August 12, 2020
By Evan Lepler
Postponed in March and officially cancelled in June, the 2020 AUDL season still provokes sharp, painful pangs of nostalgia here in August. Oh, what might have been!
The league’s ninth Championship Weekend was originally scheduled for this past Friday and Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, and just thinking about it makes me crave some cheese curds from The Brass Ring. The late-night fried deliciousness along with a cold IPA would have been a perfect nightcap following Friday night frisbee, a primetime doubleheader that would have unfolded just a couple blocks down the street at the ever cozy and electric Breese Stevens Field. Home of the Madison Radicals since 2013, Breese had already twice witnessed the AUDL’s memorable culminating experience, and I have little doubt that the Madison fans would have again provided a breathtaking backdrop for the most important plays of the year, regardless of whether the Radicals or another franchise were representing as Central Division champs.
Feeling fortunate to have been present for the past six AUDL final fours—including the two that were held in Madison in 2016 and 2018—I can firmly attest that Championship Weekend emits powerful feelings, emotions that stay with you years later. It starts full of hype, with two weeks separating the semifinals from the previous postseason drama. The build-up enables genuine analysis into every matchup, an ability to assess the nooks and crannies of various potential strategies, and also allows for some inevitable chirping and chatter that, while staying within the friendly bounds of spirit, always adds some spice to the opening points. When the teams finally take the field, usually amidst an elaborate canvas of signage that only adds to the mystique of the moment, there’s nothing but opportunity, the type of situation that athletes envision in their dreams. Every year, legacies are shaped, written, and shifted. And by the end of the three-game bonanza, there’s a new champion, with countless crucial anecdotes about how it all transpired ready to be remembered.
Alas, there was no Championship Weekend in 2020 because we’re currently living amidst a global pandemic, which joins the 2018 Dallas Roughnecks as the only impediment that has directly prevented Beau Kittredge from winning an AUDL championship. If the season had progressed uninterrupted, there’s little doubt that Beau would have had a great shot at his sixth title. On paper, the New York Empire actually looked stronger than their 2019 squad that went undefeated, and despite turning 38 in June, Kittredge ran nearly 39 miles in one borderline insane jogging expedition around Manhattan in May, suggesting that his commitment to competition remained as fierce, if not as quasi-psychotic, as ever.
Thinking back through Beau’s AUDL career, the legendary Alaskan has more than a few Championship Weekend moments to remember. But despite his postseason record, with 17 wins in 18 games, it’s hard to select a particularly iconic Kittredge sequence from the final four. If anything, I most vividly recall him getting D’d up by Madison’s Peter Graffy and Toronto’s Mark Lloyd in his first Championship Weekend in 2014, even though his separation speed, not to mention his San Jose Spiders, still reigned supreme with relative ease. Then injuries marred his personal performance in both 2015 and 2016, and his steady excellence in 2017—10 goals, three assists, 79-for-79 passing across his two games—remained noteworthy for its greatness but not necessarily for a singular moment that transformed our perspective on everything. That’s no knock on Beau; if anything, it’s meant to suggest that his brilliance on the biggest stage felt inevitable, raising the bar on what he could do to ‘wow’ us.
But obviously Championship Weekend has had dozens, if not hundreds, of unforgettable ‘wow’ moments, the type of plays or sequences that become the everlasting marquee memories. These are the epic exclamations that leave fans speechless, either for their otherworldly athleticism, shock value, the dramatic context of the situation, or all of the above!
Without any new heroics to treasure, I spent this past weekend contemplating my most thrilling Championship Weekend memories from the past six seasons, from 2014 to 2019. It was super tough to narrow the list to just 10, but I tried to make this as personal as possible. These are my specific recollections and hopefully won’t be used to render any value or lack thereof on other landmark moments that may not be included here.
And before the countdown begins, one brief ground rule: I’m really trying to stick to a specific moment or sequence. Beau Kittredge and Ashlin Joye are often featured prominently in Championship Weekend conversations, and deservedly so. But this thought exercise is not about the greatest all-time Championship Weekend performances; instead, I wanted to revisit the moments that most took my breath away, confirmed or denied a preconceived notion in extraordinary fashion, or otherwise lingered in my mind most vividly over the past six years.
