Originally published July 16, 2009 on 710 ESPN.
Team Mitch and Matt’s 2009 t-shirt, front.
Team Mitch and Matt’s 2009 t-shirt, back.
In what clearly proved to be the most important, decisive, all-out brawl of the still very young 21st century, cousins squared off in a 10-event bloodsport of sorts to prove, once and for all, who truly reigns supreme as the most dominant cousin tandem.
On July 11, 2009, four of the world’s finest athletes picked up right where childhood ended, in an effort to replay all of our favorite childhood games, as well as the games that have further infiltrated our adult lives. And how did we come up with the teams? Easy: they were, once again, based on our childhood pairings, as the four of us grew up across the street from one another, and always split into these two pairings. Team 1 consisted of my brother, Mitchell, and my cousin, Matt; Team 2 consisted of my cousin, Josh (who is Matt’s brother) and me.
The Brolympics (originally called The Decrapathon by yours truly) consisted of these 10 events, played in the following order:
- Home Run Derby
- Miniature Golf
While family and friends were encouraged to attend to lend moral support and refill beer for the contestants, only two of our pals actually managed to show. Shameful? Sure. A deterrent? Not at all.
In order to fully capture the results of each event, we decided to document them with a photograph. Event winners held their fingers up following the event in question, while the losers kept their hands roughly waist-high. So, if the score was 3 to 1 following four events, for instance, the team with three wins would hold three fingers high, while the team with one would hold one finger waist high.
So without further delay, here’s how the day went, event by event:
Event 1: Football
- Two 15-minute halves;
- Losers walk (that is, the scored-upon team walks to the other end following touchdowns);
- Kicking team in 1st half is receiving team in 2nd half
- Only 1 first-down possibility per drive (located at mid-field);
- Only 1 blitz per set of downs;
- Defense can “blitz” after “7 Mississippi” count;
- Quarterback can’t run with the ball unless rushed/blitzed;
- Touchdowns worth 1 point; and
- No field goals, no extra points.
For some reason I was the only one who thought we’d be playing full-on tackle football as we always did in our youth every Thanksgiving morning, come rain or snow. So imagine my surprise to learn that we’d instead be playing Flag Football, a different game entirely. Still, I guess we’re no longer kids, and the prospect of being laid out and inevitably hospitalized during the first moments of the Brolympics wasn’t all that enticing. So, Flag Football it was.
We lost the coin toss, and Mitch and Matt (M&M) opted to receive the opening kick-off. Despite putting the ball deep into their end zone, Mitch ran the kick-off back, thus temporarily deflating us. Incidentally, that might be the worst gut punch in sports. I mean, giving up a home run to the lead-off batter of the visiting team isn’t that debilitating, as a single run is much easier to overcome in a rather long game. But having the opening kick-off run back for a touchdown? Man, that one hurts something awful, whether you’re a participant or a fan.
Down 1-0, Josh and I quickly marched right back down the field, the drive highlighted by a bomb to the left pylon (well, one of my Adidas Sambas doubling as a pylon, but whatever) I completely laid out for and pulled in. We scored on the following play, tying the game at 1-1. Josh and I would later go up 2-1 on a fade route I once again put to the left pylon. M&M would tie the game at 2-2 on a great catch by Matt, as he pulled in a bomb thrown by Mitch and fell into the end zone. Josh and I had one last chance to take the lead in the opening half, but the clock expired, and we would go to halftime tied at 2.
We received the kick-off to open the second half, but unfortunately couldn’t score. In fact, the second half would be highlighted by defense, with one stop after the next. It wasn’t until late in the half that Josh and I marched down the field and managed to take the lead on a beautifully designed play. Josh was at QB, and I lined up next to him on the left. He hiked the ball and I cut immediately in front of him, thus cutting off Matt’s route to the QB, as he was coming on the blitz. Mitch followed me to the end zone, but it was too late, as Josh had already scampered in on the QB keeper following the blitz.
Up 3-2 and with time running out, Mitch put up a bomb to Matt. I turned at the line and screamed “Ball” to alert Josh to turn around. Josh responded by turning, leaping, and getting a hand on the pass, knocking it away erasing a certain touchdown, or stellar field position at the very least. With under a minute to play near their own end zone, M&M managed to get off two more plays, both failed pass attempts.
After the first event, a dejected M & M realize they’re in for a long day.
Football Final Score: J&B over M&M, 3-2
Overall Score: J&B 1, M&M 0
Event 2: Tennis
- Doubles (obviously); and
- Best 2 out of 3 sets.
