Tuesday, October 25, 2005

1999 Worlds

You know what, 1999 Worlds was pretty freakin’ sweet, too.

Mooney, Seeger, Greff, Lenny, John Bar, Cork, Coop, Bim, Jeff Brown, Cameros. That’s a pretty good lineup, I’d say. But they were all sitting at home for this tournament. Instead, we took 8 DoG guys, 5 young Snapple tryouts who had already decided to bail on us, a Japanese import, and two college guys, one of whom hadn’t even qualified for College Regionals.

And we won it all. Even though we were seeded first, I think, quarterfinals was a reasonable goal, in my opinion, because of the above list. Hell, the main reason I attended was to golf (the tournament was in St. Andrews, and Jordan and I played the Old Course and Carnoustie). But we played well enough early on, and better as the week progressed, finishing undefeated in pool play.

In the quarters we played Ring, the first of three straight games on the stadium field. The opening pull hit and rolled out the back of the endzone. As Alex went to walk it up, he was told that he had to play it from the back line, which was the rule for the tournament but which hadn't come up all week. That was a quick break, but we got it back and won it, 15-12, setting up a semis match with the Condors. We had beaten the Condors by 1 and 2 the previous year at Nationals, and would beat them again by 5 later that fall, but they had to rate as the favorites in this game, despite missing their captain Steve Dugan to a broken arm.

But we just smoked them, playing without a care or any sign of fear or anything but pure joy. Our receiver corps of me, Forch, Safdie, Doug, and Taka just shredded them. Corey Sanford covered me a lot, and said proudly afterward, "I just didn't want you to beat me deep. I don't care what else you did." Thanks, Corey, that helped me get off 4 or 5 hucks for scores, plus there were the 3 or 4 other goals I was involved in. But none of them were long catches, congrats. After Jordan threw a no-reason scoober for the final margin in the 15-10 win, we were ecstatic.

The finals the next day was a little less precise due to some rain and that extra fatigue, but we played well enough to beat the Finnish team Liquidisc, 20-18, and revel in our joy. Except for a few summer tournaments, this was the tournament that stands far above the rest for accomplishment with what we had and what we expected. If you can just ignore who isn't there and who the other team does have, believe in yourselves and play the game you can, you can accomplish far more than what you may have thought possible.

Monday, October 24, 2005

1997 semis

aka Jim froths. Statistically, this game probably wouldn’t make my top 500. I think I would have been credited with three turnovers and got saved on a fourth, but never before or since have I felt that I could will a great team to victory.

We had a close game in pool play against Double Happiness, who was at Nationals only because Pack of Lies decided they didn’t want to go, but otherwise it was a typical DoG Nationals, back when National champs would go undefeated through pool play.

NY (WUDI) and Ring were playing it out in the other pool for 2nd place. The Condors had come in as the 3rd overall seed, but as it was their first Nationals appearance in a few years, they played down a level and finished 3-3, meaning the 3 vs 4 game on Saturday morning would be for a semis bid. NY was up by 3 in the 2nd half when we got there to watch, but a fired-up Ring came back to take the lead and pulled it out. After the game-winning goal, the scorer flung the disc in the air. The disc rolled directly to me sitting on the backline. I glanced at it, saw it was a “Spirit of the Game” disc, and decided that I should put it in my bag and walk away, the only time in my life I’ve stolen a disc.

A few minutes later (the semis were completely staggered back then and there weren’t any consolation games, so all the elimination rounds had full crowds, except for the women’s semis), we lined up against Ring. And proceeded to get knocked down, bad. We went down 6-1, and were down at half 9-4. However, the mental tide had already begun to turn, as we got some blocks and some scores and it began to look like whatever Ring was doing wasn’t going to continue to work for much longer.

