Last night I had one of the finest moments of ultimate action I can remember — a highlight of my sporting “career.” It didn’t take any athleticism other than simple speed, and mostly I was just taking advantage of an opportunity created by an amazing defensive play by a teammate. But it was great anyway: I scored the game point, in a finals game, and on the only game this season that my wife was watching. Nice.
(A little context for the uninitiated: in the sport of ultimate, you score by catching a Frisbee in the end zone. It’s a fast sport, with soccer-like intensity.)
Nice night, nice life
It was also the kind of beautiful summer night that ultimate players live for. I’ve been playing this sport since 1997, and “perfect games” when there’s no wind, sun but not too much heat, and everyone’s having fun … everything comes together maybe only once every year or two. And every time it happens, I think:
This is life. This is the best life has got to offer. These few perfect nights of playing are as good as it gets. And they are so few, this could literally be the last time. I can’t play forever. Some crucial piece of the puzzle — health, say — could slip away at any time, and what I’m doing right now will be my last memory of a great time doing this.
The tactical situation (ridiculously tall opponents!)
All other things being equal, height usually wins in ultimate, as it does in basketball. The team we were facing had several mid-height men, and two serious towers: 6’6” and 6’9” is a fair estimate. They all looked fit.
This is not the kind of team we can beat, in general.
I’m 5’4” — one of the shortest players in a league. And there’s another player on our team not much taller.
Afternoon Delight is a cheerful beer-leaguey team of decent veterans. They’ve been together for many years, and this is my second year with the team. If I had to sum up our talents in a word, I’d say, um, “inconsistent.” Everyone on the team has the skill and experience to be awesome semi-frequently, but we have trouble sustaining it — too many of us are just too old. There’s a lot of screwing up. And a lot of (very entertaining) heckling.
So it was really quite a surprise to find ourselves at the end of a 15-point game one point up, 14-13. Lots of things had gone right. In particular, the tall guys overconfidently poached — time and again they made the mistake of assuming that short equals stupid or something. I usually can’t beat any fit, decent 6-footer if he’s right beside me. But if he’s lagging six feet behind? Ha! Dude will regret that.
It was pretty amusing, in fact, to watch us running around these huge players, scoring again and again. At times I saw looks of disbelief on their faces: “Did these shrimps just shred our defense again?”
I live for that.
The game point
We were playing a zone defense the whole night because our women could pretty consistently outrun and outsmart their women. It’s hard to beat a zone when at least three of your players can’t be counted on to get open. That’s mainly how we won: they couldn’t crack our zone.
In a zone D, a “cup” of three defensive players sort of surrounds the thrower. I was in the cup for the last point. The offense tries to move the disk across the field fast, spread us out, wear us out.
Mark anticipated and stole their first throw across the field. Perfect timing. Brilliant: skating to where the puck was going. I was right beside him, saw what he was going to try to do, and when he pulled it off I bolted straight through to the end zone, while the other team was still getting over their shock at having the disc taken away from them before they’d even started.
I went past some tall player at full sprint. He chased, and he was fast, just enough of a threat that I had to go in hot, but he didn’t really have a hope in hell of getting up to speed in time. He was still several feet away at the end.
Mark lobbed me a tidy pass, like playing catch … and game point!