Fulminate of Pigskin
The story of a football revolt and a forlorn hope that ended in a conquest by the conquered
OUT of the Varsity dressing room into the tingling air of a purple November evening stepped three figures. The acrid pungency of burning leaves bit pleasantly into the nostrils, little heaps in the gutters glowing like watch fires in a military encampment before battle. And to be sure there was a war on back in the dressing room. The coach was so infuriated that he had lost the good grace to wait until these three, last of the scrubs to leave, were out of earshot before raising his voice in irate castigation at the seniors for “letting a bunch of lousy scrubs trim you to a frazzle!’’ Which is just about all the thanks scrubs ever get.
Night after night and often season after season this faithful band of hopefuls offers itself as a sacrifice that the Varsity team may test its mettle. In tattered, nondescript uniforms they troop out for every practice, to be battered and hacked by the seniors without mercy. Even the Pharisaical attitude of some first-team men does not deter them. And although a forlorn hope for a first-team berth has something to do with their persistency, it does not account for the fuller motive by any means. They come up smiling for practice because of something greater than themselves —their university. For without their opposition practices would consist of thrusting at thin air, a sorry medium on which to whet a weapon.
There are occasions, whether by design or accident, when these minnows among Tritons have cause to gloat in the very faces of their bewildered superiors. Tait Neville, russet-haired, with eyes of a faun set in a lean, freckled face, and Gordie Winston, a small edition of Apollo, were “ten second” men. But they were considered too light for the first team. Yet. together with big, good-natured “Stupe” Farrel. they had just accomplished the impossible. They had run the ends like fiends, while big Stupe had tossed forward passes unerringly to them with an abandon that made the seniors swear beneath their breath and the coach swear very much above his.
Yes, Farrel’s full nickname was “Stupid” because of a hopelessly single-track mind. Stupe, after three years, was still a scrub for the same reason. Or so it was contended over at the Kappa house, whence about seventy per cent of the first team emanated. There were, indeed, seditious murmurs in the other frats against its sovereignty in rugby. It was the wealthiest as well as the most powerful frat socially. And rugby—well, to gain your letter meant fame untold for now and for years to come, didn’t it? An asset to be coveted by bond salesmen in embryo?
Tait and Gordie were among the most bitter rebels where Stupe was concerned. They had played with him on a faculty team the previous season, where the three of them had experimented with the new forward pass which had just dealt such havoc among the seniors. They had come to love the big, generous Westerner and had "rushed” him for their own frat. But now, whatever acrimony had corroded their souls was dissolved in mirth.
“Listen," exclaimed Tait, as the three of them, still laughing, turned in the gate at the Epsilop house, “I’ve got an idea.”
“Don’t be mental, you infant. A lousy scrub couldn’t possibly have an idea,” bantered Gordie.
“Shut up,” ordered Stupe, jamming the tormentor’s hat down over his eyes. “The great Neville will now propound his idea without fear of further interruption.”
Tait restrained them on the steps while he outlined it.
“No good,” said Gordie emphatically when he had finished. “The council wouldn’t stand for it. The council and Kappa—same thing. Why, we might steal the show right from under their patrician noses. What’s more, do you think the Intercollegiate’s going to stand for two entries from one university?”
“Who said we were going to apply for a berth in the Intercollegiate? The Provincial have made no bones about the fact that another team would give them a far better balanced schedule. There are no laws or ethics to prevent us applying for it that I can see.
“Just the same,” cut in Stupe, “Gordie’s right. Council wouldn’t hear of it. We might steal the first team’s glory. Think of the irony if we happened to win out in our league and they in theirs; if we were bracketed together in the semi-finals.”
“You’re a couple of defeatists,” sneered Tait, leading the way into the frat. “You’d think I hadn’t thought of all that. Why don’t you offer something constructive? I've got one counter stroke for all their objections. ”
“What is it?” from Stupe.
"Think I’m going to cast my pearls before a couple of
' [ 'AIT was shoved into the shower bath fully dressed for that one. But it didn’t dampen his ardor in the least when he harangued the council next day at its monthly meeting.
