When Trent Adams was a child he never wanted to grow up to be anything but a professional football player. These men who played this most violent of games, were, to him anyway, the personification of every superhero come to life. His mom was less enthusiastic about his passion. She heard the stories about the dirty locker room conversations, the lighting of bodily gasses, and how they considered giving wedgies to members of the debate team as a form of high comedy. Mother Adams considered these activities beneath her nice, middle class son. Despite her reservations she supported him anyway while quietly hoping that Trent would wind up in a career that involved a white lab coat and the words “Dr. Adams.”
His mother’s dream of a doctor in the family died a slow painful death over the years as it became obvious that Trent was that rare breed of person who was perfectly suited, both physically and mentally, for professional athletics—football in particular. He had the type of gritty toughness and confidence in his own indestructibility that suggested he might recreationally drink acid or poke an ill-tempered bison with a stick just for fun.
The American Medical Association (along with any reputable med school) may have wanted nothing to do with him, but the Minnesota Vikings recognized these traits. They invested a lot of hope in him when they traded up in the draft to get him as the eleventh player taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
From the moment he stepped on the Viking’s practice field he was the type of courageous leader that the team had been lacking since the days of Fran Tarkenton. The Vikings were tickled purple and Trent was living his dream.
Yes, all his life, Trent wanted to be a professional football player. That was until this moment. Three minutes from half-time in a game against the Oakland Raiders during an unforgiving downpour, Trent was panicking in the huddle… and it had nothing to do with the weather. This was the first time in his life that he wished he had listened to his mother and gone into podiatry.
“Byron, you line up with Smith and double team that son of a bitch!” Trent’s voice crackled with panic and fear as he shouted instructions in the huddle.
He looked over at the Raiders huddle. All of them were clustered together getting their defensive play ready for the next snap. All of them except for number 74. Thor just stood outside the huddle and stared back at him. Trent could feel Thor’s icy blue eyes piercing him. There was a dispassionate sort of hate and malice in the stare. It sent the clear message that Trent would soon have a greater understanding and appreciation for the whole “lamb to slaughter” cliché. Those eyes also expressed a sort of casual ease with violence that was unnerving. It was the look someone would expect to see if they found themselves face to face with a person like Heinrich Himmler or a dental school graduate.
Trent couldn’t take it anymore. If it was just the look, he would spend the rest of the game (and probably the day) completely creeped out…but he would get over it. There was history behind that look though. Thor was a man whose NFL career was built on the broken bodies of his opponents. This was a guy who ended careers and on a few controversial occasions, lives as well. The look combined with the body count credited to Thor’s ledger was too much for him to deal with.
“It’s just a game, man!” Trent screamed over at him, “What’s wrong with you?!” The panicked quarterback started doing some quick math in his head. He was trying to do the sort of fractions where some of the numbers got cancelled out. Specifically he wanted to make sure number 74 was the one removed from the equation.
He had assigned a 250 lb. tight end along with a 320 lb. tackle to protect him from the six foot four, 280 lb. sociopath. His brain reached the conclusion that the Vikings may be in need of a new tight end and another offensive tackle when the play was over. He needed more guys on Thor if he was going to live through the final minutes of the first half. Once the second quarter was over Trent planned to sneak off quietly during halftime. The team was on its own after that.
“Moe, line up as far behind me as you need to get a good run at the guy, then while Smith and Byron have Thor occupied, hit him with everything you’ve got! Hit him hard…and for Christ’s sake, try to hit him somewhere that breaks! I’ll pay the fine if you cripple him, hell, I’ll give you a BMW if you blow out his knee!”
The play clock was ticking down and Trent would have to line the team up for a play soon. Before he broke the huddle, he grabbed his lineman by the facemask and shouted right into the man’s helmet “Smith, I want you to chop block that bastard. Break his freakin’ leg if you have to!! Just keep him off of me…Do you understand?”
The rookie nodded enthusiastically back at him.
“Go get him!!!” Trent smacked the side of the lineman’s helmet as he gave this last order in the huddle.
The offense and defense faced each other again. The Raiders had gotten the better of this situation just about every time they lined up. The last few times Thor had hit him, Trent could feel his organs moving about independently inside his torso. It was as if they were floating in a glass of water that was being shaken. He had also coughed up blood the last couple of times. There was not a lot more he could take and he knew it.
Trent began to yell out the signals “Blue thirty-seven, Blue thirty-seven”.
Above the din of his own voice and the trash talking that was going on between the linemen, he could hear a low, animal growl coming from his left.
