- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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There is only one place I know that combines tiny balls, plastic cups and vats of beer. Besides Jose Canseco's house, that is.
It's a beer pong tournament. This is a sport that requires a steady hand, faulty hearing and a titanium liver. It's believed that 73% of all tuition money goes toward it.
Beer pong is played on a table slightly smaller than Ping-Pong's, by teams of two. Ten cups, filled about one-third with beer, are set like bowling pins at the ends. As you try to toss or bounce a Ping-Pong ball into the cups on the side opposite yours, opponents jump and yell unspeakables about your mother. If you make it, they must drink it. First team to sink all 10 cups wins. It's very sophisticated.
But the beer pong I play is nothing like the kind in the World Series of Beer Pong, which I covered recently at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. That's where North America's 414 best pong teams competed for the $50,000 first prize. Second prize: bubkes. Gulp.
You have never seen such large people throw such tiny objects into such small receptacles with such hair-raising frequency. The best teams hit about 70% of their shots on the eight-foot tables. That's like pitching a quarter into a parking meter slot seven times out of 10.
More shocking was that it was more about pong than booze. Four of the 10 cups were filled with water, which worked out to one beer per player per hour. Regular pongers pour more than that on their Raisin Bran.
In fact, drinking was optional. One team used only water in the first round—Mrs. and Mrs. Lara and Kristin Mendez of New York City. That's right, two married women. Beer Pong: changing the world.
Still, there were quality team names, such as: He Sucks … I'm Good; Beer Pong … Because Jesus Would; and Chase's Mom ATM. There was also Francois the Butt Dusters, made up of my sons, Jake (21) and Kel (23). The Dusters started off 4–0, including a W over a team from Rochester, whose members, no joke, would, out of nowhere, slap each other hard on the face. The slapee, red-cheeked, would look at his partner—stunned—and then yell, "Yeeeeahhh!!!" One guy from Jersey ripped his shirt off just before a crucial point. One team played sitting on each other's shoulders.
The real drama centered on Albany's the Iron Wizard Coalition. These guys made last year's finals and sank their final cup while their opponents, Chauffeuring the Fat Kid, still needed four. They went triple Gramatica, jumping and dancing and hugging. "I had that money spent," says Mike Hulse, 28, of the Wizards.
But they forgot about beer pong's diabolical redemption rule, which allows a last chance as long as you don't miss another cup. Fat Kid never did. Four straight sinks. Pong history. Kid wound up winning the game and the cash. "Do I think about it?" says Hulse, who doesn't make much working for a cable company. "I think about it every time I look at a bill. Every freakin' time."
Alas, the Wizards wound up 49th this year. The Butt Dusters finished a valiant 182nd. The finals came down to the tourney faves: Smashing Time (Ron Hamilton and Michael "Pops" Popielarski, both 25) vs. Getcha Popcorn Ready (Brian Nentwig and Joe Radesco, both 23). The 6'4", 280-pound Hamilton chugged a bottle of Jack Daniel's beforehand. "The key today," he said later, "was me getting real drunk." (Maybe it wasn't always more about pong than booze.)
Popcorn, winner of the loser's bracket, needed to win both games to be crowned King Pong. Smashing Time had to win only one. Popcorn won Game 1. The next would be for everything. And that's when I saw something I've never seen in sports.
The two teams had made a secret deal before the match: If Popcorn won Game 1 and the tourney continued, the winners would give the losers $3,000. Can you imagine? "Tell you what," Kobe says to KG before Game 7. "Winner buys the loser a Rolls. Deal?"
Bad move for Smashing Time, which then proceeded to sink little white balls just like in Tiger's dreams. They used only 12 shots to make their final 10 and win easily. Twelve balls, 10 cups. Try that at home.
It should be noted that the final was filled with honor. Nobody mentioned anybody's sister or flashed unwelcome appendages. That's good. All this bush league stuff will have to go if we're going to take beer pong to the next level: the Olympics.
Hope they don't test for whiskey.
Introducing the next great American pastime: beer pong.