The Anatomy of an Upset

Early in the morning, before the sun has announced itself on the eastern horizon, a young man lies awake in his bed. He sees before him the green green grass, hears the thunder of an angry hoard, tastes the sweat and blood he has already spilled. Another time it plays: the fifteen seconds he has been living and reliving for as long as he can remember; the one moment when he carries his team on his back, and does the impossible. The moment he leads his team to the greatest upset anyone recalls seeing in a long, long time. Since like, 2009, at least.

Ah, but before that moment, many things must happen.

One by one the rest of the team awakes. Some watch ESPN in their hotel rooms, hearing again what they've already been told: it can't be done. Others listen to music. The punter does yoga. There will be a team breakfast, more than one joke about a roommate's incessant snoring, a few comments about the inevitably spongy quality of the scrambled eggs. The coach will have a few words.Then the busses are boarded; through tinted windows, a strange country passes. Headphones are universal. From the countryside, the stadium emerges. It is bigger than it looked in the film room. Surely this is a professional stadium, is the unspoken wish. But no, here resides our unbeatable enemy. This is their impenetrable fortress.

The visitor's locker room is sparse and cold. There are no names above the lockers. There's gunk on the carpet, and gum on the benches. The toilets are unspeakable.

The team gears up for pregame, getting inspected and taped and iced. The travel squad is smaller, but perhaps this is better, leaving the younger guys at home. They would be all nerves at this point, and that won't do. The team must be fearless, and look at them, as they walk through the tunnel for the first time: fearless.

They are without fear.

They are excited, smiling, eager to play. Early in the season, but already they've been through so much together. Training camp, the opener, shit, even the plane ride here seems like it was eons ago.

Muscles are stretched, passes are thrown, field goals kicked. It is hot, hotter than they knew was possible. Sweat flows, which is good. A focus is settling over them. The stands around them fill slowly and steadily, but they don't notice, they will never notice, which is perhaps why they can win. Because they are single minded, and they have come here to do one thing. No one outside of the team recognizes this simple fact: they have come here to do one thing.

Back into the locker room. An ebbing roar follows them down the tunnel, filters through the walls, and echoes off the metal lockers. Cleats are tied, pads adjusted, jerseys tucked. They all have their rituals, their superstitions. Coach calls the team together, says his bit, simple and sweet, more or less: we can and will win. He needn't have said it at all.

The game begins. It is obvious from the first snap that they are outmatched. The other guys are bigger, faster, stronger. The crowd is ferocious and rude. Though the sun has set, the temperature soars beneath the lights. Even the refs seem to have an agenda. And yet... And yet...

Across the country, TVs are turned on, and channels changed. At home there's a cacophony of whispered prayers. Something is happening. It's the buzz in the air before a thunderstorm. The team has reached another level. "Out of their minds," is the apt phrase. 15 minutes, 20, 30, 40. They've been bloodied, pushed around, stepped upon. But this thing that they've always wanted is so, so...close.

And then the moment arrives. No one is sure how they got here, but here they are. One more play. Fifteen seconds. Two shrieks of the whistle.

One player has seen this moment before. He knows it intimately. There is the green grass, there is the thunder, there is the sweat. There is the ball. There is the end zone.

Impossible? Please.

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