A few weeks have passed since the Robowranglers won our third World Championship title in Houston. Everyone has had time to rest, bask in the glory, and then debrief together as a team. The joy of a big win can make even the most mundane stories feel significant. The normal boring competition grind made transcendent by the simple virtue of the champion's narrative.
Small rituals become big. A simple joyful release becomes a symbol of celebration. #VictorySpins
I'll do my best to tell the interesting stories from the Robowrangler Championship run. The big ones, the small ones, and the ones no one gets to typically see.
That said... I'm happy to bask in the moment again, and share the experience with you.
I apologize in advance for how long this post is... much longer than even my normal "long-form" blogs. I want to capture as much of the feeling and story as possible, so I can look back on this in a few years and remember what it was like...
If that's not for you? TL;DR - "We won, it was fun... enjoy the silly pictures!"
Before I go "full ramble" let me at least give you a run-through of the story from top to bottom.
Something we talk about among the leadership on 148 is "narrative". We all have our own version of how events happened. We tell ourselves stories about the past, we have our view of the truth, and that truth becomes THE TRUTH. Everyone has a different view, everyone tells a different version of the story... this one is mine.
Where should it start? This story really starts when champs prep started.
The Lead-Up: "We're Feeling Blue."
On April 13th, FIRST announced the division assignments for teams attending the World Championship in Houston. The Robowranglers were assigned to be in the "Hopper Division".
I wrote in my 2018 Championship Final Prep update and in my 2018 Championship Alliances post that we don't care what division we're in, and we go into every event with NO preconceived notions of who we want to play with.
"We love playing with old friends.
We love playing with new friends. Do you want to be our friend?"
This is all true, but it's not the whole truth.
I also wrote something along the line of "we are looking to play with the best alliance we can" and that "our scouts are hard at work doing pre-scouting." Just like most other people in the world... we knew there was one team in particular that might help us build that "best alliance" possible.
I mean... it doesn't take amazing scouts. Team 254 - The Cheesy Poofs (often referred to in the House of Black as "Big Blue" or "Das Poofen") were UNDEFEATED entering the Championship (30-0!) They have a robot that perfectly matches the criteria listed in my "Who we want to play with" post, and seemed (even from a distance) incredibly complimentary to the Robowrangler style of play.
Yes, we walked into the Championship feeling very, very Blue.
And yes, every time someone talked to me about it, I had to do some version of "don't count your chickens before they're hatched" but at the same time - we had our hopes.
Preparing for Blue
From the minute we got back from Denver, we started preparing for our run at the World Championship. We didn't know who we'd be playing with. We didn't know who we'd be playing against. We didn't know if all the preparation and work would even matter... but we knew we had to try.
We talked about hypothetical partners. We talked about hypothetical opponents. We talked about the "toughest alliance we could expect to see" and how we could match it. Our friends on Big Blue provided a nice Big Blue Benchmark for "top alliance" play.
Like many other teams out there... we spent a lot of time talking about how to beat 254 (and the 4-cube auton we rightly assumed they've have by Champs). We have a pile of anti-poof strategies. Some of them seemed pretty promising, but they all depended heavily on who we were playing with, and who they were playing with.
Of course... When the divisions came out, we smiled cautiously, slowly put the anti-poof playbook into our bag for safekeeping, and opened up the much simpler "Black-N-Blue" playbook.
As I said in my pre-champs post: once divisions came out, lots of teams started reaching out to one another. 148 engaged with probably 12-15 teams from our division in the week leading up to Houston.
Now many people probably assume: "So you called up California, and said 'CONNECT ME TO THE POOFS' and then got down on one knee and proposed?"
Both our teams know enough to wait and see how things play out.
We do the same dance we always do. Here's how it goes, every time:
- We share the few things we need to share, so we're prepared to play together
- We each hold our most important cards close to our chest.
- We wait to see how it plays out.
- We slowly open up, as it becomes more obvious how it's playing out...
The only real contact between 148-254 before Champs were a few emails about the autonomous modes we each had. Perhaps my favorite little joke of the season was the title of the email they sent...
"How many autos you got?"
This conversation was pretty straight-forward.
The Robowranglers had prepared for both a Right/Left split (where 1 robot lines up left, the other lines up right, and whoever gets the scale on their side runs the scale auton) but we also planned for a Front/Back split (where 1 robot ALWAYS does the scale, and the other always does something else). Otherwise it was Robowrangler Business as usual.
Championship Practice Day
"You can't win an event on practice day, but you can lose it..."
We heard that load-in at the Houston Championship was a major disaster last year, so the Robowranglers showed up early. We didn't want to lose valuable time, waiting in a traffic jam of trailers.
In fact... we were the first ones in line for load-in. (Or so I'm told, I was definitely still asleep in bed back at home when they were waiting in line). This year, we brought peanut-butter and some bread. Apparently we setup a sandwich station and made some PB for a bunch of teams. (This would NOT be the last time we ended up feeding other teams with our emergency peanut butter).
While that was happening, the rest of the team relaxed a bit in Houston, while the mentors slowly began trickling in. I unfortunately had some travel issues along the way...
The team did not seem sympathetic. Maybe that's because I make this joke (or some version of it) every time we drive past a Buc-ee's.
Once the doors opened, the pit crew got setup and immediately began attacking "the list" for Champs. By the time the doors opened for the public, the robot was mostly ready for battle.
The Pit Crew did a full Championship "Oil Change" on the robot. This is something we started doing in 2016; the violence of that game caused some critical components to fail over time, so we got in the habit of replacing them like you'd change the oil on your car...
- Replaced Main Breaker
- Replaced PDP Fuse
- Replaced All Surgical Tubing
- Replaced elevator 775pro motors
(After extended use, the "stall the motors to hold the elevator up" takes its toll. The practice robot motors would burn out after a few weeks of usage.)
- Replaced Drive Wheels
- Tightened Elevator Ropes
Plus, we installed the Mk10 intake and built up all our spares! Everything went smoothly with one exception: we've changed out the elevator motors on the practice bots 4-5 times already. This is a routine job and one the pit crew wasn't worried about... but murphy is always around.
I popped over to the pit after getting my badge at check-in, and asked how it was going.
"Well... we dropped a plate during the motor swap, and once that plate comes out of alignment it makes the elevator repair a bit of a problem. It's a biiiiiiit hard to reinstall since it's right there in the center of the robot." - George
"Ohh... well that doesn't seem too bad. Let's get it to inspection soon?" - Optimistic JVN
"It's not okay. It's going to be a while." - Madison
(Who gave me a look which very clearly conveyed: "The field coach and lead engineer are NOT welcome in the pit right now. Leave.")
I don't mess with Madison. I walked away very quickly...
Eventually the robot was good to go! At a regional competition, we'd immediate jump into the filler-line and try to catch some practice matches on the real field. At Championship... we do things a little different.
- We were scheduled for the 2nd to last practice match.
- There are so few practice matches on the real field, it's hard to get more than your one allotted run.
- We didn't need to test any mechanisms.
- We didn't need to train the drivers.
- We needed a quick "does the robot do everything it should be doing after we changed the oil?" type run.
- We needed to tune in autons.
- We needed to tune in autons.
- We NEEDED to tune in autons.
(Side Note: I can't wait until Texas goes to districts, and we get "unbag" time with the competition robot. We'd be able to tune all this in ahead of time, in our shop).
So what did we do? We took the robot over to the "first come, first served" practice fields, and we ran and ran and ran and RAN. We'd complete a 10-minute session, and get right back into line for another session.
That would be the plan for the entire weekend. We got really good at running autons on the practice field, and had no trouble tuning in all the ones we brought with us, plus building some new ones up.
