Bienvenido “Benny” Torres and Christian Kugel struck their fists to their flat hands in a rock-paper-scissor “coin toss” to see who would get the opportunity to strike first in the inaugural Denuo Paper Football Championship Game. There was tepid anticipation in the air as their various vanquished opponents from the previous three rounds surrounded them to watch. Once players, they were now witnesses to desktop sports history. Only one of them (Albert Kim) had predicted that Torres and Kugel would meet in the finals. At the end of the count of three, Torres threw two fingers into a V shape, proclaiming scissors. The tension in the cold room was only matched by that of Kugel’s fingers. The maintained fist of rock signified the first victory of the day, and Kugel would receive the Torres kickoff to start the game.
Kickoffs are routine in just about every paper football game. But whenever Torres puts the edge of the paper football off his end of the table, preparing to slide the ball across the forboding black desktop, the crowd always sits with bated breath; each of them wondering if lightening would strike a second time.
In the second round of the tournament, Torres and Saneel Radia met in a match of Alchemists. Radia had defeated Katie Cook 30-26 in his first round game. Torres had beaten the favored Courtney Acuff in a game which could be described as “forgettable”. It lined up as what many thought would be an easy victory for Radia. Torres went up 18-12 early. It was then that the game took an unexpected turn. On a Torres kickoff, the ball came to a stop partially off the end of the table. Despite the exhaustive rule book developed for the tournament, this particular situation had not been addressed. Kugel, as the only commissioner who had witnessed the event, cited rule 3 of the rule book which states “Touchdown = football breaking the vertical plane on the defending side of the table without falling off; six points”. Although it is unclear with the way the rule is written as to whether it applies to kickoffs or not, it was the clearest ruling on the situation. The typically unflappable Radia was never able to recover mentally, and Torres went on to seal a questionable victory and an asterisk next to his name for the remainder of the tournament.
The opening kick to the championship game fell short of midfield. With a surgical precision, Kugel pushed the corner of the paper football over the edge of the desk on his third try. A quick flick of the paperskin ball through the plastic field goal posts and Kugel had established his presence in the game.
It was an appropriate summation of the path that brought him to the championship.
Many didn’t have Kugel getting out of his first round matchup with Matt GIbbs. Gibbs, due to his non-desk related athleticism, had been picked by many to win the tournament. But this game was a different breed. Kugel trounced Gibbs by a score of 31-13, leaving many people’s brackets in ruins but satisfying fans of palindromes.
In the next round, Kugel would once again march over his opponent. This time it was Ellen Bird by a score of 33-14. Little knew what to expect from Bird after her victory over Eric Bee by a score of 30-18, but she proved no match for a motivated Kugel.
Kugel’s first and only challenge would come in the form of Tim Harris. Harris attempted to play a psychological game, declaring his victory before the game even kicked off. It was hard to know just how good he was since he had played the inexperienced Lauren “Laurintern” Omura, winner over Caroline Chen, in the second round. He did, in fact, prove to have some meddle. Tied at 27, either player only needing a field goal to win, Kugel took possession of the ball. Rather than taking the safe route and going for the field goal, Kugel scored the touchdown, sealing a place in the finals with a 33-27 win.
Torres took over with his next possession with a lot of desktop in front of him. In a casual manner that Torres has mastered, he surprised even himself by scoring a touchdown. In an interesting strategy, he went for the 2 point conversion rather than the field goal. Torres’s attempt fell significantly short and his special teams failed to give him an early lead.
Special teams played a key role in several games throughout the tournament. Harris believes it was the difference in his game against Kugel in the semifinals as he had flubbed several kickoffs. It had also led to a near upset when Harris squared off against Sarah Chiappetta. Chiappetta shocked many with her unexpected offense, led by her kicking. But for that positive story there were countless others about muffed kicks and poor tactical decisions. Torres was gambling with his special teams early, and it was not paying off.
