In a Manhattan bar jam-packed with hundreds of gyrating, shouting and singing 20-somethings, Oren Shapiro stood perfectly still. Perched on the edge of a stage in the front of the cavernous space, he stared down at 12 men and women in particular, scouting his competition.
It was the second semifinal match of an event dubbed "The World's Largest Flip Cup Tournament," and Shapiro's team would face the winner for the championship. Knotted at three-games apiece in the best-of-seven match, the two six-person teams stood on opposite sides of a long rectangular table, red plastic cups of beer in front of them. They were more rowdy than nervous.
Spawned on college campuses and perfected in fraternity houses, flip cup is a drinking game testing dexterity, timing and, especially in later rounds, endurance. One at a time, each player drinks the contents of his cup, places the cup on the table's edge, and flips it so it lands upside down. The first team to finish wins.
Under the pulsing beats of AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long, the deciding round started. Chug, place, flip.
Near the back of the room, a group of women thumbed through a table of T-shirts for sale. They did not buy anything. Chug, place, flip.
All around the bar, guys in frayed baseball caps chomped on chicken tenders and wings. Napkins were at a premium, so they sucked the buffalo sauce off their fingers. Chug, place, flip.
Shapiro, 27, was torn. He knew every player on one of the teams -- it was a group he would usually pull for -- but the other squad was more of a rival, a nemesis, even. The Two Finger Fanatics, a crew from Arlington, Va., defeated his team in May to win the World Series of Flip Cup, their second consecutive crown, and Shapiro had not forgotten.
As the final cup flipped, and the Two Finger Fanatics raised their arms in celebration, Shapiro turned and smiled. "Vengeance," he said. "Here it comes."
The idea of taking flip cup from basements and college towns into a world of corporate sponsors and interstate tournaments belongs to Scott Gerber and Mike Volpe. The self-proclaimed "Flip Cup Guys" organized their first tournament last year in Hoboken, N.J., and the venture has expanded exponentially, up and down the East Coast. Wearing black and white referee's shirts, they run around the tournament at a frenetic pace, organizing, troubleshooting and arbitrating.
Everyone at the tournament has to shout to be heard. Standing in front of a speaker blasting Journey, Gerber adds to the noise. "We had no idea what this would become when we started it, but we knew it was something big," he yelled, looking out at the sea of people. "It's the sport for the rest of us."
Granted some of the players take the competition seriously (a seven-day vacation to Negril, Jamaica, is on the line), but most of the participants are more than happy to enjoy the remainder of the four-hour open bar after their loss. At 4 p.m. as the tournament moves into the quarterfinal round, the half of the bar where the eliminated teams have congregated is rocking.
Men in tuxedo T-shirts and women in purple shorts are fully engaged in a fevered combination of flip cup and dance party. The entire room seizes to yell in concert with Bon Jovi. "Whooah, we're halfway there. Whooah, livin' on a prayer."
Of course, there were also recriminations. The fake rhinestone studs of his tuxedo T-shirt glistening, Dave Stangle, 23, a former Lacrosse player at Butler University, dissected his team's loss. "Our athleticism just didn't translate into flip cup today," he said. "Turns out this game isn't just about strength. It's about a steady hand."
As Shapiro stepped down from the stage and worked his way toward his team for the championship match, the thumping intro to We Will Rock You reverberated across the bar. Gerber announced that the match was about to begin and leaned down to talk to a woman standing beneath him.
He looked disgusted when he came back up. "That's so ridiculous," he said. "We're two minutes away from the biggest game in the history of flip cup, and she wants to hear Vanilla Ice."
Instead, the deejay played Eye of the Tiger as the final two teams squared off. Some of the crowd gathered around the table to watch. Others continued to party on the losers' side.
When the final match ended, there was no vengeance after all. The Two Finger Fanatics trounced their opponents, 4-1, and celebrated yet another championship, Shapiro looked down to the sticky, beer-covered floor and frowned. Second place again, no trip to Jamaica and no revenge. At least there was still a party on the other side of the bar.
For more on The Flip Cup Guys, head over to their Web site.
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