"And then we waiting for match schedules to be released..."
Oh wait, never-mind. They came out the week beforehand! We knew EXACTLY who were were playing. We'd already begun prepping with our partners the minute doors opened!
The qualification matches were great. The team was in high spirits all the way through. We had some things go our way, and had some visits from Murphy cause things to go NOT our way. We had some really fun matches with and against old friends, but MOSTLY... we had matches with teams we've known for years "casually" but never gotten to compete with. I LOVE these kind of matches!
We ended qualifications with a record of 15-1, seeded #3 (1 point away from #2 seed - ahh the frustrations that come from a defective Xbox controller).
Our blue friends from California seeded #1.
But wait... I've skipped ahead.
254 seeding #1 became a very high probability around lunch-time on Friday. They came over and said some version of the most powerful phrase in FRC: "So, we doin' this thing, or what?"
Come to think of it... I don't think they even asked if we'd say yes. In retrospect... that's awfully presumptuous of them, don't you think? What if we didn't WANT to work with them?
Interestingly... we had a chance to see for ourselves how it would work out.
We've been eyeing Qualification #113 since the schedule came out... and apparently we were NOT the only ones.
Knowing that we would play together in this qualification match (the second to last one of the division), knowing that we didn't even need to show up to this match for 254 to seed #1, and knowing that 254 intended to pick us for the elimination rounds... We wanted to see what it was like to play together! It's rare that you get a rehearsal with your championship elimination partner!
We met with 254 and 59 on one of the practice fields right before our match, and got a chance to test out our auton coordination, and our match-flow.
Plan for the qual match? We figured... go out, score some cubes... jump on some forks... put on a show.
We were all feeling pretty good about it!
Little did we know... something interesting was going to play out.
Hopper - Qualification Match #113
Every so often, the qualification schedule gives the spectators a gift. A match-up which has more firepower than many elimination alliances. The schedule sometimes yields pairings that the arm-chair strategists will describe as: "better than Einstein" or "will definitely set the high-score of the year."
Most of these super-matches? They turn out to be COMPLETE DISASTERS.
TOTAL let-downs. The ultimate end with a "whimper" not with a "bang" matches. Someone will end up not moving. Two teams will get tangled up. Someone will fall over.
It. Always. Happens.
But nobody told that to this crowd...
I've never coached in a super-match, so this was a new experience. It was surreal to be down there. The Robowranglers in the stands said that you could very obviously see the bleachers from surrounding divisions migrate into the Hopper stands - like gravity pulling people in to watch. Down on the floor, everyone in the entire event with a VIP badge found themselves standing around our field for some reason.
"So, is this going to be a sneak preview of something we'll see tomorrow? Ehhhh? Ehhhhhhhhhh?"
How did it play out? Did we get to "put on a show"?
Yes... just not the one we expected. There was one thing which we didn't count on.
I talked to the red-card team afterwards, let them know we didn't appreciate the kind of play we saw in that match. They said it was a big misunderstanding. They knew they had to play defense in that match, but it was a new driver who didn't understand the rules, etc, etc.
All is forgiven. "Best of luck going forward."
My favorite part of re-watching that match is you can pinpoint the exact moment when I tell Coleman and Katie "Ok... I'm done with this. Go bury their switch."
It turns out our belly-pan took a nice little shot in this match, which caused some small issues later on. Easy to fix once we found it, but kind of a bummer...
Random Side Note...(okay, I know I promised no "side notes" until the narrative was done but this one is too good.)
Apparently right before this match, one of our students was talking to this team at they waited in queue. She told them "Nice bumpers" since, the bumpers were very well constructed, and she was being friendly.
They didn't understand her, due to the language barrier. So they pull one of their english speaking teammates over.
"I said... Nice bumpers. You guys have really well built bumpers." - "Oh yes, thank you. You see, we do not have an arm for scoring, so we need to be bumping in this match." - "Ohhhhh, okay. Good Luck!"
It was only later that she understood that this interaction was completely amazing.
So now everyone knows: If you ever find yourself on the wrong side of a tough-match... put your best bumpers on and give em the old "Turkish Delight".
Preparing for the Pick-Meeting
One of the virtues of being #1 seed at an FRC event, once you lock up the #1 you get to spend the entire time between then and alliance selection working with who you're going to pick #1. At the Championship, this means you get the ENTIRE NIGHT BEFORE to plan and discuss - not some brief lull before the draft starts.
Once we knew we'd be together, 148 and 254 immediately started coordinating. We both have entire teams of people dedicated to getting the alliance "War Ready" and as such there was no shortage of hands to do the prep work. Both teams had conference rooms reserved at nearby hotels, so we planned to meet up after our team dinners that night.
The Friday Night Meeting
As we walked over to the 254 hotel, "the boss" told a few of us (myself included): "Look, you had better be on best behavior. I don't want these guys to think we're a bunch of crazy goofballs. BEST. BEHAVIOR."
There were several times during the meeting where I heard an exasperated shout of "JOHN!" from the boss in the back of the room, and realized... I was not, in fact, on my best behavior.
This meeting was very smooth. One of the best pick-list meetings I've ever attended. We were INCREDIBLY impressed by how 254 runs things, and took lots of notes for future Robowrangler improvement.
The meeting wasn't really about the "pick list" and more "strategy planning". Most of the discussion surrounded how we wanted to play the game. We talked about what role we saw for both robots during autonomous and then during driver control. We talked about how they'd transition between them. We talked about what we wanted for our 3rd robot, and how we'd adjust the 148/254 roles based on what our capabilities we got from our 3rd and 4th robots.
This was an amazing discussion. It was fun to finally engage "outside our team" in a debate about the underlying strategies of this game. It was a serious discussion, with very passionate people, but there was still a lot of joking around (this was the part where the boss face-palmed at some of the things I said.)
Once we had larger consensus on the underlying strategy, we talked about "the list" to see who'd actually be available. This didn't take very much time, since 254 had already done a lot of it ahead of time and our scouts agreed with 99% of their thoughts.
The Strategy Discussion
254 and 148 both have a lot of FRC strategists (I think there were 6 or 7 former "Einstein coaches" in the room). We decided to talk through a lot of the decision-trees, and discuss in advance the "audibles" that Kevin (the 254 coach) and I might make mid-match. There was a lot of "What do you do in this situation?" and "At what point does 148 break away from the scale?"
The result, was a scripted, robust-seeming strategy we simply called: "Plan A" which had forks and contingencies built into it, with clearly defined roles for each alliance robot.
It was refreshing. I came out of that meeting happy with "Plan A". (More on Plan A, later).
The Morning Before Battle
The virtue of the #1 seeded alliance... as soon as the doors opened, we setup our elimination pits behind the Hopper Division stands. Both 254 and 148 are designed to be very "mobile" for specifically this situation.
The morale on the floor was great. Lots of coffee, lots of joking around, lots of "I can't wait to get this party started" energy.
The Alliance: Black-N-Blue (and Green and Purple)
We were absolutely SHOCKED that these two teams were available. 2976 was in the top 10 teams on our list! Both robots had 2-cube Switch Autons. Both were good at defense. Both were easy to work with.
Team 3075 was seeded 65/68 in Hopper! Everyone who thinks teams like 254 and 148 care about the seedings, take note. The rankings don't matter. We watch EVERY team. Show what you can do, be fun to work with, and someone will notice.
For the purposes of Plan A, both of these robots were strategically identical, which was exactly what we were hoping would happen. If there was any problem with one of the robots, the other could step in and fulfill the same role without 148 or 254 needing to change the primary match play. It's fun working with these NASA guys! They've got a solid Department of Redundancy Department.