Ring took the pull and scored to start the second half. As I walked to the line, I ever so briefly thought, “Well, the run has been nice. And I guess it’s not so bad to be able to relax and party tonight.” But then I thought, “No. I work too hard, and I’m not going to let this team lose.” I don’t remember a ton of details from the rest of the game, but it was easily the most emotional experience of my life (except possibly watching my son being born). It was different from the “in the zone” experience of the 1995 finals because it had the frothing, an extra three levels of excitement and energy without losing any of the focus. My teammates saw a different man, and fed off it. A series of 2- and 3-point runs put us back on serve, another break put us up, and even though I failed to catch a pass that would have been the game-winner (I thought it was a pretty difficult catch, but some scribe thought it was an easy one), we won and I couldn’t do anything but breathe excitedly and be content with knowing I had something like that inside of me.

PS. No Q&A this week, will have to do another one post-Nationals.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I was a pup of 30, fresh off my first Nationals title, and the world was my oyster. In the semis, our team had finally gutted out a victory over a NY team, overcoming several deficits and an absolutely gut-wrenching final point (I could not even stand up watching it, especially as they moved the disc up to within 20 yards of the goal and then back behind midfield; even as I type this, I am choking up). Double never stood a chance in the final (ok, they went up 1-0 after their only break and only upwinder of the game, but after that, forget it). We went in 1995 trying to duplicate the fun cockiness and carefree attitude that characterized the whole 1994 year.

It didn't work that well. As you can see here, we lost more big games than we won. We lost in the finals at Worlds in our only close contest of the tournament. Indifference continued through the fall, culminating in a 17-6 drubbing to Cojones (NY) in the rain and wind at Regionals. This, surely, would be a wakup call. Not really. Practices continued to be uninspired. Only Jordan Haskell was confident in us, predicting that we'd win "going away." I thought that a pool play exit was well within the realm of possibilities.

Something happened to us in three days. Maybe it was the flight delays (we got to the hotel at about 3:30, although in those days Nationals was still only 12 teams and 2 games on Day 1 and ours started at 10:30), maybe it was Billy more or less calling us a bunch of heartless quitters at the last practice, or maybe we were right all along that we could just turn it on. Day 1 brought Chain Lightning, which was on its longest Nationals winning streak in 5 years (ok, it was only 1 game, but still). We came out on fire, committing very few turnovers, and pasted them 19-11 (the Ultimate history book might be incorrect on this game, as Leonardo may have erroneously called it "close", but he's not so good on facts sometimes). I knew after the first point that we were back, and had as good a chance as anyone. Next was the game against Double Happiness. Both teams were assessed a point because Double kept huddling after the starting horn and we just kinda watched them instead of assessing points ourselves. It was a close game, but we had only 8 turnovers and won 18-15.

Day 2 was uneventful, with wins over the lower seeds, meaning we had clinched first place and a probable matchup with NY, which had lost to Sockeye but beat the Port City Slickers badly. Sockeye and PCS matched up Saturday morning, with PCS needing to win by 4 or 5 to make it. They lost by 1. Meanwhile, we played San Diego, and had some troubles along the way, but buoyed by a three point "no pass zone" D (three straight first pass turnovers and breaks to start the second half), we pulled away. I had wanted to take it easy this game and rest up a bit for the semis, but we had only 19 and needed everyone (plus I was one of the young guys then). I remember ripping my shirt off in anger and walking off the field after one swilly pass I made.

This swilliness on my part continued at the beginning of the semis, but then stopped. Reminiscent of the previous year's semis, this game was back and forth through the first half. But magic was on our side, and we completed something like 9 our of 10 hucks that game, as our throwers made throws and our receivers made catches that mattered. Mooney went out with a concussion, then came back in at 20-17 after Coop faked an injury after a turnover. I threw a breakmark pass over Kenny D's mark for the goal (he immediately said "nice throw" or "nice game", even before it was caught). Again, I could hardly speak afterwards. The infamous Mike G, whom I had defended on rsd and who had been a source of controversy at the tournament, tried to introduce himself and talk, but I couldn't complete a sentence because I was still overwhelmed with emotion. Yay us. Meanwhile, Sockeye and Double had what might have been considered one of the great games of all time if it hadn't been opposite ours (and who knows, maybe it actually was a better game), and so Sockeye would be our opponent.

