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The Speed and the Noily: A Faulknerian Preview of Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M

Speedy Noil, deep in an existential crisis and stuck in time again, finds himself pondering shadows, watches, and his ability to catch the ball.

Speedy Noil, under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement.
Speedy Noil, under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When the shadow of the jumbotron appeared on the field it was between six and seven o’clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Kingsbury’s and when Coach Sumlin gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted Kliff’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it and perhaps make a play now and again. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of Big XII cowards and tea sips.

It was propped against the towel and I sat listening to it. Trying to hear it, that is. I don’t suppose anybody ever hears a watch or a clock in a stadium. You can't. You can be oblivious to the sound of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn’t hear. Like Coach said down the long and lonely sidelines you might see Freeze walking, like. And the good Coach Chris Kiffin that said Little Brother Death, that never had a brother.

Down the bench I heard Pope’s gatorade sloshing and then his cleats on the ground clacking. I took up the watch and went to the kicker's net and slid my hand along it and touched the watch and turned it face-down and went back to the bench. But the shadow of the jumbotron was still there and I had learned to tell almost to the minute, so I’d have to turn my back to it, feeling the eyes Aggies used to have in the back of their heads when in 2015 we were a preyed upon team. It’s always the idle habits you acquire which you will regret. Coach Sumlin said that. That Johnny was not crucified: he was worn away by a minute click of little wheels. That had no brother.

I began to wonder what the score was. Coach Sumlin said that constant speculation regarding the back and forth of an arbitrary contest which is a sympotom of mind-function only serves to the possibility for a big play. Bullllshit Coach Sumlin said like sweating. And I saying All right coach. Receive. Go on and receive the ball.

Pope stood on the sideline, adjusting his chin strap. "You gonna sit out today?"

"Is it that late?"

He looked at the jumbotron. "Halftime's in two minutes."

"I didn't know it was that late." He was still looking at the jumbotron, his mouth sharpening. "Coach said I'm going in on the next series. I'll have to hustle. I can't stand another drop. Coach Mazzone told me last week--" He looked back from the jumbotron. Then I quit talking.

"You better get on your helmet and hit the bike. Warm up," he said. He went out.

I moved about, listening to the dull roar of the hundred thousand. In high school you are ashamed of being suspended. Boys. Men. They hang their heads. Because it means something to fans, Coach Sumlin said. He said it was he who invented the rules for my playing, not them. He said it's like death: only a state in which the others are on the field and you are not, and I said, But to believe it doesn't matter, and he said That's what's so sad about anything. We believed then that he would be fired. But that was before the team began to win and then again to lose, first to Alabama and then again to Mississippi State.

The shadow hadn't quite cleared the bench. I stopped beside Hubenak, watching the shadow move. It moved almost perceptibly, creeping back toward the stands. Only I was running already when I heard it. On the field I was running before I knew what the play was. That quick I broke from the line, left State's corner behind, his ankles brittle and fast clutching my jersey at the shoulder, but I was running past the marker the smells of bourbon bourbon the voice that breathed o'er Davis Wade. Then I was in the open field, I couldn't hear the clanga, the floating shadow uprights on the grass, into the bellowing. I ran, clutching the ball as it came to, running into the bellowing where the safety played too close to the line and the Bulldogs bellowing. Coach Sumlin had a new pair of sunglasses hanging from his collar

Pope said, "Well, you didn't...we're going to lose this damn game, too."

"I couldn't," I said.

"Not with all that staring into space. What's the matter? You think this was Sunday?"

"I reckon Coach Mazzone won't get me for losing track of time once," I said.

The shadow on the bench was gone. It was dark now. I walked with the team into the tunnel. The halftime went. Then the whistle blew and died away.

I wouldn't begin counting until the fourth quarter. Then I would begin, counting to sixty and olding down one finger and thinking of the other fingers waiting to be folded down, until all of a sudden I'd realise silence and the unwinking minds, and I'd say "Coach?"

"Noil?" Coach Mazzone would say.

Then more silence and the cruel unwinking minds no longer cheering for this team, no longer throwing a Gig 'em toward the field, hands jerking into silence.

"You going in," Coach Mazzone said.

After awhile I had been hearing my watch for some time and I could feel the Ole Miss lead extending, and I leaned on an offensive lineman for a moment before lining up again and I could feel the name on my jersey crackling against the night, and I moved into my route, but the corner was there too and I could wipe my hands through empty air, watching my shadow, how I had tricked it. I walked into the darkness of the sideline, knowing that this game, too, was over, though time remained. Then I went to the bench.

the first touchdown a man Man that's what Ricky couldn't bear smell of grass making him sick then got madder than ever because touchdown no man but Aggie Aggie the crowd of my sorrowful if I'd just caught the pass Coach Coach

The last whistle sounded. At last it stopped vibrating and the darkness was still again as the fans shuffled out of Kyle Field. I entered the locker room and sat. I took off my jersey. The ticking of the watch was faint now, barely noticeable, and no grass stains showed on my white pants. I took off the pads. I carried the watch into the training room and put it in a drawer and went to my locker and got a fresh towel and went to the door and put my hand on the knob. Then I remembered I hadn't changed my pants, so I had to return to my locker. I found some jeans. I was the last one to leave the room. Before I snapped the light out I looked around to see if there was anything else, then I saw that I had forgotten my hat. I'd have to go outside and I'd be sure to meet some of the fans, and they'd think I was a bust making like he was a star. I pulled the hat low and left the room. In the long hallway's half-light, the shadows inched toward their inevitable coverings.