“There seems to be far more than enough good material for the first team’s needs, and it’s unfair that these men should be shut out of senior rugby just for that reason,” he argued.
“Team’s not picked, is it? How do you know anyone’s shut out yet?” snapped Billingsley, the president.
Tait favored him with a pitying smile. "I consulted the great oracle at Kappa,” he bantered.
“Oh, shut up. Listen! Unless you’re all dumb, you know that we licked the firsts hollow last night. And what did Costigan say before we hardly got out of the dressing room? Bawled them out for being licked by a bunch of ‘lousy scrubs.’ Does that sound as though the team weren’t picked? There isn’t a man among you who doesn’t know, to the last sub, who’s going to be on it either.”
“You’re talking through your hat, Neville. And there’s no use arguing with a man who’s spun a lot of fabulous myths about a situation which is still as vague in reality as your speculation. Leaving all that aside, however, the point on which the whole case really hinges is that the appropriation for rugby wouldn’t, by the wildest stretch of imagination, support two senior teams.” Billingsley spoke with a finality that precluded further argument from any man less aggressive than Tait.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” asked Tait witheringly, “that another Varsity team might draw as big a gate as the first? Of course, it has—and perhaps a lot more popularity, too, eh? You needn’t worry about the money end of it. I don’t suppose you really do. However, there’s no use arguing with a man who’s spun a lot of fabulous myths—”
“Don’t be a fool, Neville! We’ve had far more experience with this sort of thing than you.”
“Doubtless. But you’re no more resourceful. Good afternoon.”
“Now what the devil did he mean by that?” asked Billingsley of a confrère when Tait had left the room. It was evening before he got an answer.
AT EIGHT o’clock Gordie Winston left a bridge game to answer an insistent telephone call.
“Yes, he’s here. Hey, Tait!” he called up the well of three flights of stairs in the old house that enshrined Epsilon. “Guy on the phone.”
Tait slid down the polished mahogany bannister with a flourish, to find Seymour, captain of the first team, on the line.
“Hello. Yes, Tait Neville speaking. Eh? You don’t' mean to tell me, Semmy. No scrubs out tonight to practise! Well, well. Where was I? Oh, guess I’m through for this year as well as the rest of them. Why? You’d better ask Billingsley and the rest of the council. They’ll know. Good night, sweetheart.”
Billingsley told Captain Seymour that he thought it was because of his refusal to sanction a second senior team that the scrubs had revolted.
And why, asked Seymour, the refusal? It was a sound idea; a farm for first string men in embryo for future years. Furthermore, it would
effectively smother the increasing dissatisfaction of the rugby authorities for alleged favoritism. But Billingsley, still smarting from Tait’s whiplash tongue, was obdurate. So he told Seymour that funds wouldn’t permit the project anyway—and that was that. Best thing to do was to show the scrubs they weren’t indispensable. Get some of the faculty teams’ material to fill in.
Useless, said Seymour. Worse than junior prep school teams as opposition. They would rub along with the subs somehow.
Which was all very heroic. But after five nights of hopeless pantomimic practice the coach told the council members in no uncertain terms that the team’s blood would be on their heads unless they could get those hard-scrapping scrubs out again. At all costs, he adde I significantly. Which was as good as saying they had better sanction a second senior team.
Billingsley made an impassioned plea to Tait.
“Look here, Neville. You and I have nothing at stake in this fracas. Varsity has everything. Get your chaps out again for its sake, if for nothing else. Have you no sense of loyalty?”
“Don’t be antique,” retorted Tait Neville. “We don’t bleat about that sort of thing any more, we feel it. However, since you bring loyalty into the argument, let me tell you the Varsity owes a loyalty to its students every bit as much as they owe to it. And you and the Kappa crowd stand in its way. I know what’s the matter. The team has gone sour just because it’s lost fight. Well, let it. It won’t hurt for one year if the autocracy of Kappa is smashed. There’s more loyalty in doing that than going out to help a first team which represents the university in name only.” Billingsley bit his lip. “I tell you what we’re willing to do. Go ahead and lay your plans for the organization of an additional team for next year. I have the word of the council that you’ll get the necessary backing.”
