Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From a mentor

Jonathan Opie O'Connell, the red-headed fool that can be seen crying after our regionals loss to Iowa in '99, my freshman year, has written something for the Hodags, and all elite teams really, that he wanted me to reproduce for you here. Feel free to read and comment. I am behind his message as if the words were my own:

To the current Hodags: Remember what this is really about

When I was a freshman at the UW, in 1998, during a three-year streak in which the team didn’t even make nationals, UC Santa Barbara won their third title in a row (and sixth overall). Talk about dominant.

Before Santa Barbara’s three-peat, ECU (East Carolina), had won two in a row despite coming out of an outrageously difficult Atlantic Coast region. Another utterly vicious team.

Upon arriving at the UW, I quickly learned from Jammin, Rez, Simon, etc. that everyone knew these teams. They kicked ass and won titles, so naturally all the other teams followed them and tried to figure out how to replicate their dominance. Other teams also, for the most part, disliked them. Partly this was because of jealousy – people tend to bitch about whomever is at the top – but partly it was because both Santa Barbara and ECU were cheaters and assholes. They rammed cutters, intentionally hacked throwers and screamed at opponents all the time. Particularly ECU.

The first time I played either of these teams was when I was a sophomore and we played ECU in South Carolina. Our team was in good physical shape but was very low on throwers, particularly those that could throw forehands. ECU decided they would front the open side and not allow us to attempt a break throw. In the first half, every time we pivoted over there, they hacked, the stall went to zero, and they called us pussies. We called lots of fouls, but in the second half they started bitching more, we stopped calling fouls and they just trampled us. They bullied us out of a fair game, even though they were better than us, and we felt cheated. They didn’t care because they were big dogs with a high seed.

A decade later, the Hodags are the big dogs with a high seed. The pride that this brings me, a former player on the team, is tremendous. Knowing how bad and disorganized we were then, and how unbelievably good the team has become recently, compiling outstanding numbers of victories and tournament wins, really makes alumni feel as though they were part of building something special, even if they had no direct hand in any of the games (i.e. we give ourselves too much credit). We keep tabs on the team, we root you on, and if we can, we come to nationals to cheer. Some of us have Hodag tattoos (and would consider more if we won more titles). One particularly generous alumnus is even setting up a foundation for the team, for god’s sake. You make us very, very proud.

What doesn’t make me proud is the idea that Wisconsin ultimate handles the spotlight of being a top team the same way Santa Barbara and ECU did. There is a big difference between truly expecting that you will win and believing that you are pre-ordained to win. Let me be clear about something: You are not god’s gift to ultimate. You didn’t invent it and it will be going on long after you are done with it.

I don’t pretend to know if any of the many rumors about the Hodags being a bunch of cheating egomaniacs on the field are true or not, and it doesn’t matter. For one, there is always more jealous criticism of the big dogs. And moreover, what really matters is that you feel – that you really believe – that you are treating the game and your opponents with respect. And as you sit atop the competition, I hope you consider this even more than we did when we toiled away in obscurity.

We have all played with bad spirit. I played a point against some terrible team at college sectionals with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my hand. My teammates like to joke about it – and it is funny – but I would undo it if I could. I have in one way or another, bullied teams that we were better than to let them know we were going to win. Would I undo those transgressions now for whatever advantage our team gained? Absolutely. It's not something to cry over, but I would undo them if I could.

My point is when you’re at the top you need to be particularly concerned with being stewards of the sport. Strangers come to watch you play. Probably, even, people who have never seen ultimate before come to your games. Acting like a dick is never good, but it’s particularly harmful to the game and to the Hodag name when you do it at the top level. Remember Joe DiMaggio’s quote about why he played so hard every game? "I always thought there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn't want to let him down."

I read the post about Dan Heijmen for Callahan on the Hodag web site. Sounds like an awesome player. But given that a third of the award has to do with sportsmanship – something you mention nothing of in a 1,000-plus word write-up – someone who really cares about the game is unlikely to vote for him. And if that’s the way the team he leads acts and portrays itself, in my book he shouldn’t win. Simple as that.

Just remember that as you (hopefully) blaze your way to glory this weekend, how much it will mean to the sport – and to alumni – when you do it with class, and with a smile on your face. Imagine the tremendous good step you take for the game and the Hodag name when you resist making a ticky-tack call or – can you imagine? – take back a bad call on the biggest stage in ultimate. Shaking an opponent’s hand after a good play is also excellent, though it is certainly not required.

I promise that it will make all the memories and friendships far warmer. And you will still dominate.




sometallskinnykid said...

