Touchdown Troubleby Fred Bowen
In a key game, the Cowboys beat their arch rivals to remain undefeated, thanks to a major play by Sam. But the celebration ends when he and his teammates make an unwelcome discovery.
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Sam loves football. There’s nothing better than the rush he gets when his team, the Cowboys, are working together—moving closer and closer to the end zone.
In a key game, the Cowboys beat their arch rivals to remain undefeated, thanks to a major play by Sam. But the celebration ends when he and his teammates make an unwelcome discovery.
Is the Cowboys’ perfect season in jeopardy?
Read an Excerpt
By Fred Bowen
PeachtreeCopyright © 2009 Fred Bowen
All rights reserved.
Sam Danza reached above his desk and grabbed his favorite book from the shelf. He flopped down on his bed, turned on his side, and propped himself up on one elbow. For a few seconds, he just smiled and stared down at the book. It was a red three-ring binder. The cover read: Cowboys Playbook.
Sam was twelve years old and the star running back for the Cowboys in the Woodside Football League. He loved studying his playbook.
Sam leaned over to turn on the lamp next to his bed and opened the book. The first page had a diagram of his favorite play, the I-34.
Lying back in his Cowboys shirt, Sam closed his eyes and imagined himself lining up behind Eddie Ching, his friend and the team's fullback. He saw Trey Johnson, the Cowboys quarterback, get the hike, turn, and slip the ball to him. With his eyes still closed, Sam imagined himself running with the football. He could feel the tacklers grabbing for his legs and feet as he pulled away, still running. He could hear the crunch of the players against each other. He could even smell the grass, sweat, and dirt.
Sam sat up and flipped through the pages to another play, the I-38. In that play Sam took the handoff and ran around the right end. Sam closed his eyes again and lay back on his pillow. He imagined Trey calling out the signals.
"Ready ... set ..."
Again he saw the Cowboys linemen getting into their three-point football stances in time with the signals. He felt the whole team ready to surge forward the moment Trey yelled "Hut!"
Just then Sam's father knocked on the door and poked his head into the room. "What are you doing, Sam?"
"Huh?" Sam said, his eyes popping open. He was surprised to find himself in his bed, surrounded by football posters on the walls. Then he realized that his father was at the door. "Oh, I'm just studying the plays for tomorrow's game against the Steelers," he said.
"You already know those plays pretty well," Mr. Danza said. "You've played four games and you guys haven't lost yet."
"Yeah, I guess. But I don't want to be the one who messes things up."
"Well, okay, but turn off your light soon," Mr. Danza said. "You know your mom doesn't like you staying up late when you're with me."
Sam nodded. His parents were divorced, and he spent every Friday night during the football season at his dad's house. "I'll go to sleep in a little while," he said. "I need to go over a few more plays."
"Okay. See you in the morning." Sam's father closed the door behind him.
Sam looked back at the binder and turned the page. His dad was right. Sam knew every play by heart. But he loved reliving the plays and games as he lay in the quiet darkness of his room, lit only by his small bedside lamp. He closed his eyes again and saw himself running with the football, leaving the tacklers in the dust. He heard the crowd cheering as he sprinted down the field.
Sam loved football. He loved being the Cowboys' best running back, the guy everyone counted on to carry the ball and score touchdowns. But most of all, he loved that feeling he got when the Cowboys were all working together—when they were pushing the other team back, gaining yardage on every play, and getting closer and closer to the end zone.
He closed the playbook and thought about the next day's game. That was what he loved most about football: knowing that the Cowboys were really a team.CHAPTER 2
I-34 on two. Break!" The Cowboys clapped their hands in perfect unison and turned to line up against the Steelers. Sam stood with his hands on his knees in the backfield behind Eddie. His friend was shorter and wider than Sam, making him the perfect blocker. Sam tried not to look at the space between the Cowboys right guard and right tackle. I-34 meant that he would take the handoff and run hard toward that spot.
Trey, the Cowboys quarterback, walked confidently up to the line of scrimmage, crouched behind the center, and barked out signals. "Ready ... set ... hut ... hut."
On the second count, the Cowboys line surged forward. Trey spun around, clutching the football close to his chest. Eddie ran by him and blasted into the Steelers line, trying to clear a path for Sam. Trey slipped the ball against Sam's stomach. Sam held it tight and quickly checked the position of the Cowboys right guard and tackle. There was no opening, just a tangle of Cowboys and Steelers.
