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PLAAY Games in St. Paul, MN, November 1, 2014

Minnesota PLAAY Gamers at our All-Saints Event!"Saints Alive!" PLAAY Gamers (L-R) Danny Saukkola, Bill Hild, David Gray, John Ewing and Mike Olsen were the first arrivals for "All-Saints Day" in St. Paul.

A couple years ago, I had the idea of celebrating "All Saints Day" by playing a series of tabletop sports game featuring teams with the nickname "Saints." (As many know, I am a life-long fan of the New Orleans Saints, and as such have developed an affinity for ALL "Saints" teams.) Well, in 2014 year, All Saints Day fell on a Saturday, so I thought, why not make this an official PLAAY Games event? And--even better--why not HOLD the event in a city named after a saint? After a flurry of e-mails, it was decided: the first-ever PLAAY Games "All Saints Day" would be held in St. Paul Minnesota, Saturday, November 1, 2014!

After getting the green light from several Twin City PLAAY Gamers, the next step was to find a place which would host our event. I contacted Level Up Games in South St. Paul, and they were excited to have us! THAT was easy! I composed a list of PLAAY Gamers who lived within a couple hours of the Twin Cities, and asked those who expressed an interest in attending what their preferences were in tabletop sports. Then, I put together an itinerary of Saints games that would match the sports interests. Originally, I thought we'd have one game for each sport, but I realized that we had a majority of football and baseball gamers coming. So I extended the HMB action to three games, and added a second football game.

With a carry-on stuffed full of sports games and wearing my "Saints Football" shirt (underneath a fleece jacket!), I caught a VERY early flight out of Denver and arrived in Minneapolis airport Saturday morning around 9:30. After picking up my rental car (with the heater turned on full blast, it was 26 degrees!), I headed out from the airport on Minnesota route 5, past historic Fort Snelling, over to St. Paul and Level Up Games.

The event was scheduled to begin at noon, but when I arrived around 11:30, Bill Hild was already there! (He had altered me to the fact that he'd be wearing a Minnesota North Stars cap--so when I saw it, I knew it had to be him! We had much about which to get caught up--like me, Bill's a former radio guy, so we talked some radio. Bill has written a book about Presidents, "They Were President’s, Weren’t They?" so we talked about how sales were going (well!) and then some chit-chat about tabletop sports in general.

Right around noon, just like clockwork, folks started to arrive. (Something about us tabletop sports hobbyists, we tend to be punctual!) David Gray, Mike Olsen, and John Ewing arrived first, followed shortly after by Danny Saukkola--dressed in his Jared Allen Vikings jersey, ready to avenge the 2009 NFC Championship Game loss to the New Orleans Saints with a SECOND SEASON re-match. After the introductions were exchanged, and a little bit of small talk, we decided to get right to the action, with Mike Olsen talking the reins of the '09 Saints to face Danny's Vikings. On the other side of the game table, John and David faced each other with a different Saints-Vikings match-up, featuring the 1968 teams. About 1:00, Andrew Cleary arrived, and the last of our first-round action was underway: game one of a three-game HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL series between the 1955 St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, using home-brewed cards courtesy of Bruce Scott, from Sterling, CO.

During the game, our group grew to ten: Bill Szydlo and his son Caleb arrived and sat down to watch the '68 Saints-Vikings game. Shortly after, Wayne Anderson stopped by on his way to the Minnesota Wild game, and hung around to watch the Millers and Saints action.

Here's a re-cap of all the "All Saints" game action...

FOOTBALL: 2009 New Orleans Saints (Mike Olsen) 20, 2009 Minnesota Vikings (Danny Saukkola) 17

This was a game for the ages, Danny told me afterward his heart was pounding just like it was during the real game in ’09! Minnesota seized an early lead, capitalizing on a Drew Brees “pick six” that was returned to the house by Cedric Griffin, 57 yards for the touchdown, followed by a Brett Favre to Sidney Rice touchdown pass that made it 14-0 near the end of the first quarter. But after that, the game began to eerily resemble the real-life version, with Adrian Peterson alternating killing Viking drives and setting up Saints scores with a series of critical fumbles. Brees connected with Pierre Thomas from 2 yards out to make it 14-7, and Peterson’s fumble at the Minnesota 16 led to a Garrett Hartley field goal to make it 14-10. Darren Sharper then picked off Favre and ran it back to the Viking 26, setting up a go-ahead Saints TD, Brees to Shockey from 4 yards out, and New Orleans had a 17-14 halftime lead.

