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A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Published by The Penguin Group.
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Copyright © 2009 by Mike Lupica.
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Philomel Books, Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
eISBN : 978-1-101-10905-2
For my wife, Taylor, and my children, Christopher, Alex, Zach and Hannah Grace: They have given me a world beyond anything I imagined. And become my best friends along the way.
Dr. David Hunter, Dept. of Ophthamology, Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Stephen Rose, Chief Research Officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. The great Terry Hanratty, who once lit up college football Saturdays at Notre Dame. Billy Goldman, of Highland Park, Illinois. Esther Newberg. Bene and Lee Lupica, who still make me look for the best in myself. And, of course, Michael Green: I’m just sayin’.
his was always the best of it for Nate Brodie, when he felt the slap of the ball in his hands and began to back away from the center, when he felt as if he could see the whole field, and football made perfect sense to him.
Sometimes when you were thirteen nothing seemed to make sense, and the world came at you faster and trickier than flying objects in a video game.
It was never like that for him in football.
Nate had been having more and more trouble figuring out his world lately, especially with everything that had been happening to his family. School was school—he tried hard, but there were times he just felt lost, in search of answers that wouldn’t come.
And no matter how hard he tried, how hard he
try, he was never going to make sense out of what was happening to his friend Abby.
But on a Saturday morning like this, underneath all the sun and blue sky, with the guys in the line already into their blocks and Nate feeling as if he had all day to throw the ball—feeling that weird calm he always felt in the pocket—he had all the answers.
Football was like this for Nate Brodie.
As he scanned the field now, he recognized one of those answers he instinctively knew. Pete Mullaney, his favorite receiver, was about to break into the clear. Once he did that, Nate knew Pete was going to run all day.
When it was just Nate and Pete and some of the other guys on the team playing touch football in the empty lot next to Nate’s house, they called this play “Hutchins-and-Go.” One day Nate had told Pete to fake toward the Hutchins’ house, the one on the other side of the lot, fake like he was running a sideline pattern in that direction, and then, as soon as the guy covering him bit, Pete was supposed to plant his outside foot and spin and take off down the sidelines.
The play had just always been called Hutchins-and-Go after that.
Nate watched as Pete sold his fake now, sold it like he was selling candy, didn’t rush, even turned and looked back for the ball. That was when the defensive back on him committed, turned, and looked for the ball himself.
Only Pete was gone.
And the ball wasn’t coming, at least not yet.
Now it was just a question of what kind of throw Nate wanted to make. Because with the kind of arm he had—his buds and teammates always called him “Brady,” knowing that Tom Brady was Nate’s all-time favorite player—there were a couple of ways he could go. Nate could put a lot of air beneath the ball, really hang it up there and let Pete use those jets of his to run under it. Or Nate could gun one right now, throw one of those dead spirals that was the same as one of his football fastballs, put so much sting and hurt at the end of the pass that Pete sometimes said he wished he was allowed to wear a catcher’s mitt.
Nate decided to put this one way up there.
He rolled to his right now, feeling pressure coming from his left, a right-handed quarterback’s blind side, without actually seeing it. But just to make sure, to know exactly how much time he had, he shot a quick look over his shoulder and saw that the Hollins Hills’ nose tackle had cleared Malcolm Burnley, Nate’s center and the best blocker Valley had, on an outside route and was coming hard, thinking he might have a shot at getting his first sack of the day.
Nate knew he didn’t.
In no hurry, Nate kept moving toward the sideline, toward the Valley bench, almost feeling as if he were floating. Having cleared the pocket completely, a nice patch of open green waited for him a few yards in front of Coach Rivers.
He stopped now, planting, making sure to square his shoulders so he didn’t drop his arm angle and sidearm the ball, setting himself on his back foot, carrying the ball high. The throwing mechanics that Coach said you pretty much had to be born with.
And he let the ball rip.
Knowing that the cornerback who had been covering Pete was never going to catch up with him and that the Hollins Hills safety had no chance of getting over to the sideline in time.
He watched the ball like it was on a string, like one of those perfect casts his dad used to make across the water when the two of them still had time to go fishing together, before his dad began working all the time.
He hoped his mom was getting this on the video recorder that was on its last legs and had been for a while, because his dad—working a double shift on Saturdays now—wasn’t here to see it in person.
The ball came down into Pete Mullaney’s hands, Pete in perfect stride, just crossing the Hollins Hills 10-yard line.
Pete pressed the ball to the front of his white uniform with those sure hands of his and crossed the goal line. Then he turned and just tossed the ball to the referee, because if you played on a team with Nate Brodie, if he was the one throwing you the ball, you knew enough not to do some kind of crazy touchdown dance afterward.
You could be happy, just not happy enough to show the other team up.
Nate was running down the sideline now, almost as fast as Pete just had. All the things that were confusing about his thirteen-year-old life lately—the things that made him sad and just plain mad once he got away from a football field—Nate had left them all in his dust.
By the time Nate got to Pete, the little wide receiver was on the Valley sideline, waiting for him with his arms stretched wide. Nate, taller than Pete by a whole helmet, grabbed him, picked him up, put him down just as quickly, as much celebration as he was going to allow himself, mostly because there was still some game left to play.
Pete said, “That throw was legit.”
“You always say that,” Nate said.
“No, Brady, this time I really mean it. That throw was, like,
Nate laughed now, couldn’t help it. “I had the wind behind me.”
Pete Mullaney shook his head, smiling from behind his face mask. “Dude,” he said, “as far as I can tell, your arm is pretty much where the wind
Nate ran over to Coach Rivers then, to get the play Coach wanted them to run on the conversion. Then he ran back on the field and told his teammates he was faking to LaDell and then taking it in himself, on a roll to his left.
Nobody touched him. Valley was up 22-7. They all knew the game was over, even with the clock showing two minutes, straight up, left.
He and Pete ran off the field together, knowing that the forty yarder they’d just hooked up on had put this one in the books.
When Nate got back to the bench, Coach Rivers gave him a simple handshake.
“A Brady throw all the way,” he said.
“I wish,” Nate said.
“I’m serious,” Coach said. “Biggest throw of the season.” For now, Nate thought.
t had started out almost as a dare from Abby.
They were at the mall a couple of months ago, right after the school year had started, Nate there with Abby and his mom on what they all knew was a very big day for him. He had turned thirteen just the week before, but that wasn’t the big news.
The big news was that after more than a year of saving up birthday money from relatives, Christmas money, and allowance money, Nate finally had earned enough for his share of the football.
And not just any football.
This was the signed Tom Brady ball that he’d spotted in the trophy case at SportStuff the summer after he’d finished sixth grade.
Nate was smart enough about collectibles to know that this wasn’t the only signed football from Brady in the world. He knew from asking the man at the store that this particular ball was part of a new “limited edition” from Brady, and it came with a certificate of authenticity.
“How many are in the limited edition?” Nate had asked the man at the store, and the man, smiling, had said, “Enough for us to charge what we’re charging.”
Five hundred dollars, plus tax.
Nate read about money in sports all the time, read about the money the top athletes, including Tom Brady, were making. Some of them, like LeBron and A-Rod and Tiger Woods, earned up there in the hundreds of millions. But since he’d had his eye on this ball, it wasn’t their salaries that seemed like the biggest number in sports.