[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
AND OTHER FOOTBALL STORIES
HAROLD M. SHERMAN
THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING COMPANY
COPYRIGHT 1932 by
HAROLD M. SHERMAN
Made in U. S. A.
Interference A Case of Nerves The Bright Token "Butter Fingers" For the Glory of the Coach
"Can I see you a minute, Coach?"
"Yes, Mack. Come in."
Mack Carver, substitute back on Grinnell University's varsity squad, stepped across the threshold of Coach Edward's office. He carried his one hundred and eighty-seven pounds easily and with an athletic swagger. But he scowled as he entered, indicating that his call was about an unpleasant matter.
"Well, boy—what's on your mind?" smiled the Coach, straightening up from a mass of papers which contained diagrams of the plays Grinnell was to use in her season's big game against Pomeroy, now less than a week away.
"Plenty!" was Mack's bluntly grim answer. He stood now, facing his coach, across the desk.
Coach Edward's smile faded as he met Mack's challenging glance.
"I want to know why I've been kept so much of the time on the bench?" the substitute back fired, point blank.
"Because," answered Coach Edward, evenly, "there were eleven better men on the field. That's ordinarily the only reason any man's kept on the bench."
"I don't believe it," retorted Mack, feelingly. "You've had it in for me because my brother is coach at Pomeroy. That's the reason! And you'd like to be coach at Pomeroy yourself!"
Coach Edward drew in his breath, sharply. "Perhaps I would!" he said. "But that's a strict matter of business—nothing personal!"
"No?" flashed Mack. "You and brother Carl have been rivals for the last two years. You've been out to beat each other on the gridiron and now that you've turned out some cracking good teams with the smallest college in the State, you think you've got my brother on the run!"
"I'm tickled, naturally," admitted the coach. "Wouldn't you be? Don't you suppose your brother enjoys his triumphs over me? ... It's all in a spirit of good sportsmanship!"
"That part of it may be all right," conceded Mack, "but you feel strong enough against my brother, just the same, to not want to give me a break!"
"That's bunk!" branded Coach Edward. "But there's one thing I've always wanted to know ... why is it you quit Pomeroy after two years and came to Grinnell?"
"That's an easy one to answer. I discovered I could never hope to make the team that my brother was coaching. He was bending over backward to keep from showing me any favors. When I found that out, I figured I'd better save him from any further embarrassment and give myself a fair chance by changing schools. That's why I came to Grinnell!"
"But why Grinnell—Pomeroy's bitterest rival? Of all the schools you might have picked...!"
Mack grinned, sardonically. "My brother didn't think I'd ever make a good football player. I'd hoped to be able to show him."
"That's just your greatest fault," spoke the coach, frankly. "You want the limelight every move you make. You're wondering all the time if everyone's looking at you ... and it's hurting your game. No good player can be thinking of starring and playing at the same time."
Mack stared hard for a moment.
"You've got me wrong," he said, slowly. "I naturally want to do the best I know how. And maybe I've looked to you like I wanted to attract attention. If I have, it's only because I hoped you'd take a shine to what I was doing. The spectators didn't matter."
"You didn't need to worry about me," the coach replied. "It's my business to keep tab on each man on the squad. I'm sorry if you feel I've legislated against you but you force me to say that, up to the present, I'm inclined to agree with your brother."
"You will excuse me a minute?" requested the Coach, on observing that Mack had no comment to make for the moment, "I've an air mail letter I must post at once."
"Okay," Mack assented,, and sank disconsolately in a chair beside the desk as Coach Edward strode from the room, envelope in hand.
"This is a swell fix I'm in," Mack bemoaned, with the Coach having gone. "Talk about being hoodooed! How should I know that Coach Edward would ever be out after my brother's coaching job? I'll bet you every time Coach sees me he thinks of my brother and that kills my chances. But I was good enough so he had to make me a sub anyhow." Mack's gaze suddenly fell upon Coach Edward's pile of papers. Diagrams of football plays caught his eye. He leaned forward that he might see them better, then gave a glance toward the door and arose from his chair. "Hello! Pretty nice!... Maybe my brother wouldn't give a lot to have a copy of all these plays!... He's probably had his scouts covering Grinnell games ... but here's some plays we haven't used all season. Boy—that lateral pass opening out into a forward is a pip!... Coach Edward's been saving the fireworks to shoot on Pomeroy all right!... Guess he'd give his left ear to beat my brother's team this year. Huh! I'd give my right ear to get in the game!"
Impelled by curiosity, Mack lifted some of the papers and studied other diagrammed plays. He became more engrossed than he had intended when he was seized with the uncomfortable feeling that someone else was in the room.
"Well?" spoke Coach Edward, standing quietly just inside the door.
"Oh! I ... er ... a ...!" stammered Mack, badly fussed. "Pardon me!... I saw these plays here and I...!"
"... and you thought you'd get them memorized," said the Coach, bitingly.
"No, sir!" flashed Mack, stung at the insinuation. "I was just interested. I...!"
There was nothing further that he could say. It dawned on him in that moment that his relationship to the coach of Pomeroy's eleven was apt to cause many actions of his to be misconstrued. He would have to be more careful. Coach Edward was even now regarding him suspiciously.
"I hope, Mack, that I can trust you," he was saying.
"You sure can," Grinnell's disgruntled substitute answered, inwardly resenting the suggestion that he might use such information as he had gleaned against his school.
"I am surprised," Coach Edward finished, "that you would have permitted yourself to examine anything on my desk."
"I'm sorry, sir," Mack apologized, realizing that the Coach had reason for complaining. "But I wouldn't think of passing anything on to anyone else."
"It wouldn't be exactly wise," said Coach Edward as the two stood face to face.
Mack, who had toiled so long in the hopes of becoming a varsity regular and whose disappointment had finally assumed proportions of a grudge against his Coach, now made one final appeal.
"Coach, everything I do seems to be wrong. I can't get over the feeling that you don't like me. I swear I didn't mean anything by looking at those plays ... but you've an idea that I did. As for my being on the team and not getting a real chance to play—there must be some reason ... some big reason, if it's not prejudice. Whatever that reason is—I want to know it."
"That's what you say," rejoined Coach Edward. "But you're the sort, Mack, who won't be told. You're proving that fact right now even though you claim you want to know what's wrong. I've done the best I could for you on what you've shown me... I'm not in the habit of arguing or discussing a player's merits or demerits with him off the field so I'll have to ask you to consider this interview at an end."
"Okay!" rasped Mack, his pride deeply wounded and his feelings running away with him. Turning on his heel, he strode to the door, but whirled impulsively to throw back an angry taunt: "And here's hoping you get trimmed by Pomeroy!"
"Thank you," replied Coach Edward, icily. "I might have expected just such a remark from you."
And a very unhappy youth, leaving the Coach's presence with a wave of remorse sweeping over him, knew that now he most certainly had sealed his doom. He could hardly expect to be given an opportunity of playing in the Pomeroy game after this.
Grinnell's football schedule was so arranged that the Pomeroy game was always the last of the year. This permitted the small college eleven to throw its complete strength against an ordinarily more powerful team in the annual hope of creating an upset. For Pomeroy, the Grinnell contest had customarily been booked as a "breather" between big games. There had been little disposition in previous years, as a consequence, to take Grinnell's opposition too seriously. Thus, most of the excitement and enthusiasm had been provided by wide-eyed Grinnell supporters who had hypnotized themselves almost to the point of believing that the impossible was about to happen—a Grinnell victory! That these loyal rooters had been disappointed as regularly as the annual conflicts arrived, did not seem to dampen the ardor of the next season's support. "Hope springs eternal" was the trite but simple explanation offered by certain zealous followers who steadfastly refused to concede Pomeroy's vaunted superiority. Coach Edward's advent at Grinnell had served to heighten the interest when the small college had held Pomeroy to a 20 to 7 count the first year of his mentorship. Things commenced looking decidedly up as Grinnell, under the new coaching regime, came back the following fall with even more stubborn opposition, losing to Pomeroy in the last quarter, 13 to 7. No longer could Pomeroy consider the smaller college a set-up and this alone was sufficient for Grinnell supporters to claim a "moral victory." But even bigger things were expected this season—Grinnell's first undefeated eleven going into its major contest against a Pomeroy team which was fighting hard to sustain its prestige of former years.
Secret practice sessions were announced by Coach Edward the final week before the Pomeroy game, adding an air of mystery and high tension to an already pulsating feeling of suspense.
"Coach has a genius for inventing new plays," Frank Meade, left half, remarked to Mack Carver as the two dressed for practice on Tuesday afternoon. "Don't you think?"
"He figures out some good ones all right," Mack admitted.
"I'll say he does!" echoed Frank, with enthusiasm. "That one he taught us last night—a forward pass breaking out of that lateral!"
Mack's face colored. He was too familiar with this play from having seen it in diagram form on the Coach's desk.
"Yes," he mumbled. "That's a peach."
