The Birth of Modern Offense: NYNY v. Big Brother Game Analysis

by | January 25, 2012, 11:36am 0

I hadn’t had a chance to watch this particular piece of history (game footage of NYNY vs. Boston Big Brother at the 1991 World Championships), so I was thrilled to see it posted on Skyd yesterday.  I watched it in bits and pieces throughout the day and then in its entirety after work.  As I was watching it, I caught myself doing analysis reflexively and soon enough I had pencil and paper in hand and was taking notes.  I didn’t chart the game to generate statistics; these are my gestalt notes.

Who to watch (Boston)

  • Steve Moons.  The leader of Boston.  Despite his enormous size (6’7″), he was a handler.  I’m not sure how you can miss him.  He’s giant and left-handed and a handler.  If you still need help, there is a good look at him at 2:58 throwing a hammer turn.
  • Jeremy Seeger.  Seeger was a brilliant offensive player.  He was on-again, off-again for DoG during their 6-year run and always a bit understated and quiet, so he doesn’t have the name recognition of Moons or Parinella or de Frondville.  I covered all of those guys and he was the toughest.  With the other three I felt I could control their options in some ways, but Seeger got open how he wanted to.  He is the initial puller for Boston at 0:58.
  • Lenny Engle.  A long time defender for Brother and then DoG, he wouldn’t normally get mentioned, but he plays great.  He is the only Boston guy to really match NYNY’s intensity and passion.  He is wearing horns.

Who to watch (NYNY)

  • Pat King.  A giant 2, Pat is going to carry a lot of the offensive load for NYNY.  He is wearing lime shorts and a pair of knee braces.  He is the 2 at 4:12.
  • Kenny Dobyns.  Hopefully, you know who he is, but if not, there is some great footage of him catching the 1st goal of the game and then stalking around the field.
  • Cribber.  Dennis is at the height of his powers in this game; his play is so reminiscent of Nord’s in the way he uses his size, speed and power to physically dominate.  (Of course, Nord was 2 when this game was played, so maybe I have it backwards.)  He is wearing a pink hat and pulling at 1:49.
  • Jon Gewirtz.  One of ultimate’s Bad Boys, Jonny is pretty quiet in this game.  He was a great defender and handler on the turn.  His match-ups against Moons were legendary for their brutality, although in this game it wasn’t.  He first appears attempting a greatest at 3:29 and then again throwing a goal at 8:30.  He is wearing lime shorts and wrist bands.

Differences from the modern game:

The first jolting change you will see is on the pull.  Without the Callahan rules (which came into being a decade later), you could walk a pull up to the front of the end zone and there was no brick!  The marks are cleaner than modern marks, but part of that is a function of FM vs. trap.  There is no dump behind the disc.  The reset is from the front of the stack.  There are far more picks than in the modern game, largely because there are more guys downfield, the offenses are less disciplined (particularly Boston’s) and they are running out of a vertical stack.  There is also a lack of sophistication and trickery from the throwers.  Hammers, yes, but no off-hand, no scoobers, no pushes.

Force Middle

The best reason to watch this game is Force Middle on display.  I grew up playing this in the mid-west, but it went out of vogue pretty quickly and still is for the most part.  However, when I got to Seattle in 96, it was the go-to defense for crunch time and I came to love it.  It requires defenders who are quick, aware and disciplined.  Well played, it will force the other team into repeatedly throwing contested swings for no yards until they turn it over either blocked or unforced.  The marking in this game on both sides is excellent.  It is both active and legal, relying on effort and quickness instead of falling back on lazy brutality.  I would draw your attention to a particular sequence starting around 20:00.  Boston is on offense and as the clip begins, about 10 yards out of the endzone.  Yes, Lenny eventually catches the goal, but how many teams do you know could face that amount of pressure and not turn it over?  Credit to both Boston and NYNY on this one.

No-Dump Offense

I didn’t see the dump on offense until the fall of 1993 (from Philly) and playing without it really changes what is and isn’t possible.  The reset has to come from the front of the stack and hitting this pass is an absolute necessity.  As a result, everyone on both teams is really good at hitting a 20 yard swing pass regardless of the mark or defender.  This is a skill that is generally lacking in ultimate today.  Yes, your handlers need this skill, but your cutters don’t because they can just throw a shovel-pass dump.  It’s a weird irony that even as throwing skills have broadly increased across the sport, this one has disappeared.

NYNY and the birth of modern offense

One of the things that separates NYNY in this game is the vertical nature of their game.  By vertical, I don’t mean their height and hucking directly, but their cutting.  Like modern ultimate, it is in-out cutting, while the majority of Boston’s offense is left-right cutting.  A part of this is a function of who the best players on each team are.  For NYNY, Kenny as a 3/4 will favor a vertical system because it will allow him to get far more touches than he would in a left-right continue system where he would have wait on the handlers to deliver.  For Boston, with Moons and Seeger as their best, a left-right system is great.  They can get it when they want and in good position to go downfield with the disc.  Another reason for this is the evolution of offense.  In Boston, you are watching 80s offense; what is essentially an outgrowth of the Stanford O.  While Godiva would continue to ride this style for a number of years, men’s ultimate has all transitioned over to more vertical systems and women’s eventually followed suit.

What I liked

1. NYNY huck at 6:30.  I couldn’t see who threw it, but it met three important criteria and let go of the unimportant.  One – space.  Two – trusted receiver.  Three – let go of what throw is ‘right’ and just get it there and make it catch-able.
2.  Pat King speech at 8:45.  FACT!
3.  The love between NYNY and Boston.  15:30.
4.  Mada’s catch at 30:20.
5.  Seeger huck at 43:40.  Same as #1 above.  One – space.  Two – trusted receiver.  Three – let go of what is ‘right’ and deliver.
6.  The uniforms.

What I didn’t like

1.  Boston’s failure to show up.  This team was still in the process of figuring out who they were.  They would never (even when they won their titles) match NYNY’s intensity because Moons isn’t Kenny.  But they would find a way to be who they were and still be great, focused and win.  It just wasn’t this game.
2.  Boston’s failure to adjust on D.  When you are getting battered, you have to try something different.
3.  Letting Kenny score at 34:30.  Boston starts by doing everything right.  The defender reads the play, comes off the back of the stack and is position to make the play.  Then, rather than put a body on Kenny and keep him on the ground he tries to out-jump him.  Sigh.  When there are two defenders and one receiver, get a body on him.
4.  That the rest of the video isn’t posted.
5.  The commentary.  I can’t really stand the ‘let’s introduce this sport to those who don’t know’ line of discussion.  Which is all there is.
6.  The uniforms.

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