The Legend of Jesse Smoke

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Authors: Robert Bausch
punt from the 50-yard line.
    On first down, Jesse flipped another flare pass in the flat to Cissy and she ran for 16 yards. Then on the next play, Michelle went in motion to the strong side, and when the ball was snapped, she took off down the middle of the field. Jesse lobbed it over everybody and hit her on the run for a 69-yard touchdown.
    Just like that, the Divas were up 14 points. I could hear the girls screaming and cheering down on the sideline. The crowd got into it too. It was pretty damn noisy and exciting throughout the stands.
    The Fillies started getting careless now. When you’re trying to catch up, you want to move the ball a little faster and you get nervous about letting your opponent have it back, since another score mightfinish you. They even tried a few passes—including one that went for 12 yards. But they kept stepping on their own hair, as the saying goes in the women’s league. By the end of the first quarter, they were down 21 points.
    Jesse was something to watch. She was so sure of herself directing the offense, pointing to places on the field where she wanted folks to move. And I really admired the way Andy Swilling had coached his team for the game. I mean he really coached them. They were playing like one beast, every move exactly choreographed as though the plays were rehearsed, rather than practiced. Even the defense played with more confidence. The Fillies pushed them around, as they had before, up and down the field, but every time it looked like they might bully their way into the end zone, the Divas would manage to stop them. The Fillies kicked three field goals out of five tries, but the half was winding down now, and they were getting more and more frustrated. The very thing they were used to exploiting as a weapon ran out on them: time. Though they had the ball for most of the first half, by the time it ended they were down 27 to 9. It was something to see.
    I was as deeply involved in that game as any I had ever watched from the stands, or anywhere else, for that matter.
    With four possessions in the first half, the Divas scored four touchdowns. (Their kicker missed one extra point.) They had the ball for less than 6 minutes in the entire half. I wanted to go down there at halftime and hug every one of them, including Andy.
    It started to rain in the second half, and it was all pretty sloppy after that—sloppy and scoreless. By the end of the game, everybody was making a mess of things. The Fillies started trying to throw the ball even more—they had to catch up, after all—which was something pretty comical, really. I’m sorry to say this, but to put it mildly, their quarterback threw the ball like a girl. And nobody on the Fillies could catch all that well either.
    The Divas had their share of mistakes in the second half, sure—dropped balls and fumbles. At one point, when Jesse threw a pass to aspot where Michelle was supposed to be, Michelle fell in the mud trying to make her cut and the ball hit one of the referees right between the eyes. He fell straight back into the mud and just lay there. Everybody thought he was dead. But it was just a broken nose. And a severe case of male humiliation. Coming to, apparently he said “Mommy” real loud and a lot of the folks attending to him heard it and started laughing. I felt sorry for the guy.
    When the game was over, I went to congratulate Andy and the team. The school was kind enough to let the Divas use their gymnasium and locker rooms, although all athletic equipment was off-limits. Andy had the players gather in the gym so they could celebrate a bit.
    It’s a different thing when women celebrate. They aren’t as noisy or physical with it somehow. I can’t describe what it was like in that gasping crowd of tired, muddy, bruised women, as they looked at one another and embraced with these deep sighs. It was a celebration of something almost spiritual. That’s all I can say about it. I’m not a poet or anything, and I

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