Obviously, the opportunity to broadcast 12 AUDL semifinals and six championships has been a truly surreal privilege, and from that perch, I offer these 10 memories that still leave me astonished and shaking my head in genuine amazement.
10. Mark Lloyd In-Field Greatest
The Situation: The Toronto Rush trailed Dallas 21-13 late in the third of the 2016 AUDL semifinals. The Rush were clinging, perhaps foolishly, to the last few nibbles of hope against the undefeated juggernaut that was the 2016 Dallas Roughnecks. Rush veteran Adrian Yearwood launched a backhand toward Mark Lloyd, who was shy of the end zone with the clock on the verge of expiring. Sensing he did not have time to land, look, and fire one last throw, Lloyd astoundingly caught the disc airborne and instantaneously, almost like he had practiced this exact thing a thousand times, flung a flat chicken wing forehand to the end zone before he landed. And almost miraculously, the disc went toward teammate Jonathan Martin, who lunged to his right, made the catch, and raised his arms in the air with a facial expression that suggested even he could not believe what Lloyd had just successfully pulled off.
My Memory: I remember initially thinking that it was not going to count, as I was not sure if Lloyd had released the disc prior to the clock expiring. To be honest, I’m still not sure he did. But in that moment, thank goodness I waited for the officials to signal before calling the play-by-play, and I was immediately blown away by Lloyd’s incredibly clutch and acrobatic awareness. Furthermore, I was thrilled that it counted because it slightly narrowed the gap and gave Toronto some real momentum heading into the fourth quarter, where I knew they would receive the disc to begin the final period.
The Aftermath: Indeed, Toronto converted its offensive point to begin the fourth and then broke Dallas on the next D-point, shrinking the deficit down to five after it had been eight just a few minutes prior. But the Rush had dug themselves too large of a hole, and the Roughnecks improved to 16-0 in their inaugural season, advancing to the finals with a 27-20 triumph. Although the result did not go his way, Lloyd’s buzzer-beating in-field greatest was certainly the most memorable play of that game, and I don’t think we’ve seen anyone replicate anything like it since.
9. Greg Cohen Championship Buzzer Beater
The Situation: While number 10 on this list showcased Mark Lloyd’s exceptional skill and awareness, this play from a couple seasons earlier came at the Rush great’s expense. San Jose had thoroughly outplayed the Rush throughout the first half of the 2014 championship game, yet Toronto scored with four seconds remaining in the second quarter to shrink the gap to three, 11-8. And the Rush would be starting the third quarter on offense, so it was especially imperative to not allow any desperation score as time expired. That’s where a 22-year-old, relatively unknown Spider named Greg Cohen stepped in. Ashlin Joye caught Toronto’s pull about seven yards in front of his own end zone and immediately rifled an 80-yard backhand the other way, where Cohen out-read a trio of Rush defenders to make the leaping grab as time expired, extending the Spiders advantage back to four and igniting a raucous celebration heading into the halftime break.
My Memory: This felt even more demoralizing for Toronto than exuberant for San Jose. Just look at Lloyd’s dejected body language immediately after. He was stunned that neither he nor teammate Isaiah Masek-Kelly got the block, and he promptly lifted his jersey over his head in disgust. As for Cohen, this was not the first or last time that he would elevate above the pack for a buzzer-beating score, but to me this felt more significant than his similarly clutch grab against Madison in the 2015 title game. In this instance, you could sense how powerful this one goal was in crushing Toronto’s spirit. They knew that they were already dealing with Beau and Ashlin, not to mention Kurt Gibson and a slew of San Jose’s other stars. For Cohen to deliver this painful haymaker was a crushing verdict on the Rush’s chances.
The Aftermath: After leading 12-8 at halftime, the Spiders doubled their lead by dominating the third quarter 8-4, prior to pulling away with a 10-goal victory, 28-18. To this day, that remains the largest margin of victory in an AUDL title game, which seems even more striking when you remember that Toronto got trounced on its home field. It certainly wasn’t a surprise that San Jose won the game, but the massive disparity did bely expectations, as did Cohen simultaneously skying Lloyd and Masek-Kelly at the halftime buzzer. Six years later, there’s no play from that 2014 final four that stands out more.
