Joe Mack didn't train a lick and hadn't participated in a tug of war since eighth grade, so he and his teammates were elated to pull off a fleeting victory for Annapolis yesterday in its annual battle against the enclave dubbed the Maritime Republic of Eastport.
But, as it does more often than not, Eastport outpulled its parent city overall - winning three of the five heats and bragging rights in a town where boastfulness is practically the municipal pastime.
The city of legislators and lobbyists, where serious Middle East peace talks are planned, showed its lighter side during the 10th anniversary tug organized by the group from Eastport, a breakaway neighborhood that unofficially seceded from Annapolis on Super Bowl Sunday 1998 using a strategy mapped out on bar napkins.
"It felt good," said Mack, 25, a Sly Fox Pub patron who tugged for the Annapolis bar team. "It's very tiring though. I'm still trying to catch my breath."
Yesterday's tug of war started, as usual, at the "crack of noon," drawing hundreds who brought dogs, pirate patches and a sense of humor to a contest that has netted more than $200,000 for charity through the years.
Traditionally held over the water that separates Annapolis from Eastport, dubbed the Gulf of Eastport by the maritime republic, this year's event had to be relocated to Eastport because of construction at City Dock.
For the first time, tug contestants saw one another face to face. Instead of a 1,700-foot rope, this one was 300 feet long.
And there was a body of water involved - never mind that the event took place in the middle of a city street.
This year's water was contained in a single bright-blue plastic kiddie pool, complete with plastic ducks and sailboats. Official Gulf of Eastport water was poured from a plastic bottle to anoint the rope before the contest.
Chuck Terry, 32, a first-time tugger who downed his first Killian's Red at 11:36 a.m. yesterday, seemed to feel compelled to offer an explanation after his team was trounced yesterday: "I think our bar team lost because we were kind of misled. We were told we would be taking an intermission halfway through," Terry said.
After all, another Eastport event, the grueling .05 K race that goes "all the way" across the Eastport Bridge, features a water break halfway across. That's the race where each contestant wears the same race number - 21403 - the Eastport ZIP code.
There is little doubt that the Eastport community - with its Declaration of Independence penned by founder Jefferson Holland in his bathtub a day before secession - likes to laugh.
But the fun started with a very practical concern. The bridge that connected Eastport's 5,000 residents to Annapolis was to be closed for three months, and that threatened Eastport business, Holland said.
"What started out as this wacky public relations campaign actually worked," he said. "Not only did the Eastport businesses do better than in any previous year, they did better than some Annapolis businesses."
Despite Eastport's independence, squabbles with Annapolis persist. For instance, the final tug yesterday sparked questions of fairness when some on the Eastport team claimed they lost only because they thought they had been given a clear victory signal and stopped pulling.
Eastport "Premier" Mark Travaglini joked that the matter would be taken up with the review board.
"This is our sport," he said. "We own this sport. Kids here grow up to be tuggers. They practice in their backyards everyday."