"If it's properly executed," Frank went on, "it should be good for a touchdown."
"Absolutely," Mack agreed, bending down and fingering with his shoe laces.
"Of course the right half has to block off any tacklers who may be trying to get through at the man with the ball," Frank continued. "The ball carrier's got to be given plenty of chance after taking the lateral to spot a receiver for the forward. If he can do this—the play ought to be a wow."
"I'd like to be in there on that play," Mack said, impulsively.
Frank laughed. "You may get the call yet. Anything can happen in this game!"
"Yeah?" retorted Mack, sarcastically. "All I've gotten so far is slivers in the seat of my pants from sitting on the bench. I'm getting tired of being shoved in for a couple minutes before the end of the half to give you birds a chance to get under the showers and take a rub-down before the second half opens. And then rushing in after the game's in the bag to hold 'em for dear old Grinnell. There's no kick in that."
"But somebody has to do it," returned Frank, regarding Mack, curiously. "I did that the last two years before they put me to work as a regular."
"Yes, but this is my third year," rejoined Mack. "At that rate, if I'm any good, I ought to be out there with you, too."
"You're playing in hard luck," Frank replied, pulling on his sweater. "Grinnell has the best material she's ever had and the regulars are so good that even good substitutes don't have the chance they might have." He made a little bow, winking mischievously. "Of course, I'm excluding myself. I'm rotten!"
Mack forced a grin. This whole situation was too serious to him to be taken lightly. "Yes," he retorted. "I'd probably be a regular if I was as rotten as you are!"
"Cheer up!" chuckled Frank, slapping Mack on the back. "Maybe some day—you will be!"
"I won't unless Coach gives me a better break," said Mack, a bit bitterly. "I've played in enough games to get my letter but it hasn't meant anything ... an average of five minutes a game. Even at that—don't you think I'm as good a back as Dave Morgan?"
Mack bit his lips as he asked the question. It was perhaps unfair to so embarrass Frank but Grinnell's substitute back was tempted to "fish" for compliments as a defensive gesture against Coach Edward's analysis of his ability. Should Frank agree that there was very little difference, in his opinion, between Dave and himself, Mack felt that this alone might prove the Coach to be biased.
"You—as good a back as Dave?" repeated Frank, cagily. "Well, I'd be a hard one to answer that. Dave happens to team together with me just about perfectly. He's cleared the way for most of my long runs, as you know."
"Probably I could have done that, too," Mack argued. "But I've never been put in the game when you were in. I've gone in with the second string backfield. We don't have an open field runner in that crowd who can get away like you can."
"Thank heaven for that!" grinned Frank. "Say—you've asked me a question. Now let me ask you one. Since your brother is coach of Pomeroy you ought to know something about our chances for beating them this year. What do you think? Are we going to break the jinx?"
Mack hesitated. Frank, who had raised his voice to command the attention of fellow teammates, was enjoying Mack's discomfiture.
"That's what I call putting a fellow on the spot," sympathized Dave Morgan, sauntering up. "If you can't think of a good answer, Mack—I suggest the old reliable 'yes and no'."
Fellow team members laughed.
"Hey, Mack!" called fullback Steve Hilliard. "Isn't your brother handicapped with poor material this year? His team's not done so well ... sort of an in and out eleven ... one Saturday looking like a world beater ... the next Saturday looking like a bunch of dubs. What's the low-down?"
"You fellows know as much about it as I do," replied Mack, reluctant to venture a comment. "For one thing, I think my brother's team has played the stiffest schedule in their history ... and he's had trouble keeping them at their peak every game. But Pomeroy's liable to make plenty of trouble for us—as usual."
"Meaning you think we still can't take them over?" pressed Frank, jovially.
"We'll have to go some!" was Mack's well guarded opinion.
"Which leaves us just where we were before," summarized Frank. "Too bad, guys! Here we've got a man—the actual brother of Pomeroy's coach—and he can't give us a better inside on what to expect. Was for two years on the squad, too!... I was hoping he could tell us all of Pomeroy's weaknesses and what his brother might be having up his sleeve. But now it begins to look like 'no soap'!"
"Don't you even know his standard plays?" joshed Steve. "If you know the formations, you might tip us off so we could shift to meet them."
"I'd have to be in the line-up to do that," said Mack. "Each play would have to be diagnosed. Even then I wouldn't want to do it."
"Wouldn't seem hardly fair—taking advantage of what I know about my brother's plays ... or system."
"All's fair in love and football," kidded Steve. "Shouldn't think that would make any diff. Your brother has scouts out, trying to discover what he can about us. Our coach has scouts giving your brother's team the once-over. So there you have it! Fellows have changed colleges before. You're entitled to bring what you know about football at Pomeroy to Grinnell. Why be close-mouthed about it?"
Mack shook his head decisively.
"As far as my football in Pomeroy is concerned," he gave answer, "it's a closed book. I'm here at Grinnell just as though I'd come here at the start. Of course I can't forget, with the Pomeroy game coming up, that my brother's coach of the team and that I'm really opposing him..."
"How do you feel about that?" Frank asked.
Mack drew in a deep breath as team members looked at him with intent interest.
"All right, boys!" broke in Coach Edward, entering the locker room. "Snap out of it! We're going to have our last scrimmage of the year tonight. Going to try out those new plays I ran you through yesterday. Let's go!"
The players, springing to their feet, jostled each other through the doorway onto the field, Mack joining with them, secretly glad of the coach's interruption. Inwardly he was in such a turbulent state that he didn't really know how he felt about the Pomeroy-Grinnell clash. He should be intensely loyal to Grinnell, without question ... but there were other factors crowding in. If to lose the Grinnell game actually meant the loss of his brother's coaching job ... it also meant the loss of his mother's support. Carl had been assuming this responsibility until he, Mack, could finish his schooling and help out. Under these circumstances, with Carl's position probably wavering in the balance due to an unsteady season and the demand of Pomeroy alumni for winning football, the outcome of the Grinnell game took on added if not painful significance. The situation was even beginning to take the edge off Mack's original desire to compete against his brother's team and show it up. There was always drama in the idea of brother against brother. Newspapers were already hinting at the possible conflict and would make much capital of the matter if it did come to a head. But Mack did not now relish the thought of being in any way instrumental in the loss of his brother's coaching job.
"I'm getting in more and more of a jam, it seems to me," he muttered, as he trotted out on the field. "Maybe I'd be better off if I quit this game entirely."
Opportunities often come when least expected. Coach Edward suddenly decided that he wished the regulars to face the strongest lineup he could possibly throw against them as a severe test of the new plays. As a result, Mack Carver found himself at right half on the Second Eleven which had been trained in Pomeroy plays.
"You've run through many of these Pomeroy plays yourself," Coach Edward said to him, "so we're depending on you to carry the brunt of the Second Team offensive and give us a good idea of what to expect next Saturday."
There was nothing in the coach's attitude to indicate a remembrance of the unpleasant interview between them. Mack's heart bounded at the thought that Coach Edward was recognizing him to this extent. Here was, at least, a chance to demonstrate what he could do in practice—much more of a chance than he had been given hitherto.
"I'll try to impersonate Dizzy Fox, Pomeroy's star right half," Mack told Alf Rigsbee, Second Team quarterback. "He's the man our fellows will have to look out for!"
"Okay, Dizzy!" grinned Alf. "You're going to be in for a busy afternoon!"
"And listen!" cried Mack, with more spirit than he had felt all season. "Let's give this Varsity bunch more than just a work-out!... If we all hang together, I think we can outscore 'em!"
"We can try!" volunteered Bob Hayes, fullback. "Seeing as how we've got some of you first team subs in here to help us!"
Coach Edward, assuming the role of referee, blew his whistle, signalling the two teams to take the field. It was to be the Varsity's kick-off.
Frank Meade, carefully toeing the ball, looked over the boys opposing him.
"Don't be too hard on us, you guys!" he joshed. "We're just learning the game!"
"Then we'll teach you a lesson this afternoon!" quarterback Alf Rigsbee called back to him. "We're out to get you babies and we don't mind saying so!"
The threat brought howls of good-natured derision from the Varsity team members but the chiding ceased when, with Franks kicking off over the goal line and the ball being brought out to the Seconds' twenty yard line, Mack Carver made fifteen yards on the first play with one of his brother's clever wing back formations.
"I'll show Coach Edward whether I'm a ball carrier or not!" Mack told himself, highly flushed with his early success. "Call my number again!" he begged.
Quarterback Rigsbee shot him the ball a second time and Mack skated through tackle on a delayed wing back for seven yards.
"This Varsity isn't much!" kidded the Seconds' linesmen, elated at Mack's gains.
"Wait till we've solved these new plays and we'll stop you cold!" promised Bert Henley, Varsity quarterback.
But the Seconds were well drilled and Mack Carver, in particular, functioned remarkably well, skirting the ends and knifing through the line on plays with which he had long been familiar.