Tait smiled wearily. "Be good little boys and poppa will bring you a stick of candy—er—not today but some day. Listen, Billingsley, you might at least do us the courtesy of remembering that we’re third-year men. It’s futile to prolong this. Go back to them and tell them that it’s whole hog or none. That’s final.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
A FACETIOUS sports writer dubbed them the “Waifs” because they were regarded as cast-offs; and no one took them very seriously, especially as they opened their Provincial League schedule with a couple of losses. Indeed they were more or less forgotten by everyone save Billingsley who pointed a vindictively scornful finger at their paltry gate receipts. But there came a day when that same Billingsley avoided Tait and company like the plague lest they make him eat his words. For, in comparative obscurity, the Waifs battled through the remainder of their schedule to force a tie with the Provincial League leaders and subsequently wrest a bitterly fought play-off game from their rivals to take the Provincial title, in a stadium crammed to overflowing. After which they sat back on their haunches to await developments.
The undergrads were stunned. In their hysteria at the success of the senior team, they had ignored the lowly scrubs. But, now that the glamor of the seniors had vanished before the onslaught of a powerful Crimson twelve, they became thoughtfully aware of the existence of the Waifs. They even dared speculate on the possibility of these reckless warriors bringing the All-Canada championship to the university. In any case, what they would do to old Crimson was nobody’s business. (Desperate prayers rather than convictions.) They were denied that orgy of joy, however. Crimson, the Waifs and Panthers—the latter hat crack steamroller team of the Interprovincial—were bracketed in the finals. The Waifs drew the bye, and the Panthers had no difficulty in disposing of Crimson, the score of twenty to one just about indicating the difference in play.
In their ecstatic though belated acclaim of the Waifs, it is doubtful whether the undergrads considered seriously the appalling spectacle of a meeting with the Panthers—that super team which, critics aver, will never be duplicated. Fostered in a city in which great rugby teams are a tradition, revered up and down the land, they included the names of many of the brainiest and most rugged players the game had ever known. For six years they had reigned, worthy monarchs of Canadian rugby. Yet the student body, their wild hopes soaring with the flight of the Waifs to fame, believed it could be done.
So that on that afternoon, when the evening newspapers came out with the startling announcement that there would be no play-off, the undergrads were furious. A terse statement from the faculty gave, as a reason, that the rugby season, without play-offs, was long enough; that these postschedule matches interfered too seriously with lectures and so on.
In Baytown, home of the Panthers, the guffaws echoed round city blocks, and its newspapers were nothing if not sarcastic in their comments.
The undergrads hung their heads and cast dark, furtive looks in the direction of the principal's office. The bolder among them told their classmates, with colorful invectives, that Sir George Knight and the faculty were a lot of whitelivered old fools. Bah! The glory of Varsity had turned out to be a shameful shibboleth.
There was no shame in the Epsilon house, however; simply profound stupefaction at a plight so unthinkable that men were inclined to hysterical laughter. Out of the blue had come charges of bribery and semiprofessionalism levelled at Tait Neville in particular and the Waifs in general. And, after an emergency meeting of the faculty and the council, the white lie had been tossed to the newspapers. Tait was notified, of course, and a second conference called, to include the team.
Sir George informed them that he had received two anonymous telephone calls warning him that if the Waifs played this final game, Neville and his team-mates—i.e., the university—wculd be subjected to exposure in the press for bribery and professionalism.
“Neville.” he went on kindly, “please understand that I consider you and your team-mates above reproach. That goes without saying. But the insistence with which you brought this team into being has in some minds produced a suspicion that it was all part of a preconceived scheme to make money out of a sport, which, above all amateur endeavor, should be absolutely free of such stigma.”
Tait glanced wearily at Billingsley, who was looking severely into space.
“If,” continued Sir George, “the source of this blackmail were not so mysterious, I could afford to defy it. But since investigators have failed thus far to uncover it, I am left with no alternative but to refuse to sanction this play-off. You may say that I am intimidated if you like. But before you judge so harshly, please remember that I have the good name of this university in my keeping and it is a very grave responsibility. Even though the charges, when made public, should be disproved, no institution can survive such an investigation without some loss of dignity. That is the reason for my swift action in the matter.”
