Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Making Nationals

Reading Cash’s blog about Revolver qualifying for Nationals, I am reminded of my own more innocent days.

The year was 1989…

Nah, I’ve used that stylistic device too many times. This really started back in the mid-80s. I was in college at Case Western in Cleveland, playing the fall season with the team there (first Ubiquidisc, then North Coast) and summered at my family home in Pittsburgh, playing the spring Easterns series and summer league. CMU had a strong college team which made College Nationals a few times, and though there was never any real exploration of this option, I thought about trying to play with them as a ringer (the rules might have allowed for students from other colleges that did not have their own teams, or maybe it didn’t). The Pittsburgh club team (Slag, Crash) couldn’t compete with the real top teams, but could give good games to the top Mid-Atlantic teams. Cleveland was getting stronger, too, finally winning Sectionals in 1985 before going 0-3 at Regionals in Kansas City, a 17 hour van drive away. In 1986, Pittsburgh got a little stronger still, I felt comfortable and important on the team, and so I decided in my senior year to blow off the Cleveland team (which was in a Region which was dominated by Windy City and Tunas, two of the top five teams in the country) and try to qualify for Nationals with Pittsburgh, figuring that I had no idea where I would be the following year or if I would still be playing frisbee and that this might be my only chance in life to qualify for Nationals. We lost the 4/5 winner’s bracket game but clawed back to make the backdoor final. We even led by three at halftime before faltering in the second half to lose to R&B, 19-15. My parents were extremely disappointed when I told them that I would have chosen to go to Nationals had we qualified instead of spending Thanksgiving with them.

The next year, I was out of college and living in Cleveland, and again lost in the game to go, this time with North Coast to the Tunas. We took out Henry Thorne’s (and the Greffs’, or maybe just Greff Minor’s) Coffee and Donuts in the game before that. I remember that both teams wanted to wear black but C&D invoked their higher seed and we somehow allowed it (not sure why we wouldn’t have flipped for it). This gave us a little extra spark and we knocked them out. This carried over to the game to go, for a little bit. We were as close as 8-7, I think, before our best player got point-blocked near the goal line, and we only mustered one more goal en route to a 21-8 defeat. (Writing this reminds me of another game. In the semis of Worlds in 1991 with Earth Atomizer against NY, we were determined that this finally was the game where we gave them a battle, and we were in it all the way up to the opening pull, which we dropped. 21-7.)

Somewhere around this time, I was amazed by the choice one of my old summer league teammates had made. He had moved to DC and qualified for Nationals with Yo Mama (this must have been 1987 according to the UPA Hall of Champions. By the way, UPA, there have been championships played since 2002. Perhaps you could update this.). However, he decided not to go to Nationals, figuring they would get crushed. What? This would be a dream come true for some of us lowly toilers, and he just threw it away like it was nothing.

In 1988 we thought we had a chance, and went into Regionals as the #3 seed, but played a listless game in newfallen snow (Halloween weekend, Madison) against Kansas’ Dover team and got knocked out early Sunday morning.

In the spring of 1989, shortly after my 24th birthday, I moved to Boston. The move was almost completely unrelated to Frisbee. I liked my job in Cleveland well enough, but they wanted me to relocate to their manufacturing facility 60 miles east of Cleveland, so I started looking around. A headhunter found a position for me in the Boston area, and I jumped at it, because Boston had always seemed like a great place to live, and where I could actually live _in_ the city (definitely would not want to do that in Pittsburgh or Cleveland). I figured that my life path (as a right-thinking Middle American) would be to settle down in a few years anyway (a majority of my high school and college friends got married at about age 25), so might as well live a little first. I went out to one practice that spring with one of the B teams, just to get a little Frisbee time in before joining up with the Pittsburghers for one last tournament at Easterns. I went to some of the open practices that Titanic had, and despite some encouraging words from one of their leaders (no, not Mooney, it was Bob Harding), I just wasn’t willing to accept that I might be good enough for the #2 team in the country and didn’t pursue it much. I also went to a few Earth Atomizer practices but wasn’t committed to that, either, instead preferring the social life.

One day at work, I serendipitously ran into Alex (we worked in the same building at the behemoth GE plant in Lynn), who had managed to back his way into a spot on Earth that spring after being cut by Z’s captain Ted Munter (who as DoG coach now will complete the circle by cutting Alex again next spring). Alex told me that Earth was getting close to settling their fall roster so I better start coming out to practice. I missed the game a little bit by then, so I went to the next day’s tryout, skied their best jumper several times (and this reminds me of when Bob Lobel came to his first DoG practice in 1994 and made Seeger his girlfriend repeatedly that day and thus bypassed the remainder of the tryout process), and was immediately put on the team without a vote. We practiced on Tuesday and Thursday nights in Jamaica Plain under the lights, then went to tournaments on the weekend. Our performance that fall was unremarkable. Graffiti was the incumbent #3 team in the region, but we also lost to Loisaida (Lower East Side of NY), Father Throws Best (old Boston guys (old = 31)), and Nationals candidates from other regions (Philmore, DC, Chain). A typical tournament would end with us being pummeled by NY or Boston in the quarters. We almost beat Titanic at Purchase, but also lost to NY 17-1. We even had close games against Slipped Disc (Connecticut). But still we thought we had a chance.