"Wonder what Coach thinks now?" he said to himself as the Seconds landed on the Varsity's ten yard line for a first down.
Mack found himself regretting that there were no student spectators and no newspaper reporters on the sidelines watching his performance. All such had been banned for this week of secret practice.
"Come on, gang! Let's stop this advance right here and now!" appealed Varsity quarterback Donner. "We've played with these little boys long enough!"
The Varsity had taken a time-out to get reorganized. The so-called Scrubs hadn't made things this interesting throughout the entire season.
"They'll be expecting another wing back," counselled Mack. "My brother had another good play you fellows haven't been taught. What do you say we try it?"
"No—we'd better stick to the plays that have been given us," replied quarterback Alf Rigsbee.
"It's simple," insisted Mack, "and we want this touchdown. Listen—you feint a pass behind the line to me and I shoot to my left like I've got the ball but the left half really gets it—only, after he does, he fades hack into the backfield and then throws a forward pass out to me. It's a grand scoring play. We ought to be able to work it without rehearsal and it should catch the Varsity flat-footed!"
Quarterback Rigsbee looked to his fellow team members questioningly.
"Sounds like a peach to me," endorsed left half Bill Grady. "What do you say we try it?"
"Well, if you guys think it's okay," agreed Alf. "Now this'll be the signal...!"
With play resumed, the Seconds sprung their surprise play. A quick crisis-crossing behind the lines, Mack lunging to the left, Bill Grady taking the ball and dropping into his backfield...!
"Look out for a pass!"
The Varsity shouted its warning as Bill suddenly wheeled and hurled the pigskin to his left where a crouching figure straightened up, raced toward the goal, jumped into the air to catch the ball and was tackled almost immediately, only to fall over the line for a touchdown.
"Atta boy, Mack!" shouted delirious Seconds, dragging the tickled Varsity substitute to his feet.
"How about it, you Varsity?" Mack taunted. "A march of eighty yards!"
"Yea, Pomeroy!" razzed Second team members. "You can't stop Pomeroy!"
"Just a minute!" broke in Coach Edward, abruptly. "What play was that you fellows just pulled?"
Alf Rigsbee, Seconds' quarterback, looked a bit uneasy.
"Why, er ... it was a play Mack suggested to us ... one his brother used. Not so bad, hey?"
"Since when is anyone giving you men plays without my authority?" the Coach demanded, picking up the pigskin. "Ball's on the ten yard line. Use the plays in which you've been instructed!"
Mack stared, open-mouthed. "But, Coach, I...!" he started, biting off the protest.
"I was afraid of that," quarterback Rigsbee mumbled. "But we scored on the Varsity anyhow. They can't take that away from us! Never mind that, guys—we'll do it all over again!"
Cut here Alf's optimism encountered its first snag. The Varsity, now desperate, crashed through the Seconds' line to throw Mack for a four yard loss. In four downs the Seconds had advanced the ball only to the nine yard line where it went over. The Varsity tried a running play which failed to gain and then kicked out of danger. On an exchange of punts, the Varsity gained twenty yards and put the ball in play on their twenty-nine yard line.
"Here we go!" they announced.
"Yes—backward!" shouted quarterback Rigsbee as the Seconds' line charged fast and forced a two yard loss.
"Get in there!" ordered the Coach. "You've got to work for your yardage tonight. I haven't picked out any bed of roses for you Varsity men. If you're going to stand a chance against Pomeroy you've got to do better than this!"
"Don't let them shake Frank Meade loose!" pleaded Alf of his determined Seconds. "Frank depends on Dave's clearing the way for him. Stop Dave and you stop Frank most of the time!"
"I'll take care of Dave!" volunteered Mack, eyeing his rival for right halfback. "The coach thinks he's better than I am. All right—this is a swell time for him to prove it!"
On the first play with Dave running as interference, Grinnell's star blocking halfback collided with the fellow who thought he was just as good and Mack's ambitious effort to break up the formation ended in a nose dive as Frank, carrying the ball, raced down the field for thirty-seven yards and a first down on the Seconds' thirty-four yard line.
"I thought you said you'd take care of Dave," chided quarterback Rigsbee as a dejected Mack picked himself up.
"He won't block me out again!" was all Mack would say as he took his place behind the line.
"Dave's a tough man to stop," rejoined Alf. "You pick him off right along and you are good!"
The Varsity was laughing now. Frank's long run had pepped Grinnell's first stringers up. Quarterback Bert Henley said something in Frank Meade's car. Frank nodded. It was to be one of Coach Edward's new plays ... two laterals behind the line with Frank on the ball carrying end.
"Watch this one!" warned Alf Rigsbee as he saw the shift. His Seconds were all eyes and they needed to be for the passes which followed left them momentarily dazed. The pigskin changed hands with bewildering speed behind the line and Frank finally emerged with Dave running interference, dashing around right end. Most of the Seconds had been pulled in on the play but Mack, studying the shift closely, hazily recalled that this was another of the plays he had seen diagrammed.
"Frank around right end!" he exclaimed, "that play looked like a nifty when they ran through it last night. But I'll nail Frank this time!"
Racing to his left, Mack rapidly loomed in front of the fast traveling Frank who was shielded by his interferer, Dave, running a step ahead and in front of him. Dave, seeing Mack coming, prepared for the impact. Mack, eyes only for Frank, charged savagely, intending to brush Dave aside and keep on going until he had brought Frank to the ground with a diving tackle. What actually happened was extremely jolting to Mack. He hit Dave but did not tumble him. Instead it was he who rebounded and Dave continued on. Mack, rolling over, painfully, saw Dave go on down the field to bowl quarterback Alf Rigsbee, playing safety, out of the way and leave Frank with a clear path to the goal line.
"Great work!" Mack heard Coach Edward complimenting Dave. "That's what I call 'interference'!"
The Varsity lined up in front of the Seconds' goal line with Dave holding the ball while Frank place-kicked the point after touchdown. A chagrined Mack Carver could only turn to Alf and declare: "The score should have been a tie if that touchdown of ours hadn't been disallowed."
Alf shrugged his shoulders, expressively. "What do we care?" was his answer. "It's only practice!"
To Mack, however, his entire efforts seemed to have been punctured like a toy balloon. He had tried to put more fight in his play. He had tried, moreover, to show the coach that Dave was not so hot as a blocking back. But he had actually only served to further demonstrate Dave's great ability to dump would-be tacklers. This scrimmage had been more than practice to him—it had been a final testing of abilities he had claimed to have which he apparently did not possess. The coach would probably discount the runs he had made while impersonating Pomeroy's star back, Dizzy Fox. He had already discredited the touchdown scored on a trumped up play, despite its perfect execution. In fact, every way you looked at it, this fellow Mack Carver appeared as a complete wash-out. He even marvelled now that he had had the audacity to visit Coach Edward and ask why he wasn't a regular on the Varsity. How foolish of him to have imagined that the Coach was holding his relationship to Carl Carver against him! He really owed the coach an apology!
"Hey, Mack!" said a voice, and Grinnell's substitute back, momentarily lost in a solemn revery, realized that Dave Morgan was at his elbow. "Listen, old man," Dave was saying. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No," Mack replied. "But you sure took me out of those plays. It was swell interfering."
Dave nodded. "You came at me like the charge of the Light Brigade," he grinned, "only you hit me too high ... gave me a chance to get under you and I hoisted you out of the way. Next time try the shoulder and the half roll—like this ...!" And Dave put his words into action, sending Mack spinning as he did so.
"Much obliged!" was Mack's comment, when he had recovered his balance.
"Don't mention it!" said Dave, and was off to join his Varsity mates as the two elevens lined up again for kick-off.
Mack, standing staring after the fellow who had beaten him out for the team, could scarcely control his feelings. He had carried a chip on his shoulder all season; hadn't mixed with the fellows the way he might have; had taken the game and its incidents too seriously, and here was a guy—his rival—who was sport enough to take him aside and tip him off as to how he might be stopped!
"I'll try it next chance I get," Mack decided, "and if it works...!"
Varsity kicked off to the Seconds who lost the ball on downs after putting on another advance—this one for forty yards. Mack was responsible for half of the yardage gained but the Varsity was now getting on to the Pomeroy plays and developing an effective defense to cope with them. Taking the ball on its twenty-three yard stripe, the Varsity started a slashing drive, mixing straight line plays and end runs. Finally, with the Seconds' defense stiffening, quarterback Bert Henley called upon Coach Edward's new play—the lateral opening out into the forward pass.
"Now!" thought Mack, as he analyzed what was coming.
Dave Morgan, intended as Frank's screen on the pass, lateralled to Frank and stationed himself in front as interferer. Frank, who had started to run wide, faded back for the throw. Coming in fast, Mack, following instructions, tore into Dave, hitting him low. Frank's interference disappeared suddenly and completely in a jolting somersault and Mack, with a half roll, was upon his feet and diving back after the man with the ball. Frank tried to elude him and to forward pass at the last instant but Mack had covered him too fast. He was tackled before he could get the ball away for a loss of twelve yards.
