By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s the broken record of all broken records in roller derby. If you’re going to watch one Gotham Girls Roller Derby game all year, it’s this Saturday’s bout between the defending champion Manhattan Mayhem and the Brooklyn Bombshells at John Jay College in NYC. To the uninitiated, that’s mere hyperbole. To those who have seen this rivalry play out, it’s an understatement. But as we do every year, a look at the numbers tell the tale.
2013 – Brooklyn 178, Manhattan 171
2014 – Manhattan 170, Brooklyn 169
2015 – Brooklyn 153, Manhattan 148
2016 – Brooklyn 161, Manhattan 158
2016 – Manhattan 149, Brooklyn 146
Five games decided by a combined 19 points. For you mathematicians at home, that’s an average of 3.8 points. In derby, that’s unheard of. In fact, if one game ends with one team up by 19 points, that’s considered a nail biter. So while the ladies of Manhattan and Brooklyn are friends off the track and league mates through and through, when the whistle blows, it’s always Ali vs. Frazier on skates.
“There’s a reason why we didn’t pass on a Memorial Day practice,” laughs Chugs Brewkowski of Manhattan. And after losing their opening bout to Queens in March, there’s even more on the line if they want a chance to repeat as champions in August.
“It’s a pivotal game, and it’s a championship game to us in the sense that however it goes affects how the rest of our season goes,” Chugs said. “So there’s no loss of weight to it, especially because of who we’re going up against. It completely affects our season and, in a lot of ways, the rest of the games for the entire league.”
A win for Brooklyn, who defeated the Bronx Gridlock in their season opener, will put them in the driver’s seat for a return to the championship game, with their likely opponent being the unbeaten Queens squad. But there’s sixty minutes of derby to be played before that possibility can even be discussed.
“For me, personally, I don’t even look at the championship game as a championship game,” said Brooklyn’s Miss Tea Maven. “For me, a game is just a game. If you put any additional weight behind it, I feel like it’s just giving yourself and your team extra, undue stress. We all feel it, we all know it, there’s no reason to call more attention to it. But as always with Manhattan games, we always know it’s going to be really physical and extremely tough. We know that going in, but we’re always prepared to just play Brooklyn’s game.”
The Brooklyn way of derby didn’t truly make an appearance until the second half of the Bronx game, a testament to the difficulty of bringing in a host of new skaters to the roster. Sure, some of these skaters are well known competitors like Donna Matrix, V-Diva, Sweets McBacon and Bellatricks, but the sport has shown that putting a bunch of all-stars on a team doesn’t make them a team.
“It’s a different team,” Maven said. “They’re veteran roller derby players, but they’re not veteran Brooklyn players, so this season has been very focused on trying to get everyone on the same Brooklyn page. It’s been a lot of retraining habits and strategies to fit within Brooklyn’s strategy.”
By the second half against the Gridlock, though, it was Brooklyn again, as they skated to a 167-148 victory. Now they’ll look to put a dent in the championship aspirations of the team that killed theirs in the final bout of 2016. And Manhattan knows the Bombshells will be coming at them hard.
“The pressure is always at 110,” Chugs said. “And any loss hurts just as much as a loss that keeps you in or out of it (the championship). We came into the season as returning champs and as a team that went through some big losses and retirees and a variety of injuries, but it’s a whole new season. There was an insane amount of pressure in the first game, and there’s definitely even more now.”
With the stakes higher than ever, the intensity should ramp up even more, and with so many GGRD All-Stars on the track and a packed house expected, the skaters are hoping it was Saturday night already.
“One thing that I’ve experienced a lot is how much the fans affect the experience and why it feels so epic every time, every game,” Chugs said. “There’s always something about the boroughs, the teams and the fans that we both have that makes every moment full of oohs and aahs. The sound in the arena is overwhelming from the minute the game starts.”
And is there anything like that sound?
“It’s phenomenal and empowering and devastating, all at the same time,” Chugs laughs. “It adds so much intensity to every feeling that you have about the game and what’s on the line, and how proud you are of your teammates. Everything you feel, you feel ten times more because the crowd is adding to it. It’s deafening sometimes because it’s hard to focus in and remember that everything you’re doing on that track, you’re doing for your teammates. But it’s a nice bonus to have a whole arena that cares about it too.”
So it all comes down to the same question asked every year. What is it about Brooklyn and Manhattan that makes for such compelling and dramatic derby? Maven believes it’s because of a clash of cultures, with the Mayhem bringing the intensity and the Bombshells being more laid-back.
“We’re very calm throughout the entire game,” she said. “I find that Manhattan brings all of their passion into the game, which sometimes brings them up to the next level and sometimes that passion leads to more penalties. Brooklyn is steady the entire game, and that can mean victory at the end or we come out just a little bit short.”
Fire and Ice, then? Or maybe we can call this one “Opposites Attack.”
Tickets for Saturday available here.