The Hopper Division
Our alliance was VERY focussed on the Hopper division. We did NOT look ahead. Enough of us have been hurt by doing that in the past, that it was easy to stay focussed.
I had a lot of people walk up and tell me things like "Did you see so-and-so picked such-and-such?!?" - (No. I didn't.) "Did you hear that the whozawhatzits got eliminated?!?" (NO. I did not.)
We ran the same strategy in every match, regardless of which robots were playing. Everyone had the same job every time. Everyone had the same set of "audibles" they could call if certain cues occurred.
We scripted 4 different "match starts" depending on the randomized field. Each of these obviously had a different autonomous combination, but they also had different "first moves" to begin driver-control.
It's humiliating to look back at the matches early in the run and see those times we botched it.
"Ohhh crap, we were supposed to cross over there, sorry Kevin!"
The Strategy - "Plan A"
When it ran smooth, it ran smoooooooooooooth.
- 254 hits the scale in auton with 3.5 or 4 cubes. (Yay!)
- 148 (depending on random field config) either does 1 in the scale, 2.5 in the switch (from the back), OR just gets in position for the start of driver control.
- 2976 or 3075 put 2 in the switch, then get ready for teleop
- When teleop starts - 148 + 254 keep hitting the scale until JVN decides 148 should break away.
- 2976 or 3075 support the initial scale battle.
- When 148 breaks away, we move into the "attack robot" role - hit the far switch, while keeping one eye on how the poofs are doing in the scale battle.
- 254 goes into "Protect the Scale" mode with one eye on the home switch.
- 2976 or 3075 drop back to protect the home switch and do the exchange (4 cubes, only).
- 254 breaks away from the scale if Kevin decides it is secure.
- Everyone plays "situational defense" if we have the lead, and own the scale.
- If 2976 or 3075 are engaged, 254 drops back to do the exchange.
- 148 drops back to support 254 as needed. (Let's face it, those guys only called for help like, maybe twice.)
- Opponents then get to choose to continue fighting 254 on the scale or do something about the "pesky black blur" wreaking havoc on their side of the field.
- 148 gets the heck beat out of us while drawing defense. (Wait... this is really part of the plan? I'm not such a fan of this one.)
- 148 has the "Ohh, you think you're defending me... Did you know I'm actually defending you?" moment with one or two of our opponents.
- 254 Lifts 2976 or 3075 as primary end-game.
- 254 Lifts 148 as secondary end-game.
- 254 and 148 single-climb next to each other as tertiary end-game
- 148 hangs by themselves as worst-case end-game.
- 148 #VictorySpins as Super-Secret Special end-game.
The 254 and 148 robots were very complimentary. I giggled every time we drove "underneath" 254 while they were scoring on the scale. I loved watching that big beautiful blue machine hammer the scale in auton, and loved seeing light-weight Uppercut leap onto the attack at the beginning of teleop.
We REALLY enjoyed playing "Attack Robot". It was a role that Uppercut was designed to play. Most of the time it was satisfying, other times it was frustrating. We spent large portions of each match driving blind on the far side of the field, relying on the camera for driver vision, while under heavy defense. I mean... this is why we train, right? When the Poofs asked if we felt comfortable with this role... we eagerly accepted.
"I hope you guys are having fun over there, because we're getting the <HECK> beat out of us by 2 robots!"
"Yeah! Can you believe they committed TWO robots to defending you guys? This is GREAT, we're being left totally alone over here."
"Well... glad we can be your big-black-bullseye and draw all the defense."
"Keep it up, you make a GREAT distraction!"
Robowranglers 2018: Uppercut - Professional Decoy. (We also bury switches, sometimes).
We had a great run, and I loved the interactions between the teams on the field. It felt like everyone was just having fun down there. We especially enjoyed playing against one of our "Einstein Bros" FRC 2990 in the semi-finals. Those guys were wonderful in 2016, and it was great to play on the same field with them again. "Let's do it again sometime soon, eh?"
The People, The Teams, The Friends
This is probably a good point to pause and admit a fear of mine.
Honestly... most of this run is a blur. There are so many stories to tell. So many teams to congratulate or thank, so many friends I see once a year, so many people who I had wonderful but brief interactions with... I'm struggling to write about ANY of them. One of the reasons this blog post took longer to write than normal (beyond my usual laziness) is that I'm trying to figure out how to capture this experience, to capture my narrative of this experience without offending anyone by omission.
So will you permit me a more blanket statement? I have wonderful memories of everyone we played with and against, and I appreciate ALL the people who took a few moments to interact with me or the Wranglers. We are incredibly thankful.
Back to the story...
The Lunch Break
When we won the Hopper Division, nothing changed.
There were some quiet celebrations, but down on the floor the mood remained: "We have lots of work left to do."
We made sure everyone on the floor got some food. We kept everyone hydrated. We kept everyone working. Checks, and re-checks. Tuning. Preventative maintenance.
What was it like down there? Peanut butter sandwiches, for anyone who wanted them.
The constant repeated mantra of 'focus on your jobs, do your part and we will win our share' over and over again.
We wanted to be ready for whatever was coming out of the other divisions...
I've had the privilege of coaching on Einstein twice (2008, 2018). This is the fifth time our team has been to Einstein since I've joined. In every single run, every time we play on that hallowed field, ONE thing sticks out above all the others.
The mood on the floor is hard to describe. The mutual respect among the teams who make it out of their divisions is palpable. Each alliance down there has the shared experience of "making it out". Unless you're Citrus, this is a magic moment.
"If we can just make it out of the division, that would be enough. Then we'll just see what happens. Once you make it out, you've got a good a chance as anyone."
"We've been there before... we need to get back. We need to get there again. If we can get there again, this time we can go all the way."
"This is the year it feels right. I've watched from the stands so many times and I just want to see what that carpet feels like. What the lights feel like... I want to walk out of that tunnel."
The round-robin magnifies this feeling, multiplies it. You know you're going to play every. single. alliance. out there... at least once.
There are 24 of us in the arena.
We nod to each other. We salute. Slap each other on the shoulder. Fist bump. High five.
We congratulate each other. We exclaim in surprise when we find an unexpected friend on THE floor. We share quiet moments, innocuous to the situation.
We review the schedule. Who do we play first? Who do we think will be the tough matches? Which alliance do we know? Do we have friends from that division who can give us insight?
Who do we face... first?
We didn't look ahead. I swear we didn't. Except... sometimes you don't need to - sometimes the news finds you. We had 5 matches in the Round Robin. We knew every one of them would be unique. We knew ALL of those alliances could beat the heck out of us if we weren't careful. But everyone was talking about one match in particular.
It's the matchup the pundits wanted to see. From the minute the divisions came out the robotics community was talking about two divisions in particular - Hopper vs. Newton. The consensus among the morning-show-strategists seemed to be that whichever alliances made it out of these divisions would provide one heckuva show on the big stage.
"Did you hear? It's Citrus and Up-A-Creek!"
"No, I haven't been paying attention..." lied the 148 coach as he sipped his coffee.
"Did you hear we're facing Newton first off in the round robin?"
All the alliances on Einstein were formidable. The Robowranglers had lots of friends out there, but the Newton alliance in particular had a shine on them. Maybe it was the hype. Maybe it was the pundits. But more than likely it was the familiarity...
You see, while the Newton alliance consisted of four very potent teams... it included Team 1619 - Up-a-Creek Robotics - the Robowranglers' partner from the 2018 Denver Regional and newly found "Mile High Bros" and Team 1678 - Citrus Circuits - another #TeamIFI team, the Robowranglers' 2013 and 2016 Championship partners and "Two-Time Einstein Bros".
