We dive back into last year's classic final.
October 11, 2017 by Patrick Stegemoeller in Analysis, Opinion with 5 comments
When you work in the fabulous and lucrative world of ultimate frisbee media, it’s easy to become jaded. The games start to blend together, as the low talent levels of the college division, the low investment level in the club division, and the lol of pro games make it tough to find things truly special. “Oh yeah, some dude just flung a perfect 65 yard backhand for a goal. Cool. Seen it.”
But even the most hardened cynic was filled with childlike wonder by the 2016 Men’s club final. From a dramatic standpoint, the stories were incredibly intriguing. Perpetual bridesmaid Boston Ironside seeking their first ever title after eight straight years of heartbreak against San Francisco Revolver, the defending champions and physical manifestation of success in the sport. East Coast vs. West Coast, Beau vs. Kurt, the cursed team vs. the #blessed one, Revolver coach Mike Payne’s unwavering zen vs. Ironside coach Josh McCarthy’s unbridled passion. Narrative was there for the taking.
But the game itself blew all of that out of the water. I remember it as the the highest level of ultimate I had ever seen in person, the potential of the sport reaching new heights before my eyes. It was an indication that human beings are finally getting good enough at ultimate to put on a performance where the speed and athleticism, technical ability, and tactical skill make every action on the field meaningful.
A year later, how does it hold up? Did the palpable energy on the sidelines that day translate onto the footage? Did Ironside finally winning a title make the game seem better than it was?
I’m going back and rewatching it, the first time I’ve watched it in full, to see if it holds up to my memory. Come join me, why don’t you?
0:25 Welcome back to Rockford, Illinois, everyone! While the desolate normcore nightmarescape isn’t playing host to Nationals in 2017, we’ve returned to take in the questionable fumes, see the permanently grey skies, and feel the crushing existential despair of being in a place that, quite clearly, god forgot. It’s good to be back.
0:56 Lepler and Chuck Kindred, the odd couple, in the booth with us. Good to see that Chuck is wearing a pastel shirt and tie combo that makes it seem like he just got out of a six hour Southern Baptist Easter service.
(Note: I have commentated on several games over the years for Ultiworld and I can tell you that it is crazy difficult, and I have tons of respect for Lepler and everyone else who broadcasts. Is that going to stop me from crushing him in this piece? No. No, it is not.)
2:03 Over footage of Revolver warming up, Lepler waxes poetic about Beau Kittredge, “All he does, is win.” Lepler’s superpower is that it is 100% impossible to tell if that is a tongue-in-cheek reference, an earnest attempt at sounding cool by quoting DJ Khaled, or if he has actually never heard the song before and is just trotting out a new catchphrase.
6:54 It’s a sloppy start for Ironside’s offense: Will Neff puts a backhand out of Tyler Chan’s path and Chan slips while trying to adjust course. I remember the game being played incredibly clean, so it was a surprise to see Boston in a bit of shambles from the jump. The intensity is definitely there, though, as the Ironside O-line defense has its fangs out, shutting down anything vertically and forcing Revolver to take a timeout.
8:35 The timeout gives Lepler and Chuck the opportunity to tell a riveting story about Chuck playing the fiddle which includes Lepler saying, “I’ve never heard of a violin-trombone duet, but that does have potential for greatness.” If this was their A block material for the first stoppage of the game, I’m very excited to see what happens when they need to kill time in the second half.
9:42 You have to be so fast and cut so hard to get an inch in this game. Revolver is able to get a break on the first point after Lucas Dallmann gets separation by committing a war crime on Jared Innselmann’s ankles with this cut. Savage.
11:37 Kurt Gibson, ladies and gentlemen.
12:37 The margins in this game are incredible, as even some of the more nonchalant looking goals are happening at incredible speed in blink and you’ll miss it windows. Josh Markette squeezes a low release backhand past Marcy with enough float on it so that it hangs up for John Stubbs to grab as he rushes by in a blur. Stubbs then uses the split second of separation on the breakside to rifle a disc past his recovering defender, which, if it had been an inch lower or a few mphs slower, would have been blocked by Russell Wynne closing down the downfield break space. And it’s now 1-1.
14:52 Ironside is putting a ton of pressure on Revolver’s in cuts and coming really close to blocks, but the execution from San Francisco is just perfect. The glimmer of hope for Boston comes when David Ferraro stops Beau Kittredge from reeling in a huck, only for the observers to rule it a foul. The tension is building already, as Ironside pours more and more into defense and Revolver answers with flawless offense. It’s all very dramatic.