Sam dug his left foot in the turf and darted farther to the right. A Steelers linebacker rushed forward. Sam spun left. The linebacker reached for Sam, but only got a piece of his leg. Sam shook him off and shot downfield. He was gaining ground, moving fast, when, crunch!—a wall of Steelers tacklers stopped him and sent him crashing into dirt.
Mr. Johnson, Trey's dad and the coach for the Cowboys, paced the sidelines and cheered on the team. "Good run, Sam!" he shouted. "That's the way to go for the extra yards. Keep it going, Cowboys."
The referee took the ball from Sam and walked to the middle of the field. He placed the ball on the ground and pointed down the field. "First down!" he called.
Walking back to the Cowboys huddle, Sam looked up into the stands. In the top row, Sam's father stood behind a compact digital camcorder on a tripod. He looked out from behind the camera and gave Sam a thumbs-up signal. His father filmed all the Cowboy games.
Back in the huddle, Trey was all business. "Nice run. Let's keep it going. Fake I-33, square-in pass, right on one."
This time Trey faked the handoff, slipping the ball away from Sam at the last second, and faded back to pass. Sam folded his arms around his stomach to make the Steelers think he had the ball and crashed into the line.
Wham! Sam hit the ground hard, smacked down by a Steelers tackler. But when he heard the cheers he knew the fake had worked. He looked up and saw Jared Sims, the Cowboys wide receiver, on the ground with the ball about fifteen yards downfield.
"First down!" the referee called again.
The Cowboys sideline burst into cheers.
"Good catch, Jared!"
"Great throw, Trey!"
"Way to go, line!"
Trey kept calling plays and the Cowboys kept moving the ball down the field. Finally the Cowboys had the ball on the Steelers eight-yard line. First down, eight yards to go for a touchdown. Sam looked past the Cowboys huddle to the Steelers defense. The Steelers linemen had their hands on their hips and were breathing hard.
Back in the Cowboys huddle, Manny DeCastro, their best lineman, spoke up. "Let's run it right at them," he said. "They're done."
"Yeah, come on, Trey," Eddie said. "Right up the gut. We'll score on the first play."
Trey scanned the Steelers huddle. Sam followed his eyes and noticed a lineman trying to rest. He was down on one knee with his helmet off. Good, he thought. They're getting tired.
"Okay," Trey said. "Sam's gonna go right up the middle. I-32 on one."
On Trey's command, the Cowboys line blasted forward. This time Sam needed no fancy footwork. He took off as fast as he could, leaving the Steelers way behind. He raced into the end zone and raised his arms in triumph.
The Cowboys added a two-point conversion, and Sam looked up at the scoreboard as the team trotted off the field.
The Cowboys were ahead 22-6 with only five minutes to play.
Coach Johnson pumped his fist as the players returned to the sidelines. "Way to mix it up, Trey! Great blocking—Sam could have walked in. Come on, let's play defense! We've got this game!"
The Cowboys played hard and held on to win 22-6.
After the game the tired players walked slowly off the field with their helmets at their sides. Their faces were red from playing hard and their jerseys were soaked with sweat. They all gulped water as fast as they could.
"Hey, are you guys still undefeated?" Brady Hall, the quarterback for the Giants, called out as he waited on the sideline for the next game.
The Giants were the Cowboys' biggest rivals and Brady was their best player. The two teams were scheduled to play each other the next Saturday.
"Yeah," Sam called back. "We're 5 and 0."
"Well, you won't be undefeated for long. We'll see you later," Brady said, pointing at the Cowboys. He put on his helmet and walked toward the field with a group of his teammates.
"Sounds like he thinks he knows who's gonna win next Saturday," Eddie said as he watched Brady walk away.
"The Giants are pretty good," Sam said.
"And so's Brady."
"Maybe," Trey said.
Sam's father came down onto the field, carrying the camera and smiling from ear to ear. "Great game," he said, slapping Sam on his shoulder pads. "You must have had more than a hundred yards rushing."
"Thanks to my great blocking," Eddie said, tapping his chest with his thumb.
"Yeah, you looked good, too." Mr. Danza patted his camera. "You should all have fun watching this game at our house Friday."
Sam squirted some cool water from his bottle against his forehead. "Yeah, it'll get us pumped for the game Saturday."
Sam's father looked across the field to where the Giants were doing their warm-up drills in a big circle. "Do you want to watch the Giants play for a while?" he asked.
