Though it may seem hard to believe at first, the soon-to-be-released movie “Tag,” starring Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Ed Helms, is based on the true story of a group of 10 friends from Spokane who have been playing the same game of tag for decades.
According to Joe Tombari, Fr. Sean Raftis and Joe Caffero — three of the players — the game started in the hallways of Gonzaga Preparatory School in their youth. The group would play during the 10 to 10:20 a.m. break and then eventually started playing between fifth and sixth period classes.
Caffero added that the game’s playtime was eventually extended past breaks, particularly when the school year was coming to an end.
“We didn’t look ahead decades, we were only looking day-to-day back then,” Caffero said.
Eight years later, in 1989, after all the players had graduated from college, Caffero said the group met up in a Seattle bar where the game was brought up.
“I remember agreeing to it when it was proposed and then the tag agreement was written some months later and sent around to us in early 1990 for signatures,” he said.
As to why they chose tag, Tombari said that player Patrick Schultheis explained how it was a game everybody could be part of and that money and time were not issues.
“Rather than just pick a golf date here or there where you could never get anyone together, it was just kind of ingenious to say that the whole month you ought to be able to visit a couple of the guys within that month no matter how busy you are,” Caffero said.
According to Raftis, the game has three rules: no tag-backs, the whole month of February is dedicated to the game and if a person is “it,” they have to answer truthfully when asked.
However, there have been instances where players have pretended to be “it” to flush each other out. This was allowed because if players were never asked if they were “it,” the rule was not technically violated.
Betrayal and vengeance appear to be common themes in this long-standing game of tag. The players rat each other out during the game, with Raftis saying that vengeance, in particular, is a beautiful thing.
“Forgiveness is only temporary in tag; people have long memories of betrayal,” Caffero said.
Some of the antics found in the film’s trailer are based on real life events involving the players, including a scene where the characters are seen playing the game at a funeral.
This took place during Schultheis’ father’s funeral at St. Aloysius Church in 2013 where Tombari said Schultheis was sitting in a front isle. Caffero was “it” at the time, who walked by Schultheis, offered his condolences and tagged him.
Other antics of the group include chasing each other in their cars, such as one instance where Raftis drove all night in his black Toyota pickup to attempt a tag on player Mark Mengert, but Mengert saw him coming and escaped in his car.
“He crossed me on the Five Mile plateau road and I was like, ‘Oh no he made me, he saw me,’ ” Raftis said. “So I did a U-turn and followed him all the way to Crescent Machine Works and chased him down and tagged him.”
Despite the means the players take to tag someone, Tombari said the tags are often foiled, but the stories that come out of the tags that do occur make it all worth it.
Along with these stories, the game has been a testament to the group’s long-lasting friendship and the strong bond they share with each other.
“I’m also very surprised that more people don’t keep their friends from high school and college,” Caffero said.
Based on comments Caffero has read from the article published in Wall Street Journal and interactions with other people, he said that around 20 percent of people keep those friendships and meet them often.
“I guess you take it for granted until you find out how many people don’t keep those friends and have to try to re-create that later,” Caffero said. “When you’re at work and have a professional job, you can’t goof off.”
He added that being in a workplace stifles the camaraderie and friendship that forms deeper relationships. Through tag, the friends have stayed in touch outside of work and can reflect on “all the crazy stories” that stem from the game.
“We just wanted a way to keep creating those stories instead of retelling ones from sophomore year for our entire lives,” Caffero said. “The tag game ended up to be a way, probably one of the best ways that we found, to re-create the antics each year.”
According to Caffero, maintaining friends while also having a good family life is an important “leg in the stool,” and losing that leg would mean that people are not getting the belly laughs they can re-create from the old days.
Through their antics, Caffero and Raftis said they have established trust, a deeper friendship and have been with each other through the good and bad times, creating lifelong love and support for one another and making them enjoy the better parts of life even more.
Raftis said he has already seen the film and has given it positive feedback.
“It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen,” Raftis said. “This movie really has something special and it has every element that any comedy which would be classified as a classic has and then some.”
He said it supervenes the comedy in other movies, such as “Caddyshack,” and “Animal House,” because it has a true story at its heart.
The film will be released this summer on June 15.
Matthew Kincanon is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewKincanon.