My clothes were soaking wet, my teeth would not stop chattering, my fingers were shriveled and white, and I was the happiest 8-year-old boy in the world.
My aunt put me in front of a small space heater in my Grandparent’s house and I slowly warmed my frozen body. After a change of clothes, some hot soup, and the magic of an old electric hearth, I began to feel my fingers again.
This memory is really clear for me because this was a truly great day in my very young life.
It was February, 1983, and just a few short days before, my beloved Washington Redskins had won Superbowl XVII. My mom let me skip school to attend the celebratory parade in the freezing rain. I don’t think any Redskins fans minded the poor weather. We were the champions–the best team in the world.
Recap Superbowl XVII
With about 10 minutes to go in the game, the Redskins faced a fourth and one down by four points, 17-13. Joe Theismann handed the ball to running back John Riggins. These two men, along with most of the other Redskins, were my super heroes. I never cared much for Superman or Spiderman. My heroes wore burgundy and gold.
Here is the fourth-and-one play:
This play and a 6 yard touchdown catch by Skins wide receiver, Charlie Brown, would make the 27-17 victory one of the highlights of my sports-watching life.
A year later I didn’t want to go to school again. But this time it was because my Redskins lost Superbowl XVIII. I didn’t want to face all the new Raiders fans in school. And if I had to see them, I wanted to punch them right in their little smug noses–they didn’t even know the names of their supposed favorite team’s best players! Just days before this Superbowl game I had drawn a picture in Art class of a graveyard with these Raider names etched into the tomb stones: Jim Plunkett, Lyle Alzado, Marcus Allen. Today I would probably be suspended for such a drawing. But I think my Art teacher, Mrs. Campbell, liked it.
I have two more memories like my first one, back in 1987, when the Redskins beat the Broncos in the Superbowl, and in 1991, when the Skins beat the Bills. But my DC area teams haven’t really provided me much else to cheer about since. It is hard being a DC Sports fan. The United gave us some pretty good years in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but it’s been 10 years since any DC team has won anything. DC sports fans loved 2012. What happened in 2012? The Redskins lost their first playoff game and the Nationals lost in the first round of the post season. If Boston teams had done this, it would have been an awful year. But this was probably the best year of DC Sports in the last 20.
So here we are in 2014, our Redskins are beat up and 1-3. Our Nationals, who might have the best team in all of baseball, are down 0-2 to a team that struggled to make the playoffs. And while most of baseball is surprised by this; this is what we true DC fans expect.
Stephanie often refers to my every-day pessimism as my “Redskins Attitude.” So much so, that whenever we are pessimistic about something we just say we are keeping a Redskins attitude. It is our defense against disappointment.
So why Would Grid Be Different?
When the brackets came out for the NPGL playoffs, it looked like a conspiracy from the start. I should have mentioned this earlier, but every professional league has it in for DC fans. If you are unfamiliar with this, just ask a DC fan how they feel about officials, umpires, and league officials. People will think we are biased and that we only see the bad calls, but this really isn’t the case. I am also a Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan and I don’t see a litany of horrible calls against them. Sure plenty of bad calls happen, but they seem to go both ways. This is never the case with DC teams.
So when the first place DC Grid team got matched up to play the star-studded LA Reign, I began to think here we go again. And if we won that match we would have to face maybe the second best team in Grid, the Miami Surge. The fix is in. I thought, this is just like when the NFL fined the Redskins for not breaking the law, for not colluding against the NFL Players Association. How else can you explain the first place team having the hardest road to the championship?
But the Brawlers were not aware of this history. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
Everyone knew the match vs the Reign, maybe the best last place team ever, would be tough. And it was.
