If week one against Boston was ugly, week two against Philadelphia was simply thrilling.
As far as home openers go, I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick things off. This game had it all: a cross-town rival, a late rally, overtime, a sudden death and a W for the home team.
It was my first look at The Nest, and when I arrived a couple hours before the game it was my first time stepping on the field at all. It’s an odd feeling to think that, for a few players on the Spinners, they had more experience playing on what was supposed to be my home field. Regardless, I’ve got to say I was pretty darn impressed. The stadium sits in a perfect spot that gives a great view of the city and – as we had at this game – a startling sunset to match.
What seems most important for me to note in this blog was the awesome fans we had at the game. Aside from starting some very loud and influential de-fense chants, there were also some solid hecklers on hand. The only one that really cracked my game face was when someone shouted, “Hey Saul! You might be a legend in Pittsburgh, but you haven’t done SH*T for New York!” The greatness of this heckle was two part: one, I’m no legend in Pittsburgh (at least not for things I’ve done on the field). Legends in Pittsburgh go by the names of Thorne (regardless of what your first name is), Degirolamo, Kaczmarek and many more that came before my time. Two is that this heckle was so stereotypically New York. I was – at the time of the heckle – having one of the best games I had played in a while. I hadn’t turned the disc over, had a few assists and even caught a pair of goals. The timing was impeccable and the sentiment was genuine: we’re not really that impressed.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I responded brilliantly. A few points later I had my first misstep of the game when I let one loose to Robbie Gillies and he changed direction for an underneath cut. Gillies made the right move, we both agreed, as he was essentially even with his defender. This was one of those simple reminders that our team still needs more reps with each other to achieve the greatness we want, and fortunately those reps will come.
But that turnover paled in comparison to the one I had on our last real offensive possession of the game. With less than two minutes to go, up by one, our offense had nothing to do but put the ball in the end zone and end the game.
Spoiler alert: I blew it.
Sometimes, a wide-open force-side throw is the hardest in the book. Like some of the best shooters in basketball have always said, “It’s easier when you have a hand in your face.” Toss in a swirly wind and the mistake I made is almost too cliché to come to terms with.
Still, I can’t say I handed the game to the Spinners. They took possession against one of the best lines we had and managed to get the disc in the end zone before time expired.
Once the Spinners drew first blood in overtime, I got that itchy skin that comes with knowing something is your responsibility and yours alone. Whether that was true or not was irrelevant, I just knew I had to make up for my mistake. And then I started cramping.
Calf cramps in Ultimate are one of the worst things that can happen to you. When they first hit we were on defense and I was able to stride it out and cover a thankfully stagnant David Baer for a possession. They turned the disc and we managed to punch it, at which point I immediately went to the sideline and had my dad – who was at field level as a backup referee – stretch me out. Even with a trainer on hand, my old man has been helping my body survive late in games for as long as I remember. He knows all the tricks and had me feeling close to normal before we were set to get on the field again.
After another miraculous buzzer beating goal by the Spinners, we were headed to sudden death overtime (didn’t know that existed). That’s when Ben Faust, a voice who I admire as much as anyone’s on the team, looked me in the eyes and said those words you never want to hear: “It’s about us, not you.”
It made me pause for a second and face one of the hardest decisions an athlete has to make: On one hand, I wanted so badly to throw or catch that game-winning goal and put the nail in the coffin after digging up the grave in regulation. On the other hand, one of the most experienced players on the field can see you’re not 100% and wants to put the best line out. I weighed my options, made a couple quick cuts on the sideline and decided I was good to go. I was wrong.
After I made my first move the cramp came back, and I slowly pushed my way into the front of the stack to eliminate myself from the play. I even took a hot second to dig my heel in the ground and stretch, but it was fruitless. It’s one thing to play a decoy on offense with one wheel, but when the disc turned over I immediately called an injury. I know how shady that looks, but I was also willing to look bad in exchange for doing the right thing. I heard a player on the Spinners mock me as I walked off.
“Aw! He doesn’t want to cover me!” he yelled. I understood. In his shoes I’d probably say the same thing. But I walked on, resisting the urge to turn around and start chirping back.
As it turns out, I avoided being on the field for a controversial finish that I’m glad I had nothing to do with. From everything I understood about what happened – an injury was called, players acknowledged, officials didn’t, some players kept going and a goal was scored – the refs got the call right. It was a bitter and anti-climactic way to end the game, even when I was on the right side of it. The Spinners showed more heart than I knew they had by turning that game into what it ended up being, and I wish it ended on a cleaner, more exciting play.
That being said, we had the disc on their goal line with a line of studs in for the moment in question, and injury call or not I’m confident we were finishing. This game was without a doubt the most exciting one I’ve been a part of since coming back after being down 8-3 against Carleton in the semifinals of 2012 College Nationals, and I’m excited to see how both teams respond this week in Philly. I know I’m certainly looking forward to playing an away game on my home turf.