It begins with a simple snap.
The ball shoots backwards. The tough leather of the hide greets the hands of one figure. He stands in solitude, a field general towering behind the lines of war. His eyes survey the jagged hellscape of MacEachron Field. For a moment, the world halts and waits for him to strike. In his hands, rests the fate of his team—the quarterback must make a decision leading to life or elimination. He drops five steps back as his arm points towards the heavens. A spear of lightning strikes across the Iowan sky. The ball hangs in the sky for an eternity before it tumbles into the outstretched hands of a receiver. There is life.
The weary runner’s arms collapse into a cradle as he runs towards the elusive land of the end zone. His lungs scorch and his legs pound the earth as he flees. His flags rustle across his shorts in a blur of tantalizing scarlet, waiting to be ripped unceremoniously by pursuing defenders. He does not look back. Five yards to go. The screams and shouts of the battlefield cease to sound as his body and mind become numb. One yard to go. His eyes stream with tears of unadulterated joy. There it is, salvation at his fingertips.
I have dreamed of this moment so many times: the moment that my football team wins the Intramurals Football Championship. It has replayed in my mind the last few years with a powerful exactness and clarity—playing right before the crushing, bitter realization that the dream is not a reality. Yes, my team, Ron Chiu and the Merry Chiusters—one of the oldest and most celebrated flag football teams of Grinnell College—has never won the big game.
I am not your traditional flag football athlete. I started playing catch in high school when my parents suggested that I start taking an extracurricular activity. It was not long before I gained some local recognition for playing catch a lot. The fame was nice, but I had bigger dreams.
The transition to flag football was painless. It turned that many teams found my determination and my lunch money were attractive assets to their rosters. Less than four days after I signed with the Voltage Bandits, we appeared in the Andrew High School Parking Lot Classic and took home the title. In that memorable game, I played a crucial role for my team by “not getting in the way.”
It was a great disappointment when I realized that no Division I schools were offering me any scholarships for flag football. My coach enthusiastically mailed my training videos to the likes of Notre Dame, Texas, and Carleton, but not one school ever offered me a spot. I couldn’t understand why. I possessed the ideal absence of physical size and athletic gift. My teammates praised me for my exceptional egotism and selfishness. I had to swallow my pride and go to a Division III school. Fighting back tears on the phone, I choked and accepted Grinnell’s offer to start my own team. That is how Grinnell became my home. After three years, Ron Chiu and the Merry Chiusters has evolved into a fantastic organization. Our loyal fanbase stretches all the way from North Campus to South Campus and we have actively recruited from all corners of the dining hall. The “Chiusters” as we are affectionately known by our fans, have a successful record of winning at least one game per season. Sometimes teams are so intimidated by us that they refuse to show up to the game and the intramural directors are forced to award us with a win. Our regular season success has guaranteed us three straight total playoff appearances.
I am often asked the question “What makes a Chiuster?” and I always answer equivocally that it is passion that makes a Chiuster. Flag football is simply not an enterprise suited for everyone, but is certainly for that rare breed of people who call themselves Chiusters.
The training for flag football can be intense – in fact, most flag football teams do not even provide members with work out schedules and instructions. The consummate flag football player must have the individual fortitude to figure out a time to work out, if it happens at all. I have resigned myself to only consuming junk food in the coming weeks in order to prevent any unwarranted speed and finesse that healthy eating may cause. I wake up early every morning in the season to go to the computer lab to study YouTube videos of people playing NFL Madden for hours in order to draw up gameplans. Sometimes I don’t leave the office until well after dark.
We start this year with a must-win game against the Women’s Frisbee Team. I say “must-win,” because the rest of our opponents will almost certainly destroy us. We then play the Loony Toons, a tough opponent. The second half of our season will be brutal. We play the football team, then squad of bros, “Country and Beer.” We don’t stand a chance.
With only four teams, we are assured a spot in the playoffs. Since we expect to come in last, our first round game will be against the football team. Our best hope is to trick them into not showing up. We can tell them the game was rescheduled, and invite them to a Taylor Swift party instead. We’ll show up on the field and claim victory.
The finals will be oldfashioned, grind-it-out football in the mud. I can’t disclose our strategy here—it’s too public. But I can say how the game will end. Our quarterback will drop back five steps and throw. Our star receiver will grab it out of the air. With one yard to go, his body and mind will become numb. His eyes will stream with tears of unadulterated joy. He’ll have salvation at his fingertips.