To be steamrollered. We started on O. As would happen all day, I was the Man, the evil Josh Faust was covering me, and I got open by 10 with the force. I zipped a scoober over his head (I'm really not sure what I was thinking throwing a pass like that on my first pass of the finals, but I was so keyed in and I knew it that I just felt that every decision I could make that day was going to be the right one), we moved it down for the goal, and the rout was on. Their last chance was at 6-3, but then turned it unforced, we got another break, and from then on it was just a matter of time. The final tally: 21-10, 3 turnovers (although none of us had any idea that we were that efficient until one of the UPA staff with access to the stats pointed it out to us at the party). For me, this is the tournament and the game that I would like to have my whole career judged by (with an asterisk for the 1997 semis against Ring). Everything just felt so right, and I felt it even during the warmup. I felt that way again on Saturday at 2002 Nationals, when we knocked off the Condors in the quarters then had that epic semis against Furious (3 turns for us, 2 for them). There is nothing to compare to that feeling.

Maybe I got one of those games left.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

fun with RRI

I took the RRI for pool A (my pool) and added some variability to see how the pool might play out. First, the expectations:

FG 2636
DoG 2610
CL 2563
PBR 2459

FG 15 DoG 14.3
FG 15 CL 13.1
FG 15 PBR 10.5
DoG 15 CL 13.8
DoG 15 PBR 11.1
CL 15 PBR 12.3

Next, I assumed that there was a 100 point standard deviation in what the true RRI was for a team, and that there was a 100 point sd for a game between any two teams (implying each team has a 71 point sd). Is that the right amount of variability? Too much? Too little? I don't know. It's probably too much, I guess. Over the range we're dealing with, there is a linear relationship of about 39 points of RRI for 1 point in a game to 15.

Then I ran the pool 30 times. The results:

PP% is % making it to the power pools.
Finish 1 2 3 4 PP%
FG 13 11 5 1 80%
DoG 12 9 7 2 70%
CL 5 8 12 5 43%
PBR 0 2 6 22 7%

Oddly, there wasn't a single three-way tie for 1st in the run, and only two occasions where there was a two-way tie (one of the teams lost to PBR). It took another 10 runs for a three-way tie for 1st, although PBR was involved. It wasn't until run #53 that Chain won the three-way due to a 15-9.7 win over FG.

PBR finally won the pool in run #36, eking out 2 1-pointers and a 2-pointer, while Furious turned out to be a lot worse than anyone thought (true RRI of 2363 instead of 2636; maybe there were a lot of visa problems or the flight with MG/Shank/Drew got cancelled).

I'm tempted to run the full tournament, but the tiebreakers and crossovers are just a little too conditional to do it simply.

Ultimate Techniques and Tactics -- discussion

Zaz and I have started a new blog specifically for discussion of Ultimate Techniques and Tactics. Although there is some overlap with our individual blogs, you can direct any questions or suggestions about the book there. jimzazbook.blogspot.com is the URL, and I have a link for it on the right side of this blog.

Monday, October 17, 2005

another Q&A on Monday night

Send in your disc-related questions today. I'll be online at about 8:15 pm EDT(later if Arrested Development doesn't get preempted by baseball again). And visit your local bloggers, please, they need your attention, too.

UpdateThanks again for joining in. I'll probably do this again next Monday night.

Friday, October 14, 2005

the problem with regionals

Or maybe it's just the problem with most ultimate tournaments. There are far too few close games that mean anything.

The average tournament experience is for half of your games to be no contest, another one or two in the 15-6 to 15-9 range, and one or two to be close. You'll often have a team winning one game 15-3 and losing another 15-2. Some of the regions got around this problem by somehow persuading some of the teams that would finish low to stay home (which may also be a problem). The Women's Regionals had 6, 8, 8, 10, 10, and 15 teams, and the Open had 8 and 12 team Regionals.

