Despite Ultimate's aerobic value and the continued growth of the UPA, which has almost 6,000 members nationwide, the game remains something of an outsider in the realm of sport, although most of its players these days seem to be yuppies. Ultimate is self-governed, with few coaches, managers or sponsors and no referees. Players pay their own way to tournaments and provide their own uniforms (the world champs wear a variety of black T-shirts, most bearing a rapping Mickey and Minnie Mouse, which they bought on a street corner for $3 apiece). But there has been talk of trying to attract sponsors and TV coverage.
"We have even thought about an Arena Football-type league, featuring a dozen of the best teams from across the country," says Rauch, "which would be great if we played over a short, three-or four-month season. It wouldn't require much of an investment beyond new uniforms, and it would help us gain some recognition. But recognition isn't really important to most of the players. It's the camaraderie, the competition, the fitness and the beer drinking that attract people to Ultimate, not fame. And certainly not money."
The San Diego tournament began with a bang for the New Yorkers. Undefeated through pool play, they beat archrival Windy City (from Chicago, natch) 19-13, turning the disc over only twice the whole game.
In the semifinals they faced South Bay, a band of experienced northern Californians. In a game to 21, the New Yorkers led 18-15 and appeared to be coasting to a face-off in the finals against Boston's Titanic, which they had beaten handily in the regionals. A California-biased crowd of 1,500 had gathered in Balboa Stadium to cheer on the South Bay squad. Then, the inexplicable happened. The New Yorkers' hands turned to stone, their defense to Swiss cheese and their feet to cement. South Bay scored six uncontested goals and beat the New Yorkers 21-18 and went on to win the national title.
Ironically, it may have been the New Yorkers' "justifiable arrogance" that felled them. "They were pretty cocky during the game," says South Bay's Heyward Robinson, "and the sidelines were definitely on our side. We wanted to beat them, though it doesn't happen often, just to bring them down a notch." Robinson calls the New Yorkers the "smartest team" on the Ultimate field, but adds that that can be a liability. "While they have pushed the game to new levels by the number of plays they run and the sophistication of their offense," he said, "they may have developed the game into too much of a science. You need emotion to win, too, and I think that cost them. Their game was a little too planned. When they lost, they weren't angry, they were stunned."
The New Yorkers put the San Diego debacle behind them and started the new year by winning a tournament in Tempe, Ariz. "It's not like life," says Rauch, "where your losses haunt you forever. There's always another game."