It's always nice to bump into your bros, on the big stage...
Side Note: I've searched and searched... but I couldn't find any camera footage of Mike Corsetto and I making "Grrrr...." trash-talk faces at each other across the field before the match-start. (Seriously. I think one of my favorite memories were the small interactions before and after this match, many of which were 100% non-verbal).
We all knew this would be a fun one. Our alliance went in deciding to play our game, again. Plan A. Let's see how this goes...
Pre-match talk in-the-box with 2976: "Listen, I know this is your first time at Championship, and this is your first time on Einstein. I've been down here before. I'm going to give you a piece of advice that no one ever tells you. You ready? Do YOU know... what makes Einstein matches... different from all the matches we've played so far? ... ... ... Nothing."
All day, all weekend, people were saying: "You guys are going all the way." We've heard that before. I hate it when people try to give you the trophy early - Murphy really enjoys stuff like that.
After Einstein 3... this was when I started to believe it might be true. I started to believe that this time, would be one of the times we could finish things. Actually... I think this is where a lot of people started to believe.
NO! Fight it. Stay focused. One match at a time. One cube at a time.
Travis Covington is one of the most impressive designers I've met. We coached on Einstein against each other in 2008 when he was on 968. We've been friends since we were both "kids" in this program trying to figure things out. He's a two-time World Championship Winning Coach (254 - 2011, 2014) a brilliant strategist, and one of the grumpiest people I've ever met. (I say this with LOVE, Trav).
Immediately after Einstein 3, as I was headed to the field to get the robot - Travis walked up to me smiling and nodding: "Oh yeah, that one was okaaaaaaaay." It was like praise from Caesar. I think it's the nicest thing I've ever heard him say to me...
Did you hear? The Poofs are undefeated. No really... they were 30-0 going into Championship. By the time we finished Hopper they were up to 46 wins.
That's great! People bringing it up all the time... not so great.
Are you superstitious? I am.
You know what I love most, when MCs feel the need to jinx our alliance by bringing up things like an undefeated season. How do I react in that situation? Trolling.
"Hey Kevin... did I JUST hear you guys are undefeated? Cool! I hope we don't lose THIS one!"
(It never stopped being funny, for me).
Round Robin - Act 1
How do I describe what the Round Robin is like? It was a tale of 3 acts. The first act was the long, slooooow build-up to the match against Newton. That was our kickoff to the fun.
- The long lunch break.
- The slow, lazy but anxious search for information... where do we move? when do you want us to relocate? who do we play first? when is the first match? what's the pace going to be like?
- The pit relocation from one side of the venue to the other.
- Figuring out who gets the Einstein "floor" badges
- Figuring out where the people without badges will be... figuring out how "cut off" the team on the floor is from the team in the stands.
- Did everyone get fed? Everyone drinking water?
- They want us to head over to "the tunnel" for introductions? Where the heck is the tunnel?
- Okay, as soon as this match finishes we queue up.
- Are we supposed to walk over there now, or stay in our pit?
We got past Newton see "The Match" above (1-0 record)
Round Robin - Act 2
This is where the round-robin started to heat up. The gap between the Finals of Hopper and Einstein-3 was huge. After this, the pace went to normal elimination pace. (Thankfully, with only a few "GET THESE ROBOTS ON THE FIELD RIGHT NOW OR WE WILL START WITHOUT YOU" interactions.)
The people on the floor couldn't really hear the music or commentators.
We couldn't really see the fields.
The "Jumbotron" screens were pointed towards the stands, not towards the driver stations or pits. So to watch matches, the teams on the floor would part like the red-sea, walking off to each side so we could crane our necks to look up at the screens and watch what's going on.
"I need to see this one - we've got Roebline up next. I want to know what they run against Carver."
The pit crews are focussed on the check-list, and keeping the robots running.
The floor-strategists are focussed on the next match.
The scouts in the stands are watching for opponent capabilities.
The strategists on the side... well, they get to indulge themselves with some Round Robin analysis.
"Whoa... 1323 dropped one to Carver! I didn't expect that. That alliance looks ridiculous!"
"Interesting, I wonder how that affects who is gonna make it out... how many wins to advance to Minute maid?"
"We need to make sure we get the full climb points... EVERY MATCH... that's the tie-breaker. If the match is in-hand, SECURE the end-game. Don't let some other alliance else do some meta-game and block us out of the tie-breaker points."
Suddenly, we're (2-0) after fighting past Galileo
IS the robot holding together? We're taking a BEATING out there.
Things keep accelerating. Faster, faster. Less time to talk to the people in the stands. No time for video review...
"Holy Toledo! Newton just lost another one - Carver got em! That Carver alliance is on fire!"
"Aww jeez, here comes RC. Let's see what our Hella-Space-Wheel Swervy Bros have ready for us. That alliance is looking good."
"Based on the way that alliance is playing: Blue deals with RC while Black faces off against Code Orange. The Wranglers did good against Citrus... how do you feel about a little more produce-centric defense?"
(3-0) after Roebling
"This is our quick-turn. You guys ready to play? Let's go, let's go, let's go!"
"Two losses... is it possible to advance with two losses? Is Roebling out? Is Newton out?"
"Carver is up next... only two undefeated alliances left."
(4-0) after Carver
Round Robin - Act 3
"Wait a second... that did it! We're locked in: we're going to Minute Maid!"
The celebration was muted. The mood remained the same - just like winning Hopper: "We have lots of work left to do."
Being locked in after 10 of the 15 Einstein matches lead to one of the most funny interactions of the weekend. One of the Einstein volunteers was walking around from team to team...
"We're letting everyone know... if you end up making it to Minute Maid Park, do NOT leave this area. Keep all your people with Einstein floor access here. Keep all your stuff here. We will help you move to the staging area and escort your people and transport your equipment from there! Keep this in mind IF you're going to Minute Maid!"
"Ohh, we're going to Minute Maid. We already know!"
"That's great... I love the confidence... but you've still got to win one more match!"
"Actually... no we don't... we don't even need to take the field..."
"Ohh... well, congratulations then. Don't leave this area."
Round Robin Interstate-30 Shoot Out!
24 minutes from the Robowrangler Shop at Greenville High School is the shop where Team# 1296 builds. Including students from Rockwall High School, and mentors from Innovation First, the Full Metal Jackets are one of the "home teams" that are closest with the Robowranglers.
After we won the Hopper Division, as we talked about "what's next" someone said to me: "Hey, did you know 1296 is a match away from winning their division?"
NO! No I did NOT know that!
We had heard that from the 8th seed, 1296's alliance had upset #1 in the Quarterfinals, but after that things got "kinda busy" for me...
I ran over to Turning (which was happily the field right next to Hopper) - just in time for the introduction of Final 2. We were standing behind the 1296 driver-station when Andy Lotto the 1296 field coach turned around and saw us. Their whole drive-team turned to wave hello, and I'll never forget the goofy waves and the giant "Hey JVN, can you believe it?!?!" smiles. We practice with 1296, and played against them a few times in Dallas.
Andy and I are co-workers at IFI, and this was his first EVER event coaching - so to see the look on his face, and be there to congratulate him after the match was incredibly emotional.
But of course fast forward a bit back to the Round Robin... we had some business to settle.
It was an honor to face 1296 and their stellar alliance on Einstein. Sadly, I heard the robots from Turing were basically shot by this point. The hard fought division left them in rough shape and by the time Einstein Match 14 came around no one was functioning at 100% and the Turing alliance was already "locked out" of Minute Maid just as Hopper was "locked in".
This match didn't matter, but did we play it any differently?
No of course not! ... well... we did do one thing...