"Great stuff!" congratulated a winded Dave who had staggered to his feet. "That's getting past interference!"
"Now aren't you sorry you wised me up?" smiled Mack, appreciatively. "You could have had things all your own way."
"But it wouldn't have been any fun," was Dave's reply. "Now I've got to work!"
And Dave's prediction proved correct. A friendly feud developed between Mack and himself. It was no longer possible for Dave to block Mack out of the play and keep going himself. Invariably the two went down and out together. Occasionally Mack would so batter his interference as to reach the man with the ball himself. If he did not, he so thoroughly removed the interference that he forced the ball carrier in the open and made him comparatively easy prey for fellow Seconds to bring down.
"Dave, you've done wonders for me," Mack said, gratefully, at the end of a gruelling practice. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Don't try," Dave answered. "I've been watching you for some time. I knew you were just missing out. You ought to make it tough for anybody from now on!"
That any fellow player would have been so unselfish as to help a rival overcome a fault in charging interference and thus jeopardize his own position on the team was almost beyond Mack's comprehension. Long after the practice session was over he puzzled Dave's great kindness and wondered, too, whether Coach Edward had finally been impressed with the way he had played.
"After I got the hang of it, I made even Dave look bad," Mack told himself. "I certainly didn't intend to do this ... but every time I broke up the interference and nabbed Frank it counted in my favor and against Dave. Coach doesn't know, of course, who's responsible for my improvement. I only wish it was earlier in the season. I might be able to get somewhere." But this thought brought a feeling of remorse since Mack's advancement would ordinarily have to be at Dave's expense.
"I see now what Coach meant about a fellow's playing wholeheartedly for the team," Mack reflected. "Dave wasn't thinking of himself when he helped me out. If I should develop into the better player, I know he'd take his hat off to me. And here I've been playing for myself right along. Swell guy—this Mack Carver!... So swell he ought to be ducked in Grinnell Lake!"
News travels fast across a college campus. The following morning students were thrown in a turmoil of excitement by word that Coach Edward's office had been rifled during the night and nothing disturbed but the team plays. It was rumored that two detectives had been employed by the college to determine, if possible, the guilty party or parties. Despite an attempt to keep the matter quiet, newspapers got hold the story and, later in the day, papers appeared with streaming headlines:
GRINNELL PLAYS STOLEN FROM COACH'S OFFICE
POMEROY AUTHORITIES INDIGNANTLY DENY ACCUSATIONS OF PART IN ATTEMPT TO SECURE GRINNELL PLAYS AND SIGNALS
The Grinnell Leader-Tribune went so far as to declare, in its news story, that relations between Pomeroy and Grinnell had been strained for the past two years since Grinnell had developed into a school to be feared by the larger college. It seemed that Pomeroy had scheduled Grinnell merely for the purpose of giving her a drubbing and taking it easy between big games and that Grinnell's increased opposition had been embarrassing to Pomeroy students and alumni who rated their eleven far better than the intended victim. Now matters had become so acute, a report was going the rounds that Coach Carl Carver's job at Pomeroy hung upon his winning the Grinnell game, about which there was some doubt owing to Pomeroy's uncertain season. A victory for Grinnell, on the other hand, would be the greatest triumph ever scored by that school since Pomeroy was a nationally known eleven, accustomed to playing the best in the country. "It's a step up or a step down for either coach," the news article concluded, and Mack Carver, Grinnell substitute back, who read the stories with a strange lump in his throat, breathed his thanksgiving that no mention was made of him.
"This is one time when my not being well known as a football player has helped out," he said to himself. "If I'd been prominent on the Grinnell team, I'd have been played up along with my brother. As it is, they'll probably let me alone."
But in this surmise, Mack was wrong. On reporting for football practice that afternoon, he found fellow team members regarding him with traces of suspicion.
"Coach wants to see you in the Field House," Frank informed. "He says not to dress."
Mack stiffened with surprise.
"Okay," he replied, face sobering. "Any idea what it's about?"
"How should I know?" rejoined Grinnell's star back, but Mack fancied he noted an attempt on Frank's part to conceal his real feelings. "Maybe," Frank added, rather lamely, "he's moving you up as a regular!"
"No chance of that," said Mack, grimly. "See you guys later!"
He turned on his heel and strode out of the locker room. On the way to the Field House his thoughts ran together crazily. There could only be one answer to the Coach's request to see him. It must be in connection with the stolen plays!... Mack's mind raced back to the moment in Coach Edward's office when he had been detected examining the plays. He winced. This was probably the meagre clue upon which he was being drawn into the case ... this and the fact that he was a brother of Carl Carver's!
Coach Edward was apparently awaiting Mack's arrival. He was in the company of two strange men when Grinnell's substitute back located him in one of the conference rooms.
"Meet Mr. Pierce and Mr. Greene," the Coach introduced. "Take a chair over here."
Mack sat down, feeling the two men looking him over, shrewdly.
"You've been called," explained Coach Edward at once, "in the hopes that you may help us throw some light on what happened in my office last night."
"I thought so," answered Mack, eyeing his coach squarely.
"Why did you think so?" demanded the man referred to as Pierce. He was solidly built, black moustache and heavy eyebrows. Mack took an instant dislike to his bullying manner.
"The reasons should be obvious," he replied.
"As we understand it," spoke up the man introduced as Greene, "you paid Coach Edward a visit some days ago—at his office."
"I did," acknowledged Mack.
"At that time," continued Mr. Greene, "you took quite an interest in some diagrams of plays which your coach had on his desk."
Mack's face flushed. "I did," he admitted.
"What was the big idea?" boomed Pierce. "You knew your coach would tell you all he wanted you to know about any plays he had. Why take the first chance you got to look them over?"
Mack turned to Coach Edward who sat back, having left the questioning to the two strange gentlemen.
"Listen here, Coach! Who are these men? Am I being cross-examined? You don't think that I...?"
"These men are detectives as you've probably supposed," said Coach Edward. "I haven't accused you of anything. The case has been turned over to them. They have been acquainted with all known facts ... and you simply are being asked to contribute what you know."
Mack stirred uneasily. "I don't know anything!" he replied, frowning his defiance.
"Didn't you even know that a key to Coach Edward's office was found to be missing from his desk shortly after you left?" pressed Detective Pierce.
"No," said Mack, his temper slowly rising.
"But you're willing to admit that a knowledge of Grinnell plays and signals would be highly valuable to your brother, aren't you?"
Mack glared. "I suppose they would ... but if you think my brother would take any underhanded advantage...!"
"We're not thinking," interrupted Detective Greene, smoothly. "We're just talking out loud. I believe you've been peeved at your Coach for some time ... even accused him of not giving you the breaks you deserved!"
"That's right," said Mack, after a moment's hesitation. "And I want to apologize for that."
"You do, eh?... What for?"
"Because I discovered last night I was wrong."
"I mean—yesterday afternoon ... in scrimmage. I thought I was better than I really was. I'm sorry I ever said anything, Coach."
Coach Edward nodded, exchanging glances with the two detectives.
"Trying to make things right now, aren't you?" taunted Detective Greene. "But you can't explain away that crack you took at Coach Edward just as you were leaving."
"What crack was that?"
"'Here's hoping you get trimmed by Pomeroy!'" Mack flinched. He had been sincerely trying to straighten matters up but the detectives did not appear to be giving him credit.
"I was sore when I left," said Grinnell's substitute back. "I shouldn't have said that. I didn't really mean it."
"You didn't mean it, eh?... Isn't it a fact, when you left Coach Edward's office you were practically positive you wouldn't get a chance to play against Pomeroy?"
He hesitated. "Yes, sir," he finally granted.
"And," persisted Detective Pierce, "isn't it a fact, if you couldn't get a chance to play, you would rather have seen your brother's team win?"
"No!" cried Mack, rising from his chair.
"Just a minute, son!" snapped Detective Pierce, pushing Mack down. "Wasn't that remark you made, leaving Coach Edward's office, actually a threat?"
Mack stared at the burly figure in front of him in amazement. This interview was taking on the proportions of a third degree.
"A threat?" Mack repeated, somewhat bewildered.
"A threat that, if the coach didn't put you in the game against Pomeroy—you'd do all you could to help Pomeroy win!"
"That's a lie!" branded Mack. "I didn't have any such idea in mind. You can't prove a thing. I never saw the key. I haven't been near Coach Edward's office since. I haven't been in touch with my brother. You can't make me out a thief. I went straight to the Coach with my grievance and got it out of my system. I've apologized—whether he wants to accept it or not. I'd intended going to him and apologizing today ... until this came up. It's unfortunate ... but I didn't have anything to do with it!"
Mack's outburst sounded incoherent as it poured from his lips but he was greatly up-wrought. To think of such suspicions having centered upon him! He could understand how he had been responsible for part of his dilemma but the rest seemed far-fetched, absurd.
