A minute ago, the score had been 12-11 in the backdoor game-to-go, in conditions where anything could happen on any pass. It was a bleak Cascadian afternoon, mixing rain-soaked tones of green and grey. Coughs and surges of wind came and went. On an unforgiving mistake by Portland’s offense, the score parted open to 14-11 for Furious, and a tide of red-clad monkeys began coaxing the disc back against the wind. Sturdily up to the goal line in steps, one after another, it more closely resembled brickwork than an attack. It was a decisive moment, offering yet another chance at life in a season marked all over by knife-edge survival.
Months before, one otherwise meaningless point was scored in an otherwise meaningless game on a faraway field, tipping invisible scales in the rankings. By the narrowest computational division, a teetering championship bid slipped from California and tumbled into the lap of the northwest.* Later, while the race for bids keened a fever pitch, Voodoo rescued us from pending disqualification in an eleventh hour gesture, just so that we could even compete. And now, here we were, both having failed to unseat Seattle, a monkey and a rhino met on the field yet again, greedily eying the last chair in the last-chance game to qualify for Texas. It is a good thing we weather pressure pretty well, because the weather certainly was not pretty.
Punching the disc between two closing defenders, Morgan Hibbert connected with Peter Yu to shut the door on Rhino at a score of 15-11. For the third time in four years, we stole away the last win of the day and ended an elite team’s season. We have, when called upon, mustered some admittedly hair-raising comebacks over the years. Different monkeys will say different things about how they perceived the pressure and importance of this particular game, but from the standpoint surveying the insanity of this season as a whole, there is one truth none of us can argue. This is the first time we have attempted a season-long comeback. Thus far, despite having scored what must be an all-time low of 29th in the series, we have somehow seized 16th. Of all the dirt roads we’ve marched all these years, this one has so far proven the longest and gnarliest.
Some of our readers (the ones I like best) come here to read a few words of strategic reflection, and for them, I will commit these to paper. If you want to know how it went down, beyond the story that Score Reporter tells, the summary is short. Saturday was lovely and Sunday was biblically inclement. Sockeye blithely outclassed us in throwing, through and through. As a legitimate candidate for worst thrower on Furious, I am entitled to say as much. We forced them to fight the elements, and they simply met the challenge admirably well. And when they shied away from the gutsy throws, their devious, five-foot-long dump-pass trickery rescued them at countless ninth-second death knells.** Against Rhino, our offensive line anchored us, and their reliability carried us through some hairy moments and our abysmal D-line conversion rate against an ever-tightening Portland effort. It concluded another chapter in the endless annals of crazy skin-of-your-teeth Vancouver legendry.
The awkward thing about living on the edge as such, is first of all, the ungodly stress factor. I have a hard time relating to friends who seem able to talk about victories as foregone conclusions, and about distant championships months in advance. Our horizon, out of necessity, always seems to be one tournament — or one game — away. It’s unthinkable to focus on game plans for championships when regionals are themselves do-or-die crucibles, and you spend your waking hours visualizing just those precious games. And then, the next Monday morning, you wake up, wash off leftover self-satisfaction, and try to reapply another sober new layer of work ethic. We have survived the latest chapter, but the last installment — the one that people truly care about — remains to be written, and we still have to recompose ourselves once again.
Then there’s also the bittersweet rush. It is that rush that makes sport worthwhile. It comes with the athlete’s gamble — the genuinely unknown question of whether you’ll make it or fall short in any given contest. It manifests only in the presence of genuine risk, and always in direct proportion. And on occasions such as these, when the whole season, your standings for the next season, all your work and all the self-worth invested in that, are thrown into the wager, the payoff is grand. And on Furious, we cut ourselves such narrow margins, where we’ve marched the dirt road so many times, the rollercoasters have been both fantastic and unforgiving. But there’s the price: someone has to lose.
We know this is true, yet we sometimes speak as if it is not. In a field of competition as small as ours, we share a sense of community as friends and peers. We fancy ourselves gentleman rivals, and we often talk about who deserves the finals as if vouching for their credentials and their entitlement. We all put in our work and pay our dues, and we want to be counted among the like-minded elite. But competition necessarily draws divisions, and those lines are cruel and the outcomes capricious — we can’t all go to the championships, or make quarters, or make semis, and the unexpected has a knack for happening. In the Northwest, we have a particularly cruel tradition of ending the seasons of serious contenders.
I think, though, we enjoy a certain stoic acceptance in this corner of the continent, that we all must bow out from a turn now and then. All of us having marched the gauntlet so many times, and each of us having faced bitter defeat, we know what comes with the territory. In a sense, the unexpected is why we play. And after all, if sport is a pursuit of character-building, then it is best accomplished on the dirt road. Though we will fight to the death on the field, we value the fight. And though the risks are great, the very gamble is the essence of a game worth playing. Sockeye, Voodoo, and Rhino proved that by all helping us get this far in their own ways, and for that, we are thankful.
But now we have to do them proud. Next lesson: The USA Ultimate Club Championships.
*For those not in the loop: a last-minute correction to the scores (13-6 to 13-7) in the ranking algorithm edged Portland’s Rhino ahead of San Diego’s Streetgang, earning the Northwest a second strength bid.
**Some people have said they need a thesaurus to navigate these write-ups. Look, if the worst thing that happens to you today is that you learn a new word while reading a frisbee blog, then you really have no business complaining about anything.
Feature photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com