At that point, we all thought it was going to be a 34-31 shootout just like the real game was. Instead, it settled into a field position battle, with the Saints getting a 31-yard FG from Hartley in the third period to make it 20-14. The game’s pivotal play came early in the fourth period. Facing a fourth and three from the Saints 36, Danny elected to go for the first down rather than have Ryan Longwell attempt a 53-yard field goal. Favre dumped off to Petersen on a screen pass, and Peterson galloped down the sideline for a 23 yard gain. BUT—a flag on the play, the Vikings called for holding. That not only took away the first down, but also eliminated the chance for a field goal. Danny wound up punting, with Mike and the Saints taking over inside the ten yard line.

The missed opportunity loomed large late in the game. After a Saints punt, Danny drove the Vikings downfield, getting to the Saints 20 before fizzling out with 4:30 to play. Longwell’s 37-yard kick made it 20-17. After the kickoff, Mike managed to eke out one first down for the Saints, but then punted with just over 2:00 to play. At that point, the buzz around the table centered around what if Danny had taken the field goal on the earlier fourth-quarter series instead of going for it on fourth down? A 53-yard field goal was no “gimme,” but it assuming it was made, the score would now be tied 20-20. Instead, Danny’s Vikings trailed. Danny got the Vikings close to midfield but a fourth down pass to Percy Harvin fell incomplete with 36 second left, and New Orleans escaped with the win—again!

David Gray, Minnesota PLAAY Gamer'68 Winner: David Gray smiles after his '68 Vikings defeated the '68 Saints on "All-Saints Day" in St. Paul.
FOOTBALL: 1968 Minnesota Vikings (David Gray) 23, 1968 New Orleans Saints (John Ewing) 13

I was keeping the game book and stats for the 2009 game, so I was only able to follow the action on this game intermittently. It was a see-saw battle—another awesome game! The Vikings opened by trapping Billy Kilmer in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead, but FB Tony Lorick put the Saints on top with a two-yard touchdown burst. Minnesota regained the lead near halftime, on Dave Osborn’s 4-yard scoring catch, making it 9-7 at the half. After a scoreless third period, Kilmer found Dave Parks on a 6-yard TD pass early in the fourth period and again the Saints had the lead, although Charlie Durkee missed the extra point. But Minnesota drove down the field and regained the lead, Bill Brown bulldozing in from the seven, making it 16-13, Minnesota. Then came the turning point of the game, as John went to the trick play page for the Saints—resulting in a “trick play disaster,” Parks throwing an interception that set the Vikings up for an insurance touchdown, again carried across by Brown. For the game, Brown carried 20 times for 88 yards—overall, the Vikings rang up 212 yards on the ground, while Saints were held to just 51 yards on 27 carries.

BASEBALL: 1955 St. Paul Saints (Andrew Cleary) 20-9 vs. 1955 Minneapolis Millers (Bill Hild) 6-9

Again, being part of the football action, I was unable to keep close tabs on what was going on with the baseball games. There was PLENTY of hitting in this series, though—Bud Hutson for the Saints set the tone in the bottom of the first with a three-run home run before the first out was even recorded!! That opened the floodgates for the Saints, who would score in every inning except the third enroute to a 20-6 thrashing of the Millers in game one. Notable for the Saints was Bill Sharman’s performance: Sharman drew walks his first FIVE at bats, then got on-base with an error for his final at-bat!

Game two looked like more of the same, with the Millers committing a pair of errors in the first inning sandwiched around three hits, and the Saints took a quick 2-0 lead. By the end of the eighth, St. Paul had a comfortable 8-3 lead, with Sharman smacking a home run in a three-run fifth inning. Top of the eighth, though, a Billy Gardner home run drew the Millers to within two runs, 8-6. and after a Bob Lennon HR in the top of the ninth, Gardner drove in Irvin with a run-scoring single to tie the game at 8-8. St. Paul went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, both teams scored a run in the tenth to make it 9-9. At that point, with round two of the event beckoning, we decided to call the game on account of darkness…(to be continued!)…

Round Two of "All-Saints Day" got underway around 3:30...

Danny shed his Vikings jersey and swapped it for a vintage (and very cool!) gray flannel Minneapolis Millers jersey and cap, and picked up game three of the Millers-Saints HMB series, with John Ewing taking the Saints. David and Andrew took their places on the pitch coaching the EPL’s Southampton Saints and Newcastle, respectively….

BASEBALL: 1955 Minneapolis Millers (Danny Saukkola) 12, 1955 St. Paul Saints (John Ewing) 5

Another classic American Association slugfest, with the Millers striking for five runs in the bottom of the second inning, Irvin and Sawatski each clubbing home runs for a 6-1 lead. Lennon got his second dinger of the series in the fifth to make it 9-1. The Saints rallied for four runs in the eighth, but the Millers responded with three in their half. Carl Sawatski ripped his second home run of the game in the 9th to provide the icing on the cake in an easy Millers win, 12-5.