"I think, officer, the boy's been questioned enough," said Coach Edward.
"Not quite!" rejoined Detective Pierce. "This young man also mentioned in your presence the rumor that you were out after his brother's job. Isn't that so, Mr. Carver?"
"Yes," glowered Mack, now strictly on the defensive.
"He had that very much on his mind. It's human then to believe that he would be interested in his brother's holding his job. Am I right?... Isn't that the way you feel about it, Mr. Carver?"
"Naturally," conceded Mack, with a feeling of being cornered. "But I wouldn't let even that stand in the way of playing my hardest for Grinnell if I got the chance in the Pomeroy game!"
"On the other hand, if you should sympathize too much with your brother, you might fumble at the right time or make a poor play which would help Pomeroy out?"
"No, no!" Mack fairly shouted. "I'm not that sort. I won't answer another question!"
"You're quite right, Mack," sided Coach Edward, evidently disturbed by the turn the cross-examination had taken. "Gentlemen, I don't think anything is to be gained by detaining Mr. Carver longer."
Detectives Pierce and Greene looked consultingly at one another.
"I'm not satisfied that the boy's telling all he knows," declared Pierce. "Since I'm in charge of this case, I must ask that he be suspended from the team until this matter is solved."
"Please," begged Coach Edward, as Mack looked his concern. "Not that. It will mean unfavorable publicity—ill feeling between the two schools."
"We can't help that," said Detective Pierce, bluntly. "You've reported that your office has been entered. We've been assigned to the case. You've told us everything you knew about events leading up to last night and it's our job to run the clues down. Greene and I feel that this young man should be held as a material witness. Naturally it won't look right for you to keep a man on the team who's under suspicion."
"I quite agree with you there."
"Then suspend him at once."
"I dislike doing this very much."
"You haven't any choice, Mr. Edward."
"But I don't feel you've lined up sufficient evidence to warrant such action. I'll confess thinking first of Mack when I discovered what had been done ... but it was only because of certain incidents. Listening to this cross-examination today, I'm not convinced that he is any way connected. Rather, I believe that the circumstances surrounding him have been unfortunate. I'd much prefer to drop the whole matter than..."
"You can't drop it!" bellowed Detective Pierce. "It's in the papers. We're not going to have it said that we were hushed up. Whoever broke into your office must have been working for Pomeroy because the plays and signals wouldn't have done anyone else any good. When this young man decides to talk we'll find out something. You wait and see."
Mack Carver laughed, grimly. The situation, serious as it was, now struck him funny. Two small town detectives with an inflated sense of their own importance. Coach Edward, because of his desire to win the Pomeroy game had magnified the happening until it had developed beyond his control. There was going to be some fireworks now despite anything that he could do.
"It's all right, Coach," said Mack, sympathetically. "Go ahead and suspend me. You probably wouldn't have played me anyway—so it's no loss to the team. Besides—these men can't prove anything on me if they spend the rest of their lives."
"Mack," addressed Coach Edward, with obvious sincerity. "I hope you'll believe me when I say that I'm deeply sorry this thing has occurred. You've made your mistakes in judgment ... and I've made mine. I've a feeling now that you're being done an injustice but there's little I can do about it for the time being...!"
"What are you trying to hand the boy?" cut off Detective Pierce. "Is he suspended or isn't he?"
"He's suspended," said the Coach, simply.
"Very well!" snapped Detective Pierce. "Come on, Greene. I've got another angle for us to follow up. As for you, son—you stay put where we can call you!"
"I will," Mack promised, and stepped into the hall.
Outside the cool November air felt bracing to his feverish temples. He inhaled it to the depth of his lungs as he strode from the Field House, across the gridiron where Darby, assistant coach, was putting the squad through its paces.
"Hi, Mack!" yelled Frank as the substitute back was discovered. "Where you going?... Wait a minute!"
The team members looked Mack's way, apparently much interested.
"They're probably curious to know what's happened," thought Mack, a peculiar sort of numbness taking possession of him ... a numbness which was making him insensible to bitterness and disappointment. But Mack had no desire to mix with his fellows and hurried his footsteps toward the exit gate.
"Hold on, Carver!" Assistant Coach Darby shouted after him.
Mack came to a stop and looked back, wonderingly. Darby hurried, over, followed by Varsity team members.
"What's the matter?" asked Mack, almost defiantly. "What do you want?"
"Better get into your duds," said Darby. "We may need you."
"Not me," Mack rejoined, incredulously.
"Yes, you!" replied Frank, coming up and tapping him on the shoulder. "Dave's just been carried off the field with a dislocated knee. It's doubtful if he'll be able to play Saturday."
Mack stood for a moment, shocked at the news. The field seemed to spin around in a circle ... then the peculiar numbness returned.
"Too late," he heard himself saying. "You'll have to use someone else. I'm no longer on the team. I've been suspended."
And, with that, he continued on out through the exit gate, not so much as glancing back over his shoulder.
Grinnell College never knew a sensation to compare with that which arose over the suspension of one Mack Carver. Not widely acquainted because of his having entered Grinnell as a Junior with his residence on the campus not quite three months in duration, Mack now became the most discussed young man in school. His brother, Coach Carl Carver of Pomeroy, had been too well known for the past few years, due to the steam roller effect of his team upon the woeful best that Grinnell could put on the field. Newspapers, in their merciless survey of the present situation, left nothing to be imagined, emphasizing that the coming Saturday's contest was more a "battle of coaches" than it was a "battle of elevens." Injury of Dave Morgan, Grinnell's great blocking back, had complicated matters still more since Mack Carver, the suspended back, would logically have taken his place on the team. News had leaked out of Mack's satisfactory performance in the last secret scrimmage and rumor had it that Mack and his brother were not supposed to be on speaking terms. This rumor hardly jibed with the suspicion Mack was declared to be under—of having stolen Grinnell signals and plays for the purpose of tipping said brother off that Pomeroy might be assured of winning the game. But, since one good rumor deserved another, all those interested might read and take their choice. Meanwhile all sorts of wild reports were circulated, sides were frenziedly taken, and the Grinnell stadium was sold out with thousands of demands for tickets being of necessity refused.
"There'll be plenty of excitement here Saturday," a Grinnell storekeeper remarked. "I'm going to re-enforce my store windows so the crowds can't push 'em in."
Friday afternoon, Pomeroy's football squad, thirty-three strong, arrived at Grinnell, having made the hundred and forty mile trip by bus. They immediately took rooms in the Grinnell Inn—a whole floor to be exact—and then the squad stretched their legs with a walk up and down the Main Street while Coach Carl Carver got on the telephone and called his brother.
"Mack—this is Carl! What's all this I hear about stolen plays and your suspension?"
"It's all a lot of noise!"
"Yeah? Doesn't sound like it by the papers. Looks pretty serious to me. I've invited Coach Edward up here to see me in fifteen minutes and I want you to be here."
"Aw, nix, Carl!... I've said my say. I'm not begging for anything. I've embarrassed you enough as it is! You know what they're saying ... that we're in cahoots!"
"What do I care what they're saying?... I want you to be here, understand?... I'm not taking 'no' for an answer!"
"Okay," said Mack, reluctantly, "but I'm telling you beforehand, it won't do you any good."
Mack arrived five minutes before Coach Edward appeared.
"Well!" greeted Carl, "this is a nice kettle of fish!"
"Mostly my fault, too," said Mack, and related the events leading up to the present moment.
"So Coach Edward is after my job?" mused Carl. "That's what happens after you've had a winning team for a couple years. A few reverses and the proud alumni commence hollering 'get the axe'! Everybody loves a winner and they don't stop to figure there's got to be a loser to every winner. Now that Grinnell's piled up a great record this year, we're supposed to bump you off. If we do, despite the fact we've had no season to shout about ourselves, the alumni will consider our year crowned with success."
"You think you're going to beat us?" grinned Mack.
"Yes—with you suspended!" kidded Carl.
"Cut it!" Mack winced. "I'll prove to you yet that I can play football!"
"Go to it!" invited Carl. "I admire your stick-to-it-iveness! Three years and just a substitute indicates a bear for punishment."
"Being related to you is my biggest handicap," was Mack's rejoinder. "It cost me better consideration before and it's costing me my chances now."
"Tough luck!" sympathized Carl. "But if your coach gets my job next year, you'll have a clear field!"
"I hope he doesn't!"
"Meaning you hope we win?"
Mack's face colored. "No—but I hope you keep your job win or lose."
"Listen, kid!" and Carl looked cautiously toward the door, "we've been slowed up due to injuries and illness this year in addition to poor material. But right now my eleven's at its peak for the first time and we're set to give Grinnell a whale of a battle tomorrow. So—if your team wins, your coach will be deserving of something!"
A rap sounded on the door.
"There he is now!"
Carl strode over and flung the door open.
"Edward, how are you?"
"Fine, Carver. And you?"
"Okay!... I've asked my kid brother to sit in."