The growl became louder with every moment. There was no more taunting between the linemen, just the sound of a low guttural snarl and the occasional whimper from one of his offensive linemen.
Trent looked to his left and saw Thor’s head was up and he was staring straight at him. The shadow from the heavy cage of his facemask obscured the features of Thor’s face. All Trent could see were his hate-filled blue eyes glowing out from the darkness and a plumb of red hair exploding out from under his helmet.
“HUT…HUT HUUUUTTTTT…” In a final moment of unexpected weakness and frailty his voice abandoned him and became more of a mouse like squeak then the confident, clear tones of a gridiron leader.
It happened very quickly. He felt the leather football hitting his hands as the center snapped it to him. He became very aware of the sound of his own footsteps on the wet Coliseum grass. Some obscure thought about the value of last rites flashed through his head. At that point something exploded in Trent’s gut. For a quick moment he saw what looked like snow on a television screen, and then there was nothing but blackness.
“Hooooooooly shi…” the announcer screamed.
“John, you can’t say that on the air, remember the network,” Al Michaels said in a joking, almost condescending way.
“Sorry about that Al, but Holy Mother of God, WOW…I mean, well…WOW…did you see that hit!!!”
“I felt that hit, John, and the quarterback is down again. What a crushing sack number 74 had just laid on him. After the abuse Trent Adams has taken today…I don’t think he’ll be getting up anytime soon.”
“I think you’re right, Al. He hasn’t moved anything in quite some time, and they still haven’t cleaned the stuff that came out his nose off of his face. I think he may be hurt pretty bad. I can’t remember ever seeing a defensive line push an offensive line around like this before.”
Thor watched as the stretcher carried away his latest victim. His ice blue eyes then turned to the Minnesota Viking’s sideline. The head coach was trying desperately to coax his backup quarterback to come out from under the bench.
From the relative safety of the bench, or in this particular case, under it, the frightened man stared out at the field. He was specifically focused on the part of the field occupied by Thor. This player was a mind numbingly scary sight. For the most part he didn’t even look real—more like a Geiger painting come to life. Blood stains fell into his black uniform like light into a black hole. It belied the violence that had been inflicted on the previous signal caller.
Upon further consideration the young quarterback decided that there was nothing in his college football background that had adequately prepared him to face this situation. So instead of throwing on his helmet and trotting on to the field, he told the coach to get stuffed and then concentrated most of his attention upon his own thumb, which he was now sucking.
The drama on the sideline had not held Thor’s attention for long. His sixteenth sack of the game had brought the stadium crowd to its feet in celebration. Thor, the Norse God of The Sky and War raised his massive arms to the heavens and bathed in the cheers of the crowd. He let loose a loud battle cry and the sky answered him with peels of thunder and a sudden downpour.
People no longer believed in the gods anymore, to them he was a myth, but they did tend to create gods out of their own sports’ heroes. Thor, like the rest of the Aesir, felt the absolute need to be worshipped. If the only way to accomplish this end was to join the human race and dominate their games, so be it.
Thor listened as the rain pelted his helmet. It was a good sound and in his opinion, the rain made for better playing conditions. The minor earthquake during the first quarter was a nice touch but he didn’t pay it much attention because it wasn’t his doing.
The game had the normal, predictable, end. The World Champion Raiders came away with yet another victory in a long series of lopsided victories and the remaining Minnesota Vikings players came away feeling like they had accomplished something by simply surviving to tell about it. The athletes made their way down the stadium tunnel, running the gauntlet of reporters. Thor had just about made his way through the wall of microphones and bad toupees, when a little hand reached out and grabbed the back of his jersey. Thor wheeled around and looked into the face of the man that the hand belonged to. He was a small male wearing a tasteless red blazer. Over the left breast he had a very large network logo embroidered on the jacket’s pocket. His smile was literally ear-to-ear and looked pasted on his “I have been-in-a-tanning-booth-waaaay-to-long” face. The man was obviously not burdened with shyness as he stuck a microphone practically in Thor’s mouth, tossed back his blow-dried blond hair, and bellowed.
“THOR, YOU ARE A GOD!!! Hey, how about an exclusive for us, big guy?” he waved over his camera crew as he spoke.
