On a sunny Sunday Abington afternoon in mid-July, four warriors mount in a backyard off Rt. 139. Their battlefield: a banquet table; their weapon: a die.
Dave Comis, 31, sets the die by his shoulder and hurls a left-handed jump-shot to the far side of the table. The die flies wild from the springy surface and escapes the catch of Jason Brown, at the other end. Brown, 31, takes a sip from the beer sitting on his table corner. Comis and his teammate, Adam B., lead 1-0 over Brown and the fourth player, Mike H., in a sport they call “Beer Die.”
These ‘Die’ players will compete in a field of 100 for a chance to take Lord Brownie’s Cup, the coveted trophy for winning Brownie’s Beer Die Open (BBDO) on Aug. 14, in Abington.
Beer Die: a drinking game involving the toss of a six-sided die onto far ends of an 8-foot by 30-inch banquet table. Teams of two stand at opposing ends of the table, where each member sets a Solo cup full of beer at their respective corner. One member from the throwing team lobs the die at least nine feet in the air to the receiving team’s side. A member from the receiving team must catch the die with one hand after it hits his table section. If not, the throwing team earns one point; the receiving team takes a sip of their beers. Sinking die into cup, or a “plunk,” earns two points for the die hurlers; “plunkees” finish their beers. First team to seven points, by at least two, wins.
“Once the table sides were fair (territory), that’s when this game became a sport,” says Comis, a former champion of the BBDO, the annual bracket-style tournament sprouting Summer games throughout backyards off of Rt. 18 in preparation for the mid-August meet.
“Nobody wants to go into the tournament cold,” Brown says.
Originally an indoors gentlemen’s drinking game, where college students would sit down and casually toss dice for hours, Beer Die has spilled out onto grassy South Shore lawns and requires a high degree of athleticism while sipping suds. The ‘Die’ these warriors throw brings players to their feet and charges receiving teams to field errant projectiles in any direction they may spring from the table—the gentlemen’s version only counts dice that fly between the Solo goal posts.
“We may not have invented standup Beer Die, but we’ve perfected it,” says Brown, who spearheads the BBDO, which organically grew from a Wiffle Ball tournament about a decade ago. Brown said they’d play Beer Die after the tourney until 2002, when Brown decided to make Beer Die the main attraction. What started as about 30 players competing, grew to 88 contenders last year. Brown set the cap at 100 for this year’s BBDO, in the same backyard off Rt. 139. At this point, he has to turn some players away.
“I probably had 25 to 30 e-mails in May alone asking when the tournament was so people could plan their vacations,” Brown had said. But the Beer Die commissioner maintained an early-admission e-mail would not guarantee entrance into the BBDO. He has to know them or know someone who can vouch for them, he said. The tournament is about friends and family reuniting every year; if just anyone could compete “it (would be) too much of a liability.”
Even for friends and family, the BBDO enforces a strict no drinking and driving policy. Brown hires a shuttle service every year that ships players from the Cellar Tavern’s parking lot to the tournament. Aside from the 50-dollar entry fee, BBDO contestants also need a ride home.
“As long as responsible adults (of legal drinking age) have plans for alternate transportation, they can knock themselves out,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spokesperson David DeIuliis said, in reference to games like Beer Die. “We’re not an anti-alcohol organization. Our concern is more when these types of (drinking) games are marketed to minors.”
Now up 6-“bizz” (players say “bizz” instead of the number ‘5,’ or else they finish their beers), the long-bodied Mike H. cradles an incoming throw in his stomach and lets it fall to his open hand. Mike, 25, steps back about five feet from the table and launches a rocket from his over-6-foot frame for the win, but the die goes long. Brown and Mike sip their beers in penalty.
“You don’t see this very often:” Brown says, “four BBDO hall-of-famers.”
A game that usually goes to seven continues well beyond that. These All-Stars have earned their place in Beer Die history by not backing down so easily.
“If you aim for a (certain point) on the table,” says Adam B., “you’ll hit it 90 percent of the time,” after he pinpoints a section of the table to connect die. The prospect of “plunks,” which requires players to aim for the edges of the table, and likely inebriation often deter players from the consistency that this 25-year-old BBDO hall-of-famer speaks of.
Last year’s BBDO champion, Mike Vantine, would agree.
Someone whom the BBDO commissioner himself referred to as a “pitching machine,” Vantine said he played “meat and potatoes” Beer Die, trying to hit the table every time and force his opponents to catch every one of his throws.
“Going for ‘plunks’ is like (panning for) fools’ gold,” the 28-year-old defending champion said.
At 11-10 in favor of Comis-Adam, sure enough no one has “plunked” in a game approaching 30 minutes, three times longer than the average bout. After snagging a cube with his shortstop glove hand, Comis sets up a jumper to seal the win. He lets the die fly well over the 9-foot minimum and splits Brown and Mike down the middle of the table. The Comis-Adam tandem stands victorious, 12-10.
“I feel like it’s the end of that Wimbledon match,” Comis says, in reference to the record-breaking first-round match at this year’s All England Club Grand Slam, where John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut, 70-68, in the fifth set.