'“PAIT NEVILLE rose to his feet.
“Sir George, I think I know where the suspicion lies as to my insistence on forming a second team. It amazes me that these people should have such short memories. The issue was very clear two months ago. But under the circumstances I will leave them to explain it to you if they dare to. All I am interested in at present is to clear the names of those who have stuck by me in bringing the Waifs from an outcast team to something worthy of Varsity. You must know that no amateur sport in Canada is without its camp followers—groups of professional gamblers who stop at nothing to gain their ends. We, at least I, have been hounded by the representative of one of these groups all through the career of the Waifs. I was offered hundreds of dollars to throw games, especially at the end of the schedule when we were winning regularly. When I refused they threatened that if I did not ‘play’ with them they’d ‘hang something on us’ in their parlance. My own opinion is that they have gone to Baytown boasting that we would default rather than encounter a team of the calibre of the Panthers. The Panthers, knowing that the university’s code would make such a boast ridiculous, would offer all sorts of bets that we would appear. Your anonymous telephone calls just about round out the story, sir.”
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“Can you put us in touch with those scoundrels?”
"No, sir.” Billingsley raised his eyebrows, and Tait could have knocked the smug superciliousness out of him. “I was approached only once, personally at our second game, by a short, thickset man with glasses and a pockmarked face. He told me that his name was Joe, just Joe. The rest of my contact with him was over the telephone. They’re a wily lot.”
“So it seems.”
“Look here, Sir George,” Tait burst out passionately, “let the game go on. We’ll lose far more prestige by defaulting than by any trumped-up lies that this crowd bring against us. The public, the student body, everyone, thinks we’re afraid of the Panthers since your decision. My personal opinion is that these gamblers are simply bluffing; that they wouldn’t dare come out in the open after the game is played with a lot of silly charges which, once and for all, I swear to you on my honor are absolutely untrue.”
Billingsley was horrified to see Sir George actually impressed by Tait’s eloquence. He rose to interrupt, and succeeded only in harvesting interruption on interruption. To his amazement, he found Seymour and many others of the council swinging their allegiance to the Waifs.
Sir George eventually effected an armistice and sighed.
“If only I could be certain that there would be no aftermath. Understand me clearly, Neville, I believe you. But again I repeat: I will not have the university embroiled in a messy investigation.”
“Sir, believe me, there won’t be any. That breed haven’t the—er—guts unless they are holding a gun to your head.” Sir George smiled inwardly. “They’d have nothing to gain. Can’t you see that this is just colossal bluff?”
“H’m. It seems that you would add to my grey hairs by placing me in the ignominous position of having to eat humble pie in the newspapers.”
Tait smiled, uncertain whether to risk it or not. He ventured.
“Students have had a good meal off it for two days, sir.”
Sir George laughed outright.
“So they have, so they have. Suppose I put it this way: ‘Principal accedes to pressure of student opinion in matter of playoffs. Makes exception in view of heroic career of Waifs’—something of that sort?”
“Laying it on a bit thick, sir, aren’t you?” laughed Tait nervously.
“Well, leave it to me. I should like to see Joe’s face when he reads the paper, if your assumptions are correct.”
That was never proved. But there were some thoughtful faces in the field house at breakfast on the morning of the game, when it was learned that an assistant trainer was taken to hospital with convulsions after drinking a cup of coffee from the urn which was to serve the players later. The trainer was unable to stand on his feet till eight o’clock that night.
UP IN the leafless trees, on rooftops and telegraph poles beyond the wall of the stadium, were perched great flocks of boys poaching a glimpse of a struggle that gripped 16,000 fans in the same wild-eyed trance that must have held the multitude in a Roman arena. Long ago the reckless wearers of derby hats had ceased to bemoan the sorry wrecks that now adorned their heads. Toward the end of the third period there was still no score. Yet even the most sanguine of grads and undergrads had expected to see a debacle after the first ten minutes; one which would become a howling farce as the Panthers piled up an overwhelming lead.