17:27 Another gem this game gave us: “conservation of greatness” at the highest possible level. Gibson miraculously pulls down a short armed huck from Innselmann that Kindred describes as “just kind of a miserable throw” and then immediately throws a turnover on a short dish to the endzone. Ironside has gifted Revolver two turns already, and at this point the headline “Ironside Chokes In Finals Again” is flashing in bright lights across the screen.
24:58 The ultimate outcome obscures it a little bit, but Revolver is playing maybe the best half of offense I’ve ever seen. No turns from either line, and virtually every goal is an uncontested catch because the throws are into spaces where only the receiver can catch it, even though they are covered when the disc goes up. On this one, to make it 4-2, Lindsley frees up enough space with a nice juke to receive a gainer down the force sideline, and puts an out flick to Higgins for the goal. Higgins had maybe six inches of separation when the throw went up, but he catches it all alone because it was perfectly in stride.
30:28 Part of what is making this game so great is all of the different types of players on the field. Each team has a few wild cards that play with a unique style and bring something new to the mix every time they step on the field. Here we get the first appearance of Jay Clark in this game, acting as the “Jeremy Renner playing a crazy guy” supporting character that adds some real spice to the action. He makes a great heads up poach and bids perpendicular to an oncoming Beau, who crashes into Clark with the speed of a runaway freight train, leaving both in a heap. It’s somehow a foul on Clark. You be the judge.
Another near Ironside block, another foul call going Revolver’s way. The Revolver offense is playing so well at this point that it’s hard to imagine Boston getting many more chances. But the pressure is building, and you can feel them getting closer and closer to that first block.
35:21 Tyler Chan makes the biggest play of the game so far, going over the top of two Revolver defenders to corral an underthrown huck from Gibson. Ironside has made most of the big plays so far, but it seems more like they are doing it just to keep up with Revolver, and San Francisco is playing on a level where they don’t need to do anything spectacular.
37:16 Woah, Ironside is throwing a zone! What? Coming from a team that essentially never deviates from their gameplan because of the opponent, you know that McCarthy and the Boston braintrust must have been panicking over how to stop Revolver. In any event, it doesn’t work, as Kerns and Higgins blitz through it in about five seconds.
39:00 Just reminding you that Jeff Graham scored four of Ironside’s first five goals at age 35. Is it because he’s been injecting stem cells from horse placentas into his legs every night? You heard it here first (I’m assuming).
48:26 More perfect offense from Revolver and they take half 8-6. Simon Higgins catches a disc that only he can get to, leaving Jack Hatchett — who has been playing great defense all game so far — looking up to the sky for answers. To recap, Ironside had two turnovers in the first half, Revolver had none, and both defenses were playing incredibly well. Wow.
56:08 Down three breaks at halftime, McCarthy gives an interview looking like a hostage victim in a ransom tape.
59:29 After Lep and Chuck spend all of halftime talking about the Revolver perfect game, Beau blows it on the first point of the second half. Lindsley has a glimpse of daylight into the shallow break space, but Beau opts to throw a wonky high release backhand that is a little too floaty and a little too close to the forceside. Hatchett, who had been working so hard on defense all first half, is able to swoop in for the first Ironside block of the game. It was basically the first non-perfect thing Revolver did and Boston made them pay. They punch in the break after grinding out a millions resets before Jay Clark decides he’s had enough of fundamentals for one point and throws a crazy falling down high release backhand break.
106:50 Dear god, once the spell was broken for Revolver, it was all the way broken. They give up an easy break on the next possession after Joel Schlachet turfs an around flick in a way that is just totally shocking from a good player, let alone an elite one. Maybe he was trying to holster it and it slipped out? In any event, that’s two of the breaks Ironside needed, and they get the third on the next point, as complete shutdown person defense pins Revolver back and Kosednar tries a bailout huck to Kittredge. Beau can’t get a good read on it and pressure from Ferraro causes him to drop the disc, for Revolver’s third turnover in as many points.
Ironside punches in the third straight break, and what looked impossible at halftime is accomplished in the first three points. Maybe the most worrying part here for Revolver is that “huck it to Beau” has been their trump card for years. When in doubt, they could always just jack it deep to the Alaskan Assassin and things were probably going to be fine. Whenever they had the disc on universe point, that’s pretty much been the plan. (Off the top of my head, I remember them doing that in the 2013 US Open final and their 2015 Nationals quarter against Truck Stop.) This time, the ace in the hole fails, and Revolver’s armor and aura of invulnerability is all the way gone.
