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Focal Plane

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WEEKLY WHINE

Focal Plane: Sporting silliness

This is the ninth instalment of the GoobNet Focal Plane, an occasional series wherein we highlight an unimportant social problem, trying to make you care about it. Previous edition: Nocturnal Transmissions.

Nita Myvar is preparing the sports report on CityChannel News of the Night in New York City, and she is none too pleased. "Look at everything that's happening today. College football - four unbeatens lost today. Knicks playing the Celtics. Nets playing the Wizards. Obligatory Saturday reports from the Jets and Giants. This trade the Yankees are thinking about. Peca came back for the Islanders. US is a game away from the Women's World Cup. It's an outrage."

She casts the sheets onto the conference table in front of her. "I keep telling them we need more than just four minutes before And Now the Fuckups on Saturday nights. Do they listen? Of course not!"

These sheets are wire reports, article printouts, and game summaries from the events she listed. There is at least one other major event she left out: the ongoing first regular season match of the New York Cabhounds, an expansion team in the American Capture the Flag League.

Is the American sporting landscape too crowded? Or, alternatively, is the sporting landscape in other nations too sparse? These are the questions to which nobody seems to have a self consistent answer.

The young ones

One of the newest leagues in the US is the ACFL. Though still scoffed at in some circles, flag capturing gained some credibility amongst American sports media with the Chicago Plankton's dramatic win over the Canberra Berries in the final of the inaugural Flag Capturing Union Champions League in AUG 2002.

"I think the lure of flag capturing is that it's a true team sport," explains the Plankton's Celia Bruwighi. "Like in soccer and hockey, somebody scores each goal. Each pitch comes from somebody's hand, each touchdown pass goes into somebody's hand. But in flag capturing, you can't keep statistics. The individual is nothing in this sport. It's the team that counts."

Currently the Plankton are defending their 2002 ACFL title in the new season, which opened FRI 01 NOV 2002 at 01:00 UTC. That is 20:00 EST on the evening of Halloween. Chicago open their season against the Cabhounds and follow that with matches against each of the other ten teams in the league. Each match lasts one week with an off week in between, which extends the regular season to APR 2003. The two best teams to that point will face one another in the 2003 Flag Final, set to depart San Diego, CA on THU 10 APR 2003.

The event that got flag capturing onto US sports programmes was, without doubt, that FCU Champions League final involving Chicago and Canberra. The Plankton, stowing their flag in front of Wrigley Field, had to fight off constant attacks through the weekend, during which daily Cubs games provided cover for the Berries to steal Chicago's flag three times, only to turn it over on each occasion before reaching the airport. But the fourth attempt, on TUE 20 AUG 2002, was nearly the winner.

'A wild notion'

"As soon as I heard they'd taken our flag, I got this feeling that I should get all of us to Hawaii," says Plankton defender Brett Even. "It was a wild notion, something that completely flies counter to the conventional wisdom of flag capturing. But if we could get their flag in time, it would almost guarantee us the win."

On this attack, Canberra had boldly sent five players after the Chicago flag. They pulled it without trouble but then had a long wait before their own flight into Honolulu, giving Even the perfect opportunity to book flights for all of his teammates into the same city. "We had only five defenders, which meant that we couldn't get our flag back unless we pulled our attackers back. But if we did that, they would have to come back to Chicago with us, and they wouldn't be able to launch one more attack before the overtime. We wanted the regulation win."

So Even called Chicago's attacking trio of Bruwighi, Wayne Chadwick, and Lorenzo Luccini and told them the news. "They had forty minutes to get the flag, get to the Canberra airport, and get on their plane. Their flight was due to arrive just half an hour before what I was pretty sure would be the Berries' flight back. We needed a lot of luck to pull it off."

That is exactly what the Plankton got. Bruwighi, Chadwick, and Luccini stole the Berries' flag from a busy downtown intersection in Canberra and raced to the airport to make their flight. Meanwhile, Even and his fellow defenders, Jeff O'Lyon, Xavier Berezkova, Yolanda Hunibuni, and Sarah Sampson, were on the same flight as Canberra's attackers, Frank Ferrini, Ginger Szichim, Laura Lun, Byung-Hul Lee, and Bora Bulova.

Taking home the flag

Even recalls, "They told me they were due to get into Canberra about half an hour after we were due to get into Chicago. We had a little friendly chat about how this one would come down to the wire, but inside I was laughing."

That was because his teammates were already on their way back from Canberra. "We landed about ten minutes ahead of schedule," says Bruwighi. "We were due to leave Honolulu for Chicago in an hour, whether we could get our flag back or not. So we raced through the airport and caught up with the guys just in time. It was a great moment."

Reporters around the world caught the now famous footage of Chadwick wielding the Berries' flag like a samurai sword, just before the flight began boarding. Bruwighi jumped in front of her opponents, shouting, "Hand over that flag! Niiiice and slooooow!" Outnumbered eight to five, the Berries, by rule, had to return Chicago's flag. Even's dealings at the ticket counter were the closest that flag capturing comes to individual brilliance, and his teammates gave him the historic flag after they landed at O'Hare to clinch the Champions League with fifteen hours remaining.

The establishment

The Plankton are now facing the Cabhounds in their first competitive match since that final. In this, the ACFL's fourth season, the Cabhounds and the Phoenix Firebirds are the first expansion teams. This brings the New York area's total of major professional teams to thirteen, much to the chagrin of CityChannel sports manager Myvar.

"Yankees. Mets. Giants. Jets. Knicks. Nets. Liberty. Rangers. Islanders. Devils. MetroStars. Power. Cabhounds." If she also identified the universities with well known sports programmes, she would not have time to finish assembling tonight's sports report.

Somehow, they find a way to cram all the reports into a script short enough for weekend sports anchor Martin Aghahowa, but Myvar continues to fume. "Man, we only had time to show Peca, instead of the actual game highlights. No highlights at all of the Georgia or the NC State games. And just a quick clip from the soccer." Nobody in the office has the guts to remind her of the item that they had to leave out entirely: the Cabhounds' unsuccessful attempt to grab the Plankton's flag from Navy Pier earlier in the day.

Yes, Americans love their sports. But American media's feelings toward their sports cannot be described in such terms.

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