I have always wanted to be a quarterback. Unfortunately, I was born with little athletic prowess and even less self-confidence to lead a football team into the end zone. That was not me. Not one bit.
I would settle for privately reenacting Joe Montana's 49ers comebacks of the '80s. I would wait until the house was empty when my mom and dad were both at work and while my brother, the family's athlete, was playing football himself. The living room and hallway were my football field, the other players recruited from my vivid imagination and the shadows sneaking around the house. I was the heroic quarterback who could overcome a deficit in the fourth quarter for a dramatic come-from-behind victory Chris Berman and Tom Jackson would colorfully recap on ESPN's NFL Primetime.
I called the plays, ran the show, and celebrated victory every time. My determination was only tempered with the anxiety that a passerby would see me continually dropping back to pass as I evaded an ever-present pass rush, diving onto the couch for a touchdown as the sold-out crowd cheered my exploits.
I was the MVP of my life.
Hilde, Zo, and John told me to hurry up at the beginning of class last week; my senior English students had a surprise for me. I was skeptical and feared something terrible was going to happen. Maybe they would squirt me with a Gatorade water bottle or something. I don't need stuff like this in my life, a life already packed with enough uncertainty and anxiety. "What?" I asked. "Stop whatever you are doing. I don't need any surprises."
"Just do the prayer and random event," Hilde said, calling the play as the football team's starting quarterback. "It's nothing bad. You will like it."
Anything but this on a Friday, right? I was tired from yet another long week of teaching, trying to remember my schedule, and snuffing out fires before they flamed uncontrollably. I had already won the game just by making it here. I just wanted to finish the day by organizing my desk, planning for the following week, grading a few papers, and sipping some coffee. Easy, right? I worried that this "surprise" would disrupt my humble plans, like Reggie White charging at me with a full head of steam.
As Lexi led us in prayer, I privately asked God to deliver me from any prank these guys may pull. I finished taking roll and doing my tediously awkward pre-class schtick when Hilde called me over. "So we will give you three chances to guess the surprise." They all sat cross-armed in their chairs, Hidle staring coolly at me with a poker face that neither John nor Zo possessed.
"You are not going to squirt me with a water bottle, are you? I will lose my mind if you do that to me."
"Noooooo!" they all laughed.
"Nothing like that," John chimed in with an eye-roll and shake of his head in disbelief.
"It is something about the podcast. You guys are mad that you haven't been on my podcast yet." I struggled as I stammered, "I-I t-told you that I would have you on soon."
Hilde shook his head, clearly frustrated with me. "No, come on. You know what it is." Hilde started to reach for something in his hoodie and began to smile.
"You brought the wristband!"
Hilde tossed me a black wristband that he had used as a quarterback, one with a little plastic sleeve so a football player could slip in a card to reference plays during a game. I had asked him months ago about whether or not I could have one of his old ones. I think I even told him I was looking for one on Amazon because I thought it would be cool to wear one in class.
I immediately pulled it over my left hand and onto my wrist, adjusting it so the card could be seen on top. I moved my arm up and down, looking like the quarterback I always wanted to be. Beyond excited, I told them I would be back as I bolted out the door and down the hall to show some other teachers who simply had to see this. I was coming off the bench to win the game. However, my dream was no closer to reality than it was back when I ran the offense in my living room. I did not care, though. At this moment, confidence surged through my veins.
Once I returned to class from my celebratory jaunt down the hall, I knew my notion of actually being a quarterback had to fade. I was still a teacher, and they were my students; we had work to accomplish today. My exhilaration ebbed as I picked up the assignment for the day.
"Mr. Bucon," Hilde bellowed expectantly from the back of the room. "You aren't going to call any plays for us?"
I scrunched my eyes and shook my head begrudgingly. "I don't think I should."
"Come on, Mr. Bucon!" Zo added. "Do it!"
I looked around the room at my students. They were my class, but now they were my team eagerly awaiting my decision. I channeled that young kid in me who wanted to be a quarterback, the one who pretended to be Joe Montana in his living room, passing invisible footballs over the outstretched hands of a glowing end-table lamp. The fire was still there! "O.K.! Let's huddle up around the center table here!" I threw the Student Choice assignment we were doing on the table, clapped my hands, and inspired stragglers to hurry up. "We are in the two-minute drill."
I encouraged my team members to join the huddle. "Come on! We need to go, people!" I constantly referred to my wristband to check the play. I was sweating and nervous. Was the team hearing me? Did they feel confident in my ability to take them "to the house" for the win? "First, we need to take a look at this!" I shouted while showing them the Student Choice assignment. We inspected some examples. Intensity permeated the team, the energy palpable as I led the huddle. They were following me. "Now, this is what I need you to do if we want to win this game! Everyone got it?"
I wondered what I should do now that I had finished? My team all looked at me. I stalled.
"Student Choice on 2, Mr. Bucon," Hilde said, uncrossing his arms to be the first to stick his hand in the center of the huddle. I also stuck my hand in the center, where the entire team would soon place their hands.
I checked off everyone to see if we were all ready. I called it: "Student Choice on 2!"
The class returned to their seats laughing, settling into the assignment with more energy than they had at the beginning of class. I sprinted to my desk to look at my wristband again, ready to write some "plays" on it. Hilde coached me on how to trim an index card and slide it into the plastic sleeve. So that's what I did. I wrote down everything I would do in each of my remaining classes that Friday. I was not going to let this dream end. I would always be a teacher, but on this day, I confidently claimed: I AM A QUARTERBACK.