Jaded. Complacent. Bored. Three tags that could be placed on any team that has been dominant as the Gotham Girls Roller Derby All Stars have been over the years, as the New Yorkers have won three consecutive WFTDA world titles (four overall), 53 straight games, most by triple digits, and even one by 502 points last month.
In short, if winning is a habit, the ladies of GGRD are full-blown addicts. But when the spectacular becomes routine, a team could be ripe for a fall if they don't have the same desire to go through three-hour practices and give up personal lives in search of another Hydra trophy.
So is 2014 the year of the fall? Not if you're judging by the recent reaction of All Star Violet Knockout to the reality that this weekend is tourney time in Nashville.
"I was on the phone with my mom and I was getting things from a hardware store to hang up pictures in my apartment," she recalls. "I was running around, I had just got off work, and my mom said something about Champs this weekend and I just stopped because I got butterflies in my stomach. I was so excited and it just hit me. We've been working for this all year and I'm so excited to be able to do this again."
VKO is not alone in her excitement, and what folks on the outside of the team's CrashPad practice facility in Brooklyn don't realize, is that all the drudgery of the regular season is for this. It's to get another Hydra, cement the team as the best in the world for another year, and continue what can only be described as a derby dynasty. And though it may be a loaded question to ask, the no nonsense Violet is the perfect one to ask: Is the best version of Gotham yet?
"Absolutely, of course," she said. "Gotham continues to build and grow every year. We shake ourselves down after every championship and then we build ourselves back up. I feel like every year we've been a better version of ourselves."
It would be hard to argue with her. 9-0 in sanctioned WFTDA bouts this year, the team has continued to dominate, and it's been against top-level competition each step of the way. If the team was going to get caught napping, this would have been the year, and while Violet admits that there have been some rough patches, winning was still the end result.
"Going up against really tough competitors and stacking your season really high is a big deal for us and I think that we've done that this year," she said. "Even though we've beat people by a hundred points, they still say 'oh, Gotham got rattled,' and it's because teams and spectators can see that we make mistakes... We got into some pretty severe penalty trouble this season in the playoffs, and sure, we get rattled for a second just like any other team gets rattled for a second. We're all human beings. It's the ability to shake it off and come back and continue to execute a consistently smooth game while everyone is staying calm – that's what Gotham is very, very good at."
Gotham All Stars after winning 2013 WFTDA Championship. Photo by Tyler Shaw
Last month in Sacramento, GGRD stamped their ticket to this weekend's WFTDA Championship tournament with three wins over Kansas City (519-17), Rat City (297-92), and Denver (193-89) to take the Division I playoffs, and they will open their quest for another world title on Saturday at 2pm Eastern against the winner of Friday's Angel City vs. Texas game. Either team will be a tough challenge for GGRD, a team that has to learn from the small adversities over the course of a season because the big ones – losses – just haven't been part of the deal.
"You definitely benefit from losses and that's a thing that we don't get, and I think that's a detriment to us," Violet admits. "We operate on an excellent and strong slow burn, but when it comes down to coming back from a loss, we don't get to rally and come back from that. But people like my manager Buster [Cheatin'] and my captain Bonnie [Thunders] are so incredible because they keep us maintained at that level. They don't allow us to think anything less of ourselves. They always make sure that we know that what we have can go away very, very quickly. And you get lost in that as a team if you win too much."
It's almost like what future boxing hall of famer Bernard Hopkins told me before his 2004 fight with Oscar De La Hoya: "Motivation can come in all shapes and forms with me. If I go outside and all my tires are slashed, that's motivation. When things run smoothly, somebody has to break a glass; somebody has to do something. Some people need bumps in the road to make things happen. It don't always have to be downright dirty, ignorant stuff; it just has to be some type of motivation."
So what gets Gotham up every morning?
"We know how much we have stacked against us," Violet said. "We believe that because we know every year that we win puts so much more pressure on us to continue to win. And every year we win, it makes everybody want to see us not win. And I completely understand that. I root for underdogs; I would probably not root for us if I was not on Gotham. (Laughs) But that's our job. Our job is to stay humble and maintain the mindset that this is not our trophy. Yes, this is our championship to win, but it's going to be a battle every single game, just like this entire season has been a battle."
Now it's time to win the war.
Written by: Thomas Gerbasi