As mentioned before, controllers are generally Type A personalities, a component of which is competetive. That characteristic ran the gamut from inveterate gamblers (arguably diseased) down to choosing odds or evens for the honor on the first tee. But when it came to East Terminal vs West Terminal, I can’t imagine a more deep seated and intense rivalry.

One time it was decided we needed to, if not settle, at least temporarily establish the primacy of one or the other on the metaphorical “Playing Fields of Eton.” Students of history are aware that the Duke of Wellington allegedly claimed that “the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.“ According to one recent historian, the Wall Game, still played there, has yet to yield a point scored in the dozens of decades it’s been played. This is an apt analog to the following story.

The game was to be softball, the 16" variety, peculiar to the Chicagoland area, and it was to be played on a local school ground. If you know and understand controllers at all, you can’t help but be amused by the irony of that location. This was in 1977—today there would be a blanket order of protection for every school near an FAA facility.

I don’t recall the final score of that game, although I do remember that West Terminal won. I also remember catching a popup to short center (an actual position in slow pitch softball) and I distinctly remember the alcoholic haze surrounding that ball as I plotted its descent toward my upstretched hands (no gloves in 16"). There was a lot of beer on the sidelines that day.

Bragging rights (an utterly useless commodity which has no negotiating value whatsoever, yet generates enormous quantities of testosterone) are relatively short-lived, and it wasn’t long (probably from summer to winter) before another competition was created. This time, it would be a basketball game.

The softball game had been a relatively competent display of athletic performance, given the average age and condition of the participants, but the fact of the matter is, softball involves a fair amount of standing around—an activity for which middle aged adolescent controllers are well suited. Basketball, on the other hand, requires a higher level of conditioning, what with the running back and forth between baskets with the changes of possession. Not for nothing will you often observe the standard pose of a player at a pickup “sandlot” basketball game—player bent over, hands on knees—looking up at some action down court, breathing heavily and sweating profusely.

The merciful option would have been to play the game half court, but, no—these were men! No sissy half court games for them, full court it was. Someone arranged for gym time (another school, no doubt—would they never learn?), however, it was harder to maintain the beer consumption there, which, as it turned out, was probably a merciful consequence. I suspect we did compromise on twelve minute quarters—full fifteen minute would have been brutal to the point of suicidal—even controllers hyped up on macho have that much prescience. They should have been eight minutes.

I am happy to report that my most recent basketball experience was in seventh grade—I didn’t care for the game and had little aptitiude and almost zero experience. My less charitable colleagues might suggest that the same critria hadn’t kept me off the softball diamond, but I knew there was a difference, and I didn’t play. Suffice to say, however, that I was an intensely interested bystander. Go West Terminal.

It may have been the most painful spectator experience, ever. I won’t even inflict a quarter by quarter report on the patient reader. Let me just say, having watched the entire game, that you can accurately infer everything you need to know about the game from its result. And it doesn’t even matter which team was victorious. The final score? After 48 minutes of play? 13-12. I’m not sure there was a basket scored in the last quarter at all.

Except for hockey, which was never played intramural, and golf, which arguably isn’t an athletic event in the context of the foregoing, that was the final sports competition to the death ever conducted between areas at ZAU. We did ultimately field an FAA softball league, but the stakes were much lower and the results were spread out over six areas and a full season—and we had adult supervision with actual umpires from the City Parks Department.

I did learn a valuable lesson, however. Beer almost never helps an athletic activity unless you’re watching it.

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Last updated: 20 January 2011