But these regions play pool play, and there usually was a big enough gap such that any one game was almost meaningless (or take a look at the 6 team Region, which did a full round robin prior to a 6 team elimination bracket). So Sockeye beats Kaos on Day 1. This means that they get to play the loser of Furious and JAM!, who also realize that Saturday is for seeding and so might not leave it all out there. Now, there is always at least one meaningful game. For the NW, it was the 2-3 game, whose winner gets into the upper bracket. And of course if a team loses to a team seeded well below it, those games count, too, but usually the outcome is not in doubt even if the better team plays horribly for them.

So you end up playing 5 or 6 unimportant or blowout games prior to getting to one that really, really matters to you. For some of the teams, you are officially eliminated from the tournament and playing for 11th place.

Wouldn't it be better if most or all of the games were competitive and meant something? Say, a six-team round robin, maybe without even having a final? Or perhaps a Swiss Pairs tournament (teams are reseeded after every round and 1 plays 2, 3 plays 4, etc.). Who's willing to try this?

And why is there such a disparity between teams such that so many games aren't close? The average standard deviation in RRI at Regionals was about 250 points, which translates into a 15-8.5 expected score.

The Mixed Division seems to have avoided this by having every team be about as good as every other team, which I guess explains its popularity. (Sorry, haven't slammed Mixed in a month or so and I was getting antsy.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Open Mike Q&A

Ok, I'm opening up the phone lines for callers. Anything you want to ask that can be answered in no more than 75 words, ask away. I'm listening, America.

Update. Thanks, everyone, we'll do this again next Monday night, and possibly again the following Monday prior to Nationals. Next up: is something wrong with Regionals, or is it all ultimate tournaments?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

why not us?

I got a nasty inflammatory* email this week from a NW booster implying that the rest of the country might as well not show up at Sarasota for Nationals**. At first I was inclined to agree with him, looking at the fearsome results of NW Regionals with all that firepower. But I looked again, and I saw a bunch of teams that can be beat.

They all lost a game, and were close to losing a couple more, and not just to each other, too, but to non-qualifiers like Kaos and Rhino. And you know what? We beat Kaos. We beat Rhino. We even beat Furious. And while we lost to those teams, too, when I skulked off the field, it was more with disappointment in ourselves than with fear of our opponents.

And even though all of rsd left us for dead and all of rsd thinks we're shit and even my fellow blogger Luke badmouths our web site, we won our Region (unofficially victory #100 for me) and played well. To be honest, we should be seeded somewhere around 7 or 8, but for the first time ever, I say, to heck with seeding. We'll see you in the oppressive heat.

We got some players.

* - Actually, all he said was, “Good luck! Doesn’t the NW look tough? But we both knew what he was trying to say.

**- I’ve decided to stop using “Champies” even though it’s funny because I fear that it’s catching on. But I still will buck the UPA and use its old name rather than “UPAs” or “The Championship Series.”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

UPA Board elections coming up

Please vote in the upcoming election. The Board of Directors is responsible for setting policy and providing strategeric guidance for the UPA. When I joined the Board in 1997, we spent a lot of time figuring out things like wildcards and specific procedures rather than focusing on the big picture items or worrying about how the organization (or the Board itself) should be run.

The UPA is about twice the size now, has five or maybe six full-time staff, and needs to take the sport further. The Board is also more complicated, and benefits from its members having lots of life and business experience.

If you're looking for advice on who to vote for, I recommend Henry Thorne. Whether as a UPA Board member, a designer of really cool robots, an ultimate organizer, or a family man, Henry Thorne makes things happen. He is an innovator and a visionary who isn't afraid to take an unpopular stance or to make tough decisions if that is what is necessary for long-term success. Henry truly loves the game of ultimate and has always viewed it as a simply terrific, exciting, and above all _athletic_ sport. I'm proud to have played with him, to have served with him for six years on the UPA Board, and to call him a friend.

This year, he is running on a platform of "respect for ultimate." Take a look at his bio and those of the other candidates at the UPA site. Then vote, you lazy sack.