"Oh! ... Hello, Mack!"
"Sit down, Edward."
"I haven't said anything to Mack about this but maybe I can throw a little light on this stolen play business."
"On Wednesday night, this week, I received a mysterious note, signed by a Mister "X" who proposed to sell me your signals and plays. I was advised to leave one hundred dollars under a log in a vacant field..."
Coach Edward leaned forward, highly interested. Mack whistled, impulsively.
"What did you do?"
"I left the hundred," related Coach Carver, "but I marked the bills. The next morning I found the bills gone and, in their place, this sealed envelope which, I imagine, contains the stolen plays and signals."
"You haven't opened it?"
You'll have to take my word for it. The seal is unbroken. Of course—this could be a second envelope."
"Hardly likely," said Coach Edward, greatly fussed. "May I open it?"
"I should expect you to," said Carl. "Maybe we've both been fooled. It may be nothing but a wad of paper."
"No—it's the plays all right ... and—the signals!" gasped Coach Edward. "This is almost incredible ... and certainly brazen! I don't suppose the guilty person has been traced?"
"No—although the police in Pomeroy as well as the merchants have been quietly tipped off as to the marked bills—a tiny "X" in the right hand upper corner. You see, the idea is to out-X Mister X." Carl was smiling.
"But he's probably left the town," surmised Coach Edward.
"Yes—and he's more probably returned to Grinnell," predicted Carl. "You may find some of the marked five dollar bills in your town."
"Then you figure the thief a resident of Grinnell?"
"Well, I most certainly don't wish to claim him for Pomeroy! We've already been given the name of being behind this ... and my own brother is under the shadow of suspicion."
"This I regret very much," declared Coach Edward. "I said so at the time. Mack and I have had our differences; I jumped a bit too hastily at conclusions myself and the result is this unfortunate notoriety. I'm profoundly sorry. I would like to be able to make amends."
"Then may I suggest that you begin by reinstating my brother at once. You have the evidence now to prove he was not implicated and I demand that you do it!"
"You won't have to demand," promised Coach Edward, "I was opposed to this action in the first place and it will please me to present these facts to the dumb detectives on the case who would have half the college indicted for the theft if I'd listen to them!"
"Whether you use my brother in the game or not is no affair of mine," continued Coach Carver. "But it is my affair when his name and mine is attacked. As for tomorrow—good luck but not too much of it!"
"I might say the same to you!" said Coach Edward, extending his hand.
The two coaches shook hands. Carl's hand was cool and firm; but his rival's palm was hot and trembly.
Morning papers, the day of the game, carried the news of Mack Carver's reinstatement and a letter of public apology from Coach Edward. No explanation was offered, as to the reasons behind Mack's return to the Varsity.
"I'll bet this action was taken simply to reduce the feeling between the two colleges," ventured a Grinnell supporter. "There have been enough ugly reports surrounding this game and the authorities probably got together, figuring they'd quiet a lot of wild rumors and unfounded stories. But you can't tell me—where there was so much smoke—that there isn't plenty of fire!"
And this opinion seemed to be shared by most of the thousands who jammed the stadium for the game. It was a clear, cold day with a dry, hard field destined to provide a fair test of the strength of both elevens.
In the locker room, as Grinnell players dressed for the game, Mack Carver was approached by team members who expressed their confidence in him. Mack, while he tried not to show it, was highly nervous and ill at ease. There was now every reason to believe that he would see service in the game since Dave's knee had not responded to treatment and since Coach Edward would probably feel that his playing at least part of the contest would prove to Pomeroy that no grudge or suspicion remained.
"If I'm put in I've got to play a bang-up game," Mack told himself, "or I'll be open to criticism again. I can't afford to make any slips."
Dave Morgan, hobbling in on crutches, had encouraging words to say.
"You're in a tough spot, I know," he sympathized. "But just forget you're related to Coach Carver and go out there to play a game of football. If you tear in there the way you did when you got started against me—you won't have to worry."
"Thanks," said Mack, gratefully. "You're a peach!"
"Don't kid yourself," grinned Dave. "I didn't throw this knee out to give you your chance!"
Mack's eyes clouded. "No, Dave—you've done more than that. You've shown me what real spirit was. I've been so wound up in myself that I couldn't feel it before. I feel it now, though ... and I only hope I can play good enough so your loss won't be felt too badly."
Dave patted him on the back. "I'll be pulling for you, boy!"
A buzz of excitement went through the crowded stands as the Pomeroy and Grinnell elevens lined up for kick-off and the player numbered "26" in Grinnell's backfield was pointed out to be Mack Carver. Pomeroy was kicking to Grinnell.
"The highly exploited brother act is about to be put on!" cried a fan. "We'll soon see what a brother player can do against a brother coach. If there's not plenty of fireworks in this game, I'll miss a good guess!"
Mack, as he awaited the referee's whistle starting the game, felt his heart throbbing in his throat. This was his big moment—a terrible moment. For him—the world rested on his shoulders. Thanks to unwelcome newspaper publicity his every move would be watched. He would be playing as though followed by a spotlight. Keenly conscious of the business rivalry between his brother and Coach Edward, Mack thoroughly appreciated the gesture of his being placed in the opening line-up. He even wondered what his own feelings would have been had he been in Coach Edward's shoes. Could he have trusted the brother of a rival coach in the big game—knowing how deeply rooted is family loyalty? Not that he would have suspected said brother of deliberate leanings toward the other side ... but he might have feared an unconscious favoring and a partial let-down on the part of the brother at critical times. Were a game the only thing at stake, such brotherly consideration might be entirely discounted. But when the loss of such a game might affect the family pocketbook, the situation took on different proportions. And this was the tough spot in which the Grinnell Coach and player found themselves. Coach Carl Carver had never intimated any personal concern nor confessed to any embarrassment at the possibility of Mack's playing. His attitude had been impersonal ... but he, of the three, was least in position to feel the strain.
Mack's eyes followed the ball as it arched in the air and spun his way. Out of the corners of his eyes he saw team-mates forming a phalanx in front. Then he heard Frank Meade's voice off to his left.
"Take it, Mack—and follow me!"
The stands were rocketing sound as Mack, his throat suddenly dry as paper, realized the pigskin was coming to him on his own seven yard line ... that the Pomeroy eleven was rushing down ... trying to penetrate Grinnell's quickly forming interference. He made the catch, clutching the ball to him fearsomely, terrorized at the thought of dropping it, and felt himself in motion as he slid in behind Frank who crossed in front of him. Ten—fifteen—twenty yards he traveled ... conscious that frenzied Pomeroy forms were being dumped heavily to earth by fellow team-mates ... and that Frank, directly ahead, was doing herculean work at clearing the way for him. On the thirty yard stripe, Frank suddenly went down, blocking off another tackler as he fell ... and Mack was forced to veer toward the sidelines as he was left upon his own. He saw now that Dizzy Fox, Pomeroy's star backfield man, was bearing rapidly down on him. There was no escape ... he must try to straight-arm ... or else be forced out of bounds....
Dizzy's body-jarring tackle could be heard over the entire field. Mack felt his breath violently punched from him and the mad clamor of the field fade out in almost total darkness. A referee's whistle screeched. Mick came to himself with the trainer bending over him, lifting him up and down at the waist. He was gasping for breath.
"Pomeroy's ball!" he heard the referee saying.
"Pomeroy's ball?" Mack repeated, dazedly.
"Yeah—you fumbled when you was hit!" said the trainer. "Tough break, old boy!"
Pomeroy's ball on Grinnell's forty yard line and Mack Carver's brilliant runback of the initial kick-off reduced to naught!
"What will Coach Edward think?" an agonized Mack wondered as he stumbled to his feet and was shoved back into position.
"Never mind that, Mack!" Frank was saying in his ear. "That might have happened to any of us!"
But this was small consolation and it was even less consolation when Pomeroy, overjoyed at the early turn of fortune, put on an inspired drive which carried them the remaining distance to the Grinnell goal in three first downs. The point after touchdown was kicked and Pomeroy, five minutes after the game's opening, was out in front with a seven to nothing lead.
"That's what you call brotherly cooperation!" remarked a disgruntled rooter, but he was instantly howled down by those inclined to be charitable.
"Mack was over-anxious!" explained one. "He made a great get-away but he was trying too hard. He was too tense when he was hit and the ball was snapped out of his arms. If he'd have relaxed, he'd have held onto it. Shouldn't I know? I played for three years!"
Again Pomeroy kicked off. This time the ball went to Frank Meade who was downed on the twenty-five yard mark. Then followed a terrific struggle between two powerful lines—both elevens settling down to work with the first hysteria of battle over. The contest became a punting duel between the twenty yard lines with the offense of the two teams effectively checked.
"Looks like that lone touchdown might prove to be the measure of difference between Pomeroy and Grinnell!" observed a spectator as the half ended. "If it is, it's going to be hard on Mack Carver! He hasn't shown much so far ... but no one has—except Dizzy Fox who made the only score. That fellow sums up as the best back on the field!"
