This chapter opens with a description of how involved the town of Messina is with their football team. Large green football schedules dot the windows of every shop and store while on every lamppost hangs green and white banners that go up in late August and do not come down until the season is over. Neely decides at this point to prove the rumors about his return are correct by going to Renfrow’s Café. He feels the need to smile and be polite to the people who once adored him. Renfrow’s has not changed since he used to go there as the All-American hero. The smells and the sounds hit him as he enters the door, and he’s reminded of how every football player was allowed to eat there once a week for no charge. Because of the black players who came later, it was one of the first in the state to integrate its business voluntarily. Neely’s picture still hangs above the cash register and in the center of the longest wall is the shrine to Eddie Rake - a large color photo and under it the records he set. Maggie Renfrow, the original owner, is now in a nursing home, but many of the same customers are still there. Most are content to brood over their coffee and ignore Neely, because he had ignored them for the past 15 years. The people of Messina feel they own their heroes, and the fact that he hadn’t returned isn’t lost on them and is reflected in their attitudes.
Paul brings up the topic of a girl named Screamer and tells Neely, who had dated her, that she had gone to Hollywood to become an actress, taking the name Tessa Canyon. She had shown up for their ten year reunion name-dropping and showing off, but making it apparent that she had slept around to achieve what little she had. Later, Paul had seen her in one of the older casinos in Las Vegas, shuffling booze, a cocktail waitress in a skimpy uniform, looking much older than thirty. Paul analyzes her as a sad case to which Neely responds that that’s the reason he dumped her.
Neely is approached by a Mr. Nunly, who used to work on his father’s cars, and Neely lies and says he remembers him. However, he quickly severs any talk from the man about how great he was. He notices that except for Mr. Nunly, the conversations in the restaurant are muted as if the wake for Eddie Rake as already begun. Nevertheless, he can hear that the topic of conversation that morning is The Streak, not the old one, but a new one. Neely comments to Paul that he could never understand how not one person who speaks about The Streak makes a million bucks, and yet, they all feel they deserve a state championship every year. Paul explains this attitude as “bragging rights” since Rake had put their town on the map. Then, Neely is approached by Maggie Renfrow’s brother who runs the café now. She had always wanted Neely to autograph the picture above the cash register, and now her brother brings it forward for Neely to sign. For a moment, as he signs the picture, Neely misses the days of high school football, but soon, the bad feelings return, and he wants to get out of the restaurant. Paul questions his nervousness around the people he grew up with, and Neely makes it clear that he doesn’t want to talk about football or how great he was.
The two friends drive by Rake’s home and see many out of state license plates, no doubt friends and family waiting for him to die. It all reminds Neely of the time he and his friends had been playing sandlot football and saw a man standing in the distance. When the game was over, the man approached and commented that Neely had a nice arm and then asked him several questions about his parents’ heights. He went on to tell Neely that he would make a great Spartan quarterback. Neely was only eleven years old and the man was Coach Rake.
Their next stop is the cemetery. This prompts the author to explain the tragedy of the ’92 season. The team had lost three games the year before, and the pressure was on. Rake didn’t seem to show that he felt it at all, because after 34 years of coaching, he didn’t care what the town wanted. His only real talent was Randy Jaeger, who played corner and wide-out and could catch anything a quarterback threw to him, that is if the quarterback could throw anything. Rake’s greatness, however, was in his ability to make winning players out of those who were small and slow. As a result, few teams before this had ever seen the intensity Rake brought to this season. After a bad Saturday scrimmage, he called a Sunday morning practice on a day that was 89 degrees by eight o’clock. The team ran a mile around the track and then came the assault on the bleachers. Only Randy Jaeger, who was a natural-born runner, seemed able to take the torture of running up one set of steps, across the seats, and down another set of steps, over and over. The linemen were dropping like flies, and a tackle collapsed and vomited in the stands. Then, Scotty Reardon, a sophomore special team’s player, who weighed in at only 141 pounds and at his autopsy weighed only 129, collapsed during the third round of bleachers and never regained consciousness. The boys would describe later how Rake held the boy’s head in his lap while they waited for the ambulance. Scotty died of heatstroke pure and simple, a death that was totally preventable.
Now Paul and Neely approach the young boy’s grave, kneel down and read the dates on his tombstone. He was only 15 years old. Neely asks if they are going to bury Rake in the large bare spot beside Scotty, and Paul answers that that’s the rumor.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Bleachers".
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