8. Dallas Buzzer Beater Deflection
The Situation: Despite undefeated Dallas entering the 2016 title game as a pretty substantial favorite, the Seattle Cascades had carried momentum from a historic comeback win over Madison the previous night. Seattle stormed in front 2-0 with back-to-back breaks in the opening minutes and stretched the lead as large as three in a high-scoring opening quarter, but the Roughnecks crept back within one by the conclusion of the first quarter, taking advantage of stunning Danny Karlinsky dropped pull in the closing seconds to make the score 11-10. On the opening point of the second, Dallas’ D-line sought the game’s first tie, and even though there were still 36 minutes remaining, it felt like Seattle’s hopes were teetering on the edge. The Cascades moved the disc to midfield before Simon Montague got stalled out, after which Dalton Smith immediately scooped up the disc and launched a forehand to the end zone, where three players—two Roughnecks and one Cascade—raced in pursuit. Seattle’s Mario O'Brien and Dallas’ Chris Larberg each deflected the disc almost simultaneously, which would have gone in the books as a Cascades block, if not for the other Roughneck lingering nearby. Rather than becoming a turnover, it was Zach Riggins, arguably the least well-known member of that 2016 Dallas roster, tumbling to make the scoring grab.
My Memory: Perhaps the dropped pull and not this fortuitous bounce was the actual turning point, however I remember thinking that the Cascades could not permit any of Dallas’ complementary players to produce significant momentum changing moments. With so many stars already capable of winning the game themselves, the Roughnecks become an even more overwhelming force when the bottom half of the roster also came up with huge plays. And the lasting takeaway from this game was that Dallas got positive contributions from everyone, enabling them to smother Seattle as the afternoon progressed. Furthermore, the Cascades needed a little luck, and this fluky deflection score involving two of Dallas’ lowest profile players epitomized how the Roughnecks were such a daunting juggernaut to try and suppress.
The Aftermath: The Roughnecks pulled away and won by six, 33-27, completing their perfect season without a single game decided by three goals or less. And interestingly, while Larberg and Riggins were not necessarily the “featured players”—shout out Sol’d Out—they became two of the mainstays who have both suited up in every season in Roughnecks’ history. For the always hustling Riggins, who has caught just a dozen goals in his AUDL career, being in the right place at the right time put him in position to snag this memorable one, helping Dallas seize control and claim its first championship.
7. Jeff Babbitt Momentous Championship Sky
The Situation: The 2019 AUDL title game, through three quarters, was the closest and most competitive championship matchup the league had ever seen. Dallas scored with 15 seconds remaining in the third to tie the game at 19, but that left a scary amount of time for a New York team with so many jump ball giants. When Harper Garvey released his 60-yard forehand just before the buzzer sounded, only Ben Jagt and Jeff Babbitt were in a decent position to make the play. In retrospect, however, Babbitt made it look like it could have been one on seven and he still might have made the grab. The Empire’s hulking playmaker used his size, strength, timing and eye-popping hops to make the buzzer-beating score seem easy, lifting his team into a one-goal lead heading into the fourth, where New York would be starting on offense.
My Memory: Of all the plays on this list, this is the one that felt the most inevitable, considering Babbitt has long been considered among the premier buzzer-beating athletes in the entire league. From our vantage point in the broadcast booth, it would have been a surprise if Babbitt had not made this play. But it still felt like a crusher for Dallas’ chances, which began to crumble soon after this sensational sky.
The Aftermath: Dallas began the fourth quarter by rolling the pull out of bounds, and Garvey quickly made the Roughnecks pay by launching one of his patented hammers, a perfect 40-yard missile that perfectly angled to the wide open Conor Kline, who made the catch to cap the one-throw, 17-second possession, marking the beginning of the end of this high stakes battle. Garvey had thrown back-to-back assists in the span of 17 seconds without the opponent getting a single touch of the disc (aside from the fourth quarter pull), and New York had the first multi-goal lead of the second half for either side. From the 19-all tie with 15 ticks remaining in the third, New York outscored Dallas 7-3 the rest of the way, a burst that began with Babbitt’s third quarter buzzer-beating heroics. Interestingly, this is just the first of three third quarter Championship Weekend buzzer beaters that will be featured on this list.
