For the second year in a row, the Royal York flag football team participated in the annual tournament in Markham, Ontario. Having made a few modifications to the team, we had spent weeks (hours) practicing, designing plays and strategies to handle any situation. We set for ourselves a lofty goal: we need to win even one game, even if it is against a bunch of girls.
I still remember how I felt the morning of last year's tournament. As we drove to the game, the team was full of enthusiastic ignorance, and naÃ¯ve optimism. Unfortunately by the end of the day, our hopes – as well as any trace of dignity and masculinity â€“ had been driven down our throats by each and every team we faced, the gentlest being a group of teenage girls. If you haven't read up on our misadventures yet, here's the link to last year's write-up, so you can first feel our pain, and truly understand what odds we faced this year!
This year, however, we tried a slightly more strategic approach. We took on a second quarterback, who played for Scarborough last year. We told him we needed him for his mastery of football tactic and wily last-minute plays, but in truth we just used him in hopes that his wife would make us nice flags to practice with. This worked almost flawlessly, except that she sewed a personalized letter on his flag only, inciting jealousy and spite in the rest of the anonymously flagged team. But as it turned out, his good arm and playing ability saved him from a potential mutiny.
We also managed to steal my French-Canadian brother-in-law (bon frÃ¨re??) from another Etobicoke team. We did this by promising a lifetime supply of poutine, extra gravy. He pulled his weight well, inspiring us all with his early morning pushups and copious ideas for plays, all of which coincidentally centered on him. Interestingly, a new award was crafted just for him: the "most time spent with pants pulled down" award.
The other component to our strategy came about by serendipitous means. I had no water during one practice game, so Jonathan (new QB) managed to bring extra for me. He was only able to find a bottle of [lime] Perrier water though, which I can't stand. But we were both shocked at the infusion of energy and stamina provided by this posh carbonated beverage. As a result, I opted not for the sugary highs of Gatorade throughout the day, as three bottles of Perrier found themselves stuffed in with my extra socks and granola bars.
Despite our adjustments to the team roster, I admit I was still hesitant to build hope around the tournament. This was despite the knowledge that even one win would make us the most improved team! But we all managed to bury our trepidation in team spirit and bravado. It was time to play.
I should mention that every year there has to be the token 'jeans and high-tops' wearing guy, indicating that his team really doesn't care enough to ensure proper apparel, therefore they will be nothing more than a light practice. We just happened to play that team first. I wish I could say we beat them as we should have, but something just didn't click. Our first play was intercepted, which very much foreshadowed the remainder of the game, as we lost 2-0.
At this point I had to fight every urge to just leave. We couldn't simply repeat last year's circus performance (and I mean as clowns, not gymnasts)! We simply had to win a game!
So we talked. We identified our weak spots. We were getting beat in the deep defensive zones. Seeing as critically wounding the opposing teams' wide receivers was out of the question, we would simply have to tighten up our defense. And so we did.
In the following two games we picked up some steam, and tied them both. The first game though, began improperly, with the other team erroneously claiming to be the home team. This may seem like nothing, but we were supposed to be home team, and if so we would have won. That is, of course, if you ask any one of us…
It is also worthy to note that we had no break. We played six games in a row, while other teams got to catch their breath in the nice sunshine. This makes the following paragraph all the more remarkable, though it quite remarkable enough on its own.
We had three more games. We needed to win at least one to feel good (by good I mean not terrible) about ourselves. We needed to win two to make the playoffs. We accomplished neither of those. As it turns out, we won all three. And not only did we win, but we shut out each team, not allowing even one single touchdown. We went back to basics with our defense, got our heads in the game, and made history. In the end, we were in second place over all! I still have a hard time believing that was us. It was like every sports underdog movie ever made!
Here's where we began to hit uncharted territory. I mean, we were all mentally prepared to win a game or two. But the playoffs? We were expecting we'd be heading off to drown our sorrows at that point! But instead we were sitting in the cold rain, waiting for the playoffs to begin. Sadly, this is when we actually got our break, which was detrimental, as our muscles were allowed to chill and stiffen before playoff time. Incidentally though, I did down some Wendy's chili in hopes that it would provide some extra 'gas-powered' locomotion, but unfortunately those chemical reactions didn't take place until much later.
Well, what can I say about our playoff experience? It was foreign, it was cold, it was rainy. At the end of the first game, it was 3 to 1 for the other team, I was lying in a mangled heap two yards from the touchdown line. Though the score claimed our defeat, we didn't feel that at heart. We had played stronger and better than most teams on that field, and each of us knew it. We actually had something to feel good – no, mark that, GREAT – about this year!
So perhaps we had only been invited back this year as comedic relief. But this year no one will laugh (except perhaps the token jeans-guy team). Heck, even this story isn't really that funny, but I suppose it's just harder to find humour in winning than it is in losing. This does mean though, that next year we're going to have to win even more, or at least just lose everything again, to have anything interesting to write about. All I know though, is that whatever happens, I'll be packing my bottles of Perrier to help me along the way!