On Callahan Videos

by | May 13, 2012, 7:42pm 0

This week two of the leading Callahan contenders (or, more properly, their teams) released their entries in what’s by now a genre so defined that Luther’s Eric Johnson’s could be titled simply ‘Callahan Video.’ To watch them in succession is to appreciate just how different two extraordinary ultimate players can be. Pitt’s immaculate Alex Thorne, who would apparently consider it impolite to make his cutters actually jump, gives the impression that between throwing perfectly weighted hucks and velvet breaks he might plausibly compose a fugue in D or a monogram on Basquiat.

EJ’s video, by contrast, has all the bloody-mindedness you’d expect from a player who, RSD informs us, once field-dressed a roadkill deer on the way to a tournament. It’s a typical North Central video, in other words: most of the non-Nexgen games are played in several obvious layers of clothing, beneath skies promising to follow wind with frozen rain. The editors make an explicit point of rewinding impacts—where Thorne seems too composed to leave his feet, EJ bounces off the ground after a layout, then bounces again in slow motion. If Thorne’s video presents Frisbee as a series of geometric proofs, with each goal neatly labeled and followed by a QED, Johnson’s (aided by the robust linearity of his play, especially present in a hammer that seems more punched than thrown yet still lands perfectly in scoring hands) imagines the sport as primarily a physical process, one settled by the weight of tendons, bones, and straining muscles.

Yet in the race for the college men’s Callahan 2012, awarded to ‘the personification of the ideal ultimate player,’ the most convincing clip so far seems[1] to have been neither Thorne’s museum of perfection nor Johnson’s gallery of grisly domination. Instead, it’s a thirteen-second clip in which the advertised player jogs four steps, catches a dump, and makes one throw. It’s Georgia Tech’s Nick Lance, in his white hat, throwing a 25-yard inside-out scoober, flat as you like, into the break corner of the endzone against Tennessee—at sectionals[2].

Why should this one throw have greater purchase on our imagination than the montages prepared for two of the sport’s best-known names? Partially it’s the sheer majesty of the throw. If the average viewer couldn’t throw all of Thorne’s hucks or earn all of EJ’s layout Ds, he’s probably pretty sure he could do one. To do it all the time is the mark of an extraordinary player, but not necessarily of a mysterious player.

But Lance’s scoober comes from a place most of us won’t ever go. It’s a perfect conspiracy of vision, strength, and technique, one that most players couldn’t replicate even in the experimental minutes before practice. It’s a throw, in other words, that goes beyond its viewers, that appears miraculous—not least because Lance seems before, during, and after throwing it to treat it as an absolutely casual occurrence, something he was expecting before his dump cut and worthy of no special celebration. He’s throwing a scoober, but he’s touching the Frisbee sublime.

But just as it goes beyond its viewers, it may also mirror their understanding of the game. The rules of Frisbee dictate that every goal have at least a shadow of perfection in it—but for most players this perfection is more aspired to than achieved. We struggle through points, throw turnovers we don’t intend, are beaten sometimes. But at the end of the weekend we remember the few moments when it all happened together, when the cut was right and so was the throw, when the hammer didn’t hang in the wind but just flew through it, when we played as we imagine. If Lance, in that video, personifies an ideal ultimate player, it’s the one we all remember ourselves as when we’re sore on Tuesday afternoon—the one whose weekend is distilled to a single moment of transcendence.

Either of Thorne’s or Johnson’s videos would, in 2010, have been extraordinary—but it seems a genre need only exist to become outdated. Both videos seem to assume the key task in winning the Callahan is to prove how many plays the candidate has made. But the exceptional videos this year are of Lance’s scoober, and of Michigan’s Paula Seville, who took the innovative step of including actual testimonials from Michelle Ng, Kyle Weisbrod, and her co-captain Kelsey DeLave. The result is a video which, while lacking both the demonstrated excellence of the male contenders’ and the sublimity of Lance’s scoober, makes better than any previous the case that its subject is ‘the personification of the ideal ultimate player.’

Next year it seems likely that all the nominating teams will learn from this, and will post both highlights and reflections from teammates. Duluth’s Jay Drescher, this year, could probably snag a good few votes with a video like Paula’s—a video that’s finally learned the lesson of Joe Kershner, who won the Callahan on the strength of a great RSD post and one of the all-time best Vegas performances. What lesson? That you win the Callahan with mystery rather than with iMovie, with your scoober rather than your flick, and with your story rather than your vertical.

[1] On the admittedly-unsound basis of RSD chatter, which has been very impressed by the one and mostly indifferent to the others.

[2] There’s another GT video out there, featuring Lance and one of his cutters—but it’s an array of jump balls and grainy skies with nothing like the visceral impact of the Tennessee Scoober.

Feature photo by Peter Guion (UltiPhotos.com)

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