THE CLACKING of hard plastic cleats on concrete, sounding like armored knights marching, resonated off the walls along the dimly lit corridor. Robbie, the team captain, strode ahead of the mass of black-jersey men. Their helmets tucked snugly under their arms, steam rising from their perspiration-soaked heads, they stepped purposefully, quickly through the damp hallway toward a light in the distance.
The mass, a silent black cloud, moved steadily through the labyrinth of corridors toward the light, and the rhythmical clack, clack, clack emanating from the darkness insulated the individual parts of the mass from any outside noise, letting them lose themselves in concentration for the task at hand. The light still shone in the distance.
Now the many passages beneath the concrete stadium echoed with the sound few men shared. Robbie began his silent ritual chant that fell in with the rhythmical clacking beat: hit, hit, hit, hit, kill, kill, kill, kill. Chuck, his long-time friend, strode next to him. He spoke quietly, repeating, while adjusting pads upon his hands:
“Rock and roll, buddy, rock and roll, rock and roll, buddy, rock and roll.”
Clack, clack, clack, clack, the sound growing in volume and momentum as the mass neared the end of the corridor, readying itself for what it had trained many months to do.
Then, from the opposite direction came yelps and shrieks like the riotous noise of an angry mob, echoing, tumbling toward them.
“Helmets on!” shouted Robbie.
As the masses approached through the dank tunnel, the air used and musty, the clacking and the noise grew louder, reverberating in Robbie’s helmet until he could hear nothing; he could only feel the thumping of his heart and the pulsation in his inner ears as the blood coursed through his arteries. Then all grew quiet as the two masses met, each numbering seventy men. The vanguards of one-hundred-forty men stood five feet apart in near darkness. Only slivers of light from a bare bulb far in the tunnel reflecting off helmets gave substance to the darkness. Robbie and Chuck, standing at the front of the mass, stared hard into the faceless shadows standing across from them. To their right, the corridor grew dark and disappeared into the belly of the stadium. To their left was a great light and a patch of green.
Robbie wanted to pound his chest and scream: “I’m going to kill you bastards!”
The rage he had built up in his gut, the contempt he had created for these faceless shadows always threatened to consume him. The damp, dark, closed quarters only intensified this rage, and the rage needed a release. But the release, he knew, must come in acts of controlled violence over the length of the game, one hit at a time.
It was only during the game that Robbie felt alive, when he could breathe unencumbered like the times he stood on a hill before a ski run, inhaling crisp country air, no constrictions upon his chest. The game was his freedom, the rage the necessary evil; a junkie’s high and Robbie was high.
Robbie turned his head slightly and shifted his eyes to the light and the green patch, then back to the silhouettes at the end of the tunnel.
“One more time to the mountain, Chuck.”
“One more time,” Chuck answered, “make’em cry.”