My friend Tim played on McEachern’s football team. His number was 28. I just happened to have a jersey with number 28. My grandmother bought several football jerseys at a clearance sale. They were various colors and numbers. Each Friday during the football season, I’d wear number 28 to show support for my friend. It was a weekly fall tradition.
On one particular Friday, classmates seemed to notice my jersey and kept commenting about it. Sure it was ugly – it was bright orange with white numbers – but I had seen worse clothing on other students. In homeroom, someone made a comment about the jersey. “Why are you wearing that?”
“Why not?” I asked back.
Then I walked into first period. Eyes followed me to my desk. Some looked shocked. Some looked amused. Some looked angry. I thought this kind of odd, but then went about my normal business. Someone else asked about my shirt. After looking myself over and seeing nothing worthy of alarm, I shrugged it off again. I hadn’t spilled food on myself. The colors were ugly, but hey, one of our rival teams wore these colors every week. So it wasn’t that bad.
By third period I was feeling paranoid. One girl in my class said, “Why are you wearing that? Do you have a girlfriend at North Cobb or something?”
I cringed at the thought. That was our rival. They were hideous. Almost as bad as Sprayberry. But Sprayberry wasn’t just hideous. They were hideous and evil. Except for my friends Bob and Jerry. They were students there. No offense Bob and Jerry.
In jest I said, “Rah rah, go North Cobb.”
One of my buddies said, “Ew. Don’t even say that.”
In high school, these petty rivals become the most important things in school life. For some, anything that could be construed as support for a rival team is fighting words.
For a little while longer I made cracks about North Cobb, but then noticed how everyone seemed on edge by the jokes. More so than would normally be expected. A twinge of suspicion hit me and I leaned to the desk next to me and asked, “Who do we play tonight?”
Yep. You guessed it. North Cobb. Now normally a coincidental matching of colors would go unnoticed and be easily explained away if someone should notice, but not when those colors are an ugly, glowing, orange and white. It was then that I realized my anti-patriotism stood out like a neon sign. I was a traitor with a public service announcement beaconing to the student body. I was a rival behind enemy lines.
In the real world of daily life, this seems so petty, but in the realm of high school, team pride meant everything. Especially when they were wearing neon colors. The day grew progressively worse and this became (to quote a children’s book) Eddie’s horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day.
The lunch bell rang and I had to spend an hour in a crowd of gawkers and vigilantes. People walked by the table and expressed their displeasure. Tension filled the air and I knew it was time to pack down my food and get out of there. McEachern has an open campus, so I left the lunch building and found another area to commune with friends. Then the football players stopped by for a chat. They didn’t seem as pleasant as our conversations in times past. Someone objected to me wearing the rival’s jersey. I explained how it was actually my support for a member of the team. Their team. Rah, rah, rah.
They looked at me skeptically, but seemed somewhat pacified. Then Johnny Campbell happened by. Now Johnny was an interesting old chap. He was part man, part banshee. He was probably the most athletic person I’ve ever met. Oh, and he was quite ill tempered. That comes from the banshee side. He looked at my neon jersey and let out a mythological screech that froze half the city of Powder Springs in fright. When the confusion wore off, I heard him ranting about me wearing a North Cobb jersey.
After explaining my rationale, he didn’t seem pacified. He was literally pacing back and forth, growling and mumbling. His pace continued to grow faster with each about face. Johnny stomped over to me again, and I calmly explained how the number 28 held a greater value than the orange and white. I’ve always heard that animals sense fear, so I took every precaution to appear laid back. I even tried showing a little annoyance at the third or fourth objection. Finally I said, “Look Johnny,” I patted Tim’s jersey, “Do you see what number that is? Number 28. It all goes together.”
Johnny returned to his rabid pacing. I decided it was time to find another place to congregate.
This Friday was a home game. That means pep-rally day. Pep rallies were great. They were interesting, got everyone worked up for the game, and shaved an hour off class time. The hour out of class was the greatest benefit. Unless you are Johnny. Then the getting worked up for the game was the primary benefit. And get worked up he did.
I didn’t go to the pep-rally. Just going through my normal routine was a torturous experience with this neon shirt. Calm students were acting a bit unstable at the site of my attire. How much worse would this be true after nearly 800 students got worked into an emotional frenzy with school spirit? No, that wasn’t a place I wanted to be on this particular Friday. When the school body headed to the gym for a dose of insanity, I slipped onto my school bus and waited for the final bell to toll so I could get away from this day.
An hour later the doors of the gym burst open. Johnny and several players stepped through looking like pit bulls that had been poked with sticks. They were out of the cage and looking for payback. They waited by the doors and screened the exciting crowd as if looking for a fugitive. Johnny paced back and forth through the exiting mass, hunched over like he could barely refrain from attacking. I swear I saw fur standing up on his spine.
I had a sneaking suspicion who they were looking for. He was orange, white, and peeking out the back of a school bus.
A short time later, people on my bus route started piling into the bus. One person said, “Hey, someone asked if I had seen you.”
“I know,” I said. “Don’t worry about that. I’ve already seen him.” And thankfully, he didn’t see me.
An amazing thing happened on Monday. Once I had the jersey off, no one seemed to remember that I was a traitor. Even Johnny didn’t seem to remember. Red provokes bulls, but apparently orange and white provokes Banshees.
This was the day I retired my uniform. I had no other jerseys with number 28, so Tim would have to feel the love from number 14 on a yellow and gold shirt – our school colors.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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