Last Man Standing
By Patrick F. Cannon
Smithers was excited when he learned that limited crowds would now be permitted to attend football games at his beloved alma mater, Huxley University. As a long time season ticket holder, he would be given priority for the limited number of seats that could be occupied under the protocols demanded by the pandemic.
A football power in the Northwest, Huxley’s legendary stadium normally sold out its 100,000 seats. Only 25,000 could now be accommodated. Even at his advanced age, Smithers was famous for his penetrating basso profundo, and was ready to lead the cheers for the Huxley Hedgehogs. To add to his joy, it was a clear cool day – perfect football weather.
Alas, tailgating would not be permitted, with its smokey smells and hearty bonhomie. But his status as a major donor meant he was entitled to valet parking, a blessing for his aging legs. The modernized stadium even had escalators, which made his ascent to his lofty seats on the fifty yard line much easier. Normally, his dear wife attended with him, but she was committed to a Zoom board meeting of her favorite cause, the Society for the Protection of the Spotted Polecat.
Yet, as he took his seat and waved at his social-distanced fellow fans, he was conscious of an increasing sense of dread. He noticed that the two teams were leaving the field after their pre-game warmup, and the famous Hedgehog marching band was gathering for their usual medley of peppy band music, followed by the university’s Alma Mater – “Noble Huxley, Gem of the Great Northwest.” The opposing teams would then return to the field of legendary combats – his beloved Hedgehogs to deafening cheers!
As he sat in his seat, small beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead. He was barely conscious of the music rising to him. Instead, he looked at the space between his seat and the back of the seat in the next row below. Was there enough room? Could he perhaps leave his seat and find sufficient space on an aisle? While he was agonizing over this decision, he was suddenly aware that the Alma Mater was being played. Normally, he would heartily sing along with its stirring words; and be among the loudest to cheer as his team was announced. Today, he was distracted and sat in silence.
In years past, when all the preliminaries were over, the field announcer would say the expected words: “Please rise while the Hedgehogs marching band plays our National Anthem!”
But earlier in the year, the Washington legislature had bowed to public pressure and passed a new law mandating that public performances of the National Anthem be preceded by these words only: “We will now hear the National Anthem.”
And now, Smithers heard the words he had been dreading. All around the stadium – on the field of battle and in the seats – people went to their knees, and raised their fists. Only Smithers stood. As the Anthem was performed by the kneeling band, all eyes gravitated to him, still standing. There was an audible gasp when Smithers actually placed his hand on his heart. Only those near him noticed that he was in fact clutching his heart, a grimace on his face. He fell to his knees, then pitched forward, dead of a heart attack.
Even so, he would forever be known as the last man to stand for the National Anthem.
Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon