This has been an odd year for the Colorado C'thulus. Since opening their new stadium last year, their road to the Ultrabowl has been among the rockiest ever run by a team. Their victories, though consistent, have been by knife's-edge margins. Part of this, some argue, is that the restructuring of the playoff schedule to accommodate four new teams has pushed back the beginning of the football season a small but significant amount. But here at ESBN, We're inclined to think that this topsy-turvy season has been due to the new teams themselves. And as exhibit A, we submit the C'thulu's opponents: the Atlantis Ancients. Among other things, they just became the first team in history to reach the Ultra Bowl in their first season as members.
This is exactly the kind of story that draws a crowd. Deep beneath the waves, in the C'thulu's home-stadium-away-from-home, R'yleh, some 90,000 fans crowded into some 16 dimensions of exquisite gothic architecture to witness the historic showdown... and that's just the humans. Even a veteran C'thulu fan and commentator like myself can feel the excitement in the air. The archetypical battle between the seasoned veterans and the hotshot upstarts is about to be fought.
Which makes it a bit of a shame that not everyone has access to this universe to watch the game. So without further ado, here are this year's Ultrabowl highlights.
- Trouble got started immediately. The sprightliness of the Ancients on the field is as much of an oddity as their habit of playing in long flowing robes, and disconcerting enough that it drew significant attention away from the C'thulu pregame sacrifice. Not to be outdone, the C'thulus hastily modified their sacrifice so that instead of being directed at C'thulu, it was directed at one of the abominations living in a nearby dimension. The wall of enraged tentacles that emerged from the ceiling certainly got the audience's attention back, but it took the stadium operators ten minutes and two additional dead lambs to get the idea of "wrong number" across.
- In an unconfirmed act of retaliation, the ancients proceeded to douse the C'thulus with a tidal wave of water that they "accidentally" sent downfield while doing water-cast warm-ups. Since the C'thulu players are all possessed by squid-demons, however, the consensus was that this action was "mildly refreshing". Nevertheless, referees insisted that further warm-ups be restricted to actually preparing to play.
- The pregame flip was taken by the Ancients, which some said was a bad sign for the C'thulus. This view was soon silenced, however, when the C'thulus kicked the ball off into a wall. The ball entered a portal which appeared there, reemerged from the opposite wall, and got spiked down into the ground 60 yards from the kickoff zone by a huge tentacle that emerged from the ceiling. This ensured a reasonably good starting position for the C'thulus, but shovels had to be retrieved to dig the ball out of the dirt.
- The Ancients seemed unshaken, and quickly began picking up on the uncertain temper of the portals used by the C'thulus. Of particular interest was the play in which it became apparent that the ball was not actually required to appear at either the same point in space, or time. In it, a hike was interrupted because the ball hit the Ancients quarterback, Venerable Master Quizudo, squarely in the back of the head. The C'thulus then rushed the line and threw the ball into the portal, where it became the ball that hit the quarterback. Unfortunately for the C'thulus, the ancients ran the other ball around them as they did. After using a pencil and paper to work it out, the referees decided that the ball used in the resulting touchdown was the later ball and awarded a point to the Ancients.
- In another incident, one-time star rookie, and perennial fan favorite, Bernard Evisceraue, made textbook use of tendrils of darkness to heft Ancients lineman Lightkeeper Gistakep into a dungeon dimension. In the past two years, the spell has become one of his signature maneuvers, and his degree of control, despite its difficulty, has been lauded among leading necromancers. But in a shock maneuver, Gistakep caught himself by conjuring a Tidal wave, which proceeded to sweep both himself and Evisceraue into a portal being used by the C'thulus to assist in a long throw, instead. Gistakep returned two plays later riding a hideous space centipede. Evisceraue was substituted for.