But somehow these unbelievers were made to frown for a thoughtful moment or two while a metamorphosis took place in their brains; till they realized that there was a vague system in the play of the Waifs, that it was not altogether fools’ luck, when, after the Panther line had rolled over them to within striking distance of their line, they rallied desperately to take the ball. It was then that the uncanny arm of Stupe had come into play. Two or three figures like dwarfs compared to the Panthers flashed off the ends, and twentyand thirty-yard forward passes whipped out with such lightning rapidity that the Panthers were caught flat-footed time and again. Especially, when it was used in a sequence play.
This far-famed team, composed of a lot of old-timers, was perfection itself with the old game but bungled the new play sadly. Unable, perhaps unwilling after the manner of old soldiers, to grasp the essentials of an innovation, they fought shy of it, relying almost solely on their precise end runs, their irresistible line plunging and superb kicking. All of which had availed them nothing up till half time, owing to the berserk forward passing of the Waifs. At their conference during the rest period the Panthers had determined on a kicking game, playing for the breaks, in the hopes that the fast tiring Waifs would fumble often enough to give them a fluke score or two.
With five minutes to go in the third, a Waif back fumbled on his thirty directly in front of the goal. A Panther dived on it to secure. Their drop kicker was hurried on his kick by a horde of frantic Waifs. The ball went wide of the posts into the arms of Stupe, who was waiting behind the line. He thrashed his way out to the eight-yard line, where all Tait’s attempts to relieve the pressure ended in a forced kick, a feeble effort, to his twenty-five. Panthers tried to manoeuvre the ball in front of the posts again for three points, but had to be content with trying for a rouge. Again Stupe thundered over the line, barely getting out. But before Tait could get the ball away on his first down the entire Panther team swept over him, forcing a touch for two points.
As the teams changed over for the last quarter, the deafening roar of the Varsity yell, intended to hearten and cheer them for their courageous stand, was all but lost on the ears of the toil-worn Waifs. Gordie Winston virtually stumbled up to the other end of the gridiron, almost out on his feet. Tait knew it; knew that every man of them was in a similar state, bordering on exhaustion. As he walked silently among them the trenchant stench of arnica made him remember naked bodies at half-time, their gleaming whiteness startling against the great black and blue welts which the trainers massaged. Taped hands and ankles told a similar story. And he was strangely fascinated b y the neck of the man ahead of him on which rivulets of sweat trickled through the grime of battle and disappeared below the edge of a sweater. Tait glanced at the faces of his team-mates—white, drawn, introspective. Yet there was no sign of defeat or evidence that the herculean task was too great for them. In fact when he signalled the bench for Meredith, the coach, to relieve Gordie Winston and one or two others against the moment when their recovery would be of supreme value, there was insurrection.
Gordie threw the sub off impatiently when the latter tapped him on the shoulder; and the sub spread his hands helplessly in the direction of Tait, who regarded the scene with his hands on his hips. He loped over to his friend, put his arm around his shoulders and said:
“Come on, old son, take it.”
Gordie wheeled on him. “You go to blazes.”
“Get over to the bench, do you hear!” As Gordie went, Tait noticed that Stupe was kidding a halfback. Stupe was the only man on the team who showed no trace of weariness as a result of the rugged, hammering play of the Panthers. Very well ; the big Westerner must carry the brunt of the play until the regulars returned.
ON A thrust through centre, Tait heard the abrasive smack of canvased thighs as Stupe plunged for seven yards; heard Panthers growl, “Farrel again, get him”, as he sent the halfback through left middle on the next play. They got him. But not before he had completed for a first down. Let well enough alone, thought Tait. A pitcher goes too often ... A little cunning now and then . . . He took a short forward pass himself, and called for a similar formation on the next scrimmage. The wary Panthers, not to be caught again, drew a secondary defense far back to cope with the threat, thereby weakening their front rank. Tait and three other players, racing off the ends, played their parts perfectly in their anxiety for the pass. Big Stupe, waiting with the ball poised, suddenly tucked it under his arm and galloped wide of a Waif interference which had little difficulty in smothering the sparse Panther line. Stupe’s arm worked like a trip-hammer and many a Panther was met with a vicious jab as he attempted to nail the runaway Westerner. Tackier after tackier found his chin rasped by a none too kindly turf, his sprawling arms groping at the void.
