Nov 25, 2007

Brother Bowl VII: An Instant Classic

This past Thursday afternoon, my parents' back yard served as the stage for one of the most incredible events in family sports history; an event which print cannot do justice, but nonetheless must be memorialized here.

Those who have followed events at the Duchy for any significant length of time are aware of the annual Thanksgiving rite observed each year by yours truly and numerous siblings: the all-important gridiron challenge in the back yard.

What started in 2001 as a challenge on a boring afternoon quickly became a tradition when, after an 18-0 trouncing of the four brown-eyed family members by their four blue-eyed counterparts, one brother of the former group announced he was confident his team could win if he just had some better players and some time to prepare. This challenge was leveled specifically at me, as I had been the strategic leader of the winning team.

After six consecutive games, the goal of the dark-eyed brother had yet to be realized: the team of DOB was the winner each year, regardless of its personnel. Each year has featured a new and different challenge for me to work around, but this seventh year would prove to be the most difficult of all.

First, let me set the stage by identifying the players (by nicknames, of course):

DOB, winner of six games, MVP of game II. Slow and clumsy of foot, but very cerebral in my approach to the game, and with a good arm and decisive motion.

Woody, so-called by his co-workers, is 3 years my junior. When dressed up, he looks the authentic cowboy, from boots to buckle to hat, hence the moniker. On the opposing team in the first three games, he played a key role in helping my team win the next three, but never received the MVP award, much to my dismay.

Sisero, as we affectionately call her, had only played in games I & III before this. Not particularly football savvy, but fast and a quick learner, and always fun to play with.

Bull, because of his strength, tenacity, and stubbornness. Has the same foot disease as I, but hasn't broken any bones, so he's much faster than I. Through the first six games, he has won every other one, beginning with the first, so this is his year to win again. MVP of games I & V.

Captain is 9 years younger than me, a fact I think he always wished reversed. Nickname due to his being in the military (as a private, but we can call him Cap'n), and his perverse desire to champion any cause opposite me, including 3 of the first 6 games. He's a good leader, though, co-leading the team with me last year, earning his first MVP.

Phenom, the tallest of us and the lightest on his feet. He takes staircases in two strides. His vertical mobility is amazing. And he giggles a lot, but we'll let that pass. He marched in from game III and announced he would be the MVP before we even took a vote, a fact that annoyed me highly. Particularly when he turned out to be right.

IncrediBoy will tell you he's as good as you (or better) in just about anything. The most annoying part is that he's often right. The youngest of us, he's a natural athlete, and has always been highly competitive. MVP of game IV. For three years, his burning desire has been to beat my team before Captain did. Alas, his finger wasn't quite recovered from an October fracture, and he was sidelined this year.

Every year we take team names from the NFL, so without further adieu, the starting lineups:

Jaguars: Captain, Woody, and Bull.
Saints: DOB, Sisero, and Phenom.

Officials: our Dad as an excellent timekeeper, and IncrediBoy as a somewhat dubious referee. Most calls he made in crucial situations turned out to be incorrect.

Conditions: partly cloudy, very little wind, about 45 degrees.

The game: four 10-minute quarters. Regular football rules, mostly.



After winning the coin toss, the Saints chose to defend the "uphill" goal, as the field is on a very slight incline. Captain said they'd take the kickoff to open the second half. And thus commenced Brother Bowl VII.

After the Saints were unable to move the ball on their initial possession, the Jaguars marched the length of the field to take first blood. The extra point was buried in DOB's diaphragm. Jaguars take a 6-0 lead.

Two long completions on the ensuing Saints possession put the Saints on top, but the Jaguars came back to kick a field goal at the end of the first quarter. The teams traded scores in the second quarter, and went into half-time with the Jaguars ahead 16-14. It was becoming a rather quiet game.

The kickoff by Phenom to open the second-half resulted in what was becoming a characteristic Jaguar pose: heads laid back, gaping mouths turned upwards, watching an speck against the sky. Touchback.

Starting at their end of the field, the Jaguars slowly marched the length of the field to score, but missed the extra point. The Saints responded by scoring and running in a two-point conversion to tie the game at 22 points each.

Then the Saints began to flex their muscles. The game was tied and now it was their time to shine. They forced the Jaguars to punt on the next possession and began marching down the field with short passes, mostly from DOB to Phenom.

Then Bull blitzed DOB and Captain intercepted a hasty pass to open the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars turned it into a touchdown and conversion. 30-22.

Then Bull blizted again with the same result, and the Jaguars marched to the end zone again. But this time the Saints stopped them on the goal line. Literally.

Changing game plans, the Saints began calling ground plays with Phenom running the ball. They marched the length of the field to score, but this time the Jaguars anticipated the two-point conversion try. The Jaguars were up 30-28 with only about three minutes to go. Time for a trick play. On the ensuing kickoff, the Saints called an onside kick.

Only one problem: after bouncing through three players' hands, the ball was picked up by Captain, who returned it for a score. And a two-point conversion.

Undaunted, the Saints took the kickoff, and on the second play from scrimmage, DOB launced a bomb down the middle of the field that Phenom caught in stride as he reached the goal line. Now just to make the extra point, and the Saints would need only a field goal to tie.

The kick went wide right.

And this time, the onside kick was too short. The Jaguars had the ball and a 38-34 lead. DOB began regretting that first interception.

The timekeeper called a two-minute warning. The Saints still had three timeouts, but all the Jaguars needed to do was get another first down and run out the clock. And first downs had been easy for them the entire game.

DOB called a quick defensive huddle and urged his players to just do their best. To focus on stopping their respective player and not worry about the game. To put as much energy as they had into each play. This was it: it was do or die.

Four plays later, the Jaguars punted. Sisero, the aforementioned player of "little football savvy," batted the punt to the ground and danced away to celebrate. A puzzled expression grew on her face as all the other players began yelling and wildly running for the live ball. Phenom was there first. He picked it up and ran. Captain pushed him toward the out-of-bounds line, but not far enough.

And now the Saints led, 41-38, with only a minute-and-a-half left.

The Jaguars began moving down the field, quickly and urgently, with Woody completing short passes to Captain and Bull at the sidelines to keep the clock short.

Then DOB blitzed Woody, and Phenom stepped in front of a rushed pass to put the Saints up 47-38.

(Unfortunately, this play also resulted in a bizarre injury. As Woody moved to block the fleeing pass-stealer, Phenom danced to the side to avoid him. But Captain was at full speed right behind Phenom, and two Jaguars went rolling across the grass. Nobody puts more heart into his effort or takes a loss harder than Woody. It was painful to watch.)

Nonetheless, the Jaguars quickly moved the length of the field again. They got into the red zone. Only 11 seconds left, but a 1-point loss is better than a 9-point loss. Then on the last play of the game, Phenom stepped in front of another rushed pass and took it to the house. His kick, once again, was off the mark, but nobody cared.

The Saints scored 25 unanswered points in the final three minutes for a 53-38 victory.

And as Phenom walked inside to feast on turkey, stuffing, and cranberries, somebody mentioned the MVP award. He just grinned. This time, we didn't even have to vote.