With 9 seconds left on the clock and nothing left for us to do, Coleman did some #VictorySpins to celebrate our undefeated run through the Round Robin.
At the same EXACT moment, with no prior coordination the 1296 driver with similarly nothing left to do, decided to blow off a little steam and offer a salute to their #TeamIFI bros-in-blue-and-black. The result?
I have NEVER heard a roar like the one from the Round Robin crowd when these robots started spinning. It built up over the 9 seconds and continued until long after the match was over.
From here, it was off to Minute Maid...
The Move Over
Some of the things about a "Deep Championship Run" no one will tell you before-hand:
- This is a LONG day. We arrived at the venue around 7AM, by the time we finished packing the trailer it was almost 11PM. This is a looooong day of being "battle ready."
- There won't necessarily be convenient food - plan ahead. Peanut Butter. Soylent. Sandwich Delivery. Whatever - make sure the "floor crew" gets fed.
- You can never have too much water. In 2008 I was so dehydrated I didn't know what the heck was going on by the end. This year I brought a bottle and kept refilling it. We had cases of water for the pit crew and drive-team. (We passed out over 4 cases of water to our partners during the Round Robin and MMP run!)
- You're off the beaten path. Most FRC events follow a familiar rhythm, with the same beats happening every time. Every Einstein is a little bit different. And none of it matches your typical experience. You'll need to be adaptable. You'll need to be proactive in trying to figure out what's going on. I love telling FIRST Staff and volunteers: "I promise, we're VERY trainable... we will read whatever you put on the teleprompter. Just tell us where to go and when."
- You can make it however you want to make it. Just because you're on the big stage doesn't mean you need to treat it like life-or-death. The "goofball" attitude of our run in 2018 was a lot of fun!
- The fields might be different than what you're used to, plan to adapt or suffer! The MMP field had NEVER been played on. Almost every-single-component was BRAND NEW. "Okay... let's see how this goes. This is Fine."
- Everyone else is already back at the hotel celebrating when you're just starting to load-out.
- You'll inevitably be cut-off at some point. I realized how much I rely on my teammates in the stands once I couldn't talk to them. Then the cell-reception went to crap, and it got REALLY interesting.
- There are no bathroom breaks in the round-robin. By the time we played against 1296 I was coaching with my legs crossed.
- There is a LOT of "hurry up and wait" going on. No one can possibly imagine how much "sit around and joke with the other Einstein teams" there is.
- You can't really hear the speakers most of the time. "Ohh, Dean said he was drunk? I didn't know that... because I couldn't hear a word he said." - "Blair said 'JVN is a grumpy-puss' during his match analysis? That's plausible... I couldn't hear any of it."
"We should be so fortunate, to deal with this stuff..." has been our approach to it for a few years. It's a good way to think about it.
The logistics were very organized, and things were as painless as they could have been. FIRST did a fantastic job of taking care of the teams. We had a staff member responsible for our escort from the Round Robin to Minute Maid, and she was wonderfully accommodating... but as I said: "You're off the beaten path."
We had a crate of box-dinners RUN over to the field-team from the rest of the Wranglers as we walked from GRB to MMP. There were many envious looks as our floor-crew wolfed down sandwiches and shared cookies and chips with hungry partners. I don't remember what I ate, or where it came from - but it might have been the best sandwich in my life...
It was surreal to be walking in a little "tour group" following our handler towards MMP. When we emerged from GRB, we were out among the normal flow of teams headed into the event.
The Hot Lights of Minute Maid Park
The MMP experience was spectacular for me. The awe of being down on the field completely overshadowed anything else. It was surreal...
Out of bad luck, our robot and tools were on the last truck in the very back. This meant that we were the last team to have their stuff come in. We were being asked to head out onto the field for sensor calibration and radio-comms-checks, so once we got the robot the pit crew did their thing, made sure nothing was damaged in the truck-ride, and sent it out with the drive team.
When we rolled down the first base line towards the "bridge to Einstein", because of how the baseball field is setup we were closer to the seated crowd then you ever are when you roll out to an FRC field. I could have reached out and stolen popcorn from people sitting in the front row without even breaking stride. Then something interesting began to happen...
The crowd in the stands nearby would whisper things like "Here come the wranglers..." and then to my surprise... they'd start to clap and cheer and shout encouragement. Not like... deafening crowd noise... but just small demonstrations of support. "Go get 'em 148!" and... "REPRESENT TEXAS! YOU GOT THIS!" (Which gave me goosebumps then, and gives me goosebumps writing about it now.)
We were the last Texas team left standing, and golly... even me, Mr. "Empire State of Mind" proud New Yorker that I am - I felt a STRONG sense of Texas Pride!
At this point, I want to talk about how amazing our opponents were. The entire experience I described above was shared not just by the four teams on our alliance, not by the twenty-four teams on Einstein... but by eight teams. Our Hopper Alliance, and that "sneaky good" Carver Alliance.
The Minute Maid Park experience and the entire Einstein experience was made more special for us because of the way your teams carried themselves. Thank you for playing hard, being friendly, and making sure we all got the chance to put on a show.
If you ever need anything, you've got friends in Greenville, TX!
Einstein - Final 1
"Hey guys, you know what makes the matches out here on Minute Maid different from the ones we've played already?"
(All in Unison) "NOTHING!"
This match was... not ideal (for anyone on the field). We had the "3...2...1...<FOGHORN>" match which caused everyone to be a little weirded out. There were some issues with the "during the match" field lights affecting the calibration of the Poofs scale tracking. 148 was losing most of our packets, so we had some weird issues (causing us to not outtake that cube in auton). The A/V camera work was a little weird (which affected the field-view on the driver-station monitors, which our alliance DID use). The entire field was brand-new, so we were all kind of holding our breath...
Well, "whatever they put in front of us... we'll play it."
How'd it go?
We came out of auton losing on the scale. This caused another one of those "very memorable" crowd roars. Our driver station was facing away from the crowd so I couldn't see it, but when auton ended I didn't so much hear the crowd reaction as feel it in my chest...
Being behind after auton isn't a big deal, but it does send us down a very different decision-tree than otherwise. For longer than in almost any other match, 148 stayed on the scale. We didn't "attack" the far switch until about a minute into the match. 254 was still in a back-and-forth on the scale when disaster struck for the blue alliance...
I won't lie, it took me a while to notice 2910 fell over. They were fighting 254 not 148 (not my problem to deal with), the scale-battle looked like it was going fine, Kevin wasn't calling for help, and by that point 148 had other things to deal with...
Of course... then things in this match got even weirder.
For a second there, I thought 254 was doing a #VictorySpin until I remembered "Aren't they supposed to be climbing?" that's about the time Kevin called over for us to go solo climb. Apparently the poofs have a "climbing mode" elevator pre-set, and they didn't want to run that with a cube in the robot since it could interfere with the wrist joint movement.
You want us to climb? Happy to oblige - look how pretty it looks hanging there in Minute Maid Park
Ugly match for both alliances, but still a happy win for us.
Apparently because of the A/V choices and issues, our team couldn't really see what was going-on in the match. The Wranglers contented themselves watching "the indicators" on the real-time score to understand how the different scale and switch battles were progressing.
It was nice to be able to turn around and signal the team before and after matches. Plus, no joke - we could hear them cheering for us!
"You just took 1 -0 lead in the World Championship Finals! What are you going to do now?!?"
The Minute Maid Lull
As I said, there is a lot of waiting to be done during a deep Championship run. I did get a brief nap in, just like 2008 - maybe it helped?
