Football Nightmare


By Matt Christopher

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A miserable memory dogs Keith’s every move Keith Stedman dropped the pass. The game-winning, undefeated-record-making pass that would have made him a hero instead of a loser. Now, a year later, that missed pass still haunts him, so much so that he’s considering quitting football for good. His friends and family finally convince him to stick with it, but Keith’s troubles are far from over. Another player is out for his position and seems determined to do everything he can to keep the dropped pass memory alive in the minds of the whole team – including Keith. Can Keith overcome his own obsession with the past and succeed in the present?


Copyright © 2001 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

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First eBook Edition: September 2001

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-04217-8


DEE-fense! Dee fense! DEE fense!"

The crowd's screaming was beginning to sound desperate, Keith Stedman thought, as he stood on the sideline and checked the clock for about the millionth time in the last few minutes. The clock didn't show good news.

There was exactly one minute and ten seconds left in the game. Seventy ticks of the clock — and Keith's team, the Bucks, trailed by four points, 21–17.

All the opposing team, the Renegades, had to do was grind out another first down, and that would be that. Bye-bye, victory; so long, championship; farewell, undefeated season.

Hello, wait until next year.

Keith wondered if losing got any easier with time. He doubted it.

The Renegade fullback plunged into the line and picked up three yards. The Buck coach, Greg Bodie, signaled for a time-out, which meant that they were down to only one. Across the field, the Renegade fans were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other.

Keith turned and looked up into the bleachers behind him. His parents and little sister, Traci, were there. Mr. Stedman looked grim, and even nine-year-old Traci, who knew roughly as much about football as she did about nuclear physics, wore an unhappy expression on her freckled face.

Next to him, Keith's best buddy, Heck Szymanski, kicked the turf and muttered to himself. Heck was the Buck's top running back, with great balance and the ability to shift into high gear and leave defenses in the dust … when the offense had the ball. Keith was a rangy wide receiver who knew how to run a good pattern. But neither of them could do their thing when they were standing helpless on the sideline while the clock ticked away.

"If we could just get one more shot at it," said Heck. "We could beat these guys, I know it."

Keith sighed and nodded glumly. "Yeah … if. But you know they're not going to throw any passes or laterals."

"Not unless the quarterback suddenly goes crazy," agreed Heck. "The only chance we have is if they fumble and —"

Heck's next words were drowned out by a roar from the Buck fans. Startled, both boys stared out on the field. While they had been talking, the Renegades had put the ball in play.

And they had fumbled! The fullback had failed to hang on to the handoff from the quarterback and the ball had squirted loose. A pile of players lay tangled together, some in red Buck jerseys and some in green Renegade ones. Somewhere under the pile was the ball. The referee began moving the players away while Keith and Heck watched and held their breath.

Finally the ref picked up the ball and signaled that it now belonged to the Bucks.

"YES!" screamed Heck, as the Buck offense raced out on the field. Coach Bodie grabbed Billy Brundage, the Buck quarterback, and gave him some last-minute instructions.

As they huddled, tackle Cody Aarons clenched a fist and shook it. "We can do it!" he yelled.

But Keith knew it wouldn't be easy, not with under a minute left and only one time-out to use. A field goal wouldn't do it; the Bucks needed a touchdown. And they were sixty-five yards away from pay dirt.

Billy Brundage began by whipping a pass to Warren Flatt, the tight end. Warren ploughed ahead for twelve yards before lunging out of bounds to stop the clock.

Then Billy dropped back, faked a handoff that fooled nobody on the defense — everyone knew that Billy had to air it out — and tossed a swing pass to Heck out on the flat. Cody threw a smashing downfield block and Heck tightroped down the sideline for a gain of nine. The ball was now on the Renegade forty-four, but the clock showed just twenty seconds left.

The Bucks lined up fast. Billy called for a play that sent Keith deep on a fly pattern while Warren went over the middle. After the snap, Keith sped down-field, but a Renegade safety stayed with him step for step. Billy had to throw to the tight end, who got the first down with yards to spare, but was unable to get out of bounds. The Bucks burned their final time-out.

