The ‘It’ crowd vies for glory in three-decade tag game

The original group of tag-playing men who were the inspiration for the movie 'It'
AFP

Los Angeles (AFP) – Like scraped knees, hide-and-seek and hopelessly deflated soccer balls, tag has been a creative solution to playground boredom pretty much since they invented childhood.

But for one group of middle-aged men the fun never got stale, and they have spent the past 28 years locked in a game of tag so epic it has been turned into a Hollywood movie.

“Friendships aren’t all about laughs,” says Mike Konesky, one of the 10 friends from America’s Pacific Northwest who are the inspiration for “Tag,” being released by Warner Bros. on June 15.

“Life gets complex and no matter what it has thrown at us, we’ve been there for each other. And the game has always been there, too.” 

The high jinks started at their high school in Spokane, Washington, but the so-called Tag Brothers carried on through college, weddings, children, new jobs and new cities.

It’s the same game seen in schoolyards the world over, except that it is only played in February, meaning the person who is “It” at midnight going into March 1 carries the shame for the next 11 months.

The participants — among them a tech executive, an aerospace engineer and a Catholic priest — get tagged when they are at the office, conducting job interviews, burying relatives or asleep in bed.

– ‘Hunting season’ –

One of the friends, Joe “Joey T” Tombari, describes playing the game as like being “a deer or elk in hunting season.”

The competition initially ended on the last day of high school in 1982 but a reunion eight years later sparked the idea to reinstate the game, each player signing a “Tag Participation Agreement.” 

The ambushes have been impressively creative over the years. Tombari was once startled by a friend who had flown into California from Seattle and was lying in wait in the trunk of a neighbor’s car. 

The friend jumped out and tagged Tombari, whose wife was so startled that she fell and tore a knee ligament.

One of Mike Konesky’s best tags involved sneaking into another player’s bedroom in the dead of night when he left his front door unlocked.

Patrick Schultheis once refused to help a colleague change his tire, suspicious that he was being set up, and often spends the whole of February in Hawaii to avoid getting tagged.

When his father died, he even insisted on putting the funeral in play, noting that the old man had found the game hilarious. He was tagged as he sat on the front pew with the other mourners.

Their story was broken in 2013 by Russell Adams of the Wall Street Journal, who was surprised by the huge reaction to his article.

– ‘Dad bods’ –

“It didn’t take long to know that this story wasn’t going to disappear with the next day’s paper,” he wrote recently.

“Colleagues told me this was ‘a total Will Ferrell movie,’ which sounded too good to be true. Then movie people started calling.”

Ed Helms leads an all-star cast in “Tag” as Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, who brings the gang together for the wedding of their buddy, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the only player who has never been “It.”  

The film, Jeff Tomsic’s directorial debut, takes place over three days and was shot during the summer in and around Atlanta, Georgia, co-starring Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Hannibal Buress.

The tags in the film often seem like free-for-all brawls but required meticulous planning and no small amount of physical work by the cast.

There are pursuits in and out of a newspaper office, a hospital, people’s apartments and a cemetery. There is a country club brawl, a crazy golf cart chase, and some cunning booby traps.

“There was a lot of running, a lot of falling, tripping, a lot of dad bods flailing about in various states of not being in shape,” Hamm said. 

“And the problem with being in your 40s is your face does not look good in slow motion. There’s a lot of things that move that you just wish wouldn’t.”

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