Growing up we all played tennis. In fact, Matt and I spent many a summer playing singles in Paxton Crossing, the neighborhood where we grew up. Our MO was to play best of five sets, come as physically close to dying as possible, and run across the street at match’s end and dive directly into the community pool. Sure, it must have been somewhat disgusting for the other neighborhood folk to suddenly have their pool infested with our sweat, but so be it. (The Paxton Crossing courts, incidentally, produced two other distinct memories from our childhood: 1) What must have been a wolf spider was crawling along the baseline one afternoon, and this thing was ridiculously huge, the biggest spider I’d ever seen in person. Wanting to get rid of it, we attempted to swat it off the court. To our disgust, we realized why it was so huge: it was a female hauling its baby sac, and by swatting at it we punctured the sac. I almost puked and most definitely screamed like a little girl as I watched what looked like millions of baby spiders suddenly crawling all over the court. I still get the willies; and 2) After a rather heated match, I was being my typically obnoxious self, which led to Mitch grabbing me by the shirt, lifting me up, and slamming me into the fence that surrounded the court. What’s more, he did it in front of the girls who populated our neighborhood. If memory serves, I cried. Thanks, Mitch.)
As it turns out, Mitch and I have both been playing a lot of tennis of late, so we were looking forward to the event. What’s more, we were pretty sure neither Matt nor Josh had played for years, so we figured it would be a rather balanced event. As it turns out, we were wrong.
Josh, who had pulled his hamstring only a couple days prior to the Brolympics, aggravated the injury near the end of the first set, which we lost 6-0. Yeah, it was that bad. Surprisingly, though, Matt and Josh both played much better than we could have anticipated, and it was Mitch and I (well, me, mainly) who were off our games. The second set, while closer, ended in similar fashion, as M&M took it 6-2. Josh and I were annihilated, taking a mere two games in two sets, and thus evening things up.
Cousin Josh sweated the rabbit from Donnie Darko.
A special mention goes out to our pal Matt B., who arrived at the beginning of the tennis match to take pictures, serve as the ball boy, and drink mimosas. Yes, mimosas. While I was glad to see him drinking at 11 o’clock in the morning, I was still dumbfounded by the sight of a guy in his early 30’s showing up with a jug of orange juice and a corked bottle of champagne. I give him a lot of credit, really.
Tennis Final Score: M&M over J&B, 6-0, 6-2
Overall Score: J&B 1, M&M 1
Event 3: Home Run Derby
- 9 innings;
- Each batter gets 3 outs per inning; each team gets 6 outs per inning;
- 3 strikes equal 1 out;
- Ball is foul (a strike) if it doesn’t roll forward after contact;
- Balls over the fence are home runs;
- Balls may not be caught for outs; and
- Matt B. serves as all-time pitcher.
Ah, home run derby. I felt good about this one. For some reason I was convinced we would take it easily. I’ve never been the greatest baseball player, as I played only one year of little league and was pretty much scared of getting hit. (Incidentally, I played with Mitch, who is four years older than me, in the same league. I played on team Coke; he played on team Local 520. He was a pretty solid player, actually, as he played both Catcher and Third Base, a la Detroit Tiger all-star Brandon Inge. My crowning achievement was the day we played against Local 520. I was playing second base that day, and up came Mitch. He hit a slow-roller to me and I made the putout at first. After that, it was all downhill.) Nevertheless, I could always hit the ball pretty well. What’s more, I’ve always taken Josh for the superior athlete to Matt, in that Matt’s strength was always more games of skill.
With that, we lost the coin toss and M&M opted to be the home team. Matt B. took his spot on the mound (well, there was no mound, really; he just sort of stood next to his cooler of champagne, orange juice, and – Yes! – Miller High Life). I started things off by cranking two over the fence. In fact, I think my first swing was a home run, but perhaps I’m remembering it the way I want to remember it. Josh came up empty and we headed to the bottom of the 1st with a 2-0 lead. M&M put nothing on the board, and considering how windy it was and that we maintained the lead after the 2nd inning, as well, I only grew more confident.
As the derby progressed, though, something horrible began to happen: Mitch started hitting. What’s more, Josh didn’t. Mitch would put his team up 3-2, and I answered back with a shot of my own to make it 3-3. By the top of the 9th inning, Josh and I were facing a sizable deficit. We were trailing 7-4 and down to our last six outs. I managed to crank out one more homer, but Josh came up empty (again) and we fizzled out 7-5. Here’s the thing: I hit all 5 of my team’s home runs; Josh, sadly, did nothing. Nothing! Of their 7 bombs, Mitch hit 6 of them, so at least Matt could say he got on the board. Again, considering their athletic ability, I thought we’d take this event easy. Instead, we were looking at a 2-1 deficit, and Josh’s confidence was seemingly altogether gone. On the plus side, I managed to get my first beer down during the event, right there in the middle of a high school field. Ah, to be young again.
Really, Josh? No homers? Shame!
Home Run Derby Final Score: M&M over J&B, 7-5
Overall Score: J&B 1, M&M 2
Event 4: Bocce
- Team play (red balls vs. green balls);
- One game played to 25;
- Any part of the field is “in bounds”; and
- Must win by 2.
