"Once in a while you play against some guys who think they could've played in the pros, and they want to prove that to you," says Carter, who broke most of the rushing records at Maryland in the early '70s. "They go after you. I play and have a good time. I don't want to hurt anybody."
Some opposing players, however, have charged that Wilkens House plays too rough. "We've got a lot of guys coming out of tackle football," says Coach Don Warthen of Wilkens House, "and they've had a hard time adjusting to just grabbing flags. It's a natural reaction for them to hit low." In a recent 20-13 loss to Mitchell's Construction, three Wilkens House touchdowns were called back because of penalties.
"Wilkens House isn't too rough," USFFA Commissioner John Carrigan says. "They're physical. When you have a 275-pound lineman going up against a 195-pound guy, that's an 80-pound difference and it's going to get physical. They play hard and clean. Any other flag-football team can go out and recruit this talent if it wants to."
Wilkens House men have other talents, as well. The bar attracts players of every sport except marbles: football, softball, tug-of-war, soccer, bowling, basketball and a new sport called basketwall, which is played on a racquetball court. The slow-pitch softball team, led by 275-pound John Copenhaver's 114 home runs and 295 RBIs, finished with a 103-29 record and placed ninth in the national playoffs in September.
"I like to win," says Brannan, who only competes in football and tug-of-war. "I joke around before any game, but when I get out there on the field I'm all business."
Indeed, in a Baltimore tug-of-war competition last August held to raise money for a children's hospital, Wilkens House outtugged everybody. "I bought an Encyclopaedia Britannica service where they'll research special items just for you," Creaney says. "Timmy had me write them and have them research 'The History and Winning Techniques of Tug-of-War.' The Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote back and said, 'Be serious.' "
So Brannan learned how to play tug-of-war without the Britannica. Brannan and Culotta screamed orders at the tuggers like boot-camp sergeants, while anchoring the line were 324-pound Bill Kazmaier, who has dead-lifted 886 pounds—a world super heavyweight record—and has been called "The World's Strongest Man," and John Gamble, the assistant strength coach of the University of Virginia's football team, who's been called the "World's Third Strongest Man." He can dead-lift 830 pounds. The winning technique of tug-of-war? Recruiting, my man, recruiting.
This year's softball budget was about $25,000, the football budget for the 18-game season $12,000. Some of Wilkens House's rivals claim the saloon pays its players, and Brannan concedes that he does pay some "travel expenses." Gamble and Kazmaier, who were flown in from Virginia and Atlanta for the tug-of-war, said they received nothing more than that. Local players say they get just enough dough for gas and refreshments, which are often on the house anyway. Culotta helps raise the money by organizing small fund-raising affairs, often roasts of his peers, but most of it comes out of Brannan's pocket. "I'll do it as long as I can afford it," he says. He says a semipro football team offered him $800 a game to play for it, but he turned it down. "I'd rather play with my flag team for nothing," he says.
"Timmy's crazy," Ricca says.
All right, Timmy's crazy, but why do the other ex-pros and college standouts go out of their way to play flag football every Sunday for gas and beer money?