After three races against the Reign, it seemed like DC was unbeatable. They came out to race just like they had all season and looked dominant, winning the first 3. But LA was ready for a fight. Led by DC area native, Alicia McKenzie, LA won the next three matches. Well, with the help of Alicia and some “official” decisions. DC head coach, Justin Cotler, got a taste of what it’s like to coach in DC. DC’s 40+ athlete, Jerry Hill, was faulted time after time for his arms not locking out on muscle-ups. Jerry physically cannot lockout his arms. Jerry is 47 years old and has been a warrior in the fitness world for most of his life. Jerry has bone spurs, which make it impossible for him to lock out his arm completely. Earlier in the season the NPGL had declared Jerry’s pull-up and muscle-up movements legal, but now in the playoffs he was faulted for the very same movement.
Steph, who did not grow up a DC fan, was livid. Twitter was livid. How can you rule one way all season and then change it in the post season? Cotler’s water bottles and the officials’ ears took a serious beating when DC was given the DC treatment I have come to expect. My only reaction? Yeah this makes sense. The league wants to see LA vs NY. These two teams are in the biggest markets, have the biggest stars, and this league needs to survive. As water bottles and Twitter exploded, I was calm. I had my Redskins attitude in full effect.
Fortunately, Taylar Stallings is not from DC, doesn’t know our history, and decided to deadlift 3,600 lbs in event 7, the deadlift ladder. Yep, she pulled 3,600 total pounds, capped off by a 465 lb deadlift and put DC back into the lead. Cotler also knew what Stallings was capable of and had thrown the bonus flag to give DC a four point lead going into race 8.
Both teams kept up with one another rep for rep in this race until LA’s Michael Hernandez overtook DC’s Marcus Hendren in the four rope climbs. LA Reign’s strong man, CrossFit Games star, and all-world strength athlete, Kenny Leverich, ran to the 335 lb barbell ready to pick up his two cleans. My stomach sank. I must have allowed myself some hope — a true violation for a DC sports fan. But then I looked over at DC’s own strong man, Ken Battison. Battison reached the bar just after Leverich, but to everyone’s surprise he man-handled those cleans touch-and-go style. Yes you read that correctly, he was able to touch-and-go a 335 lb clean. He did NOT let go of the barbell. HOLY SH*T was my only reaction. I was on my feet, Steph was jumping up and down, and the DC Brawlers were on their way to victory. Bring on Miami.
The Surge vs The Brawlers
The Brawlers had been led by the strength of their women all season. Most Grid fans and Grid experts believed the DC women to be the strongest side in the league. But if anyone could match their strength, it would be the Miami women. The Miami women are STRONG — Lauren Brooks, Talayna Fortunato, Jenn Jones, Heather Welsh…these girls might be, as a team, stronger than DC!?! Fortunatetly, the Miami women couldn’t quite match DC in the well rounded, Washington match format — appropriately named, this format really benefited DC. And despite, DC’s Ken Battison suffering an early injury, DC went on to defeat Miami, 21-12. This win led to the final championship: DC vs San Francisco.
If you have not realized yet, when it comes to sports, I am a damaged man. I ask myself often why I even watch sports. But sometimes I am realistic with my pessimism. The San Francisco Fire members are really, really good, and when I looked at the championship format known as Everest, I was legitimately worried. I actually thought, we have a great chance to win the first four matches, maybe the seventh match, and the 11th match. If we did all this, then we would squeak by with a narrow victory.
Sandbags and Rings
When Captain, Lindsay Bourdon Menerey, got to the sandbag pull-ups in race 4, the event turned downhill. In many ways, Menerey has been the DC MVP all season. Taylar Stallings, and rightfully so, gets all of the MVP attention, but Lindsay is the league’s best at body-weight movements. She destroyed these sandbag pull-ups in race 3, despite the sandbag coming off of her feet and dangling from her left toes. Menerey is an absolute beast and she muscled through the remaining pull-ups in race 3, but the sandbag had other plans in race 4. Menerey fought the sandbag hard and was able to keep the race close, but in the meantime, San Francisco started to pull ahead. And while DC had maybe the fastest woman in the world on the muscle-up movement, Amy Dracup, Amy split the muscle-ups–a movement performed on gymnastic rings–with Stallings, also excellent at this gymnastics movement.