In the locker room a dejected Mack Carver rightfully expected a reprimand from his coach. Instead, Coach Edward announced to his squad: "Boys, you'll be glad to know that the man who stole our signals and plays has been caught. He's a small time gambler who'd placed bets on Pomeroy to win. We owe his capture to Mack's brother, Coach Carl Carver. And I want to again apologize to Mack for the embarrassment I've caused him and his brother."
"That's all right, Coach," replied Grinnell's substitute back who had played in the starting line-up for the first time. "I'm darn sorry about that fumble."
"Go out after 'em this half!" was Coach Edward's retort. "You can get that touchdown back!"
Mack could have no quarrel now about not being given the proper chance to show what he could do. Coach was keeping him in, was giving him the benefit of every doubt, was finding no fault even when his fumble might be costing Coach Edward an opportunity to take over the coaching reins at Pomeroy ... and at the same time help Coach Carver to hold his position.
"This touchdown mustn't be what decides the game!" Mack told himself, fervently. "If Pomeroy wins, I mustn't be held accountable for it!"
The third quarter began as though to continue the close defensive struggle but, along toward the end of the quarter, Grinnell suddenly came to life as left half Frank Meade, behind the frenzied interference of Mack Carver, broke away for a thirty-nine yard run which placed the ball on Pomeroy's twenty-one yard mark.
"Great work, Mack!" shouted a delighted Dave Morgan from the Grinnell bench. Then, turning to the Grinnell subs, Dave grinningly declared: "Say—he looked just like me out there on that one! Did you see him block those tacklers out of the way?... Now he's got going ... look out, Pomeroy—here we come!"
Pomeroy's defense tightened. An end run failed to gain. A lateral pass was good for four yards. Third down and seven to go.
Quarterback Bert Henley, calling signals in the huddle, nominated one of Coach Edward's new plays—the lateral pass opening into a forward. On this play, Mack was to take the pass from Bert and lateral to Frank who was to fade back while Mack screened the pass from in front, blocking off would-be tacklers.
The ball was snapped. Mack took the toss from Bert and started running, then tossed the pigskin on to Frank who was running on his left.
The toss was poor and Frank fumbled, then recovered. Mack continued left, covering Frank as he dropped back ... but the Pomeroy line was through fast and Mack found himself confronted with three frenzied linesmen who sought to break up the pass. He threw himself in front of them all and actually succeeded in bringing two down but the third dodged to the side and leaped up, just as Frank, hurried by the poor toss, released the pass.
"It's intercepted!" screamed Pomeroy stands as the Pomeroy right end deflected the ball and gathered it into his arms, starting off for the Grinnell goal, some eighty yards distance. He angled his run to avoid a desperate Frank Meade who immediately gave chase. Mack, disentangling himself from the two Pomeroy linesmen, also attempted to follow after but was bumped joltingly to the ground again by another Pomeroy player who came up from nowhere to offer interference in his team-mate's wake.
"Touchdown!" yelled a delirious Pomeroy as the right end crossed Grinnell's goal just as Frank hit him in a diving tackle. "There goes your old ball game!"
Amid a riotous ovation by Pomeroy rooters, the point after touchdown was added as the third quarter ended with the scoreboard reading: Pomeroy, 14; Grinnell, 0.
"I'm responsible for that score, too!" moaned Mack, inconsolably. "That rotten pass I made to you, Frank. By the time you recovered and got set they were on you!..."
Frank, bitterly disappointed, had nothing to say. But Quarterback Bert Henley, greatly perturbed by the breaks of the game, turned savagely upon Grinnell's substitute back.
"You're right, Mack. You've played a swell game today for Pomeroy! If you'd stolen the signals and handed 'em to your brother's team, you couldn't have done any better! Coach Edward's treated you pretty white ... but you're about as low as a guy could get!"
"Shut up, Bert!" demanded Frank, grabbing the outraged quarterback by the arm as Mack accepted the blazing denunciation with clenched fists, controlling himself with difficulty.
"He ought to be taken out!" cried fullback Steve Hilliard, equally upset.
Grinnell team members looked to the sidelines, half-expectant that Coach Edward would take action but he sat immobile as Pomeroy prepared to kick-off once more. Whether by design or not, the pigskin was driven directly at Grinnell's offending player.
"I'll take it!" cried Frank, racing over from the side.
"No!" shouted Mack, "It's mine!"
Something in Mack's brain went hot at the realization that his team-mates were trusting him no longer. Here was Frank, trying to take a ball away from him which was rightfully his to accept. Frank made the catch, snatching the ball practically out of Mack's arms.
"Get in front of me!" he yelled.
Mack had no other choice. Pomeroy players were sifting through Grinnell's interference as Mack shot up the field, with the fleet-footed Frank constantly urging him on to greater speed, until both got behind a wedge of their own team members who were doing an excellent job of crashing Pomeroy tacklers. At mid-field the wedge was broken up and Mack and Frank emerged from the heap on their own.
"To the right!" directed Frank, seeing that two tacklers were bearing down from the left. Mack changed directions obediently.
Grinnell supporters, wild with hope, screamed the two runners on.
"Look out from behind!" they shrieked, as a Pomeroy player, giving mad chase, was rapidly closing up the gap.
Frank looked back over his shoulder, then called to the fellow who had put his own team in the hole.
"Mack—drop back and take that guy out!"
"Okay!" answered Mack, dropping at once to the rear as Frank raced past him.
The Pomeroy tackler loomed up almost at once and Mack, whose charge down the field as Frank's interferer had been fraught with one spectacular piece of frenzied blocking after another, now completed his task by hurling himself in front of the last threat to Frank's sensational touch down dash from kick-off. Tackler and interferer went down in a thudding pile as Grinnell's star halfback crossed Pomeroy's goal line and triumphantly touched the ball down. Then the field rocked with sound.
"What a run!" gasped Dave Morgan, waving his crutch. "And what a piece of interfering! Mack sure produced that time! Didn't look like he was handing the game to Pomeroy then, did it?... Come on, gang—this old game isn't lost yet!"
But a great groan went the rounds as the pass from center was bad and Frank missed the kick for extra point. Score: Pomeroy, 14, Grinnell, 6!
"If we make another touchdown and kick the goal, we'll still be a point behind!" grieved a Grinnell supporter. "There goes our outside chances of at least tying the score!"
"Now you're playing football!" were Frank's words to Mack as he shook his fist at him and then turned on other scowling team members with the demand that they show a little fight.
"This is not enough!" Mack kept repeating. "I've got to do more!... This is not enough!"
Grinnell kicked off and it was a frenzied Mack Carver who raced down the field to bowl over interferers and down the Pomeroy man with the ball on his eighteen yard line.
"Yea, Carver!... Yea, yea, yea!"
"Hold 'em!" ordered Quarterback Bert Henley. "Make 'em kick!"
The Grinnell linesmen, battered from the pounding they had received, dug their cleats into the turf and held for three downs with Pomeroy being able to gain but two yards. Dizzy Fox then dropped back to his five yard line to punt.
"Block that kick!" was the cry.
And, with the snapping of the ball, Grinnell opened up a hole. It existed but for a moment as the lines strained against one another ... but, in that moment, Grinnell's right guard was through. He hurried the kick, all but blocking it so that the ball went out of bounds on Pomeroy's thirty yard mark.
"All right, gang!" shouted Quarterback Bert Henley. "What are we going to do about this?"
"We're going through!" answered the team to a man.
Coach Edward sent in three fresh linesmen with the aim of aiding the offensive drive. The scoreboard read: eight minutes to play.
To Mack's astonishment, he was given the ball on the first play, a drive through tackle. He plunged for four yards and, heard the Grinnell stands yell his name. Frank was good for two yards ... Steve was good for four more and a first down on Pomeroy's twenty yard mark!
"That's hitting 'em!" commended Bert. "Keep it up, you guys! How about you, Mack? Do you want to see us win or don't you?"
Mack glared. "Just gimme that ball!"
Fighting and squirming his way through, Mack made another four yards.
"Four yards, Carver!" the stands commenced shouting.
But Pomeroy rose up to turn fullback Steve Hilliard back at the line of scrimmage.
Third down and six to go. Frank Meade—on a triple pass behind the line—with Mack as interference, breaking out around left end! The play was beautifully executed but Mack, as he turned the end, stumbled so that Frank bumped him and was thrown off his stride. Before he could recover, Pomeroy tacklers were in on him so that he gained but a yard.
"There you go!" razzed Bert, shaking a blackened fist in Mack's face, "Spilling the bucket again!"
"Shut up, Bert!" snapped Frank. "Signals!"
"Signals!" Bert repeated.
Mack stiffened. Bert was calling the trick play once more on which he had made the poor toss to Frank. This time the play must be good. Here they were on Pomeroy's fifteen yard line and fourth down with five yards to go.