6. Pat Shriwise Rising to the Moment
The Situation: The Radicals had already coughed up a seven-goal lead, but Pat Shriwise still gave the unreal Madison crowd one more thrilling highlight to remember in the 2016 semifinal. All throughout the broadcast, AUDL analyst Chuck Kindred had been begging the Radicals to utilize Pat Shriwise more frequently, and in this moment, Madison obliged. With less than three minutes remaining and the game tied at 24, Shriwise bolted deep and Kevin Brown fired a flick in his direction, giving Pat the chance to rise up for a towering sky over a helpless defender. He landed shy of the end zone, but Colin Camp had stayed in the play and had steps on his man, giving Shriwise the chance for a quick release floater that Camp easily snagged for the go-ahead goal, making it 25-24 with right around two and half minutes left. The way Camp caught Shriwise’s put, chasing it with his arms stretched outward to sell the moment, only increased the energy with which all Radicals loyalists inside Breese Stevens Field erupted.
My Memory: I remember thinking that Shriwise slightly mistimed his jump, yet he just kept rising up for the remarkable catch that sent the crowd into a frenzy, renewing the hope that had dissipated so dramatically thanks to Seattle’s crazy comeback. For Shriwise, the often under-appreciated Radicals star, this was unquestionably one of his greatest sequences, a contention underlined by Chuck’s gushing color commentary in the seconds after the score. “He’s on another level,” Kindred enthusiastically proclaimed, “and you know what else, he’s never nervous, he never tightens up. When the pressure’s on, he actually makes more incredible plays. Everything with him is high percentage.” This goal also prevented Seattle from taking its first lead, quelling the Cascades’ run of scoring 11 of the previous 15 goals after Madison had led 20-13. Despite all of that drama, Shriwise’s heroics in that instant still felt so much like the game clinching highlight, the type of memory that would stick to his reputation forever.
The Aftermath: Well, I think it’s fair to say that not enough people remember this play, but for understandable reasons. You probably know that the Cascades have a couple epics of their own still to come on this list, both of which have overshadowed Shriwise’s moment from history. Along with the game’s final result, a stunning 26-25 comeback victory for Seattle, the Cascades’ brilliance perhaps prevented Shriwise from achieving legendary status. But for me, this sequence, with the player, the situation, and the crowd all coalescing for a magnificent crescendo, is worthy of this lofty placement. Shriwise might have made better plays in his career, and his teammates and opponents have long raved about his abilities and spirit, but this remains the Shriwise scene that I think about most. Like the 2020 AUDL season, oh, what could have been!
5. Marques Brownlee Full Extension
The Situation: New York could taste the title, up by two with less than six minutes remaining, as 18-year-old Tristan Yarter angled a backhand reset toward Marques Brownlee. Brownlee was late in making the correct cut that the Empire had harped on for rising stall situations. Nevertheless, the disc still went up, floating enough for Brownlee to launch himself like a superhero to make the sensational one-handed catch. That might have been a top 10 moment in itself, but its status became confirmed when Brownlee immediately popped up and ripped an inside flick break, the type of throw that snarky frisbee commentators have chirped “conservation of greatness” after for close to half a century. Except this time, his fastball zoomed perfectly on target to Sam Feder, who continued the breakside barrage with a soft backhand to Mike Drost for the score that put the Empire up by three with 5:44 left.
My Memory: Even more than Babbitt’s buzzer-beater or Garvey’s ensuing hammer, this marquee moment felt like the backbreaker that all but slammed the door on Dallas’s fading comeback hopes. I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit that, in that exact moment, a thought kernel popped into my mind about how this play could become the most viewed sequence in AUDL history, a byproduct of Brownlee’s enormous social media reach thanks to his day job as a mega-popular web video producer. And while the layout was majestic and perfect, the type of athleticism that could be reincarnated Jerry West-style as the next AUDL logo, it was the ensuing inside break that might have been even more impressive in terms of helping the Empire clinch their championship.
