This story is by TD Roberts and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Practice for the North Texas Bible College football team ended as the sun set on a hot September day in 1952 in the little town of Cool Creek. After their showers, Roger Clag, right tackle, limped along in the twilight beside Bradford Moie, right guard, toward the cafeteria.
“How’d your foot get injured?”
“That big freshman stomped on it. He’s a monster. I bet he weighs over three-hundred pounds.”
“Yeah. We couldn’t block him all afternoon. Will he play first string defense?”
“Sure. Coach made him a roving linebacker. If you don’t double-team him, he smashes the ball carrier every play. Even double-teamed he often busts through. I heard Jerry call him Monster. He just laughed and said that’s what they called him in high school.”
“What’s he doing here? He could play at a bigger school.”
“He’s taking Bible and wants to preach.”
As they filled their plates in the cafeteria to over-flowing, Roger asked, “Read the newspaper?”
“Nah. What’d it say?”
“Unless we have a winning season, the coach will be fired and the football program cancelled.”
“Why? How do they know?”
“Someone saw a memo to the coach… It’s ticket sales… You know… in losing seasons, attendance falls. If we have another losing season, losses will be too much for this little college.”
The eagerly awaited season opener was about to start. The team finished warming up and gathered around the coach as they excitedly bounced on their toes and jiggled their helmets.
“Okay, men. Most of you are three-year lettermen. You can make this year outstanding. Now get out there and play your hearts out.”
This day game was unseasonably warm for the Texas panhandle, and players and fans alike perspired heavily. The water boy kept the team’s water bucket filled, and fans made frequent trips to the concession stand for bottles of water. But the heat didn’t stop the Monster. He made fifteen smashing tackles and blocked two punts. The offense scored on a long pass play, and the team won 7-0.
After the game, the locker room was filled with “high-five” and “way to go.” Roger wrinkled his nose as he and Brad stripped off their wet gear.
“Phew. We smell terrible, but we won our first game.”
“Sure did. That linebacker was terrific. At least in this game, he really was a Monster. The fans loved him, and he encouraged the team. How many games can we win this season?”
“Wouldn’t it be great to win all ten?”
By mid-November the team had won eight games, four by a single touchdown, and four by runaways. The enthusiasm of the fans reached new highs fed by the newspaper’s speculation of a ten-win season and a possible small college bowl invitation.
However, the game against unbeaten Claude Junior College posed a big challenge to a 10-0 season. Late in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 7-7, the Monster broke through, blocked the punt, picked up the squirming ball, and lumbered into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
The Thanksgiving Day game against Wolfsburg Junior College was the season’s last game. Both teams had 9-0 records. The stands were packed and the home team fans overflowed onto the visitor’s side. Feelings ran high for a possible 10-0 season.
Some concern about the weather existed among the referees and coaches because the weather bureau predicted a storm, possibly tornados. By game time, dark clouds loomed in the far distance.
“That storm may change its course and not be a threat. Let’s play ball,” the Head Referee ruled.
The team huddled around the coach. “Forget the weather, boys. A little rain never hurt anyone. We need to get out there and win. A win today might get us our first ever 10-0 season and a postseason bowl game.”
The players clapped each other on the shoulders and chanted over and over. “We’re number one. We can’t be beat. Fight, fight, fight.”
During the first quarter, a light drizzle began, and the wind blew in gusts. Some fans slipped ponchos over their jackets, and others huddled under umbrellas. Everyone kept an anxious eye on the sky. In the second quarter, the drizzle became stinging, blowing rain, and the band director made an announcement.
“We are cancelling the special half-time show due to the weather.” Groans swept through the crowd.
The wind picked up speed by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, the rain was coming down in sheets. Some torrent-soaked fans took refuge under the steel stadium.
Before the start of the fourth quarter with the score 0-0, the sheriff hurried over to the sidelines and talked to the Head Referee and then the coaches of both teams. An announcement over the loudspeaker followed.
“Can I please have your attention. This is an emergency. A tornado tail has been spotted. Everyone needs to find shelter immediately.”
General panic ensued. Fans and players alike rushed under the stadium. But the steel structure offered little protection from the violent, blowing rain. As the speed of the wind mounted, people clung to each other for stability.
Soon a message circulated. “Lie down! Lie flat on the ground!”
Chaos followed. Families shouted and looked for each other. Shrill children’s screams could be heard mixed with the roar of the wind. Fear was stamped on each face, whether adult or child. As semi-darkness engulfed the area, a noise like that of a high-speed train thundered over the stands. After what seemed like an eternity, the wind lessened and an eerie silence, interrupted by moans and calls for help, settled over the field. Mothers hushed their babies’ screams and checked older siblings for injuries. Soon wailing ambulance sirens pierced the air, and fans assessed the damage.
The stadium could be described as a mangled mass of steel. Pieces of the press box and debris were seen spread over the field. The remnants of the concession stand were in the distance. Downed wooden electric poles meant that the electricity was off in that part of town. The antenna tower survived, but without electricity, the radio was silent. Broken trees, roof tiles, and shattered doors and windows littered the area and marked the path of the storm. By the time the ambulances arrived, some of the injured had been assembled next to the street for treatment or transport to the hospital, if needed.
The shock was overwhelming. People cried unashamedly as they clutched their sobbing children in their arms. Everyone with children looked grave as they rounded up their families. Gradually the crowd dispersed.
Coach Krantz gathered the team together and delivered sad news. “It’s obvious the game cannot be continued, but the really bad news is that we can’t reschedule the game. The season will end in a tie. That result probably kills a bowl invitation.”
A stunned silence followed and then bedlam. “But coach … Can’t we appeal? …That is so unfair.”
“I agree. It’s unfair. But nobody can control a tornado.”
After a bit, Rowen said, “Hey, Monster. Were you scared when the funnel cloud came over?”
“Sure was. Weren’t you?”
“I was terrified and yelled out loud, but I’m not sure anyone heard me. My heart was pounding so hard it hurt.”
“I tried to recite a Bible verse during the worst part. I’m sure no one heard me, either.”
Brad said, “I heard. You said ‘Trust in the Lord’ over and over. That was a good verse to quote, and it helped me. Where’s it from?”
“The Psalms. This storm showed me how helpless a human really is. Everybody calls me Monster, but I’m nothing compared to that monster storm. I could have been blown me away like a matchstick. In times like this, it’s good to remember our dependence on the Lord.”
Brad asked, “Did you pray, Rowen?”
“Yes and no. At first, I was so scared I couldn’t do anything but scream. But after the wind calmed down, I thanked the Lord for my life.”
Early that evening the mayor used a loud speaker as he eased through the streets and around downed trees to announce a candle-light assembly in the park around the gazebo.
The park was a sea of flickering lights when the Mayer rose to speak. “This afternoon’s storm was probably an F-1. We’re really blessed that there were no deaths and only a few hospitalized. A lot of property was damaged, but that can be replaced in time. On top of all this is the disappointment of missing a ten-win season and going to a bowl game. But I want to congratulate the team…Each one of you played your heart out. You can be proud of your 9-0 record.”
The mayor continued. “There’s a lesson here to remember: We may think of ourselves as invincible, but no one has the power to control a force like today’s storm. Nobody could have predicted that a Monster would ruin our chance for a perfect 10 season.”