The Varsity crowd was on its feet, stunned speechless for the moment, at the incredible spectacle of an imminent touchdown for the Waifs. Five to two they would make it ! Gosh! Could those reckless kids trick the invincible Panthers out of a game that seemed already won? Like the throaty rumble of distant thunder, the fans found voice. Gathering volume like a huge tidal wave, it came till it broke over the stadium with a crash that must have been heard in Baytown.
It was stifled in a gasp, however, as Stupe ran into a pocket of Panthers at their twentyyard line who had retreated to block a forward pass. He drew them away from Tait, who, absolutely unmarked, awaited a lateral pass from Stupe. But the latter delayed tossing the pigskin just a fraction of a second too long. It was knocked out of his arms by a savage tackle and scooped up by an alert Panther in his stride. Tait, sensing disaster as two other Panthers dashed away flanking the ball carrier, was after him with a speed that belied the leaden weight in his legs. Near centre he caught up with him. The Panther, utterly preoccupied, was deaf to the warnings of his team-mates and held his course till his ankles were scythed by Tait in a tackle that left the latter’s lips limp and his eyes closed. Yet his arms were locked in a deathlike grip about the runner’s legs. The whistle blew for time out because Tait did not get up.
Water carriers and trainers scurried out like rabbits to his still form, drenched his face with sponges, chafed his legs and arms till at last he sat up uncertainly, threw them off impatiently and staggered to his feet, wiping dust from his eyes. A substitute touched him on the shoulder. "Tell Meredith to go to the devil,” he snapped to the gaping sub. Someone grabbed him by the shoulder and swung him around. He found himself staring into the still haggard face of Gordie Winston, who had just come on after the
“Here, you!” raged Gordie. “Don’t try to keep me out again after that. See?”
Tait smiled wanly, patted him on the shoulder, and gave him a shove in the direction of his position.
With the whistle. Panthers opened the throttle of their steam roller. With monotonous regularity they pounded over a Waif line that had lost its knack of catapulting the ball carrier before he was well started; lost it in a weariness that numbed their brains. Like blindly raging young bullocks, drained of their vitality in a battle of hopeless odds, they bent to the hurricane once more and again, but without any system, merely a mechanical instinct that was woefully futile without the driving force of intellect. Four yards, seven yards, five! Back they went, back again and again till a melancholy silence pervaded the stadium except for the hysteria of Panther supporters.
On their twelve-yard line the Waifs held for the first down. Tait and Gordie sensed play and charged into the hole made by the interference. Both of them got up exceedingly slowly from the bottom of the heap of players. The Panthers sent a pile-driving thrust at the other middle. Again Gordie and Tait were under it, to be ground back to their ten-yard line before they stopped the line plunger. The Panther quarter thought swiftly. Two yards in two downs. If those blankety-blank young demons got underneath another play, the ball was theirs. And they were outguessing him on the line through frenzied inspiration. Better play safe. They kicked to the dead line for a single to make it three to nil. Three minutes later on an exchange of kicks they added another, and went on to the defensive with the game virtually sewed up.
Five minutes to go and a deficit of four points staring them in the face was the least of the Waifs’ worries. It was this accursed lassitude brought about by the unequal gruelling. Outweighed thirty pounds to the man along the line by hardened campaigners callous as seasoned prizefighters to the ravening body blows of the gridiron, there was only one hope left to them—to beat the Panthers at their own game, gambling for the breaks.
'T'AIT decided to tear the game wide open with a barrage of forward passes. He took the first himself on Panthers’ fifty; and as he leapt for the ball he was sandwiched between two big secondary defense men. His eyes blinked at the impact. “Doesn’t matter,” he told himself with a painful smile. Waifs' ball. Must be from now on, else it was all over. A couple of gasping teammates caught up with him and thumped him on the back while they gulped, “Attaboy, Tait. We’re with you.”
