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Winning The Day While Losing The Battle

9 min read
Winning the day

It’s a beautiful spring weekend in New Jersey. The perfect weekend to take the family out somewhere fun or spend it in the backyard grilling some food or maybe perhaps playing with the kids. But not for us. You see, we play cornhole, and there’s always a tournament on a weekend (if you know how to find them anyway) This particular tournament wasn’t hard to find at all. It was advertised for months. CNJ (Central Jersey Cornhole) managed to secure Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, 100+ teams with large payouts. Anyone who can throw a bag is going to be there. So many teams, in fact, that pool play would have to be divided into two separate squads (for lack of a better word). The morning squad and the afternoon squad. With over 60 teams in each squad, we knew pool play would take hours to complete. It was, however, necessary for seeding this many teams into the main bracket. So, off we go. Atlantic City or bust. The festivities got started Friday night with a blind draw. My problem was, I got stuck at work and wasn’t gonna be able to get there on time. Oh well, It is what it is. I’ll just get up early and drive the hour and a half Saturday morning.

Day of the tournament

I arrive at the casino not having a clue on where the actual tournament is.. I can’t find any signs. No indications of anything. Somehow I wound up in the food court of this place. Well, while I’m here I may as well get some coffee. I bumped into a guy from Delaware who tells me the event is in the ballroom upstairs. Ok cool, now where the hell is the ballroom?

After wandering around for a bit I spot an escalator. Jackpot! Up I go, into a hallway.. Hmmm. Wtf is this?? Which direction should I go? Ok, left it is. After I walked, what seemed like a mile, there’s a door.. Ballroom.. ( I can’t remember the exact name of the  room). I can hear that familiar sound of bags hitting the boards. Yup, this is the pace. I walked in to see Kevin and Mike (the founders of CNJ). I scan the room briefly just to see who’s here so early. I can tell you who I didn’t see, Dickey. Where’s my partner?? Oh no, this can’t be good. I know he’s here because he was texting me the night before during the blind draw. Granted, it was 3 am and he probably didn’t even know he was texting me, but still. He’s here somewhere. Then I remember the last text I got the night before. It read “Hey, if you can’t find me in the morning, I’m in room xxx”.

Back out into the mile long hallway I go. Now, where exactly are the rooms in this place? A short 5 mile stroll to the opposite side of the building and several more mile long hallways and boom, I find the room. Knock Knock.. No answer. KNOCK KNOCK…(long silence) door opens. Great, I found him! We made our way back to the ballroom. (Damn, I’m exhausted already from all this walking and I haven’t even touched a bag yet) We find out we are in the afternoon squad for pool play. F**k, we have a few hours to kill now. 

Pool play then on to the big show

Our time finally comes for pool play. I can’t even tell you who was in our pool. I don’t remember how many games we played. All I know was that Dickey was not throwing well that day. Could he be hungover from the night before? Actually, no, he is not hungover, he’s still drunk! We managed to get through pool play without any major meltdowns. I don’t remember our exact seeding, but we were mid pack. About average for us I guess.

Main bracket is about to start. The top players in the country are here. Matt and Bret Guy (Guy Nation), Jordan Camba, James Baldwin, Frank Modlin, Ryan Smith, John Kitchin and Jay Corley among plenty of others. First round, we get called to play against… guys from NJ that we play against every week in league? Good grief, Seriously? We should take these guys. Not saying that they aren’t good players, but hey, we are Dickey and Slim. No problem.. Wrong mindset. It was a battle. Partly because of my partners “impaired” condition. We wound up winning a grinding match 21-17. Whew, that was close.

Keep rolling, rolling, rolling

We’re moving on in the winners bracket. We go outside to the balcony for a smoke and a beer. After a while I take a peak at the live bracket and see who we will be playing in the second round.  I walk up to Dickey, “Hey you good?” “Yea I’m good” he says.. Ok cool. We got Trevor and Jamie next. For those of you who may not know, That’s Trevor Brooks and Jamie Graham (Arguably ,one of the best teams in the country). Well, I can honestly say, in all my years, I’ve never seen someone sober up as fast as I saw Dickey sober up at that moment.. His jaw hit the floor. He went from being completely inebriated to someone who hasn’t had a drink in 10 years. Instantly. 

So.. Here we go,  Trevor and Jamie against Dickey and Slim. What an exciting match-up (at least in my head) as no one outside of NJ has a clue who we are. The walk to the boards seems to take forever. Just as I told my partner on the balcony, “F these guys,, We can beat them” ( no I didn’t actually say F, I said the word). After all ,we have nothing to lose. But, if they get knocked into the losers bracket by us? That’s an ESPN top 10 play for sure. I’m throwing on the outside against Jamie. Dickey is throwing on the inside against Trevor. It wasn’t planned that way, it just kinda happened. Down and back as you normally do in a tournament. It wasn’t anything great from any of us, just a typical warm up.