107:55 Assessing the mini-implosion by Revolver’s offense, Chuck and Lepler talk about how they expected Eli Kerns to be the guy making any turns for Revolver, but that he had been clean and consistent all game. FORESHADOWING ALERT.
109:52 Another “all he does is win” from the broadcast booth. Are they just trolling us into making memes at this point or…
115:02 Christian Johnson makes a nice read to box out Tyler Chan and come down with a floaty huck from Rasmussen. Johnson narrowly avoided having his head taken off by a flying Jay Clark, who at this point is playing with the fervor of one of those dudes from Mad Max that huffs paint and jumps off of moving cars to attack Tom Hardy with a flaming spear. It’s pretty cool.
1:17:43 Ahhhhhh, the defense in this game is so good. I’ve never seen players able to cover this much of the break space while still contesting everything tooth and nail on the forceside. Ironside is able to fit about four tight breaks in a row into minuscule windows to take the an 11-10 lead, but Revolver’s defense is working incredibly hard trying to get that break back.
1:18:23 Sam Kanner, ladies and gentlemen
1:19:36 It’s another bailout grab for Revolver on a questionable huck. This time it’s Higgins holding off Jay Clark on his back and snatching the disc just as Christian Foster does so to retain possession on the good old “tie goes to the offense” rule.
Usually you would say that the momentum is with the team that is making all these big plays, but in this game it is the team on the ropes that has been forced to do the spectacular. Both teams have been so clinical that needing to make big plays seems like a weakness.
1:27:20 At 11-11, the Revolver defense gets their first block of the half, as smothering downfield defense forces Boston into a stall nine time out on the sideline and Nathan White stuffs Innselmann’s attempt at an around flick. If you were going to construct the perfect ultimate player out of composite parts of current people who play, you would probably go with White’s length. He not only has the sheer reach but also the fluid flexibility of someone who has to have done an insufferable amount of some unpronounceable brand of yoga.
It should be noted that this is somehow only the first Boston turnover since the score was 2-1. It should also be noted that Kurt got open coming out of the timeout by moving a full half second before the disc was checked in. Of course, it should also be noted that Revolver did the same thing against Canada on double game point in the semis of 2012 Worlds, so let’s be careful about which high horses we decide to get up on.
Not only does Cassidy get that throw off at a release point that falls somewhere between “reckless” and “dangerously negligent” but he also somehow gets it to curve perfectly out of the reach of Kurt and then sit just long enough for White to reel it in. This game is incredible.
1:29:57 KEITH RAYNOR LOOKING HARD AF
1:32:36 We need to make every observer watch that clip of Dengler and then make them write 500 times on a chalkboard “Guys, we’re done talking, it is a foul, we’re here, one.”
1:34:10 Needing a hold to stay in the game, Ironside has activated their beige Death Star, aka a million unstoppable resets from the front of the vert stack that slowly moves the disc up the field at a pace usually reserved for early 20th century trench warfare. This of course means that we’ve entered the “six pick calls in 30 seconds” portion of the night’s entertainment. (In most games this would be terrible to watch, but the stakes are so high here and the grinding, methodical approach from Boston is so closely tied to their ethos as a team that it feels more like a struggle of philosophical values than anything else.)
1:35:10 GET OUT OF HERE WITH THIS WITCHCRAFT
Just a reminder that this catch lost in the first round of our “best catch bracket” last year to a dude who basically knee-slid for a grab. Democracy just doesn’t work, people.
This could have been the melting point for Ironside, because there was no way they were coming back from two straight breaks. But Boston’s will held out, and they were able to win a point of sheer attrition to get the game back on level terms. It was in some ways a validation of the tika-taka philosophy that Ironside has employed over the years, a team with the mental strength to stay patient and make a million short throws to slowly move the disc down the field, eventually overcoming their opposition by the sheer mathematical certainty that if you can complete an infinite number of throws, eventually one of them will be in the endzone. Exciting!
1:38:26 With the game in its final act, Revolver has moved Cassidy into the “king” role as center handler, the role that Kerns has been playing all season. Is this a lack of faith in Kerns? *extremely 20/20 hindsight voice* Does this shatter Kerns’ confidence for the rest of the game?
1:38:54 Jay Clark out here hunting for a block like Captain Ahab. This time he ends up leveling Kerns from behind, and then while contesting the call seems to indicate that he believes Kerns jumped up and backwards into his path to the disc. It is most certainly a foul, but cool to know that Clark has the self confidence and delusional assurances of a serial killer.