The Aftermath: As Brownlee revealed in the AUDL Moments feature that he recorded with Tristan Yarter earlier this year, he actually tore two ligaments in his rotator cuff while making the layout grab. It hampered his shoulder mobility over the last five-plus minutes, though it also led to his throwing a scoober for a score in the final 30 seconds “because that was the only thing I could actually throw,” remarked Brownlee about the final assist. The Empire prevailed 26-22, earning New York’s first championship and denying Dallas in the finals for the second consecutive season.
4. Bretton Tan’s Block On Dylan Freechild
The Situation: Not only had Toronto lost by sizable margins at Championship Weekend in 2014, 2015, and 2016, but the Rush immediately fell behind 6-2 early in their 2017 semifinal against Dallas, the defending champ who was considered a significant favorite entering this matchup. But the Rush had fought back to within one and trailed 8-7 early in the second quarter when Jimmy Mickle fired a flick toward to the end zone for a sprinting Dylan Freechild, who had steps on the trailing defender. That defender was Bretton Tan, a promising young player, but still a kid, a few days shy of his 21st birthday, in a matchup against Freechild who was just a few weeks removed from a World Games gold medal with the USA National Team, where he made a convincing case that he might be the greatest player in the world for that particular year. Freechild had created separation, but was forced to slow down because Mickle’s throw popped up more than he had intended, giving Tan the chance to recover. Sprinting full speed, Toronto’s tantalizing prospect made up the ground, leaped, and smacked the disc down. Eighty yards later, the Rush evened the score when Masek-Kelly connected with Lloyd, tying the game for the very first time since it was 1-1.
My Memory: I imagine that may not be the singular moment that most folks remember, but cannot shake the memory that this marked a critical turning point in terms of Toronto’s growing confidence and Dallas’ cautious acknowledgement that the Rush were a very different team than the squad that had been eliminated with relative ease in each of the three previous seasons. Tan had flashed has obvious potential several times throughout that season, in which he recorded 23 blocks in 15 games (including the playoffs), but the fact that this one came against Freechild, it was a coming of age highlight and a message to every other player in the league that Tan was about to be a problem. Tan was not the only youthful contributor to make a huge difference in this game—Connor Armstrong, Jason Huynh, Darren Wu, and Ben Burelle all were game-changers too—but Tan’s swat on a Mickle-to-Freechild shot redefined the landscape of possibility for Toronto.
The Aftermath: Following the goal that evened the score at eight, Toronto fell behind by multiple scores again. But since we had already witnessed the Rush overcome a four-goal deficit in minutes, the two-goal margin felt much more managable. Tan also caught a third quarter buzzer beater from Jonathan Martin to give the Rush their first lead of the game, and Toronto created more of a cushion with a spectacular fourth quarter to prevail 24-21, upsetting Dallas in a thrilling and shocking Saturday experience in Montreal. There’s no question that Tan’s block on Freechild was amplified by everything else that transpired over the final three quarters, however it still lingers super prominently in my recollections of this semifinal classic, which was easily one of the three greatest games in AUDL history.
3. Kevin Pettit-Scantling Cardiac Buzzer Beater
The Situation: Dallas had been outplayed through three quarters, but the Roughnecks’ had scored to inch within two with only three seconds left in the third, and they were slated to receive to begin the fourth. Madison’s Kevin Brown accepted a quick 10-yard gainer from Shriwise and launched a desperation backhand that snaked past a few nearby Roughnecks’ defenders and floated all the way to the end zone. The Radicals had several receivers battling for position, and Colin Camp actually jumped and got a finger tip on the disc first, but could not make the catch. Kevin Pettit-Scantling, of course, was prepared to clean up the trash, and plucked the deflected disc with a single hand to completely transform the energy inside Breese Stevens Field heading into the fourth. Thousands of fans erupted in a powerful roar, as Camp tried to literally leap on Pettit-Scantling’s back in celebration. KPS then pantomimed doing CPR on the disc, delivering a few compressions and putting his ears down to check the heartbeat. Matt Weber shoved him over, and he tumbled and popped back up like the whole scene had been choreographed for years, waiting for this exact moment to arrive.