The ball was on the Renegade thirty-eight yard line; there were only nine seconds remaining. Billy trotted off to talk to the coach. The Buck fans were screaming for a score, and now it was the Renegade rooters' turn to call for "DEE-fense."

Billy ran back on the field and the Bucks huddled.

"Listen up," he said. "We're gonna try the halfback option. Keith, you're going long again. Heck, think you can throw it?"

Heck nodded. "Sure. And you know Keith can catch it."

Keith felt his pulse racing and tried to stay calm. The halfback option meant that Billy would lateral to Heck and hope that the Buck defense would converge on him, looking for a run. Heck would draw the defense in, and Keith would be able to get free downfield. Then Heck would toss him the ball, and Keith would take it in for the winning TD.

Billy looked at his teammates. "This is it," he said. "You guys on the line, you gotta hold off those rushers and give this a chance to develop."

"Don't worry about us," Cody said. "We'll be there."

The ref whistled. The clock started.

"Okay," Billy said. "On two. Let's go!"

The Bucks ran up to the line and Keith split out to the left. The noise was deafening, especially from the Renegade fans trying to drown out Billy's signals.

"Set!" Billy yelled, his voice just audible over the roar. "Hut one! Hut two!"

Keith concentrated on his assignment and on keeping his breathing steady. On the snap, he took off downfield. Sure enough, he saw the safety who should have stayed with him move toward the line of scrimmage, looking for a run. By the time the guy realized that it might be a pass after all, Keith had ten yards on him.

There were no green jerseys anywhere near Keith as he looked back for Heck's pass.

And here it came, a little wobbly, but right on target. Keith watched the ball arc right toward his waiting hands — a perfectly aimed pass. All he had to do was pull it down and trot into the end zone untouched. The game was theirs, and so was the championship.

The ball hit his hands …

… and slid out of his hands and bounced on the field.

The Buck fans' happy screams stopped as if they had been cut off by a switch.

Keith lunged forward, as if he could somehow grab the ball and save the day. He hit the turf and lay there motionless, vaguely aware that the cheering was now coming from the Renegade bleachers.

Keith didn't want to get up. He didn't want to face his teammates, or his family, or anybody at all. It was definitely the worst moment of his life.

Dimly Keith heard the gun sound and he knew that the game was over. He felt like a lot more had ended than just a game … football was over, fun was over … everything was over.


Keith was helping his father clear away the dishes from the table after dinner when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," Traci called out as she raced for the door.

It was a warm evening in late August. Nine months had passed since Keith had dropped the pass. By now, whole days could go by without Keith dreaming or thinking about the awful moment. His parents and sister had learned not to bring it up, so Keith felt safe from being reminded of that game while he was in the house — unless he dreamed about it. There was no way to control what his brain did when he was asleep.

The weeks after that game had been rough on Keith. Some photographer from the local newspaper had taken a shot of him lying flat on the field after blowing the catch. The caption under the picture had read "The agony of defeat," which, Keith felt, pretty much said it all. There had been an article about the game, which Keith had not read. He didn't need to read it. He had been there.

Most of the other Bucks had made a point of supporting Keith after the game and ever since then, especially Heck, Cody, and Billy. Heck said over and over that it could have just as easily happened to him, or to anyone. Keith finally had told his friend to just not bring it up anymore, and Heck had agreed, though he wasn't happy about it.

But a few guys on the team, and some kids who were not on the team, and even a few adults had said nasty things. Keith was certain that many still were saying them — behind his back, of course.

He imagined that when some of his teammates were old men, they'd tell their grandchildren about the time the Bucks could have been champs, would have been champs, except that this guy, Keith Stedman, had blown a sure touchdown.

He'd have to live with this for the rest of his life, he knew. And he didn't want to talk about it or think about it or do anything that might remind him of it.

Was that asking too much?


On Sale
Sep 1, 2001
Page Count
128 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

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