Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My brother said that to me, as we walked away from my parents and to my car to meet up with a motley crew of Colorado and Wisconsin players. The men’s finals had just wrapped up, everyone was giving thanks to whoever deserved it, and we walked together across the parking lot with a few moments alone.

Even then, my thoughts on the entire trip, the season in general, the tourney, and the company I shared for 3000 miles in my car began to gel. There was a lot for me to sift through, and I knew that it would take a while to put it all down on paper. Heartlatch Potbreak came out six months after the fact, and while I don’t expect this delay to be anything close, I will take my time gathering my thoughts to make sure I get them right. This one is the short story of how a little brother became a man for my parents, who read here on occasion.

“Sometimes champions lose.” I thought about it, what it meant to an individual and what it meant to my brother. I realized he understood why we played, why this sport meant more than the athletics and car trips. We play to improve ourselves as people. I had talked to Rodrigo early in the fall semester about his goals for the year and how he was planning on achieving them. He had said then (obviously) that he wanted to win the national championship. When I asked him how, he said he was going to work harder than anyone else.

It was so vague. How do you work harder than everyone else, I wondered. There’s always someone working harder. I wished him the best of luck but felt overpowered by his goal. Couldn’t he see that his path to success was impossible?

What my brother did was what I was unable to do: he ignored the impossible. He enrolled in a weightlifting class in the fall three times a week with Muffin and then set about obliterating his squat, press, and leg extension personal records. When I saw him during Christmas he was huge, 175 pounds and incredibly strong. In the spring he enrolled in a yoga class to improve his flexibility, and on top of the Hodags’ already grueling workouts signed up for Accelerate Madison, an 11 week training program that consisted of 3 weekly 4 hour workouts alone with a trainer, tuning his running form and jumping. He dropped ten pounds and made it so you could read the finest muscle fibers in the parchment of his skin. He did it himself, one workout at a time, one class at a time. When finals was over and they’d lost to Florida, he was disappointed for his team. But, despite a few tears, his pride in himself and his accomplishments shone through his eyes and he was happy. Winning the championship was a benchmark, one way to prove to himself he’d met his goals. By season’s end, though, he understood that he didn’t need a benchmark. It was within him and around him. Just as when Luke Skywalker puts away the targeting computer in his Death Star run, my brother realized the only goal he’d really set was to believe in himself, and he’d succeeded.

It was extremely emotional when we parted. We cried then. He said to me, “Eto, this shit gave me a lot of confidence. It showed me I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it.” There, in plain words, he said it. He’s never been big on fanfare. What the University of Wisconsin struggled 5 years to teach him he taught himself in one season.

“Dude we can do anything we want together. Nothing can stop us.” He struggled to say this and I couldn’t look at him in the eyes as I fought back tears. I wipe them off fresh again as I write this and tell you, Mami and Papi, that everything you might have wanted him to learn in college, everything important, he learned it. He did it on his own. He is a champion.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

This afternoon we departed from Madison. Sold as a seven hour drive, Chicago traffic made it ten even hours. We made a slight pit stop at The Cheese place, a small box-shaped building colored like a holstein heifer, to purchase a pound and a half of the best sliced brick I've ever tasted. It was delicious.

At a grocery store stocking supplies, Richter picked up what he thought was a Gatorade Ice bottle. When he went to drink it in the car's darkness later, he found out he picked up an already open bottle that someone had refilled with water and replaced on the shelf. He stressed for the next several hours that he might have drank a gulp of water someone had drugged, pissed in, or infected with a deadly disease. So far he's exhibiting no symptoms, but I've got him under close watch.

After a frenzied half hour of wheeling and dealing on the phone, I was able to find a ride for Anthony David Adams to natties, whom we'd inadvertenly left behind. Part of the process was moving Tyson Park to Parker and Deuce's vehicle in Chicago, and we met up with the three stooges at our hotel. The seven of us now are resting for a full day of ultimate and debauchery starting tomorrow at 8:30.

Oh, and never eat breakfast at a Country Kitchen. Just don't.

Richter, Tater, Jen and I departed tuesday night from Boulder, CO.

My brother has graduated from college and it was time for a trip home, and a return to Boulder by way of Columbus, Ohio.

Excitement was heavy. It would be 15 hours to Madison, another 10 to Columbus, and then about 22 back home.
Two Mamabird alums in a car with a Wisconsin alum on this particular weekend would normally be trouble. While it's true that the drive back promises to be heartbreaking for at least one of us, we are a strong group and we understand the game. There can be only one winning team. We look forward to all the shit that comes with the territory.