We finished 4th in the Boston section, behind Titanic, FTB, and someone else who I can’t for the life of me figure out. This put us as the 6th seed at Regionals. We knocked off 3rd seed Graffiti in the 2nd round, got drubbed by NY or Titanic in a game to qualify (back then, the finals participants were guaranteed 1st and 2nd without any of this silly modified double secret triple elimination format. We eventually found ourselves against Graffiti again in the game for the 3rd spot to Nationals. Unlike Billy, I don’t seem to remember point-by-point details of this game, just a few hazy memories (might have even involved some shutdown D, but maybe that’s someone else I’m thinking of). But what sticks is the anticipation of waiting for the game to end, and being thrilled with finally making it to the show after all those years (it seemed like a lot at the time). The next few weeks of practice and Nationals itself were just icing, almost an afterthought. We were happy to win a game, finishing in a 3 way tie with Chain and Philmore with 1-4 records.

The following year was similar. We had a better year, but still went into Regionals as the 4th seed. We lobbied hard to be seeded ahead of Graffiti since we wanted to square off against Titanic (now First Time Gary) in the semis. We had beaten them in a recent scrimmage and played them tight at other times, while we had never given a full NY squad a game (we lost by about 3 once in the semis at Van Cortlandt Park to a split squad). But Andy B was too powerful and we had to take our licking as the 4 seed. (Interestingly, Graffiti seemed to play closer games against NY than against Titanic. When the big matchup against Graffiti came, it was almost a letdown as we were just on fire and routed them, 19-9. The following week, we played off against FTG for the #2 spot (they didn’t want to play at the Regionals tournament) and pulled off what still ranks as one of my favorite all-time victories, 21-17 at the Wellesley High School fields. This victory over a four-time defending Nationals semifinalist earned us a, wait, wait, 9th seed (out of 12) at Nationals. This time, Nationals wasn’t an afterthought. We started out slowly, getting crushed by LA, 19-7, then had to face off against #2 seed Windy City in our other game of the day. (The seeding and the scheduling helped to shape my opinions on these matters.) The only detail I remember from that game is spraining my ankle badly and missing a bunch of it while getting it taped up and testing it out. Oh, and losing 19-16. We went on to win our last three games, including a tight one against my old friends from Pittsburgh, but it was too late for any semifinals hopes we had.

We hit our peak the following summer. While never actually winning a tournament except for one Clambake, we played a little better, and went into Club Worlds extremely excited. We lost an initial pool play game to Philmore, recovered to win several close games against Pittsburgh, the Condors, Dallas, and Chain, lost a close one to a bunch of cheating LA guys, then pulled off another “upset” over the other Boston team (who yet again switched their name (this time to Big Brother) in search of an identity) to qualify for the semis. It looked like we were going to get our rematch against Windy City which had surprised NY in pool play, but LA (which had already been eliminated on point differential) went and lost a “meaningless” game to the Condors to change a 3 way tie into a 2 way tie, which shifted us from 2nd in our pool to 1st, giving us NY instead. As I mentioned above, we thought we were going to give them a game this time, but folded immediately after the opening pull.

But accomplishment led to our downfall, as for some reason we decided that we needed to change things in order to compete against NY. We expanded our roster from about 16 to 25 and changed around our offense, then Dennis and I suffered injuries and hardly practiced that fall (me a sore foot, him a wanker hip injury). We entered Regionals still expecting to qualify for Nationals, but it was Graffiti’s turn to emerge from the shadows. This being only 15 years ago instead of 17, I have a few more memories remaining of this game, but the clearest is of the ride home from Dartmouth, where the Tea Party reviewed the stat book pass by pass, reliving good and bad moments one more time.

This was to be the last Regionals for me that really mattered. We’ve since won 13 of 14 Regionals, and most of those years our Region got three bids to Nationals, and only once did one of those third place teams win more than one game at Nationals. I had a tiny bit of uncertainty in 1995, when we were playing absolutely horribly and I feared that we were going to get knocked out in a 3 way tie on the first day while I was at a wedding. And again last year, I didn’t have a good feeling about how we were going to do, and Twisted Metal and Goat were big unknowns in the battle for two spots, but we needn’t have worried.

Of course, Nationals has held its share of anticipation and excitement, so do not cry for me, gentle reader. But if you so desire, you can pray for one final unexciting Regionals for me this weekend.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the 1989 'game to go' vs Graffiti, a unique play that occurred was when Bob Stoddard (the elder) dropped the pull, while pulling. He did a big windup and as he was throwing somehow the disc came out of his hand and landed at his feet. He tried to play it cool and pick it up and pull again but Graffiti won that argument.


Anonymous said...

Nationals around THANKSGIVING? Ick...

Anonymous said...

why isn't cash's blog linked in with ultimate talk??

cash27 said...

I try to stay under the radar. Thanks Jim.

Anonymous said...

"We finished 4th in the Boston section, behind Titanic, FTB, and someone else who I can’t for the life of me figure out." i believe that would be The Popes/Mighty Tired/With My Johnson [or whatever we were called that day].

beatty said...

good stuff, jim. reading about CMU and Yo Mama certainly takes me back to a more innocent time. CMU wasn't much after ron papanek left for nyc in '89. when we hosted college nationals in '89, they knocked us out of the game to decide the third spot. it was a bitter pill watching them, along with upenn, play on our fields, and that probaby served as motivation. Yo Mama was one of those DC teams that gave us our lumps in the early years, along with philly and some baltimore teams. at open regionals in '92 we beat gimme five bucks to make the finals, beat the crap out of them. ring crushed us in the finals. sitting together as a team and waiting to play the backdoor game, money, who arrived saturday night, walked by us with brian dobyns and said, THESE guys beat you? a few hours later he ate those words. making the big show for the first time is a genuine experience.