Sam shook his head, sending sweat and water flying like he was a wet dog shaking itself dry. "Nah," he said. "We'll get to see them soon enough."CHAPTER 3
Fake I-21, swing pass, right on one." Sam lined up in back of Eddie. His hands rested on his bare knees with his wrists touching the edge of his blue mesh basketball shorts.
"Ready ... set ... hut."
Trey spun around, faked a handoff to Eddie, and glided back to throw.
Sam darted to the right and powered up the field. Jared, the wide receiver, cut left, leaving the right side clear for Sam.
Trey looked to the right and tossed a perfect spiral. Sam caught it in full stride and ran up the empty field, faking out tacklers who weren't there. Finally he turned and trotted back to his three teammates.
"Nice throw," he said as he flipped a pass to Trey. "I didn't have to slow down at all for that one."
"See, the fake I-21's a great play," Trey said, pointing with the football as he spoke to his teammates. "It lets us get the ball to Sam in the open downfield. There's no way anyone will stop him."
"Yeah," Eddie agreed. "Sam's got good hands and he can get by the linebacker."
Trey spun the football in his hands. "We're gonna need to run the ball less and pass more against the Giants. They've got some big dudes in the middle of the line," he said.
Sam smiled. Trey talked and thought just like a coach. Maybe that was because his father, Coach Johnson, was the coach.
"Let's run it again," Trey said, slapping the side of the football.
Sam ran his hand through his sweaty hair to get it away from his eyes. It was October, but it was still shorts weather.
"On two. Ready ... set ... hut ... hut."
Once again Sam ran right and then swung upfield. Trey gave him a pump fake and floated the ball long. Sam reached out, caught the ball on his fingertips, and sprinted up the field and into the end zone. He raised both hands—one still gripping the ball—high above his head to signal a touchdown.
"That's a pretty good play," a voice called. "Want to run it against a real defense?"
Sam glanced at the sideline and saw Brady Hall and three more members of the Giants standing at the edge of the field. Brady held a football on his hip and the others had their arms folded across their chests.
Eddie jogged up beside Sam. "Look who's here," he whispered.
"Yeah, just what we need," Sam said under his breath.
"The play won't work if you guys know it's coming," Trey called out.
"Yeah, okay," Brady said as the Giants moved across the field and closer to the Cowboys. He was a step ahead of his teammates and a lot taller. "You guys want to play a game of touch football?"
Sam thought Brady's words sounded more like a challenge than a question.
"Sure," Sam said. "What are the teams?"
"What do you think?" Brady said, holding his hand out to the side to gather in his teammates. "Giants against the Cowboys. Just like it'll be on Saturday."
"Okay," Trey agreed. "You guys kick off."
"Why us?" one of the Giants asked.
"Because you picked the teams," Trey said as he and the other Cowboys headed toward one side of the field.
Trey and Sam shouted out the rules of the game as they walked backwards to their side.
"Two-hand touch, no tackle."
"You gotta count to three Mississippi before you can rush the quarterback."
"Four downs to score a touchdown."
"Three straight complete passes gives the offense a first down."
"But they've got to be real passes," Brady protested. "No wimpy one-yard tosses."
The game started rough and got rougher with every play. Some of the two-hand touches were as tough as any tackle. The Cowboys scored first on a short pass from Trey to Eddie, but the Giants grabbed the lead with two scores.
"Man, Brady is good," Sam whispered to Trey as they walked back to receive the kickoff. "He can really throw the ball."
"He's not so hot," Trey muttered. "We'll come back."
Sure enough, the Cowboys knotted the score at two touchdowns when Trey lofted a perfect spiral to Sam for a long score.
When the Cowboys got the ball back after stopping the Giants a few plays later, Trey looked around. The field was growing dark. Streetlights were on and car headlights twinkled in the distance. "Next touchdown wins, okay?" he said.
"You're only saying that because you've got the ball," a Giant pointed out.
"We can't play in the dark," Sam said.
"Stop talking and play, will you?" Brady said.
The Cowboys gathered in a tight huddle. Trey drew a play with his finger on Jared's shirt as he told his teammates the plan. "Jared, you hike the ball. Eddie, you're the left end. Sam, you're on the right. Both of you go down about five yards and cross." Trey's fingers crossed on Jared's shirt. Then he pointed to Eddie. "Don't worry about getting open," he said. "But make sure you get in the way of the guy covering Sam. Don't block him, just give him a nudge."
