The first time I realized I was in love with Jim we were broadcasting the ZPF Championship, fifteen years after the Denver Cannibals had been declared an expansion team and we’d first started announcing together. God, what a season. Our boys in purple, who’d been perpetually written off as losers, had made the finals with record survival rates. And man-oh-man, if you’da told me it would end with me falling in love, I’d have kicked you in the nuts.
Love, that most tender of emotions, had no business between two play-by-play announcers of the bloodiest and most controversial sport in the history of radio. It was a great surprise to me, to say nothing of our fans. Jim and I had grown close over the years, but it was a purely professional relationship. We both were in marriages of the traditional boy-girl variety, we were locally famous on KHOW where “Jim ’n’ Jack” were the “Voice of the Cannibals,” and now we were doing nationwides to millions of listeners. This new emotion was the last thing I wanted.
I remember the moment clearly. We were in the broadcast booth. Jim was watching the feed from over the Fence where the legendary player, Cip Cane, was guiding our team toward the final flag. It was that incredible last period when everyone thought that the entire squad would be taken down and find themselves starring on the Z-Team come next season. God, what a bloody game. The stadium was vibrating with adrenaline. It was down to just Cane and two Dashers, and they were a good fifty yards from the flag. There were eighteen Z’s all around ’em including four of their own fallen teammates. Impossible!
In the booth Jim was characteristically cool. I trolled my stats for color while he laid down the moment-to-moment. “Cane glances up at the timer and fires a flare to spend his last extension. He points and sends Simpson beneath the wire... There’s two shots from his S&W! Ho! That Z’s lost its face and left hand and is still coming strong! BOHHH! SIMPSON GETS TACKLED AND GOES DOWN SHOOTING! This is terrible for Cane! Looks like he’ll need to bait out Hammel if he wants to score any points! This season may be over faster than we think!”
Jim and I were a well oiled machine. I timed the pause perfectly and jumped on the mic. “Cane’s 12 and 5 in one-minute situations, Jim, but no one in the history of the League has pulled it off with only one Dasher left.”
“It’s a tall order,” chopped Jim, “But if Hammel can keep his footing in all that blood he can probably get half the Z’s to follow him so Cane can go for the flag... This is it, folks, the play that decides what history will say about this remarkable Cannibals season.”
Local sports announcers, it is said, are the greatest of all fans. I looked over to Jim and nodded. He smiled at me, a sharing so intimate that that no woman could ever understand. We turned back to work. “Cane’s crossing himself now as he loads his last clip. Looks like he and Hammel are talking.”
“Jim, these Zombies crave Cane’s smell by now. Trying to distract them with Hammel might not get the result that he needs.” The Z’s were licking the last of Simpson’s brains from their fingers and had turned their attention back to Cane.
“Timer’s down to thirty seconds,” Jim intoned. “And... here they GO! Cane pushes off and sprints between two Z’s without wasting a shot! Oh my god, Hammel’s got the flag hook! Cane’s not baiting Hammel, he’s baiting HIMSELF!” Jim jumped up from his chair, leaning above the monitors to watch through the spattered glass. “Ladies and gentlemen, Cip Cane has successfully baited over a dozen Z’s, and Hammel’s got a clear line to the flag!”
I jumped up, too. It was as if the millions of screaming fans were channeling their excitement directly through our bodies. “Hammel’s moving fast!” I barked, “I think he’s given his weapons belt over to Cane!”
“You’re RIGHT, Jack! Cane’s got two guns now and he’s providing defensive fire! Hammel’s got the flag and is running for the Fence!!! Ten seconds left! OH MY LORD! CANE’S COMPLETELY SURROUNDED, AND HE’S STILL PROTECTING HAMMEL! THE ZOMBIES ARE TACKLING CANE! BOOM! BOOM! TWO MORE PERFECT SHOTS! HAMMEL LEAPS! AND.... THERE’S THE BUZZER!!!!! TIME IS OUT AND HAMMEL IS SAFE OVER THE ZOMBIE PROOF FENCE! THE CANNIES HAVE TAKEN THE WORLD TITLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I threw off my headset and whooped with primal elation. All over
I pressed my body tightly into Jim’s sweaty form, totally unashamed of my raging hard-on throbbing against him. My skin was like an electrified mesh tingling with the contact.
Our team had done it!
We rocked, and sobbed, and moaned with all the bittersweet flood of it.
So now you’ve heard it, the ultimate play-by-play of my ultimate game. I suspect that you can’t understand, that you think Jim and I are sick or at the very least unprofessional, but I can tell you it’s been worth every piece of hate mail. Shit, it’s even been worth losing our jobs.
Sometimes I’ve wondered, of course, what my life would be like had that night never happened, but fuck. Questioning love is like questioning sports, and life is too damn short for that. Like my Daddy said after the first plague came, “You only live once. If you’re lucky.”