Jason McDevitt was short. He had a high voice. We called him Mickey, as in the mouse. Such is the humor of 11-year olds.
Jason and I were best friends in Reston, Virginia, where we grew up. One of the nation's first planned communities, Reston fondly referred to itself as a "place called Reston," clearly setting itself apart from places where other people live like towns or cities.
My brother hated Reston, seeing in it all that was wrong with American suburbia, and I suppose he had a point. For a high school student like my brother there was not much to do, unless drinking beers in a park fulfilled your dreams of what life could be like. But I loved Reston, and I cried when my parents decided to move out of the place and into a city, Washington, D.C. to be exact.
For me and Jason and the rest of our gang, Reston was a playground with limitless possibilities. During football season, Jason McDevitt's front yard was home field to the Michigan Wolverines. For people who knew little about life, we knew everything about sports. Street and Smith's was our bible, and the starting lineups of major college powers rolled off our tongues with ease.
So game day at the McDevitt household was no simple affair. You had to come prepared. Jason had his facts; he knew Bo Schembeckler's system well, and you could be sure that the option would be in fine working order and that Wolverine QB Rick Leach would do his damage. Jason of course fulfilled all of these roles--coach, star halfback, option quarterback.
On defense he was equally ubiquitous. He even filled in for the band, annoyingly chanting the Wolverine fight song after each touchdown, emphasizing his triumph by pointing his finger in the defense, which consisted of me.
I usually opted for the Trojans of Southern Califorinia. Anthony Davis averaged no less than 40 to 50 carries a game when we would play. There weren't many other options since the name of the fullback escaped me. As for a passing attack, there wasn't one. After all, it was me against him when it came right down to it.
But the Trojans didn't come on the scene until later in the season; first we had to get through the preliminaries. And that meant Ohio State, and me doing my best Archie Griffin impersonation. Jason was just a little bit too fast for the Ohio State secondary most games, and that set the stage for the showdown. The Rose Bowl. The Grandaddy of them all. McDevitt against Barron. Leach against Davis. This was big time.
I don't remember exactly who won those games. But both of us were more than willing to conspire to create drama. Always it came down to the final play of the game, the clock running out as dinner time approached. It always ended with a goal line stand, a fourth down and one situation, and the inevitable two-point conversion effort. And then the fight song, and the finger jabbing. And then game day would return that next afternoon.
I lost touch with Jason after I moved to Washington, and it became increasingly less cool to spend afternoons imitating college stars, who I now realize, are for the most part younger than I am. I have seen Jason exactly twice in the last eight years. Each time it has been at The Game.
I had no idea that he was going to Yale; it would have been more fitting had he gone on to Michigan. The first time I saw him was two years ago, at about 2 a.m. on a Saturday night in New Haven. A little drunk, and very cold, I was with a group of friends of mine from high school, parading in a somewhat ridiculous pack-like fashion through a dark and uninviting city.
Then, there on a terrace in front of a dormitory stood a tall figure. Jason McDevitt, elongated now to more than six feet. The height advantage was all his.
Reunions are not easy, particularly the first ones. You have to be a certain age to recognize that meeting someone again whom you once knew is a reunion. Suddenly it takes on a certain importance, encountering you as something significant, a means of orienting yourself. This was my first bout with nostalgia, meeting a friend from days gone by.
Had I not seen Jason that night, I would not have forgotten him. But I would not have imagined that he had grown up, stopped playing football games in his backyard, gone to college, just as I had done. It would have simply been part of a past, childhood--remembered at times fondly, at other times not.
But suddenly there was more to it. Jason McDevitt after all did not simply disappear once I moved away; he took a similar path as I had. And as if that Saturday night were not proof enough that childhood lingers, the next year, the night after The Game in Cambridge, there was Jason in a parking lot near Mather House.
A friend of mine and I wandered into the parking lot, where a radio was playing and a group was fathered. Among them was Jason.
That night Mike Tyson had taken on one of his many soon-to-be defeated challengers. We all began talking about Iron Mike, and then Jason and I took some jabs against each other, imagining the cheering crowd, fancying ourselves contenders for the heavyweight crown. We had both come to see The Game. Along the way, we had the fortune to catch up on a game of our own.
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