Our 5 minutes of fame. It’s Go Time!

Game on! A couple of 8 on 8 washes to start the match. Not sure if they were just feeling us out at this point but it boosted our confidence thinking we can hang with these guys. The scoring starts. Dickey puts up 3. I put up 2. Hey, we’re up 5-0. This is cool. We are both actually throwing well (Trust me, it doesn’t happen that often). A point here and a point there. Now it’s 8-0. There is a crowd beginning to gather around our match now. Oh man, this is awesome. I know it won’t last but it’s a great feeling while I have it. There I go. I give up 2 points.. Collapse time. Or is it?

Dickey manages to put up a 5 spot. We are now up big, 13-2 and the crowd is yelling and cheering. They doubled in size. Who are these two guys? Where did they come from? I throw my first bag. It’s a great blocker. (Not what I was intending to do, but I’ll take it) Jamie throws an airmail, of course, and the crowd goes nuts. With my 2nd bag, I attempt a push. Oh no, I over threw it! But the cornhole gods were on my side that day. The bag went in, Airmail. A loud roar from the crowd. So, naturally Jamie throws another airmail. This time, I’m going for it. Boom! Airmail right back at him. Thankfully, for me, the crowd is behind me. They are loud and getting louder with each shot.

Jaime goes to throw his 3rd bag, yup you guessed it, another airmail. At this point, I’m literally shaking. My hand is sweating (wish they had Gladiator Gloves a year ago) as I am standing there getting ready to throw my last bag and now my legs are shaking. I have no control over my hand, at all. This bag is gonna go about 15 feet and collapse midway between the boards. I take a deep breath. And let it fly. AIRMAIL!! Holy S**t.. Did that really just happen?? The people are beyond themselves. Some long haired dude from Jersey just threw 3 straight against Jamie Graham..

But wait.. Not so fast.. He still has his 4th bag. Everyone knows what’s coming.. In for 2 points and my shots suddenly never happened. He throws a flat bag, spinning like a helicopter and dead straight at the hole. The bag, almost in slow motion, lips the hole and falls off the back of the board! 1 point for us. Ok, so now, I can’t breathe. My legs are weak. I’m numb. I’m getting high fives from people that I have no idea who they are. WTF just happened? I think that was the first time I ever threw 2 straight airmails. Let alone 3. Anyway, back to the match.

We are now up 14-2. Life is good. We are throwing well. Dickey puts up 2 more. 16-2. Is this really about to happen? Are we actually about to beat these guys? Like the pros that they are, they regroup. They start to chip away at our lead. Couple points here and a couple there. We had lost all momentum and suddenly its 16-14. We were still throwing great bags though but at this point, their bags were better. The match continued and the crowd never left. Back and forth it goes. It stayed close. 16-16 and then 18-18. We are all making the shots when we need them. We go up 20-18. 1 point away from the biggest upset in the history of sports. (In my head, anyway) Dickeys last bag of the round kicks to the left of the hole and Trevor misses right. We survive that round with a wash. 

In the following round, I give up 2 points and now we are tied at 20. Dickey and Trevor wash again so now it’s back on me to end this thing. First 3 bags for each of us are in. I throw my last bag. I like the way it left my hand and it looks good. Suddenly, the cornhole gods that seemed to be on my side, turned on me. Its short. Short as in, the front of the board short. Well maybe I’ll get lucky and Jamie will miss the board. Yeah, right. Who am I kidding. Being the professional that he is, He just puts the bag in the middle of the board. Game over. The crowd cheers. Handshakes and hugs from our opponents. High fives from the sea of humanity that gathered to watch that match. While we were disappointed in the results, we had nothing to be ashamed of. We played, arguably, the best match of our lives, winning the day. We had people talking. They may not have known who we were before the match, but they sure know now. 

Winning the day but losing the tournament

Our next match (first in the losers bracket) we faced Harlee and Ronnie Culpepper.  We were still on a high from the previous match. We ended up winning that match. I’m not really sure how it happened, but it did. It didn’t seem as dramatic as the previous match. Probably because I was still numb and shaking.  We ended up losing our next match against a couple guys from Virginia. They were good. But, in true Dickey and Slim fashion, we forgot how to throw in that one. So, there it is, at least for me, my 5 minutes of fame. Going shot for shot with one of the best players in the country. Even though we didn’t place in the tournament, the day was a win for us.

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