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Authors: Don DeLillo

End Zone

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PENGUIN BOOKS

END ZONE

Don DeLillo published his first short story when he was twenty-three years old. He has since written thirteen novels, including
White Noise
(1985), which won the National Book Award. It was followed by
Libra
(1988), his bestselling novel about the assassination of President Kennedy;
Mao II
(1991), which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; and the bestselling
Underworld
(1997), which in 2000 won the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the most distinguished work of fiction published in the prior five years. Other novels include
Americana, End Zone
, and
Great Jones Street
, all available from Penguin. His most recent novel is
Cosmopolis.
In 1999, DeLillo was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to a writer whose work expresses the theme of freedom of the individual in society; he was the first American author to receive it.

Don DeLillo
END ZONE

PENGUIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by

Houghton Mifflin Company 1972

Published in Penguin Books 1986

Copyright © Don DeLilio, 1972

All rights reserved

ISBN: 978-1-101-65986-1

Portions of this book originally appeared in

The New Yorker
and
Works in Progress.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

To my parents

Table of Contents

Part One

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

Part Two

19

Part Three

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

Part One
1

T
AFT
R
OBINSON WAS
the first black student to be enrolled at Logos College in West Texas. They got him for his speed.

By the end of that first season he was easily one of the best running backs in the history of the Southwest. In time he might have turned up on television screens across the land, endorsing eight-thousand-dollar automobiles or avocado-flavored instant shave. His name on a chain of fast-food outlets. His life story on the back of cereal boxes. A drowsy monograph might be written on just that subject, the modern athlete as commercial myth, with footnotes. But this doesn’t happen to be it. There were other intonations to that year, for me at least, the phenomenon of anti-applause — words broken into brute sound, a consequent silence of metallic texture. And so Taft Robinson, rightly or wrongly, no more than haunts this book. I think it’s fitting in a way. The mansion has long been haunted (double metaphor coming up) by the invisible man.

But let’s keep things simple. Football players are simple folk. Whatever complexities, whatever dark politics of the human mind, the heart — these are noted only within the chalked borders of the playing field. At times strange visions ripple across that turf; madness leaks out. But wherever else he goes, the football player travels the straightest of lines. His thoughts are wholesomely commonplace, his actions uncomplicated by history, enigma, holocaust or dream.

A passion for simplicity, for the true old things, as of boys on bicycles delivering newspapers, filled our days and nights that fierce summer. We practiced in the undulating heat with nothing to sustain us but the conviction that things here were simple. Hit and get hit; key the pulling guard; run over people; suck some ice and re-assume the three-point stance. We were a lean and dedicated squad run by a hungry coach and his seven oppressive assistants. Some of us were more simple than others; a few might be called outcasts or exiles; three or four, as on every football team, were crazy. But we were all — even myself — we were all dedicated.

We did grass drills at a hundred and six in the sun. We attacked the blocking sleds and strutted through the intersecting ropes. We stood in what was called the chute (a narrow strip of ground bordered on two sides by blocking dummies) and we went one on one, blocker and pass-rusher, and hand-fought each other to the earth. We butted, clawed and kicked. There were any number of fistfights. There was one sprawling free-for-all, which the coaches allowed to continue for about five minutes, standing on the sidelines looking pleasantly bored as we kicked each other in the shins and threw dumb rights and lefts at caged faces, the more impulsive taking off their helmets
and swinging them at anything that moved. In the evenings we prayed.

I was one of the exiles. There were many times, believe it, when I wondered what I was doing in that remote and unfed place, that summer tundra, being hit high and low by a foaming pair of 240-pound Texans. Being so tired and sore at night that I could not raise an arm to brush my teeth. Being made to obey the savage commands of unreasonable men. Being set apart from all styles of civilization as I had known or studied them. Being led in prayer every evening, with the rest of the squad, by our coach, warlock and avenging patriarch. Being made to lead a simple life.

Then they told us that Taft Robinson was coming to school. I looked forward to his arival — an event, finally, in a time of incidents and small despairs. But my teammates seemed sullen at the news. It was a break with simplicity, the haunted corner of a dream, some piece of forest magic to scare them in the night.

Taft was a transfer student from Columbia. The word on him was good all the way. (1) He ran the hundred in 9.3 seconds. (2) He had good moves and good hands. (3) He was strong and rarely fumbled. (4) He broke tackles like a man pushing through a turnstile. (5) He could pass-block — when in the mood.

But mostly he could fly — a 9.3 clocking for the hundred. Speed. He had sprinter’s speed. Speed is the last excitement left, the one thing we haven’t used up, still naked in its potential, the mysterious black gift that thrills the millions.

2

(E
XILE OR OUTCAST
: distinctions tend to vanish when the temperature exceeds one hundred.)

Taft Robinson showed up at the beginning of September, about two weeks before regular classes were to start. The squad, originally one hundred bodies, soon down to sixty, soon less, had reported in the middle of August. Taft had missed spring practice and twenty days of the current session. I didn’t think he’d be able to catch up. I was in the president’s office the day he arrived. The president was Mrs. Tom Wade, the founder’s widow. Everybody called her Mrs. Tom. She was the only woman I had ever seen who might accurately be described as Lincolnesque. Beyond appearance I had no firm idea of her reality; she was tall, black-browed, stark as a railroad spike.

