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Authors: John Feinstein

The Walk On (27 page)

BOOK: The Walk On
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He went back to the story. It went through the play-by-play of the game and ended with a quote from Alex: “Matt’s our quarterback and our leader,” the quote read. “I’m really, really happy we pulled this off tonight. I expect him back soon. In the meantime, this is a thrill I’ll never forget.”

He nodded as he read the quote, as if agreeing with himself.

He couldn’t resist the urge to go online to find some of the TV interviews he’d done and to read a couple of other stories on the game. Unfortunately, the common threads were, “Wow, what a comeback” and “quarterback controversy.” In one story on the
Philadelphia Daily News
website, Coach Gordon was asked if there would be an issue when Matt was healthy.

“You’re kidding, right?” Coach Gordon was quoted as saying. “We’re talking about an all-city player who might be the best quarterback in the state. My guess is Myers would be the first one to tell you that Matt’s the starter. Actually, he’d be the second one: I’m the first.”

That wasn’t a bad answer, but Alex wondered if being asked the question would somehow make Coach Gordon cranky when they got back to practice on Monday.

He decided not to worry about it—until Monday.

It was a spectacular fall day, the humidity and heat of the summer having finally broken. Christine Whitford was sitting in a back booth waiting when Alex walked in. To Alex’s surprise, he was stopped three times en route to the booth by people who recognized him and wanted to congratulate him.

“Better get used to that, Goldie,” she said as he slid into the booth.

“Can we just keep it at Alex?” he asked, smiling nonetheless.

She shrugged. “I doubt it. Everyone knows it now.”

“I’d prefer it if
call me Alex.”

“Okay, Alex. So whose idea was it for Jake to fake the injury?”

Whoa. This girl didn’t mess around. Blindsided yet again …

“I should be asking you that,” he finally said. “I didn’t spend any time with him after the game except when we were all in the car. If he’d talk to anyone, I think it’d be you.”

She looked at him sharply for a moment. “He wouldn’t even admit to me that he wasn’t really hurt,” she said finally.

“Then why do you think he was faking?” Alex asked.

“Someone else told me.”

“Then ask whoever it was whose idea it was.”

“I did. He said it was Jake’s.”

“And you don’t believe him?”

“I’m not saying that. But I’m not sure. Jake wouldn’t talk about it at all, and I can’t write that he faked it unless someone else confirms it.”

“You mean besides Matt.”

“What makes you say my source was Matt?”

“If it’s not Jake and it’s not me, it had to be Matt.”

She looked away for a moment and Alex knew he was right. He wondered
Matt would tell her.

“Regardless of who it was, I can’t write it based on one source unless Jake confirms it, and he won’t.”

“Well, I
confirm it because I don’t know.” Alex wasn’t sure he’d tell her even if he did know, but he didn’t feel the need to tell her that. He paused, then plunged forward. “I can’t believe you can’t get Jake to tell you something.”

He thought she reddened a little. “What’s that mean?”

“You are dating, aren’t you?”

More redness.

“We haven’t been on a date. We’ve just kind of hung out at parties.”

“But you think he’s good-looking.”

good-looking,” she said. “That isn’t always the reason you go out with someone—unless you’re a guy.”

He decided not to pursue this any further. The fact that she had said she hadn’t actually been on a date with Jake was a little bit of good news. It was also, he suspected, the last bit of news he was going to get on that front.

“So why won’t he tell you?” Alex said.

“I think he’s embarrassed,” she said. “How would you feel if the best way to help your team win was to fake an injury?”

She had a point. Which actually made Alex a little angry. Jake had done a very brave thing—whether it was his idea or Matt’s. He shouldn’t be humiliated in the newspaper for it.

“Why can’t you just let it go?” he said. “Why do you guys
have to make trouble every week? We just had an amazing win and you’re going to write that Jake faked an injury?”

“For the good of the team. I’m not going to attack him for doing it. Neither is Steve. Jake knew we were going to lose unless you got in the game, and Coach Gordon wasn’t going to put you in.”

“How do you know that?”

knows that!”

She was probably right. But still. “Even if that’s true, how does it help the team to say so now? I don’t see how humiliating Jake and calling out Coach for something you only
he would have done is ‘for the good of the team.’ ”

He leaned back in the booth as the waitress came to take their order. She appeared bored while Christine ordered, but when she turned to Alex, her eyes went wide.

“Hey, you’re the kid I saw on television last night! The quarterback!”

“Um, yeah,” Alex said. “Can I have a medium-rare burger with French fries and a Coke?”

“Sure you can!” the waitress said, now bubbling over with enthusiasm. Alex guessed she was about his mom’s age.

She turned to Christine. “Bet you’re proud of your boyfriend, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Christine said, now clearly blushing. “I’m just doing a story for the school newspaper.” The waitress leaned down and playfully batted Christine on the head. “Well he
be your boyfriend, hon! Just look at him!” With that, she walked away.

