Yahoo! – Earlier this month, Brian Dennehy started a new job as chief marketing officer of Nordstrom Inc. In his first week, he pulled aside a colleague to ask a question: How hard it is for a nonemployee to enter the building?
Mr. Dennehy doesn’t have a particular interest in corporate security. He just doesn’t want to be “It.” Mr. Dennehy and nine of his friends have spent the past 23 years locked in a game of “Tag.”
It started in high school when they spent their morning break darting around the campus of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Wash. Then they moved on—to college, careers, families and new cities. But because of a reunion, a contract and someone’s unusual idea to stay in touch, tag keeps pulling them closer. Much closer.
The game they play is fundamentally the same as the schoolyard version: One player is “It” until he tags someone else. But men in their 40s can’t easily chase each other around the playground, at least not without making people nervous, so this tag has a twist. There are no geographic restrictions and the game is live for the entire month of February. The last guy tagged stays “It” for the year. That means players get tagged at work and in bed. They form alliances and fly around the country. Wives are enlisted as spies and assistants are ordered to bar players from the office.
“You’re like a deer or elk in hunting season,” says Joe Tombari, a high-school teacher in Spokane, who sometimes locks the door of his classroom during off-periods and checks under his car before he gets near it.
One February day in the mid-1990s, Mr. Tombari and his wife, then living in California, got a knock on the door from a friend. “Hey, Joe, you’ve got to check this out. You wouldn’t believe what I just bought,” he said, as he led the two out to his car. What they didn’t know was Sean Raftis, who was “It,” had flown in from Seattle and was folded in the trunk of the Honda Accord. When the trunk was opened he leapt out and tagged Mr. Tombari, whose wife was so startled she fell backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee. “I still feel bad about it,” says Father Raftis, who is now a priest in Montana. “But I got Joe.”
It could have been worse for Mr. Tombari. He was “It” in 1982, heading into the last day of high school. He plotted to tag a friend, who had gone home early that day. But when he got there, the friend, tipped off by another player, was sitting in his parents’ car with the doors locked. There wasn’t enough time to tag someone else. “The whole thing was quite devastating,” says Mr. Tombari. “I was ‘It’ for life.”
About eight years later, some of the group were gathered for a weekend when the topic turned to Mr. Tombari and the feeble finish to his tag career. Someone came up with an idea to revive the game for one month out of the year. Patrick Schultheis, then a first-year lawyer, drafted a “Tag Participation Agreement,” which outlined the spirit of the game and the rules (no “tag-backs,” or tagging the player who just tagged you). Everyone signed. The game was on.
One year early on when Mike Konesky was “It,” he got confirmation, after midnight, that people were home at the house where two other players lived. He pulled up to their place at around 2 a.m., sneaked into the garage and groped around in the dark for the house door. “It was open,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I could get arrested.’ ” Mr. Konesky tiptoed toward Mr. Dennehy’s bedroom, burst through the door and flipped on the light. A bleary-eyed Mr. Dennehy looked up as his now-wife yelled “Run, Brian!” Mr. Konesky recalls. “There was nowhere for Brian to run.”
Over the years, some of the players fanned out around the country—which curbed the action but raised the stakes. At one point, Chris Ammann was living in Boston. So Mr. Konesky dipped into his frequent-flier miles and crossed the country on the last weekend of the month. He spent the next two days in the bushes outside Mr. Ammann’s apartment, sitting in his friend’s favorite bar or driving up and down his street. Mr. Ammann never showed. Mr. Konesky was “It” for the year. “I felt bad,” says Mr. Ammann, who went out of town for the weekend. “I think I would have sacrificed getting tagged to spend some time with him.”
The participants say tag has helped preserve friendships that otherwise may have fizzled. Usually, though, the prospect of 11 months of ridicule overrides brotherhood. Mr. Schultheis once refused to help a colleague change his tire, fearing the guy had been recruited to help get him tagged. He sometimes goes to Hawaii in February, partly to lessen the chances of getting tagged. Every February, Mr. Schultheis’s office manager provides security detail as well as administrative functions. Mr. Tombari once tried to talk his way past her. “She knew it was tag time,” he says. “I wasn’t allowed in. Nobody got in to see him.”
Mr. Konesky, a tech-company manager, is now “It” again and has had 11 months to stew. With February approaching, he has been batting around a few plans of attack. He says he likes to go after people who haven’t been “It” for a while. That includes Father Raftis, who has been harder to reach since he moved to Montana but who, as several players pointed out, is a sitting duck on Sundays. “Once I step foot outside the rectory, all bets are off,” the priest says. “I have to be a little more careful.”
On most occasions I just give you guys a small blurb on the article, just enough for you to get the understanding. But this one was totally different. It just kept getting better and better. I felt the need that everyone needed to read the full thing. No hyperlink. The real deal right here.
This has to be the greatest story Ive read in a while. These guys live a thrilling life. A straight up man hunt for the entire month of February. Its like World War III for these dudes. And these guys arent just regular Wal-Mart workers or shit like that. One’s a chief marketing exec at Nordstrom’s, another is a priest, another is a tech-company manager and the last is a high school teacher. So 3 of them have highly respectable jobs, and yet they’re all down to earth 5-year olds. Im blown away with the priest. Those dudes are usually out touching little boys, not acting like little boys.
PMT, STL and myself get together for rounds of golf, beers, sporting events, things of that nature, but we dont dedicate an entire month to stalking each others lives and tagging one another. And thats a damn shame. We live within a 20 mile radius of one another too. Its not like Sean Raftis here who had to fly from Seattle to Spokane just to hide in a trunk and tag his unsuspected friend. While at the same time tearing the wife’s knee ligament. An unfortunate injury of the game. But thats what happens when you play with the big boys, Mrs Tombari.
The closest fun my life has ever come to this is when STL, my buddy Bobb-O, and I had a game going where we vandalized one another’s cars. I’d have girls over, go outside to bring them home and find groceries thrown all over my ride like a raccoon had just had Thanksgiving. We were stuck trying to hide our vehicles anywhere. I was parking my car 2 blocks from my house and walking home just so they’d think I wasnt there. I tried parking in my neighbors driveway… no dice on that one. They got me good that day with yogurt and pudding smeared all over my Plymouth. They also got me with eggs another time at a buddy’s house. I finished it off with pouring brownie mix all over STL’s truck and windows, then headed to Bobb-O’s where his truck got the treatment of KFC mashed potatoes with gravy all up under his door handles while grape jelly was squirt all over his nice white paint.
It was exhilarating sneaking onto their property at around 2am with spoiled food product. Thats how I rolled. No hunting down mid-day. I knew where they’d be at night. I knew everyone would be sleeping. And I knew it’d be cold enough at night to where it’d freeze making their mornings hell. Win, win, win. Im not sure how it ended but Im fuckin’ thrilled that it did. That was one of the most stressful times of my life. Worst than my lobectomy. So I can only imagine if I had to form alliances, hire assistants and spies, and look over my shoulder for 28 straight days. And then have to live with the regret and disappointment of being “It” for the next 337 days of the year. I’d be like Patrick Schultheis and probably take a month vacation every year from January 31st until March 1st. Head to like Russia or something.
PS, I love that they drew up a Tag Participation Agreement. Made this shit real official.