At worst, this team is at least as spirited as any of your Hodag teams (except they don't have anyone as nice as Bruss). And definitely more spirited then the mid 90s Hodag teams.

Shouldn't Opie know better then to really listen to RSD?

The only thing they suffer from is a suffocating defense that does not let the other team breath. And that causes overreactions by the opposing players.

And sure Muffin should have discussed more how spirited Heijman is (others have done so on rsd), but isn't Opie the same guy who wrote an article about Nord without even mentioning Nord's great spirit?

This reeks of something like "This is not the way I intended the Hodags to turn out. Let me wash my hands."

opie said...

Hi Tim,

Excellent to hear from you.

I'm with you that a) Bruss is nice and b) RSD comments are clearly not to be relied upon. I tried to reflect that, but maybe it didn't come through well.

I never saw the mid-90s teams play, but I hear you on that. There were some, um, how should we say, "chemically inbalanced" players on those teams. Say what you will.

The Nord article was cut heavily, which is too bad because I think you would agree that his CUT teams were extremely spirited, while also frustratingly good. I could certainly see him winning the Farricker.

I'm not sure what exactly you're saying about the Hodag teams I played on, but I thought the Hodag-Magnum battles back then were excellent. They culminated in the "Game for Ninth" in 2000, won by Magnum. Hodags took the spirit award.

Not sure what you mean by me washing my hands. Wouldn't not getting involved at all be a better way of doing that? Would you do anything if you suspected something was awry with the current Magnum team?

Greenough said...

It is a bad sign when the guys that I played against are debating how the young guys are doing these days. One step close to masters.

Opie's comments about how to carry yourself as a member of a team no matter what level ring true. We should all realize that we are representing the sport and at major events like college nationals people might be watching for the first time.

Good luck to all this weekend and at some point on Friday I will get a disc out and toss in the parking lot because this will be the first college nationals that I have missed attending since 2000.

Hh said...

I'm bringing my cleats to Bruss' wedding. Who wants in? We can sneak in a workout and some stairs between rehearsal dinner on Friday and the ceremony Saturday.

sometallskinnykid said...

OP- It is just good to know you still like frsibee.

I agree that the Hodags and magnUM games were always good. But that is the point, we never played any mean spirited games. From what I have seen of the current hodags (i'll admit to nothing this year, but several times last year), it is the exact same way as our teams did.

The only difference, they are really, really good. Not just top 7 good, but like top 21 or 22 good. This team is deep and never quits, thus more other teams get frustrated. Leading to frustrated posts on rsd.

I guess my main problem was it seemed you had never watched them play. And you read Muffin's support of Heijman. Instead of talking to Muffin about it, you took the whole team to task.

And I almost witnessed a fight playing Hector's hodags team, so its not like his teams were this top tier spirited team either. (Note: I am not calling those team horribly spirited, just having problems with spirit like the rest of college teams).

And I just wanted to make fun of you for writing an article about Nord.

If something was awry in Michigan-land, I would hope that I could do something. But I would not just act b/c of rsd stuff. I would hope I would witness it with my own eyes. Plus, they probably don't want to talk to me anyway since I did not send any money in support this year. I don't even get e-mail updates anymore!

I guess I just don't think these guys are really at all worse then anything I have ever experienced. And a lot of those guys are much better, including Heijman.

Now Oregon was a bunch of a-holes


Anonymous said...

Oh that's great.

Let me get this straight.

Opie shouldn't encourage the current Hodags to play with spirit because he's never seen them play, but it's just fine for the two of you to gang up and slam some ESPN Classic Hodag teams who neither of you saw play?

--Anonynmous Hodag '95-98

Will D said...

Opie's comments/insinuations about the Hodags current, past, or ancient history are mostly irrelevant, at least to non-Hodags. That said, it's a great message about competing, playing hard, and winning with class (or without class). Opie points out the difference pretty nicely, and encourages the team he cares about to make the right choice on how they represent themselves and the sport.

There's really nothing in there to get defensive about...unless there's something to get defensive about. A classy team would/will say, "right on Opie" and go out and do the right thing. A less than classy team would/will do something different, and it will be obvious, and it will be a shame.

Hector, I'm personaly glad to see that you likes the words Opie used "as if they were my own", and also glad to know that you are currently on a team that I care about and am proud of.

I'm holding out for the right timing and words to communicate some of this important stuff to my {choke} former teammates going into the 2007 club season. In the meantime, maybe Opie's post and your agreement and example will serve to keep the best teams and players aware of the importance of competing with respect.

Seems like from the Spirit ratings in Columbus that the Wisconsin boys did Opie proud... just like the Jojah boys did for UGA alums. Love to see the best teams in the mix at the top of the Spirit rankings.