This chapter explores the character of Ivory Christian. He is quite ambivalent about football. It is the game he loves to hate. Most of the time he fights to rid it from his life, because, even though he likes the game itself, he finds the practices, meetings, etc. pointless. He doesn’t even see the potential his coaches see of a career in college football and doesn’t even plan to take the ACT or the SAT entrance exams. He is angry when the position of middle linebacker is wrested from him on the basis that he isn’t “rah-rah” enough. That‘s a foreign idea to Ivory who had grown up with the tradition of life on the Southside, not in the tradition of Mojo. Later, he has a dream which makes him think he is prioritizing all the wrong things, including football. Instead, he is more willing to develop his instinctive gift for preaching. This allows him to let go of the anguish he feels over his ambivalence for football. Nonetheless, he keeps playing and exorcises his demons before each game by throwing up over and over.
The Marshall game is the second one of the season, and there is an edgy sensation to the atmosphere that night that make the stakes seem as great as the State Championships. The game is a battle between Odell, the great running back of Marshall, and Ivory. In this battle, Ivory forgets his ambivalence and for once, exorcises his demons. At the end of the first half, the score is quite close at 7-3, in favor of Permian. Of course, as far as the coaches are concerned, the score is only so close because of Permian’s sloppiness. Then the score goes back and forth, at one time Permian leading 12-7 and the next Marshall leading 13-12. At one point, Gary Gaines loses his temper big time when Johnny Celey misses an easy pass for a possible TD. He grabs the boy and screams at him in uncharacteristic bad behavior. It’s the pressure of losing and having the community begin their demands for his head. Permian fails to convert on 4th down on the Marshall twenty yard line. Then, with a little over a minute left on the clock, Winchell begins to brilliantly work the sidelines. Even when it is 4th and ten with 26 seconds left and his pass is incomplete, the gods seem to be with him. Marshall is penalized for too many men on the field. However, it is still not meant to be. His final pass lands incomplete again and Marshall wins. It is Permian’s first non-conference loss in nine years.
The loss also is an excuse for the grumbles about whether Gaines has the ability to coach a championship team to surface again. It is also a game where the alternation of great plays and sloppy mistakes only adds to Gaines’ frustration. However, for the players, it’s a whole different world: they find a party at the home of one the boys whose parents are out of town, and they put the loss behind them. After all, they are still the gladiators, envied by everyone, living in their own private kingdom.
Ivory’s ambivalence about football is not enough to keep him from playing great during the Marshall game, but it is Gary Gaines’ frustration and stress that dominates the end of the chapter. Winning is everything in Odessa and Permian has just lost.