Article by Tommy Moriarty
Walking up to the San Marcos public library, the sound of music, provided by
Chief and the Doomsday Device, catches my attention first. “Electric Feel” by MGMT ends as “Whip It” by Devo begins. Walking closer, the sound of the crowd mixes in. Similar to the music, the crowd is also an eclectic mix of styles and ages. Hippies, old-timers, rambunctious children, and a man wearing hot pink high-heels and a long purple wig under a cowboy hat are all represented in the crowd. On the sideline, hot dogs sizzle on a grill filling the air with a savory sausage smell.
“It is a big family and it gets bigger and bigger. And we accept everybody as they are and where they are in life and everybody’s welcome always,” says Bruce, the colorfully dressed man in the cowboy hat.
This is the air during playoff Sunday of the Unicycle Football League’s (UFL) 13th season.
It’s an overcast day, but the rain holds off allowing the two teams, the Gnarwhals and the Unicorns, to play for a chance to be in the Stupor Bowl, the league’s championship game. The Gnarwhals take their name from the slang term “gnar” which in skating communities means “sick” or “cool” combined with the medium-sized whale, the narwhal. They dress in green jerseys with narwhals on the front and nicknames on the back. According to the UFL website, the Gnarwhals are one of the original three teams to compete in the league and they are led by “Slow Poke”, a deceiving name for the teams top scorer.
Opposite the Gnarwhals are the Unicorns dressed in yellow. This is their first UFL season. Instead of a mythical creature as their mascot, the Unicorns are represented by the grain vegetable, corn. They’re led by quarterback “Turbo” whose unicycle is painted to look like corn on the cob.
While only helmets are required, some players wear elbow, knee and shin
protection to play the unique version of “flackle”(flag+tackle) football. Players wear flags around their waist and ball carriers are tackled down when those are pulled. Players can also physically pull each other from the unicycles using a technique the official rules refers to as, “the least amount of force required to cause the ball handler to dismount their unicycle.”
According to the rules, field sizes vary in the league because “not all parking-lots are the same.” Generally, the fields are 100 units and first downs are divided up by 10 units, similar to football yardage. Players throw and pass the ball into the endzone to score six points. Then they can either go for a one point conversion where they throw or run the ball in from the three unit line or they kick a field goal for two points. The field goal posts are not fixed like normal football. Instead, three crowd members known as “Field Goal Foxes” link hands to form the uprights and players kick the ball while staying on their unicycle.
During the game, players crash into each other with equal parts ferocity and grace as they stay balanced on one wheel. After particularly aggressive plays, opposing team members smile and curse each other while helping fallen players up. Fans stand only a foot from the sideline and the commentator warns them that they are apart of the game saying, “Please don’t get your ankles snapped by a unicycle.” On the next play a Unicorn receiver narrowly misses crowd members sitting in lawn chairs.
Light-hearted trash talk defines most of the commentary heard at the game. After a missed pass the commentator pokes fun at the player saying, “ I hope he did something with those hands during the week because he forgot to use them on that play!” It’s a stark contrast from the never ending statistical analytics of regular football announcers.
The Gnarwhals dominated most of the game led by “Slow Poke”, who had four touchdowns. During a one point conversion, “Slow Poke” half somersaults off of his unicycle into the endzones. He leaves the game with a hand injury, but returns at the half. The Unicorns tried to battle back, but the game ends at 62-38 Gnarwhals.
The intense game draws people into the UFL, but it’s the community surrounding the game that keeps them. Sausage Fest a.k.a. Miles of the Hotdogs, says the community is, “amazing” and highlights the fact that you can come out on a Sunday, drink with your friends and enjoy free food. He says the group consists of “working professionals and pretty much hobos and anything in between.” As Miles talks, a fan of the Unicorns walks up with free cookies.
“This is San Marcos right here,” says Cody Ole, a longtime fan of unicycle football.
The Gnarwhals will take on Los Bierdos in Stupor Bowl XIII at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 8th at the San Marcos Activity Center.
Photos by Rebekah Perez
Video and Story by Karla Galvan
The Short History Of Unicycle Football
The Unicycle Football League was founded by Marcus Garland, AKA
“Larry Gunn”, who convinced enough crazy locals from San Marcos, TX to form two teams of Unicycle Football players and compete against each other in 2008. The idea was born when Marcus got bored with unicycling, and needed something more challenging. He combined two of his favorite things, unicycling and football.
In retrospect the early trials appear to be quite laughable but the league has unexpectedly grown into a highly competitive and entertaining sport that can be found nowhere else in the world. There is an incredible fan base within San Marcos who show up rain or shine to have a beer and watch the spectacle that is Unicycle Football.
Video by Charity Valverde