This story takes place entirely in the world of Rocket League. It is based on the story of my first journey to the Rocket League championship game.
When I was a young boy, I would spend hours in a field just kicking a ball around. I weaved through the unruly grasslands of the Midwest, my hair and shirt flying with the breeze as I kicked a ball across my makeshift stadium. It was always the game winning goal, my own personal World Cup, Super Bowl, and World Series. I was Pelé, I was MJ, I was Ali knocking out Fraizer. I sprinted, jumped, fell, got back up again, and took the shot over and over and over again. I missed a fair bit of times. Every now and again everything aligned and I became a hero.
The thought raced across my mind as the countdown clock started, the low hum of the engine bringing me back to reality, back to this huge moment I spent so long building towards. The championship game, the title match. The underdog taking on the giant, my own personal David v. Goliath moment.
Three seconds. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and centered myself.
An 18 game season had built to this. A thrilling semi-final playoff triumph had allowed me to stand on this hallowed field, the bright lights, the roaring crowd, the rush of it all.
My hand was firmly on the gas just waiting for the moment now, just give me a inch and I’ll take a mile, I told myself, the last second before immortality.
My engine roared to life, my car screaming across the grass rocketing toward the ball at midfield. Across the way I just saw the flash of fire plume out of my opponent’s car. I could beat him. I knew I could.
The smash of metal, hopes, and a goofy soccer ball at the center stage echoed through the arena. We came together at the exact same moment, the ball rocketing across the stadium. My eyes darted all over, frantically trying to place the ball while at the same time keeping an eye out for the challenger.
I spotted the ball bouncing back to reality towards the middle half of my pitch. Damn, I muttered to myself. I raced over to my side of the field, go for the ball or go for the safety of my net, for the security of it? Playing it safe hadn’t taken me this far, hadn’t allowed me to stun the world and make it to the finals. David hadn’t beaten Goliath by going the conservative route. I went for the ball, it was exactly what my foe expected me to do, hovering to the far right of me, he lingered in the wings watching as I darted to the ball, leaving the goal wide open, he smashed his gas flying across the sweeping field in an instant, the boost pushing his vehicle to near Mach speed.
He thundered into the ball smashing it directly towards my goal, I had just enough time to snap my car around, spinning to see the ball explode into the goal. Eleven seconds had passed. Turns out Goliath has learned a few lessons since David.
Don’t be stupid. Play smart. Play the game that’s gotten you here. He scored the first goal, I can guarantee he won’t score the last. The mini pep talk to myself ended as the counter ticked to one and I had to ready myself for the second kickoff in a matter of seconds.
I shot out of my starting spot like a bat outta hell. The anger of years of not being deemed good enough. Of not being the first kid picked for teams. Of being the smallest, tiniest kid in school for the first 16 years of my life came roaring out of me. I had learned to play, to compete against people far bigger, far more talented than myself, but I fought like a demon child. This poor sap had nothing on those kids from the past. I wasn’t the tiny little kid anymore, but I sure as hell was still a demon child.
Like lightening I snapped across to the ball, thundering it across the walls of the arena, the vibrations rocking every spectator. Before my opponent was aware of what had happened I was already halfway to where the ball was landing. Jumping, boasting, and leaning forward all at once, I slammed into the ball and smashed it toward his goal.
It hit the edge of the goal and rolled away, all energy dissipating from it. He was back now, lunging at the ball, or at least where it had been. A half second earlier I had beat him to the punch and rolled the ball up the wall near the goal.
As he raced mistakenly away, I simply sat patiently and waited for the ball to drop right into my lap. As it bounced back down, I slowly nudged it into the goal and tied the game up. Goliath ain’t the only one who’s learned a few tricks y’all.
Only 34 seconds had passed in the game. 4:26 flashed away on the clock. A battle then. A dogfight.
The ensuing three minutes and twenty seconds were sport at the highest stakes. Saves enshrined for the ages, goals to remember, and brutal no holds barred Rocket League at its finest.
Lunging, flying across the field, knocking each other and the ball all over time and space me and my foe battled and danced like two experts performing their craft at the highest level. This was our Broadway opening, our massive crowd eagerly watching and consuming every second. Swirling through the air, time lost all meaning. We were playing for far bigger keeps then the crowd could realize. It wasn’t the opponent we were fighting against but history itself and our place in it. To be either lionized as a champion or damned to eternity as a loser.
2-3. 1:06 left.
What are you made of then? This is where dreams come to die. The moment where everyone finds God. Your greatness is a lie. Failure is your destiny, a champion you sadly are not.