Christian, without a beat of hesitation or an ounce of fear once again pounded the paper pigskin through the best defense that desktop friction can offer to score his second touchdown. A quick flick of the ball through the upright and his lead was extended.
Many in the crowd grew restless as they felt another Kugel blowout in the works. A result not befitting such a transcendent tournament. But before anyone was able to fully form their disappointment, in two quick strikes Benny had the ball near the edge of the desk. One final push, one unsure outcome. The crowd clamored as everyone tried to tell if the edge of the triangular ball had indeed broken the plane. One quick slide of the finger along the edge of the desk and one corresponding shift from the ball proved that Benny had narrowed the gap. Another missed 2 point conversion failed to tie the game, but kept Benny within the spread.
The bookmakers had set the line for the game at Kugel -3. This was a tournament for the underdog and the betters had smartly taken the points each round. Eventually, the casino went defunct as it was getting dangerously close to losing $5. While the prospect of winning a fortune on $1 bets was appealing in the early goings, the various sportsbook regulars stopped wagering and the lines became more of talking points.
Unfazed by Torres’s persistence, Kugel calmly marched down the field to take a 20-12 lead. A misfire on the extra point sent the ball wide of the uprights. This moment of weakness raised cheers from the crowd. With a renewed sense of hope, Benny pushed the ball down the field and scored a touchdown. Torres, now being undone by his inability to kick, fell one inch short of the two point conversion and an earth shattering change of momentum. But he was still in it.
Torres’s ability to keep a game close had earned him a spot in the final. In his semifinal match against John Durbin, things looked grim from the early going. Durbin had marched through the bracket by quickly dispatching a fierce Anisha Ahluwalia and intimidating John Rafferty by scores of 30-13 and 33-14 respectively. With Torres coming off the aforementioned controversial win against Saneel Radia, it looked as though this was a severe mismatch. In the early stages of the game, Durbin took every possession for a touchdown to take a 19-6 lead. Torres simply did his best to stay in the game, getting points when and how he could. Durbin took possession at midfield with a 26-24 lead. Overzealous to end the game and claim a spot in the finals, he overshot the table on his second hit. Torres took over and would not repeat Durbin’s mistake. He calmly scored a touchdown and took the win, 30-26. It was an important character building victory in what was shaping up to be a similar match in the finals.
Kugel took possession after the kickoff. He had watched the matchup between Durbin and Torres in the semifinal. He knew the reason Torres won was his ability to hang around and simply outlast his opponent. Kugel was not going to afford the same opportunity. In three fell swoops, he had once again broken the plane of the desk with the 2.5″ wide paper triangle. Showing the composure of a paper football veteran, he kicked the ball through the uprights for a critical extra point.
Everyone grew silent as they awaited Torres’s next possession. Kugel’s only error of the day was missing an extra point. Torres was doing his best to keep pace, but his missed extra points had caught up to him. He now needed two touchdowns before Kugel scored again. Special teams was once again a factor.
It was time for the kickoff. Kugel reached back with a flat hand and swung it forward. The corner of the football making abrupt contact with his palm. The only noise in the room was the sound of Canon BCP-2811 Color Copy paper sliding across the top of a black painted wood desk. It was a sound reminiscent of a mother silencing her child with a calming “shhhh.” And as that iconic isosceles triangle came to a rest and the call for silence stopped, the room erupted. The ball had traveled 30.5″ across a 30″ desk. There was no hesitation. The ruling had been made two rounds earlier; “Touchdown = football breaking the vertical plane on the defending side of the table without falling off; six points”.
On his 19th and final kick of the tournament, Kugel sealed his place in annals of paper football history. Torres laughed his famous laugh and in a combination of amazement, amusement, and friendliness, offered a hand to the new Denuo Paper Football Champion. The same loophole that had helped propel Torres to the finals had cost him his last gasp attempt at glory.
Kugel had proven his merit as champion. He quietly celebrated his victory. The crowd was abuzz as they filed out of Courney Acuff’s office, recounting what they had just seen. They used many words to describe it, but one was more befitting than the rest; Epic.