"If I bungle this one...!" Mack thought, and bit his lips.
Berths toss to him was wide but Mack reached out one hand and pulled the ball to him as he ran. He shot the ball on a quick lateral toss to Frank and fairly sobbed his relief when he saw that the toss couldn't have been better. Frank faded, holding the pigskin ready to pass, as Mack now turned his attention to helping block Pomeroy men who were trying to get through at him. In this he was successful, going down under two Pomeroy linesmen as Frank shot a pass low and to the right—over the end zone. There—racing into the end zone, was right end Eddie Miller. He touched the ball with his finger tips, juggled and caught it, being almost immediately buried beneath an avalanche of tacklers.
"Yea!" roared the Grinnell stands. "A touchdown!"
Pomeroy, a greatly sobered team, lined up in front of its own goal posts. The team charged viciously and Frank, with Bert upending the ball, again missed the place-kick for extra point.
Score: Pomeroy, 14; Grinnell, 12.
"Well, we might as well lose by two points as one," philosophized a Grinnell supporter. "Nice comeback we staged ... but too late to do us much good. Only four minutes left to play."
Grim-faced Grinnell warriors eyed each other. Could they possibly regain possession of the ball and drive down the field for a third touchdown and snatch a victory from almost certain defeat? The odds were overwhelmingly against them. It had been a most spectacular and pulsating game from the standpoint of spectator and player alike. Both teams were now near exhaustion from their offensive and defensive efforts.
"Brother Carl will certainly know his team's been in a ball game," thought Mack, feeling somewhat relieved that he had at last performed creditably after several wretched blunders. Inwardly, however, there lurked a condemning conscience which impressed upon him that no performance save one which might lead to a Grinnell victory could ever suffice. This feeling took precedence over a flash of satisfaction that his brother was apparently to retain his coaching position, if it actually had hung upon the outcome of this game. "But I mustn't think of this at all!" Mack told himself at once. "My attitude has got to be like Dave suggested. I've simply got to forget any family tics. I'm playing to beat Pomeroy ... not my brother!"
Grinnell kicked off to Pomeroy and the visitors indicated at once that they intended to retain possession of the ball until the end of the game if they possibly could. Several first downs in succession ate up valuable seconds and took the ball to Grinnell's forty-five yard line.
"Hold 'em!" begged and ranted quarterback Bert Henley. "What's the matter with you guys? Gone to pieces?... Get in there and hold that line!"
More reserves came dashing out from the side lines to help bolster a Grinnell forward wall which had taken plenty of punishment. These fresh men drove into the Pomeroy line on the first play and opened a hole through which Mack Carver darted. He hit an interferer, sent him spinning and broke up a pass behind the line. The ball went wild with Mack following into Pomeroy's backfield after it. Three wide-eyed Pomeroy men were on his heels as he dived for the pigskin and rolled over with it clutched against his stomach. The three Pomeroy men landed on him almost together.
"Grinnell's ball on Pomeroy's forty yard line!" announced the referee, and Grinnell supporters went crazy.
"Great stuff, Mack!" shouted Coach Edward from the sidelines, and Mack, hearing, could only gulp his joy. The game might be lost but if Coach Edward only could believe he'd done his best despite the two glaring misplays ... errors, at least, which he, himself, could never excuse...!
"Your kid brother's playing quite a game out there!" observed a faculty member to Pomeroy's coach who fidgeted nervously.
"Quite a game?" was the response. "A whale of a game!... I never saw a kid play in worse luck the first three quarters ... but now he's making his own breaks ... and am I glad there's only a minute left to play...?!!"
Mack was thumped joyously on the back by fellow players as he staggered back in position, holding his side. He had held onto the ball at all costs and despite a scrambled attempt on the ground to wrest it away from him.
With only time for about two plays, Quarterback Henley called for a pass. Frank Meade faded back and shot a long one. Mack, breaking through with other possible receivers, had not expected to be singled out, but wheeled just in time—after getting free—to hear the crowd yell and see the pigskin coming straight at him. He reached up and picked it out of the air on Pomeroy's twenty-five yard line, being hit before he could move by Dizzy Fox.
"Yea, Carver!" yelled the stands.
Mack, all but bewildered by the way plays had revolved about him, was pushed into the huddle as time-keepers consulted their watches.
"What'll it be?" demanded Bert. "Shall we chance another pass?"
"A field goal would do it?" cried Steve, with a glance at the scoreboard. "But Frank's toe hasn't been so hot today!"
"We've only time for one more play," reminded Bert. "Can you fellows hold that line? Seems to me a kick's a little better than another pass. We're almost dead in front of the goal posts!"
"I'll try it if you say so!" volunteered Frank. "Mack—you've got to block 'em off until I toe that ball! They mustn't get through at me this time!"
"Okay!" said Mack, jaws tightening. Here was the test. A successful kick meant defeat for his brother ... no, defeat for Pomeroy! It meant that all scores against him would be wiped out ... his misplays forgotten...! ... But how about his brother's coaching position?... He mustn't think about that!... His mother—her support!... No, no!... Whatever happened would be all right.... He must do his part ... he must be loyal to Grinnell. He'd picked this school with the hope of someday helping to beat Pomeroy ... and here was his chance!... He must do his part to the uttermost limit ... and then—if the kick failed ... well—nobody could say he hadn't tried...!
"Kick formation!" Bert was calling.
A murmur of surprise swept through the stands and a pall of silence fell. Grinnell—attempting a field goal as a last resort ... attempting to pull a lost cause out of the fire!
"Hold 'em, gang!" begged Bert. "You've got to hold 'em!"
Grinnell's quarterback was kneeling, ready to upend the ball. Steve and Mack were stationed at the side and in front. They exchange determined glances.
"No one gets past us!" said Steve.
Mack, too full for words, nodded, fingers twitching, eyeing the enemy line.
Coach Carl Carver, pulling nervously at the rim of his hat, sized up the distance between the teams and the goal posts.
"It's one chance in a...!" he started.
The ball flashed back and the two lines came together in a desperate upheaval. Grinnell's line wavered and snapped. As it did so, Bert caught the pigskin and placed its nose on the ground, sighting the distant goal posts. Frank started running forward.
"You get those two—I'll stop these babies!" fullback Steve shouted to Mack as he blocked off frenzied Pomeroy linesmen, rushing through in a mad attempt to spoil the kick.
"Right with you!" echoed Mack, obliterating from his mind all thoughts of possible consequences ... intent only upon doing the job assigned him. His body halted the plunge of the Pomeroy left end and guard ... and resulted in a third Pomeroy player piling atop. As he went down he caught a fleeting glimpse of the pigskin passing over his head. A moment of breathless, very terrible suspense, broken only by the sharp crack of the timer's gun, signalling that the game was technically over. Then a tremendous roar! Mack freed himself from the mass of arms and legs just in time to see the ball settling over the bar and to see the scoreboard change its figures to read:
Unaccountable things happened after that. More pandemonium than a fellow, playing his first full game for Grinnell had thought existed in the world. Joy-crazed students surrounding him as he suddenly gave vent to his feelings and, to the amazement of fellow team-mates, broke into uncontrolled sobs.
"What the heck are you crying about?" Frank Meade was demanding.
"Because," he choked, "Pomeroy lost!"
A great shout of laughter went up at this from all except those who realized the predicament Grinnell's substitute back had been in.
"Cheer up, kid!" called a familiar voice, and Mack beheld Coach Carver fighting his way through to him in company with Coach Edward.
"But you lost your job?" Mack wanted to know, still somewhat dazed by it all.
"I sure did!" grinned Brother Carl, gripping him by the shoulder. "You knocked me out of that!... I always said you couldn't play football!"
"And now he knows it!" smiled Coach Edward. "I'm taking your brother's place at Pomeroy next year—so he tells me!... In fact, he recommended me!"
"What?" gasped Mack.
"Why not?" rejoined Carl, his eyes twinkling. "I've signed up to coach Great Western next year at ... guess what salary...?" Carl looked about him, cautiously. "I don't want any newspaper guys to hear this—it's ... er ... just something to be kept in the family." Whereupon Carl cupped his hand between his mouth and Mack's ear and whispered a figure.
"No?" cried Mack, overjoyed, and—forthwith leaped atop his brother's back, bearing him to earth for a down which was not recorded in the game!
A CASE OF NERVES
"Look at that guy—he hasn't been eating enough to keep a canary alive for the last three days!"
"You know what's the trouble, don't you?"
"Yeah—nervous indigestion? Speed's on edge over the big game next Saturday against Hamilton!"
Kinky Doyle, who sat at the Second Team's training table, stared at his informant unbelievingly.
"Straight dope!" replied Sober Watkins, quarterback of the Scrubs, with a glance toward the Varsity training table nearby and star half-back Speed Bartlett, toying with his meal. "Speed had the same kind of stagefright last season ... lost so much appetite and sleep and got so high strung that he fumbled in the Hamilton game and handed them the victory on a platter!"