I made Santa cry.
That’s not exactly accurate — it wasn’t Santa and he didn’t cry. Except for those trivial details, I’m telling the complete, unvarnished, unembellished truth.
I guess I should start at the beginning.
It’s also a game with a lot of history, with a startling number of kilts and bagpipes (not exactly as shown), with a host of colourful characters, with volumes of traditions and with an elaborate array of rules, customs and etiquette.
Now, I don’t necessarily concern myself with the myriad rules of etiquette of curling (or anything else for that matter) because I’m a simple guy and that’s just too complicated for me to keep track of. I find it’s usually enough just to keep Wheaton’s Law at the back of my mind and go from there.
Some of ‘Da Roolz’ of curling aren’t complicated enough (or contentious enough, really) to bother breaking, of course: Be on time. Don’t interfere with a player when he’s throwing a rock. Try to exemplify the principles of good sportsmanship.
I do make an effort at all of those but sometimes I fall, um, a wee bit short. For example, I try to be on time except when something comes up or I forget. But when I get there I sit on the floor of the dressing room near the door (there’s no bench space left if you cut things a little close) and delay the early birds trying to leave because they have to step over me. And I don’t leap around and try to distract the opposition when they’re shooting (despite what I was taught by a guy with an MBA) but there’s no prohibition to making their eyes bleed. (Just a little, you understand.) And I believe in sportsmanship (the conventional definition of ‘sportsmanship’ is pretty close to Wheaton’s Law, after all) but I confess that the time I helped a team skunk someone last year I enjoyed it more than I probably should have. (In my defense, it wasn’t just Schadenfreude, it was partly payback — their skip had beaten me pretty badly a couple of weeks earlier.)
What this all means is that I tried to be good when a bunch of kids asked me to spare for them. Really I did. (I’m using the noun ‘spare’ as a verb again. Sorry.)
Early in my curling career (not the right word but I kind of like how ‘career’ implies ‘out of control’) I was told (by an engineer — physicists don’t always listen to engineers) that a good spare “throws two, sweeps six and keeps his mouth shut.” So in this game against an iconic figure of joviality (not really; he had a beard, that’s kind of where the resemblance ended) I started out trying to be a Good Spare. I threw two. I swept six. I kept my mouth shut.
The game went pretty well, all things considered. The team of kids (well, they technically weren’t kids, you understand, just a lot younger than I was and comparatively inexperienced curlers) weren’t expected to do all that well against the more skilled, more experienced, more juggernauty Team
Santa Guy With A Beard. But you know what? There’s a reason why you play the games. Because things don’t always go the way you expect.
By which I mean that ‘we’ were winning. Not by a lot, you understand. A little. It was no runaway. We were ahead by a point. Playing six. With.
Let me explain that. ‘Most’ curling games are eight ‘ends‘ so the sixth end is often pivotal. It’s good to have the last rock (‘with’) in the sixth end because if the other team scores in seven, you’ll have last rock back in the eighth and final end. (That’s good.)
On the other hand, a one-point difference in the score that late in the game often indicates that it’s been a fairly evenly matched game. Which means that it could go either way — anything could happen in the last couple of ends. You’d like to score at least two points with last rock to take a three-point lead to seven but you probably don’t want to yolo — if it doesn’t work out it could give the edge to the other team. And that wouldn’t do.
The opposing skip had two main options — he could try to steal (take points without last rock) in six, seven and eight or he could try to ‘force’ us to take a single point in six, try to take two or more in seven and go all out to score in eight to win the game. I’m pretty sure that’s what he decided to do — he played six to apply some pressure but without going overboard — he wanted to make sure we couldn’t score multiple points. He wanted us to take one (1)
point. It’s a valid strategy.
(I didn’t ask him, you understand. You don’t often see a player ask the opposing skip what his Master Plan is for the remainder of the game. And a generic front-end player? Even less likely. A front ender who happens to be just a spare? Inconceivable. I was just paying attention. I do that sometimes.)
Santa’s the opposing skip who didn’t look anything like a colourful holiday figure Plan appeared to be working — it looked like we would take one point (or give up some, but taking points is almost always better). I won’t say he had us exactly where he wanted us (he was still losing, after all) but he had to be a little bit happy. ‘My’ skip had realized what was happening too; as he contemplated his last shot he seemed resigned to his (our) single point. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it could have been better. He looked a little glum as he talked the situation over with his third. The other skip looked satisfied.
I was standing out at the hog line (five metres away, more or less), leaning on my broom, resting after some
powerful almost but not quite adequate sweeping and keeping my mouth shut like a good spare. The skip called his shot to take a single point and got ready to head down the ice to throw it.
He had missed something. (I think I mentioned that he wasn’t terribly experienced.)
What’s a barely competent spare to do? Etiquette said I should keep my mouth shut. On the other hand, if I spoke up our odds of winning would probably go up. As a spare, though, I didn’t actually care if we won. But I was playing for the underdogs. And it’s nice when underdogs win. What to do?
A dilemma to be sure.
But them I imagined the reaction of the guy who really didn’t look like a soda pop salesman at all.
That clinched it. I walked forward and pointed.
“Hit that one right there and you’ll take four. Minimum.”
I wasn’t disappointed.