Here’s one of those events that we took to somewhat later in life. In fact, I want to say it was roughly around 10 years ago that we started playing formally, as it became a Thanksgiving tradition in place of football. Rather than playing two-on-two football in Paxton Crossing, the four of us picked up Bocce at my mother and step-father’s house in Halifax, PA. They had a pretty good amount of land, and one Thanksgiving afternoon when all four of us were in town, we picked up the Bocce balls and created a court around their house. I use the term “court” lightly, though, in that we didn’t have a defined playing area; rather, we just tossed the pallino anywhere there was grass and played open Bocce all over their property. One unfortunate stretch typically took us near the septic tank, so it was like temporarily playing in a cow pasture. Those rounds were usually fastest.
Before Bocce, I changed into my home-made “Cobra” t-shirt.
Unlike some of the other events, there was really no clear-cut favorite for Bocce. I mean, sure, there’s some skill involved, but let’s face it: you’re throwing a big ball at a small ball along grass, rocks, and hills. Furthermore, the distance is different every time, so you can’t adjust to an arm angle or anything like that.
Sure enough, we were down early, somewhere in the vicinity of 6-1. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re playing a single game to 25 points, it looms large. Matt B. acted as the judge, of sorts, in that he tried to eyeball distances for us. More often than not, though, Matt’s (poor) eyesight wasn’t enough to determine who won individual rounds, so were left to “walking off” distances or measuring distances with the out-of-play balls, placing one in front of the other from the ball to the pallino, so that one ball might beat another by being only 6 ½ balls away as opposed to a full 7 balls away.
I think we can all agree that red’s closer, yes?
Josh and I made up some ground toward the end, closing the gap to roughly 21-17. The turning point came off a side-hill lie, where the pallino was nestled near the bottom of the hill. In order to get close, you had to throw your object ball high and let it roll slowly, downhill left as it approached the pallino. In this particular round, we already had two points, with only my last ball to throw. Mitch warned about bad luck, saying he wouldn’t try to get too close and knock the pallino away. Why, oh why, didn’t I heed his warning? Instead of closing the gap to maybe a single point, my ball struck the pallino and moved it closer to their object ball, thus giving them a single point and leaving us down 22-17. In the end, we just didn’t have enough, and I was, of course, disgusted with myself.
I let my finger do the talking.
Bocce Final Score: M&M over J&B, 25-17
Overall Score: J&B 1, M&M 3
Event 5: Bowling
- Each player bowls three games; and
- Total combined scores win.
The four of us attended the Yeshiva Academy as children, a private school for Jewish youth in Harrisburg, PA. It was awful. Seriously. I couldn’t wait to get out. My brother, the poor guy, existed there the longest, yet I managed to leave before the start of my 6th grade year. The reason I mention this is because the Yeshiva Academy wasn’t just a school, but a community center. In addition to providing schooling, the building housed a gym, swimming pool, pool table, bumper pool table, small arcade, and a bowling alley. It was here that we were first exposed to bowling. In fact, when I was in (I believe) 2nd grade, I managed to bowl a 204. Granted, to call it “bowling” is overstated; it was more like I “threw” a 204, as I’d get to the line and hurl the ball half-way down the line as if I was throwing a bounce-pass in basketball.
After four events at the Camp Hill High School field, we relocated to ABC Lanes East for our foray into bowling. Fortunately, bowling alleys come equipped with a bar, so we were able to step up the drinking, as well. Additionally, Matt B. grabbed the lane next to ours, and somehow managed to roll 7 games on his own while the four of us rolled three each.
From the onset, it looked like we might be in a bit of trouble, as Josh was missing just left or right while I was missing spares. What’s more, Mitch was bringing the thunder and Matt, while rolling more slowly than the rest of us, was also pretty accurate with his ball. And despite this, I managed to roll the high score in Game 1. My score, coupled with Josh’s, left us only two pins behind M&M after the first game.
Cousin Matt prematurely celebrates yet another would-be split.
In Game 2, though, things changed considerably, or at least it would have seemed that way. Whereas my score dropped off, Josh found his spot and starting picking up strikes and spares like he was born doing it. And yet despite Josh’s improvement, we were in exactly the same position after Game 1: still two pins behind, four pins overall.
I’m not sure if we really picked it up or they started to fall apart, but in Game 3 we began to overtake them. I was the last of us to bowl, and in the final frame I needed only a few pins to tie. Somehow I bowled my worst ball of the game, knocking down only 4 pins with my first ball. Sure, it was enough to give us the win, but still ugly, as I started questioning my nerves. I knocked down a few more pins with my second roll, and Josh and I — somehow — emerged victorious, escaping with a six-pin margin of victory. All that Yeshiva bowling finally paid off.
Cousin Josh and I intimidate the opposition with our Andy Pettitte faces.
(Incidentally, Josh and I combined to knock down 825 pins in six combined games; Matt B. knocked down over 1,000 pins in his seven games. Well done, Matt B. Here’s to mimosas!)
Bowling Final Score: J&B over M&M, 825-819
Overall Score: J&B 2, M&M 3
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Brolympics recap.