In between the two Minute Maid Einstein Finals Matches, 148 rolled our robot down the 1st base line and off the field. There were lots of people very nervous about this. "Why is 148 leaving? Is their robot alright? They weren't one of the ones having issues in that match..." The truth is NOT very exciting...
They told us ahead of time, we'd have "at least" an hour in between Einstein matches. The path from the tunnel out to the field included a walk down the dirt baseline. We decided: why bother bringing all our pit stuff out to the field? We'll keep a small set of tools out on the field, then just bring the robot back into the tunnel between matches for the functional-check and battery change.
WHY did it take so long for the robot to come back onto the field? Was there something wrong?
Honestly... no. The reason the robot stayed in the tunnel for so long is because the pit crew found the Cheesy Poofs' blue bumpers (254 only brought the red ones out onto the baseball diamond). The pit crew then spent about 20 minutes trying to mount 254's blue bumpers onto our robot so they could roll the robot out looking all California Classy...
With all the shenanigans and waiting, you'd think there was no drama at all out there. Well, things sped up rapidly near the end of the break. During Final 1 our robot was having some communication issues, which thankfully didn't affect our play too-much. By the time we figured this out, diagnosed what was going on, and decided to talk to the FTA's about it, there were only about 10 minutes left in the break. The FTA's recommended we swap the robot radio.
"Really... we've been sitting around for an hour and NOW you're telling me to swap the radio?"
"Really John... you've been sitting around for an hour and NOW you're telling us your issue?"
"When are we going back on the field?"
"As soon as FTC is finished."
No big deal. This is Fine.
I'll admit - this is the first time I've been emotionally invested in the outcome of an FTC match. When the FTC series went to a third match, that took all the pressure off our swap and prep. As it was - we made it onto the field no problem.
Einstein - Final 2
One more? One more. Let's do this thing.
This match started without any drama, and our alliance came out with a BANG! This was an almost perfect autonomous execution, and thankfully there was some video captured from the sidelines (the primary video doesn't show our side of the field).
Yep... that's how we want to start the match. It all progressed "adequately" from there.
The story from inside the driver-box is pretty boring. We did the same thing as usual. It went accordingly to plan. For me, the emotional and much more interesting story is what was going on in the stands...
Remember - the Robowranglers couldn't see what was happening. They were watching the live scoring. They saw that autonomous mode hit really hard, they saw 148 drop 1 cube in the scale and then go on the attack after that, so the biggest questions would be "Will 254 be able to hold the scale with the head-start?" and "Will 148 take the opponent switch?"
"We were watching the lights... watching the scoring indicator for the opponent switch. At one point about 30-seconds into the match the indicator went from blue to neutral... and it stayed neutral. The light was off and after a little while when it didn't come back... people just started to cry. That's when we knew."
If you look at the archive, it wasn't until later in the match that it pulls out and you notice that blue decided to cede the scale. We had a 6-1 cube head-start after our initial teleop "double tap". So 254 was actually fighting for the home switch for most of the match while 148 fought for the far switch in our normal "attack" role. We'd end up dropping back to support the switch while 254 finished off the exchange - but by that point the clock had done it's damage... the score was well in our favor.
254 double climbs with 2976, and 148 mirrors our celebration from the round robin...
World Champions 2018
There were cameras, everywhere. The celebration started before the official score even went up. The field crews from all the teams came into the driver stations - hugs all around.
At some point, when they still hadn't opened up Einstein for teams, our field crew asked if they could go to their teammates... and of course, we said yes. Before you know it we had a bunch of Robowranglers sprinting down the MMP baseline and jumping over the railing into their teammates' (and parents') arms. It was incredible.
I got to shake the hand of every Robowrangler as they entered the field for pictures, and as you can imagine it was a very satisfying moment. I can vividly remember the faces of each of my teammates as they came down from the stands.
Earlier that day, I had a similarly vivid memory... At some point after we started loading towards Minute Maid Park, I had to shake hands with and say "goodbye" to the strategists and scouts who had been talking us through things all season. I didn't know if we'd see them at all, before the end. I distinctly remember the final goodbye I had with Grant Cox, our lead strategy mentor. "Don't worry... we got this." - "We know you do... zero stress... go get 'em."
We got this.
Take my pain, turn it into gold...
The Last Measure
After team pictures on the field, the field-crew (bolstered by a few pit crew members eager to help out) reversed the load-in process. Everything got wrapped up in the bowels of Minute Maid Park and put on trucks bound for the convention center. We ran behind the trucks, got our stuff, loaded up our trailer, and headed for the team meeting.
We didn't close the door on the trailer until around 10:30PM so I was surprised that the rest of the team didn't seem to mind waiting around in the hotel for the load-out crew. After the rollercoaster ride, the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world was a quiet capstone moment with my teammates. You can read my speech from that night in my "Robowrangler Victory" Post.
Playing with Big-Blue
We didn't know what it would be like to play with 254. We're both part of #TeamIFI, and certainly we've been friendly with each other in the past. I've known many of their mentors since we were all kids in the program, when none of us were on 254 or 148! However even with that background, the Robowranglers didn't know what the experience would be like.
It was incredible.
This alliance was a fun environment from start to finish. We had hard discussions at times, but they were good conversations. I'm thankful the 254 folks let us have a strong voice in everything, but more thankful that their style meshed so well with our style.
As Tom put it several times "everyone gets to be their best selves."
We are not worthy. The Robowranglers have a list of things the poofs inspired us to try. We will become a stronger team going forward, because we got to work with these guys.
So, to my friends on 254:
Again, THANK YOU for the opportunity, and congratulations on the FULL53ND Undefeated Season! Let's do it again sometime...
We are completely humbled by the outpouring of good-feelings and support we've received. Not just from the Greenville Community, but also from the larger Robotics World. The Robowranglers have definitely been feeling the love this year, with the Championship Win as the capstone to a perfect season.
I want to thank all our sponsors, and supporters. Nothing we do is possible without them. In particular, I'm forever thankful that (my employer) Innovation First International is so supportive of what we do. Our owners Tony Norman and Bob Mimlitch do so much to give back to Greenville, but in I'm always in awe of their commitment to the students of GISD. We are #TeamIFI and very, very proud of it!
I also need to thank GISD for everything they've done for this team. I promise I will NEVER start taking for granted the unheard-of things this district does to make the Robowranglers possible. Every time I walk into the home you've built for us, I give thanks.
Speaking of managing expectations...
Late last year, GISD got a new Superintendent. This was the first "full season" for the new Robowrangler Big Boss. So therein lies the problem. We LOVE the fact that Dr. Liggins came out to be a part of our team, and thankful he witnessed such an incredible season, but hopefully he knows they're not all going to be like this one!
Next year, he might get to see the other method we use to inspire the students of Greenville.
To all those people who personally sent the team or myself notes of congratulation:
Thank YOU! We appreciate the good feelings!
Now the funny stuff... Here are the Random Stories, Random Antics, and Random 'Favorite Moments' from the Robowrangler Debrief...
- We are proud to have completed the 2018 competition season with NO dropped partners! Though, we do regret not having the opportunity to drop 254 at some point...
- This was one of the rare "Four Robot" Championship Alliances. I'm proud that all four teams got to play during the Championship run. I still have no idea how we got such "steal" partners!
- Before the final match was over, my phone just started buzzing like crazy. At one point during the aftermath I checked and had 70 unread text messages. I told this to Tom from 254: "That's weird... I don't really have that many." - "Yeah, well you guys win more often than we do..."
