October 18 — Day 2
Better. Not much, but better.
Our first match-up of the day pitted us against San Francisco’s Revolver.* This may sound absurd coming from the lowly 16th seed, but I would have asked for that outcome had I been given the chance. Traditionally, we match up well against San Francisco (better than the other top 4 teams), and we have locked ourselves into a double-game-point scenario against those players on several occasions in several contexts (Furious, Team Canada, MLU). Some would wince against the prospect, but I don’t believe in giving your adversary that kind of power. There is always a way to win, if you’re up to the challenge.
This time, we just weren’t. Our offense did not exhibit that kind of controlled intensity required to win the one-on-one battles. A half-step slowing down into a catch, a half-breath of hesitation in timing a cut, a justifiable risk looked off and a riskier one taken instead — these are the little things that snowballed into a decisive loss. On the defensive side of the disc, we did not succeed in making our presence felt. Revolver wormed their way around us and launched hucks with a precision that largely let them run onto the disc. Final score: 15-5 for Revolver (oof).
The day-long wait before our next game was a long one in which to contemplate our prior lack of preparedness. Furious versus D.C.’s Truck Stop* was destined to be a battle between two disappointed teams, and ultimately a test of who could surface from that depression first. We opened with strength this time, ready for the wind, and when necessary, we made the big plays to score. The defense played with savvy creativity, producing pressured scenarios and forcing unfamiliar gambles. The offense played with confident authority. We built an early lead, and although Truck earned back a break in the middle stretch, we continued to expand the gap for the win. Final score: 15-8 for Furious.
The last game of the day brought us against the Santa Barbara Condors This time, it was Santa Barbara that arrived ready to play, while we struggled to regain our footing. One of the more obvious problems on our side of the disc — ironically enough — was a failure to adapt to easier conditions. We had played in wind all day, and in this late hour under the moon, the wind completely evaporated, but we didn’t change our style to suit. The defensive postures we deployed against Truck stopped working. The howitzer-strength hucks that would have cut a headwind in half sailed impressively out the back (except for one that Keane Knapp gamely dove after and dislocated his thumb for).
We lost that match because we thought we had figured out how to win when we had only won one game. When we needed heightened awareness and renewed determination, Santa Barbara caught us off-guard. So that’s that. But the way I choose to remember this last game comes from the closing chapter. Down 14-7, with no reason to think we could come back, and no particular prize to come back for, Furious took a deep breath and played ultimate. We scored 4 points in a row, in or finest tradition of last-ditch efforts. It was an effort nobody came to watch, and completely without consequence — it happened just because it felt like the right thing to do. That kind of stand, even as a swan song, is the reason I play for Furious George. Final score: 15-11 for Condors.
*Confidential to San Francisco: I get it. I know you’re cheering “Re-Volver!” But it sounds like “Vulva.” Just saying — get a publicist or enunciate.
**I feel like this match-up should decide the rights to the name “Columbia,” British or otherwise.
October 17 — Day 1
A late start and a late finish to the day, but not a lot of good news in between.
Furious made strong starts against Chicago, exchanging 2-point runs for the first half. That is usually a symptom of two teams with productive defensive lines. In the second half, we generated opportunities but failed to capitalize (often whilst within spitting distance of the endzone). What Chicago used most effectively against us, though, was a finely tuned hucking game in combination with a savvy poach. They were not necessarily long throws, but their 40yd shots sat with precision at the back corners with excellent reliability. On defense, they often deployed a centerfield poach unapologetically ganging up on our long game and otherwise trying to force a swing to a cutter. Unfortunately, this was so different a philosophy from our own default that we failed to see it coming several times in a row. Final score: 15-8 for Machine.
Colorado’s Bravo, by contrast, smoked us and gained an early lead. There is not a lot to say here, except that their defensive pressure earned them that win and our D-line did not reciprocate. This should come as no surprise — this is, after all, how the arithmetic of the game works. Final score: 15-8 for Johnny Bravo.
Our last game of the day dangled the tantalizing possibility of generating a three-way tie. Our match-up against ninth-seed Chain Lightning was always our main target of our day. For this one, we shortened the bench, chose our lines, and went for broke. The result was an interesting game, with a rash of breaks characerizing the first half. We applied our usual tactic of forcing our opponents to try their luck on deep shots. It looked as though it might work, but Chain managed to maintain what I’ve previously called the statistically unsustainable, continuallly hauling fingertip catches under heavy pressure, fluttering in front of defenders’ hands. In the second half, as Atlanta adapted to us, we explored several defensive combinations, but failed to generate turnovers. Final score: 15-12 for Chain.
So be it. Tomorrow is another day and there is nothing to lose.
October 16 — Day 0
Wednesday morning, and Furious has halfway finished its southerly migration. Among teammates, I am flying via Calgary, idly wondering how many native Calgarians want or need a direct flight to Dallas.* If by sleight of hand, switched the two cities as they slept, would anyone notice before the first snowfall? And why would an airport barista say, “See you later,” as she hands me a coffee? I should be working, focusing my chi, or maybe etching my game face into something worthy of Jeff Bell’s lens**. Tomorrow is a big day. I would rather let my mind drift for now.
Tomorrow, we begin the last test of 2013. It colours the light of the season, and governs pole position for 2014. Maybe that should weigh more heavily on my thoughts than it does.
Every season, the system evolves a new level of complexity, grows stricter, puts more at stake, cultivates more opinion. Every year, the field invests more time, money, thought, and focus into their preparations (off-season and on). More and more sacrifices are heaped on the altar of How-Much-Do-You-Want-It? The bar rises another notch, and the pressure mounts — not just to prove yourself, but to prove the effort is worth the payoff. And here we are, airborne, less than a day before the chips fall where they may.
Notwithstanding, if this tournament truly embodies the culmination of a year’s training, then nothing remains to be done, and nothing more is worth the fret. Nobody is going to land in Texas a better player than the one who took off. Whatever we are now, we are, and we will live or die by that on the field. The truth is, in spite of the struggle, I have never felt calmer entering this tournament than I do today. Our seed doesn’t matter; our pool doesn’t matter; our opponent doesn’t matter. We have invested, and fought, and made ourselves into something worthy of this test. The Furious we are bringing to this competition is ready, and one I am proud to play for.
Get angry. Tomorrow, we damage someone else’s sense of calm.
*For American readers: Alberta is the Texas of Canada.
**Follow Furious George and other moderately angry teams on Ultiphotos photoblog of the USA Ultimate Championships.