Later that night, Hayden sat in the tomb-like locker room with his team at half time. Guys slumped against the lockers or held their heads in their hands. He shared their pain. His muscles ached from the physical play. He’d been beat up on the field, and the refs weren’t calling many fouls.
The coach’s weak speech did nothing to rouse the team’s spirits. Tied 1-1 at halftime against a tough team should be a cause for celebration. Instead, everyone looked like their favorite dog got smashed by the garbage truck.
They’d played like crap and barely scraped by with the one goal which came on a penalty kick when Altgeld’s giant center back took Hayden down inside the box. Without Tim, Hayden’s normal position in the midfield went to a junior named John, and Hayden had to take up the slack of Tim’s forward spot.
So far John had sucked, letting in the opposing goal by missing his man. He’d been unable to chase him down and stop him from scoring. He sat away from the rest of the team on the receiving end of frustrated, angry glances.
Mike sat next to Hayden. He punched Hayden on the arm. “Come on, Captain, give us your words of wisdom.”
Hayden frowned at his team. You’d think they were losing by ten the way everyone pouted. Hayden stood and addressed them. “Come on, guys. The game’s not over. There’s another half to play and we’re not losing yet.”
The team shook their heads.
Hayden frowned. “Yes, we’ve played like crap. The refs wouldn’t know a foul from their own asshole. The other team is twice our size, and their back line should be the starting defensive line for the Chicago Bears.”
Mike snorted. “This is the worst motivational speech I’ve ever heard.”
Some of the guys laughed and Hayden smiled. “My point is, despite this shit, we’re tied with a team that has kicked our asses every year for the last twenty years. That tells me we have something the teams of the past didn’t have.” Faces raised to him.
“What?” John spoke from where he sat behind the team.
Hayden met their eyes one by one, then said the word burning in his heart. “Desire.”
A few guys straightened their backs, a couple nodded. Most just looked at Hayden.
Hayden frowned. “We want this win. I know everyone in here wants it. Bad. Bad enough to get it. But we won’t get it if we quit. When I look back on this day, I want to say I gave it my all. Not just for me, but for my team, for you, because we’re in this together.”
Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Hayden met their eyes again. This time nobody looked away. He saw the fire burning in each one. Except John, who still hung his head.
Hayden jumped on the bench to look down on the others. “What is it you want? Do you want to look back and say you gave up? That you quit on your team because it got too hard?” He looked at the top of John’s head. “Do you want to blame someone else for a loss when you quit trying?” The guys answered with loud “Hell no’s”.
John raised his head and met Hayden’s gaze.
Hayden smiled. He yelled above the noise made by his fired-up teammates. “Win or lose we’re a team. We play as a team. We lose as a team. But I want to win as a team. Who wants to win with me?”
The guys yelled their approval and slapped each other on the back. Hayden jumped from the bench and joined them. They high fived each other and bumped chests. Mike pulled John into the mix, and the others included him in the fray.
Hayden put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. The noise cut off, and they looked to their captain. Hayden grinned. “Now that you guys are awake, let me tell you how we’ll win.”
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