- I was talking to Allen Gregory about the "long day" aspect of Einstein. Allen told me something which makes me even more of a Spectrum fan boy... they pack enough food for a full Championship Alliance, every year. They're ready to go the distance saying "you don't want to be in that situation and not be prepared." - #SPECTRUM2019
- Right before our first Einstein match the MC said something like "And now, time for a dance break..." during that time the Macarena came on. Now, I don't know the Macarena, so I stole a joke from FRC33 and started dancing the YMCA instead. I was standing in the driver's station doing the YMCA while everyone else was doing the Macarena. The entire drive-team joined in. I'm pretty sure we got 2976 to do it also. No video exists.
- I’m tired” - “You need a cup of coffee? I’ll go get you one.” - “Nah, I’ve got a can of coke in my bag.” - “You and I have very different relationships with caffeine...”
- If you came by our pit, it's likely you had trouble seeing the robot. One - the robot was on the practice field more than it was in the pit. Two - getting INTO our pit was a bit of a challenge this year.
We had one of our spare elevators setup as a demo - Oilite rode the elevator up and down all weekend. I think that spare elevator has more cycles on it than any of our functional robots!
- I think the final match proves that 254 is an exchange robot and 148 is a switch robot.
- One of the cool things about the four-team alliances at the World Championship is that you get to use the Fourth Coach in the driver box in each match. This meant in matches that 2976 played Oz from 3075 was in the box. When 3075 played, Luke from 2976 was in there.
What did we have the fourth coach doing? Watching the screen monitor to get a view of the field no one else in the box would have (very helpful with fixed overhead cameras, not so helpful in MMP). He would look for overall match flow, keeping us updated on switch cube counts, tracking "target of interest" robots, AND... calling out pile plowing.
Whenever a robot accidentally pushed the opponent cube pile out of the safe zone , Oz (who is Israeli) was supposed to tell me "John, Kool-Aid Man!"
"Wait, you want me to say "Kool-aid-man? What does this mean?"
"You know... Kool-Aid Man... like... 'OHHH YEAH' blowing through the pile!"
"Ohhhhh! Kool-Aid Man... OHH YEAH"
This lead to some AMAZING moments in the driver box.
- Long-time readers of this blog know the drive-team has a special relationship with "What Color are We?" In our early practice matches in Dallas, the concept of having the color randomly assigned lead to some funny jokes.
Before EVERY MATCH, the drive-team would go through the same basic ritual. One of those things was to have the conversation...
"Hey, one more thing to mention."
"Yeah, what is it?"
"We are in fact BLUE in this round."
"Yes, we're blue. Good Point. I see that here on the sign... good thought."
I get into the rhythm that "in eliminations if you're #1 seed, your bumpers are always red." That's just something that's true. The sky is blue, and we're #1 alliance so our bumpers will be red from now on.
In the Round Robin... bumper color is random, and sometimes you're blue. Oops.
"Remember... this match... we're RED!" (As the match is starting.)
"Ummm... John... I can't tell if you're joking... we're actually blue... right?"
"OH DANG IT... round robin... yes we're, blue... BLUE."
- We got to share some moments with Carver alliance immediately after Final 2 for the typical "Good Match, you were amazing" handshakes, then again as we all packed up. I've said it before, I'll say it again: those guys were all incredibly gracious, and wonderful competitors. I cannot overstate my respect for all four teams we played.
- The driveteam on 2976 had nerves of steel throughout the Championship run. With one exception... Woodie is their kryptonite...
"There was a match in the Round Robin where Woodie came to talk to you guys before-hand and the Game Announcer said you had the 'Woodie Advantage' in that match." - "Yeah, he came into our alliance station and asked Katie if she was 'the boss' so she told him of course."
"From the perspective in the stands... we looked up and it was very, very, VERY apparent that "This match is being delayed because Woodie and JVN are shooting the breeze.' and like what-are-they-gonna-do... it's Woodie! They can't start the match." - "We were just chatting and I looked up, and all of a sudden the whole world is staring at us, and Aidan the Head Referee was just tapping his foot giving me a 'can we get on with it' look."
- Our guys really enjoyed the time where the 148 drive-team did the Poof "Coach Heart" match introduction and then the Poofs just stood there with their arms crossed trying to keep a straight face.
- "We all liked the one where Yoji banged on the glass, so JVN cleaned it off."
- "I thought it was really adorable how the 2976 alliance rep's voice cracked when he accepted the invitation from 254. I've never seen someone look so happy." - (Luke, we love you man.)
- Early on Saturday, Luke was talking to us about how his flight home was scheduled during the Minute Maid Park Finals... "Do you think I should reschedule it?!?" (I'm too superstitious to reply, there was just a lot of nervous laughter from all around, mixed with his teammates making fun of him.)
- 148 had a number of potential "alliance acceptance" speeches prepared for when the Cheesy Poofs selected us. We thought they were hilarious. We didn't know if other people would appreciate the tone of the joke for some of them... Some of my favorites:
- "Let's give the people what they want."
- "We'd love to Squeeze the Cheese!"
- "This is Fine."
- "I mean, I guess so."
- "We don't think we're going to get a better offer..."
- "We Begrudgingly Accept..."
- "I'm so happy we pulled off the prank."
For those who don't know, the Robowranglers have a number of long-standing traditions. This year's Championship run included one of them: the latest chapter in the SPACE COWBOY PRANK WAR.
"The Robonauts should never have stolen Oilite..."
- 148 had one very emotional moment during the Hopper eliminations relating to two friends of ours. We were about to go out for a semi-final match, when all of a sudden a bunch of Robonauts and Black-Hawks started showing up in our elimination pit.
We didn't understand what was going on. "Why are you guys over here?"
In a trick of the schedule... Hopper had two quarterfinals go to 3 matches and one Semi-Final get a replay. In NEWTON - every series went "2 and out". We were still in the semis, and Newton was already finished...
Then... we noticed the Silver Medals.
It was touching that after getting eliminated in a match decided by only 2 points, these two teams came to support us. Our elimination pit was filled with students and mentors from 118 and 3310 offering support, and encouragement. This is common in FRC - it literally happens all the time. Just because it is common, doesn't mean it isn't notable, admirable and incredibly moving.
I hope that in the same situation, I would have the emotional fortitude to step off "the rollercoaster" and walk over to support my friends. In the past? I haven't done such a great job. The rollercoaster is a cruel mistress...
- I also had a wonderful moment with one of my oldest friends Paul Copioli (who is the 3310 field coach). He was on Einstein to be part of the Woodie Flowers Award ceremony. I walked past him and this was the first time I had seen him since division playoffs started. He had no voice, looked completely wiped out, but still gave me a big hug and wished me luck. I get by with a little help from my friends.
- "John - There was this 20 minute period in-between Final 1 and Final 2 where you were down on the field, like right next to Einstein - and you were talking to the Head-Head Ref. What was going on? Did he yell at us for something?"
No, Aidan and I are old friends from back when we both lived in the Northeast - we were just catching up. We DID enjoy the thought that someone would wonder why the FRC Chief Ref is having an extended conversation with the 148 Drive Coach...
- We coded a bunch of new autonomous modes on Friday night, most of them were built out of pieces and paths from other modes. Basically all of these worked the first time (with minor distance adjustments only).
- Thinking about the 2018 Robowrangler seniors makes me emotional. Partially because they're all tremendous pains in my behind after a full season, but mostly because I think a lot about narratives. Whichever year these young men and women joined the team, they've had a heck of a run.
The fourth year seniors started with the magical creativity of Batman & Robin, followed it up with our most powerful robot yet, Renegade, then grew during the "great rebuild" of the silver season with Rogue only to cap their journey with a World Championship in 2018. 3 trips to Einstein in 4 years... Amazing.
