s only time for one more play.
Air Dan flaps his arms furiously. Big Bird sprints toward the end zone. Air Dan lofts a pass high in the air.
This is exactly how they practiced it, before the game. Big Bird stretches for the ball. He brings it in. Touchdown.
Time expires with a score of 41-40, Unicychos’ favor. The only hope now for the Illeagles is the point-after attempt. They may run in the ball for one point, or they may kick it through the uprights for two.
(Three women sprint into the end zone and link their arms to form the goal posts.)
Air Dan fields the snap. He races toward the extra point to tie the score, but a Unicycho stops him before he can cross the goal line.
The game is over, it seems. But wait! The referee is blowing his whistle. He’s calling a penalty against the Unicychos, claiming the defense jumped offside.
The Illeagles have one more chance.
“The torture is almost unbearable,” the announcer says. “The line between pleasure and pain has been breached.”
All eyes are upon Air Dan as he takes the snap. The Unicychos blitz from either corner. The quarterback has no choice but to attempt the kick. Balancing on his unicycle, he boots the football.
It sails toward the uprights.
It sails wide right.
Instead of an upset victory, the Illeagles lose by a single point, 41-40.
Afterward, the captain of the winning team — Alan “Corporal Punishment” Barnes — is magnanimous.
“That was our hardest game all year. Harder, even, than the games we lost,” he says. “They definitely had some surprises for us. We had to make a lot of changes. It was the most we’ve had to adapt yet.”
The Illeagles have one more chance to sneak into the playoffs, if only they can defeat the mighty Hot Dogs this Sunday.
The Hot Dogs have already clenched first place — whether or not they win the final game of the regular season — so maybe their players won’t be so motivated when they face the Illeagles.
That’s what the Illeagles are hoping.
“If we fight half as hard as we did this week,” Air Dan says, “we’ll win.”
WES FERGUSON reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print