1:40:02 And there it is, the doink heard round the world.
After facing insane pressure from an Ironside defense that is still going 100% at the end of the game, Revolver is finally able to to break through the press. While flooding towards the endzone the disc bounces off of Eli Kerns’ hand (why he tried to claw catch it is beyond me) and into the waiting arms of Dave Ferraro, who had been going step for step with Beau downfield. It is always tragic to see great players make such basic mistakes like this, but it’s waaayyy worse because Lepler and Kindred had been talking about how surprised they were that Kerns wasn’t the guy who had made a big mistake for Revolver.
1:42:13 Ironside get another bounce to go their way when Christian Johnson is able to get a piece of a floaty break from Alex Simmons, but not enough to stop it from landing in Hatchett’s hands. The good news for Johnson is that he probably won’t be thinking about that every time he closes his eyes before going to sleep at night. The bad news is that Ironside punch in the break and take a 13-12 lead.
1:45:47 This sport is madness.
That’s three plays in one breathtaking sequence where everything had to be inch perfect for Revolver, and it was. 13-13, double championship point, let’s go.
1:47:31 Reason number 467,274 not to have Nationals in Rockford: Because when you have universe point in the championship game, you don’t want your dramatic shots of the players on the line to have a bunch of post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland bullshit in the background.
1:48:44 After spending the entire second half contesting every under as hard as possible, Revolver commits a ton of over the top help on universe point, and gives Ironside a relatively easy path up the force side. This seems a little strange, unless their plan was to get Ironside out of their handler driven set and hope the cutters screw up, in which case it worked because after catching a gainer Tyler Chan freaks out and whips a laser flick from three feet away into Kurt’s wrist (Kurt still probably should have caught it though) and now Revolver has the disc to win.
1:49:28 “I don’t know what is happening.” Same, Chuck,
The Beau turf will live in infamy. For a game played at such an insanely high level (Only nine turns the entire game, and up until DGP, 100% D-line conversation rate), it’s interesting that the big moments in the game are defined by mistakes. I guess it’s what happens when the standard that both teams brought to the table was perfection.
1:49:43 Shouts to Cricket for trying to milk a disc into the endzone with a lateral hop-catch while being a full 15 yards away.
1:50:39 Ironside finally wins a title. Woah.
The thing I noticed watching the final score back is that Graham waits to cut until the split-second when George Stubbs turns his head to check his positioning, and that is all Graham needs to win a race to the cone. It is perfectly poetic that a game played on such tight margins would end with a flourish of pure feel for the game by Graham, producing just the slightest advantage, but one large enough to separate two teams that both played so incredibly well.
1:51:22 ESPN is showing the replay again of the Beau turf, and man, Kurt is just a straight up killer. He calls some sort of offensive foul as Beau is throwing essentially an uncontested around, which has to be somewhat responsible for Beau’s inexplicable lapse in concentration. If I remember correctly at the time, Charlie Eisenhood dubbed it “some next level art-of-war shit,” which holds up today. Kurt is just a cold blooded dude, consumed by winning and knowing every trick it takes to get there.
He’s pretty much ultimate’s version of Bill the Butcher. I would absolutely believe that after Beau turfed that flick Kurt muttered to him something like “that’s a wound.” I can also easily imagine John Stubbs waking up in his hotel room the night before finals with Kurt leering over him, draped in a tattered American flag, and saying insane things like “you’ve got a murderous rage inside of you boyo, I like it. That’s life boiling up inside of you, it’s good.”
1:52:15 Reflecting on Kurt’s place in the ultimate pantheon after his third club title, Lepler drops this gem: “There’s been talk about whether this makes Gibson the GOAT, the greatest of all time. He was nearly a goat in another perspective on universe point.” Never change, Lep. Never change.
In terms of this game’s place in the pantheon, I think it will stand the test of time as one of the best finals ever. The play was exceptional: a great balance of technical perfection and crazy entertainment. There was edge-of-your-seat drama from the first point, and virtually every storyline heading into the game met with a satisfying resolution. If ultimate is still a thing people are doing fifty years from now, I’m going to be bouncing my grandchildren on my knee and telling them about this one.
1:55:03 I’ll leave the last word here to this GIF of Josh McCarthy pantomiming the changing levels of his secret weapon, his “power zones,” whatever that means. Hey man, do whatever you want, you’re on top of the world. Let crazy affectations live.