Some notes.
We went to the Essen House yesterday with Grant Zukowski, Mike Degnan, MKD, and Andrew Brown. Put down around 8-10 boots. There were several boot and rallies. A long walk back to Brown's, and then passing out. Great time. The rules of the boot will be discussed in greater detail later.

There will be a Hodag v Mamabird alumni game at nationals. Hotbox, 3v3 is most likely. We encourage other alums to get their team in order, We'll have a round robin tourney with the top finishers going straight to finals. Games will probably happen friday afternoon and saturday between prequarters and quarters. Get your game on.

I'll continue with the chronicles of the journey as it progresses, and will try to write some more tonight when we arrive in Ohio.

Friday, May 19, 2006

As Callahan voting opened I began to ponder this question. The open division seems pretty ... well, wide open. Florida has two outstanding players in Tim Gehret and Kurt Gibson. Dylan, Robbie Cahill, Oscar, and the combined four (or at least it should have been four, once the RC's had their say) candidates from Wisconsin and Colorado are all potential top-fivers.

But to me the women's side is decidedly one-sided. Alex Snyder. I know Bill Simmons has haters out there, but in writing about Kobe's credentials for the NBA MVP this season, he posited three poignant questions for the MVP Test:

Question No. 1: When remembering this season 10 years from now, which player will pop into your head first?

Alex Snyder, VC Poster GirlAlex Snyder. Lauren Casey, Pooja Shah, Megan O'Brien ... all great players, but Alex is the leader of her team. Quite literally a poster girl (see right) for the sport. The migraine at Regionals moved almost immediately from anecdote into the hazy realm of myth.

Question No. 2: In the proverbial giant pickup game with every women's college ultimate player waiting to play, who would be the first player picked this season?

This question is a bit more subjective. Gwen might take Lauren, but many of us—myself included, and maybe Alex Korb—would take Snyder.

Question No. 3: If you replaced every Callahan candidate with a decent player at their position for the entire season [more germane to basketball, but still], what would be the effect on their teams' records?

The most important question. And unequivocolly: Alex. I got mad love for Whit and C and the weapons both known and unknown on Kali. But take away Alex and this team is likely not at Nationals. Take away Lauren from Stanford and I almost guarantee they still have the No. 1 seed. UCLA had the misfortune of losing a key player this season and has the No. 2 seed in Columbus anyway. Remove Alex from the Kali formula and, like an asymptote, they approach Nationals but never get there.

Alex Snyder for Callahan. Vote now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It was about noon central time, and I'd been in a car now for about eleven hours. Before having left Boulder Saturday night, I'd spoken with several Kali players who had informed me that they'd lost a close game to UCLA in semifinals after several players got cases of the dropsies.

"It's cool," I'd reassured them, "just play your game and don't dwell on it." I got in the car and started driving.

But eleven hours into the drive, the Nebraskan and Iowan landscape had given me little to do other than feed my own doubts about how the weekend would turn out. I flipped between nightmares of Kali losing and those of the Hodags losing. I was uneasy. It was during one of these periods of unease that my phone rang. I looked at the screen. It was Alex Snyder. It was shortly after 10 a.m. in San Diego. Something wasn't right.

I picked up the phone and my worst fears were affirmed. I couldn't make out any words, through the sobbing. "Why?" was all I could understand. "Why?"

My head reeled back. It was Alex, it was early, and she was crying. They'd been eliminated. They'd come out flat and someone jumped on them and now their season was over. I was crushed. "This weekend will end in ruin and woe," I thought. I felt the emotion beginning to overtake me too, along with the fatigue and the impending headache this whole thing would cause.

But, as my eyes made plans to join Alex's, something happened. She uttered a coherent sentence. Then another. Something about who they'd be playing, then something about their possible opponent in the following round. Then I made out another word. "...migraine..."

I almost shat myself in relief. She was vomiting. The nausea was overpowering. Her legs were on pins and needles, her arms numb. Her vision was blurry and she wasn't sure if she'd be able to play a point. But I was still sighing with relief. I knew Alex. I knew that it wouldn't take long for her to lace her shoes up. I knew what would follow afterwards. It would rain goals in Kali Nation. I told her so, she said she was going to lay down until the first half of the game was over, and we hung up.

I smiled. I know warriors and I'd just spoken to one on the phone. Later, exhilirated from the Hodags' victory over CUT and driving home with renewed energy, the reports started trickling in. Kali was going to nationals. Alex Snyder had taken her pain, bottled it, and handed it out to Santa Barbara and San Diego as door prizes to their game. The headache was all theirs.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I had written the obligatory, the easy, the predictable. The Hodags had again eliminated CUT, this time at regionals, sending them home early for the first time in 17 years and winning regionals for only the third time. There was some bashing, the obligatory sodomy joke, and some more shit-talking about where the Hodag-CUT rivalry now stood.

