Down With the Ship
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: Ironside will probably win nationals this year. They’ve only lost one game the entire season by one point and Revolver is attempting the dreaded double peak without their best player. Plus, Tim Morrill has a sweet studio apartment.
I’m not happy about this development. For the last several years I’ve begged and pleaded with the score reporter to deliver the good news that Ironside was knocked out of nationals in semifinals, only to be sorely disappointed each time.
Why the malice? Easy: I’m an ultimate fan, and Ironside is proudly inheriting DoG’s legacy of spectator-unfriendly play. I just finished watching Ironside nearly lose to GOAT in a “thriller” at Northeast Regionals. I put thriller in quotes because aside from a Will Neff layout D and late foul-call controversy, I cannot think of a single memorable moment. The team spends the entire game repeatedly dumping and swinging the disc off the sideline while cramming their players into tighter and tighter spaces.
It kills me because Ironside’s roster is stacked with explosive, top-end talent, yet the team continues to play dumb ultimate. Yes, I know it sounds stupid to say that a team that has made finals three of four years and lost one game all season is somehow doing something wrong. But Lou Burruss was right when he said that clubs need to prepare for the teams that are better, not strategize against the teams that they know they can consistently beat. Ironside’s three championship game losses (15-11, 15-10, 15-10) in the last four years have been among the least exciting games I have ever watched – games whose outcomes were never in doubt. Why? JAM won because they were craftier and Revolver played nearly the exact same strategy as Ironside but with even better athletes.
Would Ironside have beaten these teams if they played a little looser and more creatively, employing multiple offenses and zone defenses? It’s difficult to play counter-factual history. But here’s what I do know: they have perhaps the most devastating deep thrower in the game on their D-line, and have castrated him. They have perhaps the greatest collection of athletic talent in ultimate and choose to dump and swing for three yards at a time. Ben Wiggins, in a response to my question about athleticism vs. strategy on reddit, said “I think many teams out there really don’t know what to do, strategy-wise. So they focus on athleticism as something that is harder to screw up.” And that, in a nutshell, is Ironside’s strategy: play it safe and don’t screw up.
Look, I understand club ultimate is a different animal from college. You aren’t practicing 3-5 days a week. You have jobs, girlfriends and wives, disposable income to spend. Maybe spending hours devising creative defensive schemes isn’t priority number one for an activity that doesn’t provide a paycheck. But if you’re going to expend the energy to win a national championship, would it hurt to be slightly entertaining along the way? There’s a reason why Sockeye remains an immensely popular team to watch: they constantly mix things up. They went from a “chicks dig the long ball strategy” from 2004-2008 to plinko/small ball and always push the envelope. Even in their flame out last year they managed to give the eventual national champions all kinds of fits, despite having far less athletic talent.
NYNY Hall of Fame legend Kenny Dobyns, in a 2006 RSD thread surrounding the controversy over Joe Seidler’s ultimate history book, said that “Boston did succeed in making ultimate the most boring spectator sport ever… Boston, for all their success, got no media attention, while New York was featured on ESPN, MTV, SI, WSJ, etc. Is anyone surprised? Watching DoG play was like watching paint dry. No wonder they got no play… Watch video from nationals and what do you see? An endless stream of bland as milk toast [sic] guys catching goals on other bland as milk toast guys and then congratulating their futile d attempts while glancing around to be sure their spirited actions are being noticed in case the spirit award voters are nearby. Don’t all you automatons watch sports? Why do the Oakland Raiders still draw TV viewers even though they suck? Why doesn’t anybody outside Atlanta give a hoot about the Braves? You want attention? Draw it by showing a little edge, a little grit, a little personality, a little true spirit. How else is a short fat guy ever going to get noticed? And let’s face it, ultimate is the short fat guy of team sports.”
Has anything changed? Ironside, I’m begging you: be the short fat guy. You are going to win, and I’m going to waste $5 on the live stream. Don’t ask me to celebrate.
 Full disclosure: I was born and raised in a suburb of Seattle.