My Memory: For a couple of weeks, I had suspected that the stars were aligning perfectly for Madison to finally experience championship glory, and this sequence only confirmed those contemplations. Two years earlier, the Radicals had missed their seemingly once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to take the title at home, but Madison’s peerless fans along the team’s incredible resilience in bouncing back from past failures gave them this miraculous gift of another chance to deliver. And all the pieces fell into place, from the upsets earlier in the playoffs eliminating teams who may have seriously threatened the Radicals at the final four to the pair of key injuries that hampered the Roughnecks’ ceiling on Championship Sunday. When KPS made this unforgettable grab to give Madison a 15-12 lead heading into the fourth, it was an even more resounding affirmation that it truly was the Radicals’ year, and all they had to do over the final 12 minutes was to ride the incomparable wave of energy that their fans were euphorically providing.
The Aftermath: The post-Championship Weekend Tuesday Toss was titled “The Crowd, The Comeback, and the Coronation,” and I think those three words really captured the lasting legacies of the 2018 final four. ‘The Catch’ would have fit well too. KPS’ grab put the Rads up by three, Madison broke Dallas’ O-line to begin the fourth, and the lead actually swelled to five before the action subsided. The Radicals had learned from their past mistakes, and they never took their foot off the gas, prevailing 20-16, a final score that definitely felt symbolic considering the events of two years prior, easing the pain of past shortcomings with the most powerful elixir possible, a redemptive championship that reshaped the franchise’s entire legacy.
2. Donnie Clark's The Block
The Situation: After trailing 20-13 midway through the third, Seattle had just taken a 26-25 lead, the Cascades’ very first lead of the entire game, with less than a minute remaining. But a defensive miscommunication gave Madison a free 40-yard gainer across midfield, where a wide open Andrew Meshnick made the clap catch and saw teammate Thomas Coolidge sprinting deep with steps between him and his defender. He launched to the open space, and it looked in the air like a game-tying connection, perhaps appearing that way to everyone except for Seattle’s Donnie Clark. The Cascades’ defender, who loved to describe his style of ultimate as a golden retriever just relentlessly chasing after a frisbee, hit the mega-turbo button and accelerated toward the disc, narrowing the gap between him and Coolidge, who still seemed in solid position to make the play. When Clark left his feet, he dove outward with a powerful burst, extending his left hand as far as he possibly could and barely grazing the disc with a tiny touch from one of his outstretched, full extension fingertips. It was a slight deflection, but it was enough to prevent the completion and give Seattle possession, up by one, with 24 seconds left.
My Memory: Holy #$*@#! I think that was everyone's immediate reaction. So much had just transpired so quickly, from Seattle taking the lead to the defensive breakdown to Donnie Clark delivering one of the craziest layout Ds anyone had ever seen in a moment where it meant so damn much. I like to think the tone of my voice when I yelped “KNOCKED AWAY!!!” during the live game broadcast somehow captured the tone and tenor of the breathtaking sequence from all perspectives; Seattle’s shocked elation, Madison’s stunned devastation, and the general ultimate fan’s jaw dropping appreciation for what they had just witnessed. I’m still shaking my head as I type about it more than four years later. It’s hard to believe anything could top this.