But something happened. Call it getting softer as I age. Call it perspective.

We had a party here Saturday night to celebrate Mamabird and Kali qualifying for Natties. During the cookout the TV was turned on to Disc 2 and the main focus was the Colorado Wisconsin match-up from quarterfinals last year. Wisconsin lost, both times they hit the DVD's rewind button. I enjoyed the footage, and handled the banter and ribbing I received from my guests regarding the game whenever CU did some nasty shit and Wisconsin turned it. At the very end of the footage, after Joe Dombrow plows into Richter trying to stop the winning goal. Mamabird rushes to celebrate, and the camera zooms out to capture the big picture. There, a less detailed eye might miss him, is Ryan Carrington. The heart and voice of the Hodags for three years walks towards the camera and his teammates holding his head in his hand and tries to stop himself from losing it. I was there, I remember him just as he's shown. The dode benchwarmers on Mamabird present laughed and said something stupid. But the real players on Mamabird, the ones on the field when they were tied against Brown with the season on the line, they didn't say much. Richter and I shared a very intense moment very recently that spoke to that very instant. He remembered. "Shit, that kinda sucks, I love Carrington."

Up above, there are two pictures taken by Robin Davies of the Hodags just after winning. But having been there, I tell you on the other side of the field those exact same embraces were taking place by teammates who loved each other no less but were enveloped by different emotion. Someone had to go home. The Hodags screamed and hugged more for the relief of having survived than the elimination of their rivals.

This whole thing reminds me of Spartacus and Antoninus, how they hated each other and were enemies when they first met yet, by the end of the movie when the Romans force one to kill the other, Spartacus tearfully kills his friend to spare him the pain of crucifixion. It's a stretch, I know, but I was moved to see CUT leave the field. They are a good team deserving of a spot at nationals, and in this battle, the only thing one can be happy about is that it's not you shedding sorrow's tears.

CUT, great season. Wisconsin will represent and perhaps, if you let them, make you and the Central region proud.

Recaps have already been made, and the footage showing the Hodags playing some of their best disc of the season will soon be available.

I will only touch on thoughts here.

First, the drive there and back (12 hours each way) for only 3 hours of Ultimate was exhausting, and worth it. The Hodags answered the challenge and did it well. Watching my brother score goal after goal wide open was awesome. Watching him throw the first upwinder to Ted was better, checking him toe the line on a fading huck upwind to set up the second upwinder was better still, and watching him jump backwards and plant his feet in as another huck started sailing away for the game-breaking upwinder to take half and the wind at 7-7 might have been my favorite. The connection he and Ted share is sweet to see, being able to remember the way they'd both energetically chase my hucks down when I was a senior in high school and they were merely freshmen.

The Hodags are still improving. They looked better during spring break when I practiced with them than they did in the Centex video, and once they started clicking they looked even better at Regionals. Their first outdoor practice wasn't until after Centex. They are exactly where they need to be to peak at nationals.

My brother's upwind goal to take half off the Matt Rebholz backhand huck was the play of the game for its monumental momentum swing. Second place is for a call the observer made. Late in the game CUT made another run and scored upwind, broke downwind, and was working upwind again to tie the game at 13's (and pull downwind). With Heijmen on the mark, Chris Rupp stepped into him, threw an off-balance and erratic backhand and called the foul. The disc sailed up and started fading, and two nearby CUT players started going for it. Yet, with the disc suspended in the air and starting to catch an edge, another CUT player called them off the disc when he heard the foul call, expecting the disc to return to Rupp in the middle of the field with a new stall count and 20 yards out of the endzone. The players obeyed, gave up the chase, and let the disc fall harmlessly to the ground some 5 yards behind where Rupp threw it. It would have taken hustle, but as the disc was released it was perfectly catchable, and playable. They chose to let it drop. And, when the call went to the observer, he ruled no foul because Rupp had thrown himself into Heijmen to draw the contact. Turnover. Wisconsin throws to Ted, who sends a huge hammer to Rodrigo in the endzone, and next point Dan Miller throws a backhand to Shane upwind. Game over. Huge foul call, huge ruling by the observer. Bad form on those two CUT players for not chasing down the disc like their season depended on it. It did.

The CUT alumni and fans trying to heckle Carrington by imitating him were unsuccessful. Sooner kindle fire with snow.