I was there because I was a northerner. Apparently they thought my presence would help make Taft feel at home,
an idea I tended to regard as laughable. (He was from Brooklyn, having gone on to Columbia from Boys High, a school known for the athletes it turns out.) Mrs. Tom and I sat waiting.

“My husband loved this place,” she said. “He built it out of nothing. He had an idea and he followed it through to the end. He believed in reason. He was a man of reason. He cherished the very word. Unfortunately he was mute.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“All he could do was grunt. He made disgusting sounds. Spit used to collect at both corners of his mouth. It wasn’t a real pretty sight.”

Taft walked in flanked by our head coach, Emmett Creed, and backfield coach, Oscar Veech. Right away I estimated height and weight, about six-two, about 210. Good shoulders, narrow waist, acceptable neck. Prize beef at the county fair. He wore a dark gray suit that may have been as old as he was.

Mrs. Tom made her speech.

“Young man, I have always admired the endurance of your people. You’ve a tough row to hoe. Frankly I was against this from the start. When they told me their plan, I said it was bushwah. Complete bushwah. But Emmett Creed is a mighty persuasive man. This won’t be easy for any of us. But what’s reason for if not to get us through the hard times? There now. I’ve had my say. Now you go on ahead with Coach Creed and when you’re all thoo talking football you be sure to come on back here and see Mrs. Berry Trout next door. She’ll get you all settled on courses and accommodations and things. History will be our ultimate judge.”

Then it was my turn.

“Gary Harkness,” I said. “We’re more or less neighbors. I’m from upstate New York.”

“How far up?” he said.

“Pretty far. Very far in fact. Small town in the Adirondacks.”

We went over to the players’ dorm, an isolated unit just about completed but with no landscaping out front and
WET PAINT
signs everywhere. I left the three of them in Taft’s room and went downstairs to get suited up for afternoon practice. Moody Kimbrough, our right tackle and captain on offense, stopped me as I was going through the isometrics area.

“Is he here?”

“He is here,” I said.

“That’s nice. That’s real nice.”

In the training room Jerry Fallon had his leg in the whirlpool. He was doing a crossword puzzle in the local newspaper.

“Is he here?”

“He is everywhere,” I said.

“Who?”

“Supreme being of heaven and earth. Three letters.”

“You know who I mean.”

“He’s here all right. He’s all here. Two hundred and fifty-five pounds of solid mahogany.”

“How much?” Fallon said.

“They’re thinking of playing him at guard. He came in a little heavier than they expected. About two fifty-five. Left guard, I think Coach said.”

“You kidding me, Gary?”

“Left guard’s your spot, isn’t it? I just realized.”

“How much is he weigh again?”

“He came in at two fifty-five, two sixty. Solid bronze right from the foundry. Coach calls him the fastest two-five-five in the country.”

“He’s supposed to be a running back,” Fallon said.

“That was before he added the weight.”

“I think you’re kidding me, Gary.”

“That’s right,” I said.

“You son of a bitch,” Fallon said.

We ran through some new plays for about an hour. Creed’s assistants moved among us yelling at our mistakes. Creed himself was up in the tower studying overall patterns. I saw Taft on the sidelines with Oscar Veech. The players kept glancing that way. When the second unit took over on offense, I went over to the far end of the field and grubbed around for a spot of shade in which to sit. Finally I just sank into the canvas fence and remained more or less upright, contemplating the distant fury. These canvas blinds surrounded the entire practice field in order to discourage spying by future opponents. The blinds were one of the many innovations Creed had come up with — innovations as far as this particular college was concerned. He had also had the tower built as well as the separate living quarters for the football team. (To instill a sense of unity.) This was Creed’s first year here. He had been born in Texas, in either a log cabin or a manger, depending on who was telling the story, on the banks of the Rio Grande in what is now Big Bend National Park. The sporting press liked to call him Big Bend. He made a few ail-American teams as a tailback in the old single-wing days at SMU and then flew a B-27 during the war and later played halfback for three years with the Chicago Bears. He went into coaching then, first as an assistant to George Halas in Chicago and then as head
coach in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Big Eight and the Southeastern Conference. He became famous for creating order out of chaos, building good teams at schools known for their perennial losers. He had four unbeaten seasons, five conference champions and two national champions. Then a second-string quarterback said or did something he didn’t like and Creed broke his jaw. It became something of a national scandal and he went into obscurity for three years until Mrs. Tom beckoned him to West Texas. It was a long drop down from the Big Eight but Creed managed to convince the widow that a good football team could put her lonely little school on the map. So priorities were changed, new assistants were hired, alumni were courted, a certain amount of oil money began to flow, a certain number of private planes were made available for recruiting purposes, the team name was changed from the Cactus Wrens to the Screaming Eagles — and Emmett Creed was on the comeback trail. The only thing that didn’t make sense was the ton of canvas that hid our practice sessions. There was nothing out there but insects.

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