What to say? What to feel? In the immortal words of Jann Arden,
How do you turn your eyes from the romantic glare?
How do you stop the sound of a voice you'd know anywhere?
And I'm not even talking about Neal singing Moana at Captain Curt's.
I'm talking about Nationals.
Machine entered the tournament as the 7 seed in a pool with Sockeye, Florida United, and PoNY. Sockeye, Machine had beaten. PoNY had gotten the better of Machine twice, and Florida was a black box of unknowns. Would the squad's momentum from a regional championship carry them through? With a focus on the present, could they come up with the results? Come with me. Let's find out.
Machine faced PoNY first, and things looked great to start. Turnover free holds in the heavy-moderate diagonal wind for the O line gave way to struggles from PoNY's O. The D was playing unfortunately like Rich Girls ("Don't you know that it's wrong/to take what is given you") and kept gifting back the turns from PoNY's O. The teams traded until an upwind downwind break combination led to a PoNY lead of 8-6 at half. That, in retrospect, was enough, and though Machine fought hard in the second half to adjust to PoNY's upwind upline game, the squad fell 11-14.
Hearing that Sockeye had been beaten by Florida United during the round only distracted Machine from its central truths, and the second game followed a similar pattern to the first. Lots of opportunities on D that they weren't able to cash in, and an O line that seemed to wear down as the game wore on. After Florida's giant brought down a downwind break D chance at about 11', Florida punched in their upwind O point for a 11-13 lead, breaking on the following point to hand Machine its second 11-14 loss.
Facing championship elimination, Machine switched fields from the good field to the bad field to match up with Seattle Sockeye, who was also 0-2 after a loss to PoNY. Machine started by getting broken going upwind on offense, but that didn't deter the Rich Girls. They responded with an upwind break of their own, and that was the first of many reversals in the first half. It seemed the Machine O couldn't score upwind, and the Sockeye O couldn't score downwind. A thunderous AJ Nelson footblock led to an upwind break, and a Rowdy Boys only line converted the downwinder for an 8-6 halftime lead. Big blocks from Von and Jesse in the second half kept things out of reach for the Fish, and Machine came away with their first game win of the tournament, 13-10.
As dear sweet Fate would have it, this win combined in the heavens with a Ring of Fire loss to Ironside to match these star-crossed lovers together in the bracket for the 4th year in a row. With several Machine alums on Ring, the squad found their biggest focus challenge of the week. Don't think about pink elephants they said.
Machine found a small margin for error in the elimination rounds, and after what looked like classy holds on the first three O points, the throwaway, drop, and inefficient-spacing-slash-stall-count-management bugs all bit at once, and Machine found themselves in the blink of an eye on the shit end of the 3-8 halftime score stick. While things calmed down in the second half, the damage was done, and Machine was broken again for a 7-15 loss.
Hearing that the loss did not mean the end of games to one, the boys got a little #rowdy and took 15 such games in a row against Patrol. In the quiet words of the narrator of the Big Lebowski, "sometimes you eat the bar, and, well, sometimes the bar eats you." Life is weird.
After a bye, the squad suited up in white for the sixth game in a row against old Central Region friend Sub Zero. A slow start got the boys down, but after hanging tough through some early second half adversity, they clawed back with three breaks in a row to force double game point at 12-12. Unfortunately, the Sub Zero O went all Benihana on the Rowdy Boy D line and sliced and diced into the endzone in frankly anticlimactic fashion, handing Machine a 13-12 loss and an 11th place finish in the tournament (accompanied by a 3rd place finish in overall team spirit scores: http://tct.usaultimate.org/2017/10/25/2017-national-championships-spirit-scores/).
From there, the Rowdy Boys would ride out the Siesta Key sunset by running with the bulls all the way from the Captain Curt's karaoke stage to the Daiquiri Deck dance floor.
And then it was over. The squad chilled at the fields in the waning overcast twilight and thought about eternity for more than a few beats. Every year it's striking how much the team reconstitutes itself into something new. It's a mistake to look at that as a natural phenomenon, though, as much as its inevitability makes it feel like one. The team grows like a weed solely and with no other factors than the blood and sweat and sacrifice of its constituent members. 24 deep and with many of those greener than an early spring crabapple, Machine experienced just a wild amount of team and individual growth. Pride's a sin and I know that's right, but damn if it is not pretty tempting when you look at this squad.
You can get along if you try to be strong, but you'll never be strong. Much love 2017 Machine.