Despite the roped-off field, as Wisconsin started asserting its control the Hodag alumni started charging the field after every score. Eventually #15 on CUT started taking offense, and more than once as I ran into the blue pile his foot or shoulder happened to be in my way. I started cheering with more exuberence every time he was within earshot. Late in the game the guy was a complete non-factor. Focus on one or the other, you obviously couldn't do both.

My parents were there with my sister and uncle. Almost the entire graduating class of 2003 was there, and many parents were there. It was great to see everyone so energetic, the positive energy definitely helped the Hodags early when the offense was looking confused.

Sam O'Brien was there, helping CUT, and though animated at first, I started hearing less and less from him as the game drew to a close. He didn't even say goodbye.

Rodrigo Valdivia for Callahan, but when the game footage comes out, you won't have to hear it from me. Or you could just see him on CSTV as a sophomore killing Colorado and Oregon.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Two men enter, one man leaves. There can be only one.

In business, in sports, in movies, we are conditioned to view conflicts and struggles as clashes between two mutually exclusive entities. The victor. The vanquished.

The higher the stakes, the longer the history, the more pressing the odds, and people clamor for it. We, the voyeurs, toss a thumb in the air and demand a conclusion. So it was small surprise when I arrived at the finals fields and saw scores of spectators and alumni lining the pitch, their unbridled bloodlust barely contained by the perimeter separating the players from the hooligans.

Discs were flying subject to the whim of the violent wind, random rays of lights escaped down through the supercell clouds enveloping the sky; nature wanted a hand in the outcome. Some had allegiances, others were there to witness, to say they were there years from now, all were slick-handed and licking their lips. History would be made.

But in the center of all these people, history'’s peeping toms, were twotightlyy controlled nuclei, on in cardinal red, the other baby blue. They had tucked the rest of their life in an envelope and stuffed it into the back pocket of their jeans, manila with words reading: Open after regionals. Those that say they put their life on hold for this game would be wrong: this game was their life. They had been preparing for eight months. They were ready.

They didn'’t need to be reminded of the history they'’d soon be a part of. It was already stitched into their skin. Carleton with seventeen straight nationals appearances, the longest streak in college ultimate. Wisconsin the frontrunner for the championship. Two finals appearances for each. One trophy a piece. Only two regional losses for CUT in the modern era. And a pre-quarters matchup in Wisconsin'’s favor the year prior that placed them in this do-or-die situation now.

Carleton has dominated the rivalry at regionals. The history between the two has been mostly one-sided. But the times have changed. The sport is growing, and CUTÂ’s small-school influence waning. As more juniors are exposed to the game, Wisconsin's 50,000 students weigh in with growing influence. Witness the two times prior to this Wisconsin and CUT have faced off in a season-ending game: both in semifinals at Spokane and in prequarters at Corvallis the Hodags emerged the victors.

So although as both teams crisply warmed up they looked focused only on the fundamentals, the confidence and doubts wrestled within each mind. The same history, each team with a vastly different telling.

"This game is ours. We own Wisconsin at regionals. Always has been, always will be."

"“We beat them when it matters. When the season's on the line, we know what it takes to win. One team is going home to pout, and it's not us."

And, softer voices, asking questions. Which stats to believe? With two different tales colliding, who gets to write the ending? Both teams exuding confidence, both supressing doubt.

Monday, May 01, 2006

I literally just got out of the car, quarter to seven. Twelve hours of driving each way for one and a half games. Three dollars per gallon of gas. Totally worth it. I will write my thoughts later today and tomorrow, but I wanted to share this picture.

This is Gigo and Ted at Junior Nationals in 2001. At this point, they'd been playing together for 4 years. Yesterday, they brought their nine years of playing disc together to bear on CUT, with disasterous results for the Northfield residents. Aside from Gigo playing the best I've seen him play, having a hand in about half of Wisconsin's goals, he and Ted shared five goals with each other, including the critical first upwinder after CUT's.

Tyler and I took this picture that Sunday, after being bored at home with little to do and getting the idea to drive south on a whim and surprise them. Worth the drive. Today, five years later, it paid for itself again.

My brother and I always compete against each other. And I alway thought myself the better, more experienced and well rounded player. Today the seed of doubt has been planted. After playing the best game of his career in semis of nationals in '03 against Mamabird, he played one better the following day in finals and was +8 for both games.
Yesterday against CUT he went +9 or 10. Absurd. I've got a lot of work to do.

In the movie Gattaca, Ethan Hawke's character always competes against his genetically modified (and superior) brother. They swim out as far as they dare into the ocean, and the first to give up and swim back loses. When Ethan wins, his brother asks him how, despite his genetic inferiority, he managed to beat him. "Do you want to know why I win," Ethan asked. "I never save anything for the swim back."

Neither does my brother.