They simply didn’t get it. A goal down with 66 seconds? Please. I, the boy who rocked the golden grassfields of Missouri many a summer ago. I had trained my entire life for this moment. Jordan had the flu game, Ali the Thrilla in Manilla, Pelé every beautiful moment in the 1970 World Cup, I had this moment, this championship, these 66 seconds.
They were mine.
The countdown clock hit GO!
I chewed up miles of field as I plowed toward the ball, knocking away the ghosts of those not good enough, of the lesser forgotten mortals known as runners-up. There’s no shame in second place, I was told long ago. Huh, I had thought at the time, eyebrow half-cocked, that sure as hell doesn’t seem right. Ain’t too many books about the second best team in the 1982 NFL season (The Dolphins) or the runners-up of the 1974 World Cup (The Netherlands). Not too many novels about the losers of the 1812, 1924, or 2004 Presidential elections (DeWitt Clinton, John W. Davis, and John Kerry). History has no time for failure, for disappointment; it spits you away like trash if you are deemed unworthy, if you fail to live up to the enormous potential it lays forth for you. The once and future king, but only if you survive.
The ball was in the net before I landed. 3-3. I still had 63 seconds left.
What you got Goliath? Give me your goddamn best shot. I’m ready for you.
The countdown clock lingered on three for a year.
I took a deep breath. I pushed it all out.
I closed my eyes. That field in Missouri came back to me. For the love of the game. Barry Sanders famously retired young from football. A year away from smashing every rushing record in the book and becoming a god of the sport, he walked away from the only thing he had ever been known for. He just didn’t feel it anymore. He didn’t want to ruin the love. I’ve always been fascinated by that. Always been fascinated by Sanders decision. For the love of the game.
Michael Jordan retired three times. The first time, after winning his third straight title with the Bulls. He was at the height of his power. He strode across the basketball court like a King strolling through his summer garden, resolute in the truth that no man could touch him. He didn’t enjoy it anymore. He had lost his father. He just wanted to play baseball. So he left. Michael Jordan retired for the second time after winning three straight titles with the Bulls. He had more championship rings then could be worn on one hand. It’s rare to find a god walking amongst us mere mortals. A man who transformed and captivated the world like nobody else in his profession had. I wanted to be like Mike, everyone did. He loved the game, there was just nothing left to do. Michael Jordan retired for the third time as a Washington Wizard. He was a very good basketball player. An All-Star even. He was no god though. He loved the game, the game just didn’t love him anymore.
When I was a kid back when I lived in Florida my dad would pick me up from school and we’d go to Krystal for lunch, the Florida sun lighting the world in a dazzling glow. We’d just drive around, spend time in that car, soaking up what a world it was. From my earliest memories I recall sitting enraptured by my grandfather’s stories about the world. He’d seen the northern lights, traveled to nearly every country in Europe and lived a life that seemed right out of an Ian Fleming novel. For the love of it all. He just loved the world, the people in it. The wonder of it all.
Do the best you can and it may never be enough… Do the best you can anyway.
For 63 seconds I fought, I battled, and exhausted everything in myself. Go west young man, greatness awaits. Are you the king or the court jester? The names etched in the grooves of history, unspooling themselves every so often to inspire and move the world. To show us what we’re capable of. Lincoln and Armstrong, Tubman and Ali, Jordan and Pele, Washington, Churchill, Mandela, etc.
One goal was scored during that 63 seconds. David and Goliath fought to the bitter and ugly death and one emerged and the other lay exhausted and finished, consigned to the heap of history known as failed ambition, wasted potential.
When I was a little kid I would pretend I was a batter in the bottom of the 9th inning of the World Series, bases loaded, two outs.
“Wilkinson steps up to the plate. What does the young kid have in him?” The announcer would ask.
I could imagine the rush and rustle of the crowd, all eyes trained on me, peering into me, into my heart. What kind of man were you eh?
“STRIKE ONE!!” The umpire screamed out.
The crowd grew more restless. I could hear the whispers.
The foul ball flew through the air landing in the stands.
One chance. One pitch. One moment.
I always smiled. I always gripped the bat a little tighter. This is what it was all about. A little whisper of ease entered into my stance. I could just see the pitcher so determined to bring me down. I got ready. The pitcher flung the ball toward me, I smirked that goddamn smirk of mine and swung the bat.
I took my shot. I hoped that impossible hope.
The rest, as they say, was up to the gods.
All for the love of the game.