The One That Got Away

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Candlestick ParkWhen thinking about Topic #37, I came up with nothing. I never had the guts to pursue my high-school crush so I could not consider him the One That Got Away.  The very moment I gave up and started on Topic #38, I had a flashback.

It was November of 1997, on the field at Candlestick Park. The 49er’s just finished warming up and headed back to the locker room. Kick-off was in 30 minutes.

Wait! I’m ahead of the story, so rewind back to 6 days before my flashback… ←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←←

Monday afternoon my daughter called me at work. When she got home from school there was a message for me on our answering machine. From the San Francisco 49er’s organization. OMG!!  It was about the field goal kicking contest I entered on a whim. (I entered it 5 times, so it was a powerful whim).

I called them back and found out I would be kicking this Sunday, along with 3 other contestants. I would be getting tickets to the game and an On-Field Pass for my self and one other person.  I had not felt this high since 1986, when Bruce asked me out for a 2nd date. The high lasted until Tuesday when I began to have the mother of all anxiety attacks.

What was I thinking? I had not kicked a ball in years. And it was a soccer ball that I kept kicking field goals with, instead of soccer goals that I kicked.  I was going to have to buy a football, tee, and a pair of cleats. I acquired these items on my way home from work. I immediately changed clothes and took my football and tee to the park to practice.

It devastated me. I could not get any lift to the ball. I could not get any distance. I worked for over an hour, until it got dark and my hands and nose were frozen. I practically stomped and pouted all the way home. To add to my misery, it started to rain before I got there.

I whined about my poor performance all through dinner.

“Let me see the ball,” said Bruce.

“What for?” I whined.

“Just go and get it.”

“Oh, all right.” I stomped to our bedroom, pulled the ball out of the closet, and brought it to him.

Bruce examined the ball. “It doesn’t have any air in it,” he declared. He took it into the garage and soon I heard his air compressor running.

“Now you should get lift and distance.”  He didn’t say it, but I know he was thinking it. Girls can’t play football

“Thank you, honey!” I gave him a hug and a kiss. He sat in his chair and clicked on the TV. And I went back to floating on cloud 9. On Wednesday, practice went great. I practically kicked that ball over the houses across the street. I tested out my soccer style and straight kicks. I would have to use the straight on kick to get maximum velocity. I had a great leg, but I was out of shape and didn’t have enough strength to kick a football soccer style. I used the next 3 days to work on making my straight kick consistent. I took ball and tee to work and I kicked field goals over the street lights in the back parking log. Guys I worked with coached me and helped me  “stretch through it” when I strained my hamstring (I told you I was out of shape).

I was so ready and raring to go!!

Sunday morning I was not raring anymore. I was so nervous that the butterflies in my stomach reversed metamorphosis and became huge caterpillars. By the time we parked (oh yeah, we got free parking too!) I was totally freaking out.

Bruce was not helping. He calculated how many “thousands of people” would be in the stands. Watching. How the field was muddy from all the rain this week. “Hope you don’t slip and fall on your butt.” he laughed.  He was really enjoying making the blood drain from my face. The caterpillars now had morphed into stampeding buffalo.

The pressure was getting to me – I wanted to go home.  The stands were filling up as people took their seats. I got to see the team warm up from the sidelines. Saw Steve Young throw a pass to Jerry Rice. Not on TV, but right there, in front of me. Oh man! That was so awesome. I decided to stay.

The guy running the contest gave us official NFL anniversary jerseys to put on.  The three guys kicking today, were athletic, muscular, over 6-feet tall, and young. And here I am, the under 5’3″ mother of teenagers. The guys tucked in their jerseys and looked really cool. I looked like one of the seven dwarfs wearing a dress. So far this was not the experience I fantasized about, but I sucked it up and put on a brave (if bloodless) face. I began a mantra in my head, “Please don’t let me fall on my butt, PLEASE don’t let me fall on my butt … ”

Now we return to the flashback ……

My jersey had the number 3, so I would be the third to attempt a field goal. I watched the first guy make it. Number 2 went wide and did not make it. Now here was my one chance to score a goal in Candlestick Park. I did not give a hoot about the Grand Prize. I wanted to get to the finals and kick again.

The announcer introduced me and the camera for the large video board zoomed in, and there I was, displayed for . From the stands I heard a chorus of female voices screaming things like “Go Girl!” and “kick the stuffing out of it!” The thought, “Hey – I have fans!” popped into my head.  I had forgotten about the people in the stands, with nothing to watch except 3 men and a dwarf try to kick field goals. It was somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying. Leaning more on the terrifying.

I put everything out of my mind except for that ball on the tee. I paced it off, took a deep breath, and went for it with all I had in me.  I nailed that sucker and it was flying straight between the posts. Women were screaming. I was jumping up and down like a little kid. Then I stopped.

My mouth hung open in disbelief when the damned thing could not make the last 2 inches over the pole. Have you ever heard nine thousand people, all at the same time, groan Awwwwww…?  I have.

There are no do-overs in football. I would never kick again. What hurt the most was I let womankind down.

After the game, when Bruce and I got back to the car, he pulled out an ice chest with chilled champagne from the trunk.  He poured us both a glass (he brought flutes also – the big lug!). He leaned over and kissed me. Then he rose his glass and clinked mine.

“Congratulations” he says.

I gave him a dirty look. “For what?”

He grins and tells me “for not falling on your butt.”