But when Dracup dropped off the rings, she left them swinging for Stallings. Taylar is a phenomenal athlete but she is not a tall athlete. Normally Taylar could jump right up and start kipping the muscle-ups, but the rings were swinging wildly and she was not tall enough to settle them. San Francisco took this opportunity to steal race 4 and put DC’s chances of a championship in jeopardy.
The DC men are GREAT, and certainly don’t get half the credit they deserve, but without their body-weight specialist, Jerry Hill, who had suffered a calf injury and was unable to play, their chances of overtaking the San Francisco men in this echo format were nearly impossible. I immediately began to do the math. If we win 7 and 11 can we still win the championship?
To no one’s surprise, the Fire easily won race 5 and 6. And the match was tied 10-10 going into race 7, the ground-to-overhead ladder. DC would have to win all three points here because the Fire had a decided advantage in race 8, 9, and 10.
Praying for a Win
Both teams came out to race 7 needing a victory. This race very well might have decided the entire match. In Grid, race 7 is worth three points and it is always a ladder format race–meaning there are consecutive weights set up across the grid and each athlete has to perform as many lifts of a particular movement as they can in a given time. The team with the most total weight lifted gets two points and the team whose women lift the most weight gets one point. DC would surely need all three points. Both teams were amazing! DC won the women’s point somewhat easily but the total weight was won by San Francisco — by a mere 75 lbs. This was a disaster for DC. All DC fans immediately began to look at their Everest format sheets. Can we win any of these next three matches?
Ugh! These races look like they were designed for the Fire. We would have to win one of them. My hopes were on race 9.
But then something amazing and unexpected happened. We won race 8! And then we won race 9! And what in the world, we won all three? 8,9, and 10!!!
We have a chance! DC was winning 17-15 heading into the final race, which in Grid is worth 3 points. A team gets one point for completing the race and 3 points for winning race 11. If the Fire win we would be all tied at 18 and heading for “Gridlock.”
It was a really close race, the Fire had a narrow lead going into the legless rope climbs. Marcus Hendren, looking to make amends for the rope climbs in last match, looked like a man possessed and flew up the rope like a spider on a wall. But then Ron Ortiz, the 40+ athlete, replacing the injured Jerry Hill, was faulted on one of his rope climbs and the Fire regained the lead. The Fire had a fairly comfortable lead after the suicide run, but then entered DC’s Christian Harris. Harris put on a show in the first match of the season on this very same burpee-to-ring movement. Quite simply, Christian Harris is a freak athlete and he was able to overcome the significant Fire lead. In a virtual tie, it would come down to the best two gymnasts in the league, DC’s Lindsay Menerey and San Fran’s Courtney Walker, in 6 freestanding deficit handstand push-ups. In true Menerey fashion, Lindsay flew through the handstand push-ups with no mistakes, leading Ken Battison to sprint to the three 350 lb cleans. But the strongest man in the league, San Francisco Fire’s Sam Dancer, was right on Battison’s heals. Battison lifted the first two cleans touch-and-go, while Dancer squat cleaned them–a slightly slower movement. Battison finished the third clean and sprinted to the finish line.
THE BRAWLERS WIN!!!
“I knew I had no choice. It was just time to put up or shut up, really; those are the moments that every athlete lives for.” — Ken Battison
Thank You DC Brawlers
This was the first time in over ten years that one of my beloved DC teams won a championship. Taylar would go on to win a very deserved MVP trophy that night, and DC was a champion city again! Stephanie is perhaps the biggest Brawlers fan there is, save for Lisa Kohrt, and I just looked at Steph and thought, how lucky she is. This is her first year of being a true fan of a sports team. And her team just won the championship in her first year.
Stephanie now understands why I was so happy huddling in front of that electric heater in 1983, in cold, wet clothes.