You deeply inhale, allowing the arid Glendale atmosphere to pour in and parch your lungs. The glow of stadium lights, unceasing, beats down upon your helmet, this vessel that encases a tempest of aspirations and trepidations alike, as beads of sweat pour from your forehead, onto your eyelids and through to your lightly trembling upper lip. The roar of the crowd is tremendous, deafening, almost pulsating, but seems to fold itself into silence as you stand at your post, five yards behind the line of scrimmage, relishing what you have so tirelessly awaited: an opportunity.
The time — your time — has come. As your convoy scatters, each straining for you in their own authoritative right, you gratefully embark on your journey. You begin a path orthogonal to your destination. D.J. Fluker has immediately lost ground to his combatant, necessitating this unconventional trajectory, but not damning it in the slightest. You continue to accelerate while rolling laterally. A quick glance to your left and you commit, twisting your course back to its rightful verticality.
Despite Justin Britt’s generous role in delivering you your prized payload, he cannot contain his opponent for long. Jordan Hicks, a proponent of the “spin move” just like Christine Michael before him, bears down on you rapidly. Hicks dives for your legs with intent less malicious than desperate; he has miscalculated; you have reached an indomitable pace and he is much, much too late. You high-step out of the contact, not for the sake of arrogance, but to overcome the obstacle and regain your honor.
Four more adversaries, each beak tinier than the rest, are within striking distance. But you have reached a breakneck speed, previously unheard of by their paltry scouting reports. Two of them understand their pursuit to be in vain and withdraw from the arena. The others, bless their little avian hearts, don’t stand a fucking chance. You easily veer away from them and towards glory.
The threshold presents itself to you, invisible but very much tangible; a threshold that symbolizes so much more than a game-clinching touchdown against a lowly Arizona team; a plane you have not broken in 1,044 days and nights; a destination you pray will bookend an abhorrently difficult chapter of your career.
You spring forward and upward as you cross the pylon, taking flight more gracefully than a pitiful cardinal could ever dream of.
Unlike the cursed red birds, the laws of physics re-establish themselves, and you fall back to the terran wasteland of Glendale, galloping into and out of the endzone’s confines. The ball is no longer necessary — it is now but a hindrance to what will undoubtedly be a visceral celebration with your brethren, so you dispose of it before they arrive.
And arrive they do.
First, Jaron Brown, another frustrated skill player who has rediscovered the beauty of productivity on this day; as you bellow triumphantly into the ether, he playfully slaps your helmet and bestows congratulations. Next, Duane Brown, whose facemask intertwines with your own; it is a deep-rooted salute from a veteran who understands the impediments inherent to this league.
The adrenaline continues its transition to euphoria as both the green and the seasoned flock to you in excitement. They understand your toils over the past three years; the frustrations you have overcome to reach this point.
You finally reach the sideline, where your now-eclectic mind gets a needed chance to settle. You bob and weave through bodies as an astonishing sense of relief begins to soak into the perimeter of your consciousness, then washes throughout you in an all-encompassing swell.
Rest. You’ve earned rest. The tireless days of rehab and sleepless nights of what-ifs have left you fatigued despite a mere three touches in this specific contest, so you seek out what has become an all-too-familiar friend on your voyage: the bench.
This is different though. Your attachment to this aluminum structure no longer represents banishment, but triumph. Your quarterback makes a beeline, eager to express his vigor in this moment and for those that lie ahead. While so many have lost faith in you and what you once were, he has not. You sit in a sort of disbelief, but today’s redemption comes as no surprise to him; he knows not of disbelief.
You understand all too well how quickly all of this can crumble. Your body has let you down many times before. Onlookers salivate at the opportunity to pounce at your first sign of affliction.
But for a split second, all is right in the world. And for now, that’s enough.