2004 was my first “final season.” I was 39, my kid was 1, and it was time to retire. I went through that season thinking that it was my final season, that this was my final 400, that was my final agility workout, this was my final Saturday practice prior to Nationals. The tournament itself was a bit disappointing. We nearly lost to bottom seed Goat in our first game, and had to play a pre-quarters game for the first time. We nearly redeemed ourselves with a near-epic game against Furious in the quarters, as we didn’t have a turnover until 7-5, but we weren’t good enough and lost. My final pass was our final turnover, a mid-range forehand to Kelvin. I played in the consolation game a little (good old Bravo always insists on playing those) but my muscles had locked up and I could barely run, and I didn’t throw a pass. The next day, leaving the fields, I choked up a bit, remembering all the good times and “knowing” I would never cast my eyes upon this scene again.
But then you get away from the season a little bit, and then like with anything, it doesn't seem so bad, and you remember the thrill of the chase and the good things, so I decided to come back. (Some say it was just to try to sell more books.) In my second final year, we made a somewhat unexpected semifinals appearance, and had the advantage up until Nord’s amazing layout D at 7-7. We started off slowly at Nationals that year and built up, taking down Bravo in the quarters. I don’t think I was really close to retirement that year, after the previous year’s trauma of going through all the emotional baggage about being ready to give it up. The year ended well and optimistically.
2006 was my actual final year in Open. Hard to believe but only seven players from that team are on Ironside this year. (Note to UPA: although it’s good that the link for each team on the championship site goes to the current Score Reporter page for that team, it also means that you can no longer see the roster of previous teams.) The team again had an uninspired performance, dropping down to the pre-quarters and then bowing out in the quarters. The season itself hadn’t gone all that well, either. I had disagreements with management about personnel and commitments and how to play the game, and looking back, I guess I didn’t have faith in the team. After the season, I realized that though I thought I could still get it done, it just wasn’t worth it to me to put in the effort. I also wanted to get the band back together before everyone got too old. So I sent the lamest retirement email ever and started sending out emails to the old DoG guys about putting together a Masters team.
At first I just wanted it to be a reunion team with the goal of making it to and not embarrassing ourselves at Nationals. Eventually wiser heads prevailed and we did some recruiting of non-DoGs. The regular season was fun again. We went to about the same number of tournaments as ever, but pool play games were challenging. Once again there was no doubt whether we’d win any of these, but this time we knew we wouldn’t. Winning is great, but competition is better. And having to play a larger role (both in number of points and in what I had to do on those points) meant that tournaments were that much more taxing. As a result, despite having few practices and doing only occasional high-intensity workouts, I felt like I was in as good shape as the previous year. We had sporadic attendance through the year, but managed to get almost all of the historical DoGs who weren’t injured to play at Nationals, and it was just like old times, winning the tight games and taking home the trophy. Granted, it was just Masters, so who really cares, and it’s not like we worked hard all year as a team (though some of us did, kinda), but it was fun. As I said at the team dinner that night, I didn’t really have any expectations for the team, but we exceeded them nonetheless, and I was surprised at how fun it was.
Having won it all, of course we had to do it again the following year. We got the monster roster commitment for Worlds, and picked up three Condors. We once again won the tight games and took home the trophy. However, there were troubling signs. Several players decided they couldn’t commit to both Worlds and Nationals, and our performance leading up to Nationals was decidedly worse than the previous year. We still won the Region, but I was uneasy going in, and predicted that I would have to be carried from the fields the first day, either from exhaustion from cutting non-stop every point or from being overserved at the beer tent after going 0-3. Instead, the other teams were even worse, and we won our first day’s games 15-4, 15-4, 15-8. It was then that I decided I wanted to do something else the next year. Open? Mixed? Retirement? The second day wasn’t any more competitive, though we gave up a few more goals. Even after getting smoked in the semis, I was convinced that Masters wasn’t worth it and still felt the desire for something more. It’s never enough.
Next: my Ironside experience.