I know the journeys of these individuals, also. I've seen them grow and turn into the remarkable leaders they are today. Even over a single season, the changes are incredible - so to juxtapose those individual journeys over the larger 4 year narrative... well, you "can't make this stuff up folks."
- We enjoyed the comments on the internet saying that we should have been penalized for defending 2 robots at the same time. "Actually, it's illegal for two robots to defend one robot at the same time... 1 robot defending 2 is perfectly fine. Thanks for the compliment!" (Not that we really know if we were being defended or doing the defending... the lines got blurry).
- "We had enough people ask us where JVN is, that we finally started telling them you're not real." - "What?!?" - "Yeah, I even convinced someone that JVN isn't one person, but a collection of people writing under a pseudonym." - "You did NOT do that." - "Didn't I?"
- When we were bringing the robots onto the field for Qualification Match #113 (254 + 148 + 59) one of the field reset kids was standing there stunned. It was obvious she didn't know exactly what was going on in the division, but had been watching the robots all weekend and recognized ours. She kept looking from 254 back to 148, then looked at our bumper colors, then looked down at her match list... her jaw dropped open.
She gave me this questioning look, so I just nodded and said: "Oh yeah, this is happening."
- By Denver, the drive team was getting pretty self-sufficient. In a match where we weren't splitting the field with a team like 254, my primary role as coach was to watch the overall gameplay flow and tell the drivers when to change priorities. One of the common refrains... "Go hit their switch... Again... Again... Again..."
We would stay there until we were forced to come back to the scale, so each time I said "again" was good news for our alliance. The "again" joke is definitely a Robowrangler favorite.
- Similarly, there were times in qualification matches where the win was basically guaranteed, and we had to start focussing on the end-game ranking point. Coleman enjoys hearing "Okay, this match is WELL in hand - start heading for the platform."
- Some of the biggest congratulations we received were from teams we'd only met that weekend. It is really cool how you can connect with other teams so quickly in such a strangely meaningful way through the shared experience of this competition.
- When ourteam was walking back to the hotel after Minute Maid Park, another team saw them in the street and yelled "Hey Robowranglers, Congratulations!" Then a bunch of students on the team began to spin around in a circle. #VictorySpins We loved it. The boss said it's one of her favorite moments.
- I think my favorite hashtag from this whole experience was: #HowManySpinsYaGot? since it is comedy on so many levels.
- "Did we do victory spins when we won in 2008?"
"Tumbleweed can't actually turn... it makes victory spins difficult."
- I said earlier that we could hear the team in the stands cheering for us sometimes. What was the loudest cheer? When they started playing "Thunderstruck" during the introduction of Final 2. I'm usually pretty "composed" in the booth, but when that song came on I definitely had a moment.
If we weren't fired up already, we were after that. The song Thunderstruck is a good luck charm for several FRC teams, including the Robowranglers.
We like to say "We've never lost a match when Thunderstruck is playing." Which might be true, or it might not... but what IS true... we've won countless regionals and now won two World Championships with that song involved in the final match!
- When Thunderstruck comes on in the background, I know I'm going to win whatever I'm doing. If it comes on at the dentist: "I'm going to win the heck out of this root canal..."
- We are ALL WINNERS when Thunderstruck is playing.
- New Strategy: "Build a light robot - get carried easily at the Championship."
- We were happy to work with the famous Mistah EJ! It was great to find out he was back-in-action. "We heard you died in a motorcycle crash..." - "WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP SAYING THAT?!?"
- Remember that time someone from 254 was interviewed right after alliance selection and said: “We just picked 184” - hopefully we made a good impression on him, since that point.
- Our scouts were collaborating with the Poofs to film matches. They were talking through the plan and needed a piece of paper to write on, so they borrowed a notebook from one of the Poof students. That notebook stayed with the strategy group through the division, through Round Robin, and into Minute Maid. At some point there were some pretty frantic requests to track down this notebook. Apparently that notebook had his math homework in it... thankfully, it wasn't lost in the chaos.
To the random poof: If you're reading this: "Thanks for the notebook, I hope you got a good grade!"
- I heard the Robowranglers and Poofs who did NOT go to the Friday night meeting had a meeting of their own. I guess they spent the evening playing Waterpolo in the hotel pool. I'm upset to hear that the 148 team got crushed.
- "Do you know what GATING is?" - "Yes, and I'm a bigger fan of 148 now, because of it."
- At one point a volunteer came into our stands asking for a 148 shirt, and someone traded with him. He ended up just taking his shirt-off right there in the stands to do the trade. If a volunteer ripping their shirt off in the stands doesn't show how insane things have gotten with the shirt-trading, I don't know what does
- Tony Norman (the CEO of IFI, 148's biggest sponsor, former Robowrangler Lead Engineer, World Champion Field Coach, and my boss) sat with the kids in the stands for almost the entire elimination run. The kids LOVED it. He was with them all through the division, and even jumped-up over a railing in Minute Maid to make sure he could sit with them during the Finals. It's pretty cool to have the CEO of your sponsor down on the field high-fiving people after the win!
- "I made a bet with someone that I could fist-bump both Dean AND Woodie… then 2 minutes later they walked by me together... easy money."
- I forgot about one important part of "The Prank". When the doors opened on Friday morning, a few Robowrangler students HUSTLED into the 118 pit, and left a bluetooth speaker playing our favorite song.
The music really helped set the mood. I think the Robonaut reaction was worth it. "Did they just leave this same song playing ALL night? Jeeeeeez."
- During the load-out at Minute Maid Park I turned to one of our Freshman rookies, who was on the pit crew this year. I asked her: "How was that for a first year?" She looked me in the eyes and said - “It was adequate” before going back to work. I think she's going to fit in here, just fine.
- After the Round Robin but before the Robowranglers from the stands moved to Minute Maid they stopped at the hotel to drop off their bags. (Extra security for bags in Minute Maid Park!)
Grant was waiting in a giant line for the elevators, when a bunch of people notice he's a Robowrangler. They started clapping for him, and let him cut the line!
"Don't you have places to be? Go get em!"
- The latest in the long line of "148 is superstitious" stories: The scouts had a wooden clipboard, which they would pass around before every match so everyone could knock on it. This would take a while, since it had to snake through literally EVERYONE on the team.
- The World Championship Alliance has one team with a Corn Dog as their avatar, and another just has a Plain Black Square as their avatar... and THAT is amazing.
Ten Year Anniversary
The Championship win in 2018 came almost exactly 10-years to the day from when 148 won their last World Championship in 2008. It's fun to look back at how far we've come in that time, both as a team and as individuals. That feels like a lifetime ago...
It has been an incredible season, with many cool moments (big and small) along the way. I'm happy to have provided my dear readers a small glimpse "Behind the Black Curtain" from our Championship run. There are still many things happening in Robowrangler land, but those are stories for another day and another blog post.
I'll just end things with my favorite reminder of why we do this...
This is Fine.
A perspective from one of the World Finalists: 4911 - http://cyberknights4911.com/looking-back-on-houston/ - incredibly well written! Their experience provides an interesting mirror to our own. Kudos to Bobby for writing up your story. If you're reading this - I love the writing style, the subtle references, and of course you should know: the Wranglers would have been honored to share the #VictorySpin in Minute Maid with you guys!
The Poofs, the poofs, the poofs... They provide their own recap of the experience. Hail to the Undefeated Champions! FULL 53ND.
One of our partners - HaDream Team #3075 created video recapping their journey this season. It only has a little footage of the Championship run but is a cool video.
Details on 148's full season (51-4): https://www.thebluealliance.com/team/148
The Hopper Division (15-1): https://www.thebluealliance.com/event/2018hop
Einstein (7-0): https://www.thebluealliance.com/event/2018cmptx