Joey Caferro -- whose nickname is "Beef" -- says the stakes were always high: "It became like, oh, just chaos for five minutes. You know, you could just chase people all through the halls. There was people knocked down, there was mayhem. It was fun!"
But when high school ended, so did the game -- much to Joey T's dismay. Because he -- at the tender age of 17 -- was the last man standing. "Yeah, I was 'It' for life! That was no good!"
Then came college, weddings, kids and careers -- and the Tag Brothers scattered to the winds, some to Seattle, some to San Francisco, even Boston.
Reunions were rare, and missed. So over a few beers one night, they figured, why not get everyone back in touch -- literally.
Resurrecting their game of tag seemed pretty fitting to Father Sean Raftis: "The tag game is, I think, symbolic of the beauty and the depth of our friendship -- even though it's a pretty juvenile game to play!"
Patrick Schulteis, who grew up to be a lawyer, drew up three simple rules: "February only. No touch-backs. And the rule of honesty," he said. "So if I ask you, 'Are you 'It'?' you've gotta answer truthfully and reasonably promptly, and if you don't, you can't tag me."
So is anything off-limits, or anywhere?
"No, I don't think so," said Schulteis. "I mean, I got tagged at my dad's funeral. I was in the front row, and so the guys were going up to communion, and patted me on the shoulder. And Beef (a.k.a. Joey) comes up and patted me on the shoulder and mouthed to me, 'You're 'It.' I kind of looked at him and I said, 'Are you kidding?' And he said, 'Uh-uh, you're 'It'!' So I was It at my dad's funeral. Which was fitting. My dad would have thought that was funny."
Even Father Raftis is fair game.
"Does it make it harder, though, to tag him, because of what he does for a living?" asked Cowan.
"No, no," replied Joey. " 'Cause he's still down with all our humor, you know? He probably wouldn't want us to just disrupt his mass and run up and tag him on the altar."
"I would!" Joey laughed.
The key is the element of surprise, hence the disguises. Fake mustaches are a favorite. They're above nothing: Chris played a vagrant panhandler, a getup that had Joey totally off-guard, when Chris tagged him outside a bar.
"You're a combination of scared and humiliated," said Joey.
"Yeah, you've been had, you've been found! You got nailed!" laughed Chris.
Not to be outdone, the very next day Beef went dressed as a "hot granny" with the "hag tag" (as it's come to be known), to pass the tag on to another brother, Rick.
"There really isn't a lot of dignity left at the end of the month, is there?" asked Cowan.
"No, none at all," replied Joey.
While waiting in a nearby park, he stayed in character -- even to passers-by. And when the moment arrived, "Granny" leapt into action.
"Ah ah!! You! Are! It!"
He left victorious -- with a thrust of his cane.
It may be tempting to pass the Tag Brothers off as childish, even crazy. But, Cowan says he's never met a funnier, friendlier group of guys. Their camaraderie is infectious -- and, frankly, enviable.
"I'm pretty proud of the fact that I still keep in touch with ten really good guys," said Brian. "And if that's not the definition of maturity and loyalty, I'm not sure what is."
Joe Tombari returned to his roots. He now teaches math at the gang's old high school in Spokane. He's convinced the tag game -- played in these very halls all those years ago -- has a lesson to offer the next generation.
"Be friends," he said. "Care for each other. Don't be afraid to push yourself to go out and connect with somebody. Tell 'em you care about 'em."
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