The Aftermath: Madison actually got one more chance with possession in the closing seconds, but the Radicals’ prayers would go unanswered on this particular night, as Seattle stormed the field ecstatically with a 26-25 triumph that spoiled the night severely for the hometown fans at Breese Stevens Field. It’s also often forgotten that Madison had not lost in that entire regular season; hence, Seattle’s unbelievable comeback thwarted what would have been a battle between unbeatens on Championship Sunday, a matchup that nearly but didn’t come to fruition. While Clark’s layout block that prevented Madison’s previous equalizer was a truly staggering sequence, it speaks volumes about the whole Seattle-Madison semifinal experience that we don’t remember Shriwise’s heroics nearly enough, nor was Clark’s craziness my number one memory from that particular night. I mean, that throw…
1. Will Chen’s Full-Field Buzzer-Beating Bomb
The Situation: Madison already gave up a chunk of the 20-13 lead over the previous five minutes, but the Radicals were still up 21-18 with the disc a couple yards shy of Seattle’s end zone and fewer than 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Just one or two more throws, and the Radicals would be back up by four, a fairly comfortable advantage heading into the final quarter. But the stall count was rising and Andrew Brown had no options other than a cross-field flick that Seattle’s Husayn Carnegie sussed out, anticipating the look and leaving his man to leap for the athletic goal-line block. By itself, the defensive stand in the red zone guaranteed that Seattle would only trail by three and carry momentum into the fourth, but the next 10 seconds completely shattered any reasonable expectations about how the period could conclude. With eight seconds left, Ben Snell threw a short flick diagonally backwards, losing a few yards as Will Chen clap-caught the disc with five seconds left. Chen squared his body toward the defense with a half-pivot toward his forehand, then quickly stepped across his body and uncorked a powerful backhand as far as he could. Somehow, almost miraculously, it narrowly eluded the two Radicals defenders who both had a chance to knock it down within five yards. Then it just kept sailing, floating at maybe 13 or 14 feet high, zooming through the innocent atmosphere and over one racing Radical, and then another, and then another, gliding with more steam than any Madison defender could muster, but not like an uncatchable missile that would surpass everyone; Chen’s throw, like an answered prayer, had more purpose and precision than any other desperation heave. As Brian Hart’s collision with a referee removed another Radical from the equation and Carnegie realized that his full-field sprint would not quite get him to the disc, Seattle’s Matt Russell was wide open, steps away from the goal line, and the Ultrastar magically and majestically fell right into his two-handed grasp, a yard into the end zone for the most extraordinary buzzer-beating score that anyone had ever seen. Instead of trailing by three or four, the Cascades were within two for the first time since the score was 3-1, early in the opening quarter.
My Memory: To put it bluntly, I did not think Chen’s throw had a chance to make it all the way to the other end zone. Between the defensive pressure challenging the release, the lack of time he had to really think about angle, wrist snap, velocity, and everything else, and the fact that launching a 175-gram Ultrastar disc more than 80 yards is not something that a lot of players can do every time on command, my play-by-play in the moment was my honest, as I immediately wondered: “Chen, can he throw it the full 80 yards of the field?” I asked genuinely. My next remark, “Are you kidding me?,” flowed with surreal skepticism as the disc continued to float past the three-quarters mark of the field, but a second later it became clear that we had just seen something unbelievable, and “You are kidding me!!” came next, shouted in complete and utter disbelief at what we had just witnessed. After that, I struggled to maintain my composure and find the words to accurately explain and describe the off-the-charts magnitude of ‘wow’ that had just unfolded. Chuck delivered a perfectly timed “Holy Smokes!” And then I called it ‘one of the great pressure throws in a desperation situation I’ve ever seen,’ which feels even more true several years later. It was impossible to believe then, and it still feels totally miraculous watching the entire sequence now.
The Aftermath: It’s the greatest single throw in AUDL history, and I am not really sure how that could be argued. Considering the stage, the stakes, the moment in the game, the context of the comeback, and everything else, Chen’s 80-plus yard buzzer-beating backhand bomb stands alone in the pantheon as far as I’m concerned. The reactions of his teammates as they erupted onto the field were priceless, and the stunned silence of the Madison crowd that enabled us to actually hear the Cascades’ gregarious, overjoyed shouting was as wild a juxtaposition of emotions that I can ever remember experiencing as a broadcaster. Unlike Donnie’s block, this may not have been the play that won the game; however, the memory of seeing that disc improbably continue its trajectory all the way to Russell’s clap-catch at the other end of a jam-packed Breese Stevens Field reigns supreme in my personal smorgasbord of AUDL memories. I had never ever seen anything like that, and I am not sure I ever will again.
All 10 of these moments made an impact on the history of the league, and there were certainly dozens of others that I could have effortlessly expound upon, reminding me of how grateful and fortunate I have been to play a small role in archiving these excerpts of unforgettable greatness. It’s a bummer we were not able to generate more of these moments in Madison this past weekend, but I anxiously hope that we will be able to exceed each of these memories when the world resolves our current crisis in the months and years ahead.
Stay safe, keep in touch, and good luck pretending to be Will Chen every time you go out and toss!