San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 21st, 2008
Unicycle football surging in San Marcos

Turbo Van Winkle looks for an open receiver in last Sundays Stupor Bowl.

Turbo Van Winkle looks for an open receiver in last Sunday's Stupor Bowl.

The Gnarwals try to complete a pass at the Stupor Bowl, won 38-12 by the Unipsychos.

The Gnarwals try to complete a pass at the Stupor Bowl, won 38-12 by the Unipsychos.

Editor at Large

You might have been driving down Hopkins Street just west of the courthouse square last Sunday wondering about the fuss.

There, in a vacant parking lot, you saw 250 people watching ten guys on unicycles playing football.

And you’re still wondering about the fuss?

The advocates for unicycle football are already claiming at every turn that the game was invented in San Marcos, just because they’re so sure it’s going to hit really big.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to where we can make a little money at this,” said Turbo Van Winkle, star of the Stupor Bowl champion Unipsychos.

That was, indeed, the Stupor Bowl happening last Sunday afternoon on Hopkins Street, Stupor Bowl II, even, in which the Unipsychos defeated the Gnarwals by an easy 38-12 score as Van Winkle scored five touchdowns. The Stupor Bowl, you might have guessed, determines the champion of the Unicycle Football League (UFL).

Unicycle football and its Stupor Bowl sprung from the mind of Marcus Garland, an aquatic biology major at Texas State and barrista at Tantra Coffeehouse. The game and its following grew among regulars at Tantra, where study and society somehow get along to the detriment of neither.

Tantra, in turn, sprung from the mind of Nathan Todd, who grew up in San Marcos and wanted to create a “community center,” where older folks, working class people, young families and college students could, perhaps, get to know one another well enough to soften some of the well-known divisions in town.

Of course, being a freewheeling coffeehouse in a college town, Tantra is largely populated by freewheeling college students, along with the occasional old goofball, as well as some working class folks and young families. As Todd once said about the mix, “The more freaks, the better.”

The entire cast showed up for the Stupor Bowl on a sunny and calm Sunday afternoon to watch two five-man teams of unicyclists play football. The rules are basically like flag football. The game is played on a field on which the length is determined by the space available. Teams move down field by making first downs on their way to touchdowns.

The game had all the bells and whistles, including cheerleaders, halftime entertainment provided by Unsurpassed Profit, concessions and TV-style commentary at a press table by Garland and local comedian Nick Aluotto.

At the center of it all is Garland, whose team, the Hot Dogs, was unable to defend its UFL championship from last spring. Not having to play in the game, Garland was afforded more opportunity to organize and examine his creation, which was one of many, for Garland is known around Tantra as the guy who has weird ideas that work. Of course, Garland humbly disputes that characterization of his ideas.

“They don’t all work,” he said, “but they’re all weird.”

Garland has organized citywide water gun fights, among his projects. One of Tantra’s finest moments of the last several months occurred in October, when Garland had to put his local juggling title up against a challenger named Scott Dery, who drifted into town.

The side yard at Tantra was packed that Sunday evening as Garland and Dery exhibited two distinctly different styles of juggling. In the end, Dery’s miming, sleight-of-hand style won the crowd and the trophy from Garland’s more athletic performance, but Garland bore that disappointment with dignity and moved on to the next project. After all, it was the middle of unicycle football season.

“I thought about it a long time ago,” Garland said, remembering the origins of unicycle football. “But there was a problem. Where are you going to find the riders who want to play football?”

Garland said he pitched the idea to a local unicycle club, which didn’t seem interested. But Garland kept pushing, recruiting people to play in the league, winning Todd’s blessing to use Tantra as an informal base of operations and making arrangements with two nearby unicycle shops – Ozone Bikes in Austin and The Hub in San Marcos – to wholesale unicycles to the league.

Within three weeks after the start of this year, Garland was teaching 20 guys how to ride unicycles. A couple weeks later, the UFL was born.

The league played a competitive season during last spring’s semester, took the summer off, then launched again in the fall with three teams, each playing an eight-game season. The league’s popularity has grown to the extent that it’s adding two more teams for the next season – the Berzerkers and Unisaurus.

The next season will probably begin in January, after the holiday break at Texas State.

“We try to squeeze in as many seasons as possible,” said Turbo Van Winkle, which is the stage name for Michael Rowe. “It’s too much fun to take time off.”

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