Love of the Game – By Mary McDonald
Flash Fiction / October 12, 2008

Whenever you smell leaves burning, your mind immediately thinks of autumn and the game. Sometimes, in the spring, when a neighbor burns off the winter’s accumulation of weeds and scrub, your heart beats a little faster as the adrenaline courses through your veins. It’s a Pavlovian response and you feel silly knowing that there are many months to go before your players will don their pads. But still, sometimes you find a pile of leaves to burn in April, just because. You know others would wrinkle their nose at the smell of sweat and musty equipment, but when you walk into the locker room, you feel like you’ve come home. A sense of purpose settles over you. The season begins and you survey a ragtag group of boys. Some cower under your scrutiny, others look impassive, but you know each and every one of them has something special inside. He must in order to willingly deal with the misery of football practice. You know that you are not just their coach. You are their mentor. Their surrogate father. Their disciplinarian–when they need it. Some need it a lot. There are times when you wonder what the hell is going through…