“Then get in there and tell ’em they’re liars, you lousy scrubs,” he shrilled, laughing queerly.
They gazed at him perplexedly for a split second before they realized the force of his ironic humor. Grim, knowing smiles broke slowly about their lips as they ripped into the Panther line with a fury that told its tale in an advance that forever and a day converted the diehard opponents of the forward pass.
Although the fuming Panthers managed to bat down several, Gordie completed three in seven downs that swept the team to Panthers’ thirty. Then Stupe, sensing that their secondary was laying for the little flying wing, wheeled, after aiming for Gordie, and snapped a short one to Tait, who carried it for ten. He might have made it more except for bitterly tired legs. A desperate Panther brought him down with a crunch that made him pause on his knees before he staggered to his feet.
The Panthers were scowling when they lined up on their twenty. Three minutes to go; and if these young fiends could complete just one more forward it might mean a touch ! At least five to four, perhaps six if they converted.
Although there was a queer inertia in Tait’s legs, there was none in his brain. This series of forward passes. Panthers were probably so keyed up to them now that it was dangerous to repeat. He could see that Gordie was nearly done in like himself. Neither was-fit to accept any more. The rest were too uncertain in such a crisis. H’m. He made a crafty decision. It had worked before, hadn’t it?
The Panthers set their faces, deadly determined that the expected forward would not be completed. Tait, Gordie and two others were breaking round the ends, while Stupe stood like a rock waiting for them to get forward. A Panther careened through from the left and hurled himself at the big Westerner. A huge open hand lifted the marauder under the jaw so that he spun off Stupe like a Dervish.
Tait, lurching drunkenly as he ran sideways, wondered what in heaven’s name was the matter with Stupe. There had been no error in the signals. He was positive of that. Yet old Stupe was waiting instead of charging round the left end on the fake that had been called. And, moaned Tait, the left was wide open. Funny! He felt that his legs would buckle under him in a moment. Of a sudden he was startled into rigidity to see the ball coming at him like a bullet. Poor old Stupe. He had thrown too many passes. His single-track mind had failed to get out of the rut with the slightly varied signal. The ball shot into Tait’s arms with unerring accuracy and he managed to sidestep the first of a swarming Panther defense. He staggered to within five yards of the line, when, with victory leering at his helplessness his legs gave way. He sank slowly into the turf, blank amazement fusing his face. A Panther nailed him before he had a chance to roll.
Tait looked up to see Gordie swaying uncertainly above him. His head fell between Gordie’s feet and wagged from side to side in dumb bewilderment. Someone brushed Gordie aside; a big figure in a grey overcoat who had outstripped the trainers to Tait’s side.
There was a peculiar glistening in Seymour’s eyes as he stooped to pick Tait up tenderly in his arms. He carried him toward the sidelines in a hush broken only by a couple of Panthers who ran up to touch Tait and murmur, “You’re all right, kid,” somewhat huskily for hoary warriors. A sudden roar of acclaim drowned out the rest. Tait, his nerves gone, was sobbing hysterically against Seymour.
“I—I couldn’t help it, Semmy. I tried d-damn hard, honestly I did, but my legs wouldn’t work. I didn’t quit cold, d-did I, Semmy?”
Seymour turned his head away, ashamed to face the pleading in Tait’s eyes.
“Cut it out!” he mumbled gruffly, awe in his voice.
“Why didn’t he give it to Gordie?” Tait wailed. “He’d have made it. What’s that?” he demanded abruptly.
“Then we’ve lost.”
“Forget it. You as good as won it. Even though you lose, you win. Sir George called me over to his box ten minutes ago. He’s nearly a nervous wreck. He asked me if I knew what you meant when you suggested that the council tell him the story behind the Waifs. I told him, and I expect to get crucified for it. But it will be more than worth it after this game. I’m fed up with the whole business. You’ll see a lot of new faces on the council next season, your own among them, I shouldn’t wonder.”