- The second quarter showed increased confidence from the Ancients, and a continued deterioration of the C'thulu line. Although the ancients showed a marked weakness in making conversions, their scoring capabilities seemed on-target. But it was the C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder, who arrived from a time portal in the future to warn his team that they would lose when the Ancients raised the Guardian of the Light, which caused some fans to despair. This lead to unforeseen deaths, since despairing in R'yleh can cause manifestations of hideous dark horrors. Paramedics on standby with upbeat techno music and smiley-face-shaped stickers managed to calm some of the panic. "After you've seen someone apply a smiley face to your nose while forcing you to listen to a dance remix, dark horrors don't really seem so bad," said one audience member.
- In a move characteristic of the first half, Guardian Vazhitep levitated off the ground using the mysterious glowing Atlantian technology in his shoulderpads, and dodged a cleverly placed hole in the turf. C'thulu center Arnold Bludfahl, however, aggressively pressed the attack, surrounding Vazhitep in a tiny box of portals. The portals seem to have experienced a malfunction due to their unusual proximity, however, such that when Vazhitep cast an explosive sphere of water, it rebounded through the portals and hit Bludfahl from all directions, while Vazhitep stood carefully in the corner of the box. Technically, squids cannot drown in water, but Bludfahl made a brave attempt.
- The halftime show was provided by Pazrrmm and the Sqrggs, a zombie heavy metal band fresh off of a tour of Louisiana, where the Bonedolls owners personally hosted them. Due to their condition, they have enormous difficulty making themselves understood, but thanks to a clever choice of genre, that hasn't stopped them from reaching the top of the metal charts in the US, and third in the UK and the territory of Luna.
Things started rough, nonetheless. Their song "Zqqflkdmna grdd? (Wwreg vlllbn)" got only a tepid response from the audience, which failed to be impressed by the acrobatic displays put on by glowing nether-demons during the song. But "Hvnl mjkptrz dlvytr" was an all-out hit. Critics called the moment when Pazrrmm offered his heart to a gigantic holographic goddess "strangely moving, with an emphasis on strange". Doctors were on hand to help him put it back in, afterwards.
- Some felt that the finale of the song was ruined by the arrival of C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder, who came from the future to warn the team that the Ancients had a secret weapon called the Fountain of Rebirth, which they intended to use if cornered.
- The second half seemed to be starting out much as the first had ended. The Ancients and the C'thulus were largely stalemated in the field, with the C'thulus more consistently losing ground than the Ancients. By now, the Ancients had learned that dimensional portals could easily be tracked by shooting water through them to learn where they lead. The C'thulus began using the tactic of rearranging their portals frequently, which set back the Ancients but did not stop them. By contrast, the Ancients had great success in stopping most of the physical onslaughts by the C'thulus using water shields, which meant the defensive line was largely stagnant in the third quarter.
- C'thulu player Johnson Xeneder arrived by time portal from the future to warn the C'thulus that they would lose, but the reason was unclear because the other two versions of himself began arguing with him. The coaches called a timeout and took them aside for a quick discussion.
- With one minute left in the third quarter and the C'thulus down by seven touchdowns, media figures began polling the C'thulu coaches on the seemingly hopeless situation of the team. The coaches responded, in one unearthly chorus: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die,". Then the ceiling exploded.
- It turned out that the exploding ceiling was, in fact, returning player Bernard Evisceraue, wearing blood-red rags and trailing an army of abominations from between the stars. Unlike the misfired sacrifice near the beginning of the game, both the walls and the ceiling collapsed permanently into otherworldly gates which demonic hordes began to emerge from. The referees immediately threw a flag and pointed out that the demon army was, in fact, off sides. The coaches, however, successfully argued that they were not actually on the team roster and could be counted under the rulebook as an environmental hazard. Next week's rulebook is expected to close this loophole.
- The fourth quarter started with a seemingly refreshed team of C'thulus. Now in their element, the C'thulus began quickly recouping touchdowns by taking advantage of the apparently random motions of the pincers, eyeless heads, headless eyes, and obligatory tentacles that filled the stadium. The water casts of the Ancients faced a logistical problem because of this obstacle course. On an unrelated note, Japanese studios catering to a more adult audience are paying high prices for available footage of this quarter.