Sam looked over to the Giants. "That's an illegal pick," he said. "They might call offensive pass interference."
"I don't see any refs out here," Trey said, shrugging. "I'll pass it to you when you get open."
Sam lined up at the right end, just as Trey had instructed. He ran down five yards and angled left toward the middle of the field. As planned, Eddie nudged the Giant covering Sam. Suddenly Sam was open.
Trey's throw sailed high and Sam leaped, stretching as tall as he could. The ball skimmed off his fingertips.
Wham! Brady shoved Sam with a hard, two-handed push to the chest.
Thud! Sam fell backward before his feet touched the ground. His head smacked hard against the dry, hard-packed dirt. He lay on the ground, blinking his eyes. He could hear angry voices all around him.
"What do you think you're doing?" Trey asked, charging at Brady.
"Playing football," the Giants quarterback snapped.
"It's supposed to be touch football."
"So what? I'm allowed to keep a guy from catching a pass."
Sam pulled his head up and rested on his elbows. "I'm okay," he said. "Trey, I'm okay."
"You could have really hurt him!" Trey shouted at Brady. He pointed to Sam. "Look at him."
"He said he's okay," Brady said. "And come on, you're the guys running the illegal offensive interference plays."
"Sam! Sam ... time to go."
Sam turned and saw his mother waving from the parking lot.
"I gotta go," Sam said, struggling to his feet.
"You want to keep playing?" Brady asked the other Cowboys.
"No way," Trey said, grabbing his football and heading toward the parking lot with Sam, Eddie, and Jared. Trey looked back over his shoulder to the field. "It's a tie game," he shouted. Then he muttered to Sam, "What a jerk!"
"He's not being a jerk. Brady just plays hard and he really hates to lose," Sam said. "Kind of like you, Trey," he added.
"Yeah, I guess," Trey agreed. "That's why it'll be so much fun to beat him on Saturday—in a real game!"CHAPTER 4
The Cowboys gathered noisily around Coach Johnson, who quickly held up his clipboard for quiet. "Okay, good practice today, guys. I like the hustle. I like the concentration." He paused to make sure everyone was listening. "We're gonna need lots of that hustle and concentration against the Giants this Saturday."
Sam looked at Eddie and Trey. The boys nodded and gave each other quick fist taps. They could hardly wait to play the Giants, especially after the touch football game.
"Remember, the game is at two o'clock," Coach Johnson continued. "That means I want you there, ready to play, at one thirty. If you're there at one thirty-one, you're late."
Sam tried not to laugh. Nobody is going to be late for this game, he thought.
"I don't have to tell you guys how important this game is," Coach Johnson said, lowering his voice a bit. "The Giants are undefeated, 5-0, same as us. The winner of this game has a good chance of winning the league championship." The coach let the team think about that for a moment and then shouted, "Okay, hands in!"
The Cowboys pressed in close and piled their hands in the center of the circle.
"What are we going to do Saturday?" Coach Johnson shouted as he put his left hand on top of the pile.
"Beat the Giants!" the Cowboys yelled.
"I can't hear you," Coach Johnson said, cupping his right hand to his ear.
"Beat the Giants!"
"BEAT THE GIANTS!"
Excerpted from Touchdown Trouble by Fred Bowen. Copyright © 2009 Fred Bowen. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Fred Bowen was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a seaside town north of Boston. Most of his family still lives there—he has four big brothers and two sisters.
His dad loved sports. One of Bowen’s earliest memories is watching the 1957 World Series on TV with his dad and his brothers. Bowen’s dad was his Little League coach and his brothers were his teammates in backyard football and “driveway basketball.”
When Bowen turned eighteen, he left behind his sports-happy childhood and headed to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Bowen has always loved US and world history and he made history his major in college. Bowen also loves sports history because of all the great dramas and big personalities, which is why he weaves real sports history into all of his stories.
After he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he went to George Washington Law School in Washington, DC.
Shortly after he graduated, he met Peggy Jackson, a journalist. They got married two years later and now have two grown children. Their son is a college baseball coach and their daughter works for a nonprofit in Chicago. When they were in elementary school, Bowen coached their baseball, basketball, and soccer teams—more than thirty teams in all.
Bowen was a lawyer for many years and retired from practicing law so that he could write for kids full time. He gets to spend a lot more time writing and he gets more time to visit schools and talk with kids about his books. He also speaks at a lot more conferences and meets more cool teachers and librarians.
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