Thor had never really gotten the hang of the post game interview. It was not that he was either a shy man or an inarticulate one; he just was not a humble man. For some reason he could never quite grasp why people wanted their heroes to be strong, brave, skilled, and in complete denial of their own prowess. To his credit, humility was a craft that he once tried very hard to learn. For nine hours on a Saturday he sat watching file footage of interviews given by Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. He watched as Sanders, time and time again, took no credit for the outstanding things he had done on the field. Instead, he thanked everyone around him for making his success possible. The lasting effect to the viewer was a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside. After several hours of feeling fuzzy, Thor shook his head, took several deep breaths and proceeded to smash the television set. He then went out for a stiff drink full of the realization that Sanders was a fool. From that moment on Thor maintained that it was best for everyone if he just avoided doing interviews.
Thor pushed the microphone away from his face. “Sorry, normally I would love to grant your network an interview but unfortunately my agent insists that all interviews get cleared through him first. It’s something he gets pretty uptight about.”
The reporter stood there smiling a cheesy little smile and trying to think of a good argument to counter Thor’s rejection, microphone still up in the proximity of the Thunder God’s mouth. This annoyed Thor to no end. People who couldn’t take a simple “No” for an answer really got his blood boiling. He pushed his anger down, and put on a happy face.
“You know agents,” he said good-naturedly as he slapped the little reporter on the back.
The impact of the slap had an effect on the sportscaster that was not unlike the Heimlich maneuver. In addition, it sent his over-styled blond toupee sailing off his head into the beer cup of a nearby fan.
“And I certainly don’t want to upset my agent in a contract negotiation year. You know how that is, right?”
With that said Thor turned away…but hesitated. He turned back to the reporter. The little man flinched. As the son of Odin grabbed his tie and pulled him close, he dropped his beer soaked toupee. Thor bent down and whispered in the man’s ear.
“By the way, I’m not a god.”
“Excuse me?” said the reporter, once again bringing his microphone close to Thor’s face, hoping to record any words that he could.
Thor’s eyes flashed with sudden anger when he saw the microphone. He had made it very clear that he was not giving interviews. Without warning the camera and every other recording device that was with the news crew violently shorted out.
“Don’t call me a god, little man. Gods don’t exist.”
He released the reporter and walked away, leaving the man in the tasteless red jacket confused, disappointed, and more than a little nervous.
The nonexistence of gods was one of Thor’s favorite topics of conversation at the bar after a game. It wasn’t something that he ever discussed with the media. The general public seemed to frown on atheism. To lose their favor would eliminate his much needed worship. Some people would ask him how he was so certain that there were no gods in the heavens. He would raise his glass to the sky and inform them that he has been there. None of the beings that he encountered were anything that he would feel comfortable falling down and worshipping. Occasionally he would also mutter something about his dead wife and how she was a goddess but died anyway…so what’s the difference? It was usually about this time that his teammates would have the bartender cut him off. They would spend the rest of the evening trying to pump black coffee into him, and listen to their friend and teammate mutter things they could not possibly understand.
“Ya, know Bill, I used to be a god once.” Thor said in a slur to his assistant coach. The words were about a shot of tequila away from being completely incomprehensible.
“You were? What made you give up a gig like that?” Bill was barely listening. Most of his attention was focused upon the car keys in Thor’s hand and how he would get them away from the drunken athlete before the guy decided to clear his head with a long drive.
“Aw, you know, people keep whining at you to give them this, fix that, send rain for my crops, please smite my mother-in-law…stuff like that. After a while I just wanted to tell them to just figure it out for themselves and leave me alone.” He pounded his fist on the table knocking over the pyramid he had built out of empty bottles of Jack Daniels. He would drink fifth after fifth of that like most people drink beer. Bill had planned to humor him just long enough to grab the keys from his hand and duck away somewhere safe from Thor’s temper; perhaps Canada. The self-proclaimed ex-god would be monumentally angry but at least the streets would be safe.
“Football saved my life. People worship me, I get a truckload of cash, and I don’t have to sort out anyone’s personal life but my own,” he muttered into his drink.
Bill was having doubts as to how well he was doing that and just wished the big guy would stop talking and pass out. This conversation was beginning to make his head hurt. Just as the coach was about to try what may have been a suicidal grab for Thor’s keys, he was interrupted by a strong gust of wind that had suddenly kicked up in the bar. A bright light came bursting through the open door. Bill watched helplessly as Thor was scooped up like a rag doll and carried away by exactly the sort of deity that he had spent the evening swearing didn’t exist.
Bill picked up the keys Thor had dropped during his abduction by an angelic looking being of light and consoled himself with the fact that at least the streets were safe for the rest of the evening. The seasoned coach then proceeded to order round after round of scotch on the rocks, and drank until he passed out.