- In retaliation, Ancients linebacker Priest Shatiliya began surreptitiously raising automatons made from glowing green light, who helped guard against the worst of the flailing appendages and could carry the ball from player to player without any apparent form of propulsion. Evisceraue responded by using some kind of acquired link between his squid demon and the otherworldly abominations to smash the automata out of the air. Said tentacles also proved remarkably useful in one point conversions, which gave the C'thulus an edge over the ancients on making up the score difference. On the other hand, they accidentally smashed Xeneder, who had just manifested out of a portal from the future when a tentacle hit him. Xeneder, Xeneder, and Xeneder assisted in dragging him off the field.
- The C'thulus rapidly scored touchdown after touchdown on the Ancients, bringing the scores back into parity. The Ancients took a timeout to confer with each other, with just a couple of minutes remaining on the clock, and the C'thulus one touchdown and a two-point conversion from a tie. On the next play, the Ancients line erected an extra-strong water shield in order to enable linebacker Watcher Holdasteran the extra time for an especially complex change to the fabric of reality. Holdasteran rose up in the air, glowing oddly, and then the stadium seemed to split into several overlapping timestreams, all at once. The mesh of light left behind in the air was identified by Ancients Coaches as an experimental play called the Citadel of Many Paths.
- At this point, the action became a little hard to follow. Depending on what angle you watched the game from, either the Ancients raised a giant made of illuminated water and ice, flooded the field with an endless wellspring of sanctified water to drive back the abominations summoned by the C'thulus, or crafted their hydro shields into outsized cleavers to push back the offensive onslaught of the C'thulus. Xeneder was observed to have been thrown into the origination point of the citadel of light in multiple universes. When the dust settled, however, and the referees from the nine identifiable universes conferred, it was found that the C'thulus had gained a net of exactly one touchdown and a two point conversion in the mess. With the teams officially tied, the game entered sudden death.
- The Ancients and the C'thulus ended up squaring off exactly at the fifty-yard line following the kick. The ancients, in a final moment of last-minute desperation, clad themselves in a matrix of light as they prepared to go on the offensive for the final time. The C'thulu players responded by extending their tentacles into a body-encompassing ghastly grey-green mass and squirming into position on the line.
- As the fans predicted, the C'thulus used their favored endgame tactic of twisting the stadium through the bowels of time and space, but since the entire stadium was already encompassed by gigantic otherworldly portals, this also twisted the alternate universes as well. The hydro-shielding of the Ancients was no match for resulting arcane feedback, which caused the field to collapse into chaos. The center of the field could only be tenuously said to exist at this point. But the C'thulus, being naturally adapted to chaos, managed to outmaneuver their opponents in the unforeseen circumstances, and push for the touchdown. Master Quizudo barely escaped the scrum and was beginning to prepare a tidal wave that would, had it been cast, likely have pushed C'thulu Safety Wagner Greybone away from the endzone. His plans were preempted, however, when Johnson Xeneder appeared out of thin air and fell on his head.
Thus it is that after one of the hardest-fought games in the history of the Ultrabowl, the C'thulus have narrowly escaped with their fourth Ultrabowl win. The win is not without a price, however. Commentators widely agree that this year has seen the birth of what will surely be one of the most bitter rivalries in all of football. And, as is becoming standard in the modern era of the Ultrabowl, the new stadium in R'yleh will have to be closed until someone can figure out how to stop otherworldly abominations from leaking in. There have even been reports of kidnapped players, including Johnson Xeneder, although the C'thulus told his family "not to worry, they have spares". On a related note, this year's MVP slot was narrowly taken by Evisceraue, though some argued that Xeneder's cumulative mediocrity added up to a somewhat higher value.
How will future games between these two opponents play out? Tune in next year, and find out. Thank you, and good night.