In the blink of an eye everything changed. Gavin O'Connell, "Gavin the Red", went from being the greatest quarterback in football history to the biggest loser in football history in just nine seconds. The score of that Super Bowl froze at 35-34. The winning touchdown was never scored.
The play was the simplest one in their playbook. Gavin had executed it a thousand times. A little fake, a small step back, and a toss to the right. The full back runs it a few yards over the goal line. It was a no brainer. They only had three yards to go. It was only the first down.
Gavin had faked and stepped back, when he saw the tackle coming out of the corner of his right eye. The sack came almost instantly. They had a time out. It should have been no big deal. Take the time out, and run the play again.
No one at or in that Super Bowl was more surprised than Gavin when the ball slipped out of his hands on his way to the ground. He'd scrambled as hard as he could to recover the ball. In the end, the other team had gained control of the ball after an amazing scramble on the one yard line.
It was over. Buffalo Bills 35, Chicago Bears 34.
Gavin stood on the field with crowds all around him cheering, crying, laughing, and singing. He'd never felt so alone. They weren't cheering for him.
He couldn't face his team. They would all blame him for ruining their perfect season and they're fourth consecutive Super Bowl victory. The Miami Dolphins from 1972 would continue to be the only undefeated team in NFL history. No team had ever won four consecutive Super Bowls. It was all gone. Gavin watched it glide away with the crowd that followed the winners across the field. He turned to watch his team mates trudge off the field like a group of convicts headed for execution.
No one looked at him. The losers walked away from him as did the winners and the fans. Gavin suddenly found that he was standing all alone on the one yard line.
The staff was busy on the fifty yard line setting up for the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy. Gavin watched. This time it wasn't for him. No trophies, no MVP. For the first time that he could remember, he was a loser.
Gavin's mind started to stir with thoughts that felt uncontrollable. He thought about how mad his dad was going to be. Bruce O'Connell had been a two time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Bruce had insisted that Gavin follow in his footsteps. From earliest childhood Gavin's life had been about football. He'd never really thought about the fact that he didn't know much about anything but football.
Standing on that field, Gavin suddenly felt that the only thing that he'd dedicated his life to, the only life that he even knew, had betrayed him. He realized that he'd never had a real relationship, and he'd never been to a city that didn't have a professional football team, and he'd never learned a foreign language, and he'd never followed politics. He, Gavin O'Connell, ultra dude, didn't even know how many channels were available on his satellite TV.
His father would be embarrassed by him. His coach would scream at him. His mother would smile condescendingly at him. His brother would laugh. His super model girlfriend would probably dump him. He wasn't perfect and now the whole world knew that. They'd all seen it on TV.
Gavin felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see the commissioner of the NFL on his way to present the Lombardi Trophy.
"Gavin, are you okay?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
Gavin realized that he was the only player that wasn't in the locker room. He suddenly had an epiphany as he saw the pity in the commissioner's face. He knew that he had to get away from faces like that. He knew that football would never be the same for him again. He had to go on to the next phase of his life, whatever that was. And he had to start immediately.
"I have to go," was all Gavin said. He walked off the field.
The commissioner thought that he was finally going to change for the ceremony. He was wrong. Gavin did go to the locker room. Most of his team mates were already gone to the ceremony. He put on the suit that he'd worn to the stadium and put his wallet in his pocket.
Gavin took a quick look around at the lockers and the equipment. It was, for the most part, the only life he'd ever known. He saw his reflection in a mirror across the way.
"Where did the boy go?" he thought.
The boy had become a man, and the man felt inadequate as an adult. Gavin suddenly realized that he played a game for a living, albeit a very good paying one. There was a whole world out there that he knew nothing about. There had to be more.
Gavin looked down at his hand. It was holding his number three jersey. He wasn't Gavin O'Connell. He was number 3. He dropped the jersey in the middle of the locker room floor and walked out.
Gavin walked to the parking lot where the traffic was worse than rush hour any where in the world. He had no car. Suddenly, he saw it. In a line of traffic attempting to exit the lot, he saw a taxi. He ran up to it and tapped the driver's window.
"Is there any chance that you would take me to the nearest car rental place?" Gavin asked the driver.
The driver gaped at him. He knew who the football player was. He looked up at him for a couple of moments.
"Aren't you supposed to be inside?" the driver asked.
"That's for winners," Gavin replied. "Come on, man. Will you take me?"
"Why not? Get in."
Gavin flopped in the back seat and laid his head on the back of the seat. He rolled his head to one side and stared out the window. He realized that he'd never left a professional football game as an average spectator. His family was in football, their friends were in football, and almost everyone that he'd ever known that he'd said more than hello and good-bye to were somehow involved in football. The crowd exiting the parking lot was as alien to him as being on another planet.
Gavin leaned up and saw the driver's ID. "So, Hugo, how long does it take to get out of this parking lot after the Super Bowl?"
Hugo was Cuban. "Damned if I know, Mr. O'Connell. This is going to be my first full year in America. It's definitely my first trip to a Super Bowl."
"An immigrant, how exciting," Gavin said. He rarely had conversations with foreigners, much less immigrants. "It must really be a thrill to just up and move to another country."
"Yeah, it's a fabulous experience. I don't know what was more fun, getting lost in a tropical storm, or getting a second degree sunburn while trying to guide a rubber raft full of Cubans to Florida."
"Sorry, I had no idea. How awful."
"You had no idea? How do you think most Cubans get to Miami?"
"I never really gave it much thought. I haven't given anything much thought except football."
"Well, personally, I'm glad you never gave it much thought. I love to watch you play. You keep right on focusing on football."
"Thanks, but all my focus didn't do much good tonight."
"So what? I bet on the underdog anyway. My bookie's going to be pissed at me for what he has to pay me. Maybe this will run that rat bastard out of business." Hugo saw the depression in Gavin's eyes. "Hey, nobody's perfect."
"Especially not me."
"Hey, is this game really bugging you that much? I will never understand why Americans get so obsessed with football."
"What about the rest of the world and soccer?"
"Soccer is different."
"I don't know. It just is."
"It just is?"
"It just is. You know, it's like if God played one sport, it would be soccer."
"That's ridiculous. God would play football."
"I agree, but in the U.S. you call it soccer."
Gavin smiled. "That's pretty good. You got me there."
"Hey. It's the road," Hugo cheered. "We are free." He turned on his blinker and turned onto the street.
"Free," Gavin muttered as the car thudded into the street and sped away from the stadium.
Gavin watched the stadium as they drove away. He was ready to start the next chapter of his life. He didn't want to play football anymore.
The ceremony presenting the Lombardi Trophy to the Buffalo Bills went off as planned. Both teams went to talk to the press. Reporters asked questions. Players and coaches responded. Minutes ran into an hour.
Riley Peterson, a seasoned sports reporter for the Miami Herald suddenly noticed that one key person was missing. He looked around the entire room. Then he raised his arm to ask the Bears coach, Arnie Penske a question. Arnie pointed to him.
Riley smiled. "Coach, where's Gavin O'Connell?"
Arnie had been so busy handling his own disappointment and the million questions about it that he hadn't realized that anyone was missing.
Arnie stared at the reporter. The room fell silent.
"Well?" Riley said. "Where is he?"
"Umm…" Arnie began, looking blankly around the room. "I have no idea."