SOCCER: 2013-14 Southampton Saints (David Gray) 1, 2013-14 Newcastle (Andrew Cleary) 1

Sadly, I seem to have misplaced the score sheet for this game—I thought it was with the other game score sheets, but it’s MIA! Perhaps it will show up later and I can update this report. From memory, the Saints scored first, midway through the first half, Newcastle used a boost chip late to gain the equalizer.

HOCKEY: 1972-73 Minnesota Fighting Saints (Keith Avallone) 3, Alberta Oilers (Mike Olsen) 1

Bill had to leave a little early to be able to make it back to South Dakota before dark, so I took his place coaching the ’72-73 Fighting Saints in the redux of their playoff play-in game against the Alberta Oilers, who were coached by Mike. After a scoreless and mostly lifeless first period, Minnesota got on the board with a power-play goal in the 10th minute of the second period, Wayne Connelly with the unassisted goal. Then, a frenzy of shots—bare misses and great saves all around, until Connelly put the puck in the net again in the 17th minute, assisted by Terry Ball and Jim Johnson. Alberta finally got on the board with six minutes left to play, Jim Harrison’s shot trickling past Mike Curran, and the Oilers were back in it, 2-1. In the final minute, Mike pulled his goalie, hoping to send the game into OT, but instead the Saints clinched the game with an empty-netter by—who else?—Wayne Connelly, for the hat trick.

BASEBALL: 1955 Minneapolis Millers (Danny Saukkola) 11, 1955 St. Paul Saints (John Ewing) 9

Since we had some game time left, Danny and John decided to resume Bill and Andrew’s Millers-Saints game that was called by darkness, tied 9-9. The Millers got the go-ahead run in the top of the 12th on a solo homer by Ron Northey, and an insurance run from Dan Bollweg’s run-scoring double. The Saints were unable to get anything in their half, so the Millers took the game 11-9, and the series 2-games-to-1.

ALL-SAINTS SERIES FINAL RECKONING...

That left the series tied, 3-3-1. The Saints had won a football game, a baseball game and the hockey game, and the non-Saints had won two baseball games and a football game—and then there was the soccer tie. We collectively decided that the best way to settle it was to break the soccer tie with a penalty kick shoot-out. Talk about DRAMA! With eight remaining PLAAY Gamers, we split off four each for each team, with each of us rolling the dice for a penalty kick for our respective team. If tied after four kicks, we’d go to sudden death. It wasn’t necessary, as the Saints PLAAY Gamers converted all four kicks, while the Newcastle PLAAY Gamers missed one—(I don’t remember who it was, but I do remember that it was a SPEC SAVE by the Saints’ keeper that kept the ball out of the net!)

So, the game—and the All-Saints Day series—goes to the SAINTS!!

All-Saints Day Round Three: BOWLING!

That took us to 5:00, and the final event of the afternoon—the “All Saints Open Bowling Tournament” with BOWL-O-RAMA! I read the results from the bowling cards and kept score while the seven remaining PLAAY Gamers bowled for PLAAY Games gift cards—$50 for the winner, $25 for the two runners-up. It was a two-game series, no handicap, total pins, participant mode, using the generic 195 average card—putting everyone on equal footing, not quite at the pro level, but pretty good.

For the first game, scores were a little low as people got the hang of rolling the d20 down the card stock alley. Andrew rolled the high game with a 198, followed by David with a 193 and Michael with a 181. Game two, Bill came on like gangbusters, rolling strikes in the 7th, 8th, and 9th frames, finishing with a 214. Added to his 167 from game one, that gave him an All-Saints Day best two-game total of 381—the winner!! David and Michael ended up with 374, tied for second place. Here are the final two-game totals…

Bill Szydlo, 381 (214-167)
David Gray, 374 (193-181)
Mike Olsen, 374 (181-193)
Andrew Cleary, 338 (198-140)
Danny Saukkola, 335 (146-189)
John Ewing, 323 (178-145)
Caleb Szydlo, 264 (122-142)

Amazingly, the bowling tournament ended exactly at 6:00, just as planned! We hung around a little while longer and visited, and then Danny and I headed out to grab some dinner at the Mall of America while everyone else headed home. All in all, a memorable time with good games and GREAT people!

A special thanks to Coary and the gang at Level Up Games for being such great hosts for our event. If you’re near the Twin Cities and looking for a great game store, this is IT. Spacious, clean, comfortable, bright and friendly!