Christine looked as if she wanted to run from the room screaming.

Alex couldn’t resist. “You heard her,” he said. “Just look at me!”

She let out a deep breath. “Had you pegged right from the beginning. Big-ego football player.”

“Come on,” he said. “I was joking.”

She leaned forward.

“Okay, then, prove you’re different. Tell me the truth about Jake.”

Alex sighed. “I honestly don’t know whose idea it was.”

“Whose idea do you
it was?” she asked, her eyes wide open with anticipation.

He looked around the way you’re supposed to when you are about to reveal something you shouldn’t.

“You can’t quote me on this because I don’t know. But I suspect it was Matt,” he said.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “I knew he was holding out on me.”

“So Matt
your source.”

“I didn’t say that,” she said, suddenly a little flustered.

“Why did he tell you it was Jake?” Alex said, ignoring the non-denial denial.

She gave up the charade. “Because he figured I knew the truth, and he wanted Jake to come off as the hero of the story. Heck, everyone at the party knew he wasn’t hurt. Jake was
before the end of the night.”

“With you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she said.

It mattered to Alex. And he knew the answer was yes.

Jake Bilney was officially listed as “questionable” for the next Friday’s game at Lansdowne with a “slightly sprained knee.” He wore a light wrap on it to practice and didn’t take part in any of the drills that involved running, although he did take part in all the passing drills.

Emmet Foley, whose older brother Conor was a starting safety, was called up from the JV team to back up Alex at quarterback in case of an emergency and to take all the snaps Alex didn’t take when the team scrimmaged. Jake was held out of the scrimmages.

“I’m fine if they need me,” he told Alex. “But you better stay healthy so they
need me.”

Actually, no one was terribly worried about the next few games. Having survived the King of Prussia game, Chester Heights was now entering what was expected to be the easiest part of the schedule: Lansdowne, Haverford Station, and
Bryn Mawr Tech were traditionally the three weakest teams in the league. In fact, the three of them had one win total—Bryn Mawr’s win over Haverford Station the previous Friday.

“If I had to get hurt, this was the time to do it,” Matt said as they warmed up on Monday. He was still on crutches, but the doctors had told him he would be in a walking boot by the end of the week. He wouldn’t play the next two weeks but expected to be back for the Bryn Mawr game. “Honestly, no offense, Jakey, but we could win the next three with you at quarterback playing left-handed. With Goldie, we’re golden.”

Alex had warned Jake on Monday about Christine’s story. Jake didn’t seem too concerned. “She told me she was going to write it,” he said. “I can’t stop her, but no one can prove it. I did hurt my knee, just maybe not as bad as it seemed at the time.”

“But Coach may get upset again.…”

“Nah, we bailed him out,” Jake said. “Matt was right all along. You had to play. The results prove it. I bet Coach doesn’t say a word about it.”

So Alex let it drop, and Jake turned out to be right.

Weekly Roar
came out on Wednesday with extra coverage of the game, including a column by Steve Garland on how remarkable Alex’s performance had been.

“The only problem with Myers’s Miracle,” he wrote, “is that now Coach Gordon will have to decide in a few weeks if he plays his best quarterback or his favorite quarterback. They may not be the same person.”

Ouch, Alex thought.

Then there was Christine’s story, saying that “several of
the upperclassmen, along with backup quarterback Jake Bilney, had talked among themselves at halftime about the fact that Alex Myers had to take over behind center if the Lions were to win the game.”

She never actually said Jake faked the injury, but she did write, “Jake Bilney may have saved the season by going down and staying down when the Lions most needed to get Alex Myers up—and in the game.”

Ouch. Again.

And yet, not a word from Coach Gordon that day at practice. He was as cheerful as he had been all season—which didn’t exactly make him cheerful, but at least bearable. Matt was acting as an unofficial quarterback coach. Coach Gordon hadn’t replaced Coach Hillier—Alex figured it was tough to do midseason. So when the QBs went off to drill, Coach Brotman focused on the O-line because everyone believed that Alex and Jake and Emmet were in good hands with Matt.

Alex couldn’t resist asking the question when he had a chance.

“Your dad say anything about the stories in the
Weekly Roar
today?” he asked.

Matt shook his head. “I think he’s finally figured out that getting upset about what’s in the student paper doesn’t do anybody any good.” He smiled. “Besides, Jakey’s girlfriend had the story right. We all knew you had to play. My dad knows that.”

“She’s Jake’s girlfriend?”

He thought he knew the answer but wanted to see how Matt would answer.

Matt stood up to balance himself and pointed a crutch directly at him. “She should be
girlfriend, Goldie,” he said. “You gotta quit acting like you’re a third-string guy. You’re not—not any more than you were a third-string quarterback.”

Alex didn’t say another word.

The next two weeks could hardly have gone better for Alex—and for the team.

BOOK: The Walk On
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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