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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pro Ultimate Ring-of-Power Rankings

Welcome to the final installment of our Pro Ultimate Power Rankings: The Ring of Power Rankings, for when regular Power Rankings just aren't epic enough.  (We may do another AUDL-only set, but this a goodbye to the MLU for the year.)

The rules: Each team is assigned a character (or sometimes an event/location) from Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit, based on the team's name, and the teams are ranked accordingly.  Nobody gets to be Sauron or the Hobbits, because that's just cheating.

There are spoilers below, but if you haven't read, or at least watched LOTR / the Hobbit by this point, there's probably no hope for you anyway (biggest spoiler is in the section on the Dragons).


Sometimes a staff just doesn't cut it. 
1) Philadelphia Phoenix (AUDL)—Gandalf the White
Servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. 
Verdict: Gandalf, the wizard of fire, died at the hands of the Balrog even as he slew it, and yet he was reborn even stronger than before.  Gandalf is the phoenix of Middle Earth, as far as we're concerned.  He can duel with the foulest beasts of Middle Earth, recite verse with the Elves, and still find time to smoke some Old Toby with the halflings.  What could possibly be cooler than Gandalf?  (Okay, maybe this.  Or this.)

The real 'diamond in the rough'

2) New York Empire (AUDL)—Aragorn, Son of Arathorn
Not all those who wander are lost…Renewed will be blade that was broken / The crownless again shall be king. 
Verdict: Aragorn is the long-lost rightful king of Gondor, returned through epic battle to save his kingdom.  Since Gondor is modeled in part off the Byzantine empire, we're pretty confident in using the regal comparisons here between the New York Empire and Isildur's heir.  Aragorn is the model of what Men in Middle-Earth can hope to be; the blood of the ancients runs in his veins, and his resolve and honor are based on doing what is right and what must be done, not merely what wins glory.  

3) Indianapolis Alleycats (AUDL)—Gollum/Sméagol
My precious…
Verdict: If anyone in Middle Earth is an alley cat, it's Gollum: a starving, lonely, homeless wretch who has long survived in the shadows and margins.  Though traces of his endearing former self remain, Gollum pursues his Precious with insane fervor.  Much like Tolkien's Gollum, the AUDL's Alleycats probably aren't headed for a happy ending...but our hearts tell us that they may yet have a part to play in this...  

4) Boston Whitecaps (MLU)—Saruman the White
Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvelously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others.
Verdict: The White Wizard Saruman seems at first invulnerable, for he is greater even than Gandalf.  But Saruman is undone by his own hubris as he is ensnared by the Dark Lord when he foolishly believes himself strong enough to safely use one of the seeing-stones of Gondor (pictured to the right).  Will the Whitecaps fall similarly?  Only time will tell. 

5) Seattle Rainmakers (MLU)—Tom Bombadil
Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop…
Verdict: Tom Bombadil...what a strange, upbeat oddity of old Middle Earth you are.  Tom is immensely powerful and similarly ancient, and yet he wanders the hillside and has time to worry about individual trees, or the tiny, furry-footed people trapped inside said trees.  Alas, his section of the story seems to drag on for an entire age, so perhaps it's best for everyone that the Rainmakers have been eliminated.  

6) Windy City Wildfire (AUDL)—The Balrog, Durin's Bane
It was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.
Verdict: Powerful, terrifying, and awe-inspiring, the Balrog living in Moria is one of the most ancient evils in all of Middle Earth.  None but Gandalf could have defeated it, and the battle still cost the wizard his life.  The only reason that the Balrog doesn't rise higher is that its evil is somewhat coincidental to the mission of destroying the Ring; the Balrog likely wouldn't have gotten involved at all if there had been another way around Moria.  Bonus points for best use of whip in movie since Indiana Jones.  

7) Madison Radicals (AUDL)—Éowyn
But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am…living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.
Verdict: Who could be more radical than Éowyn, the woman who masquerades as a man to join the epic battle of her time when social convention would bar her sex from war.  Women are few and far between in Tolkien's stories, but Éowyn is remarkable for her skill, her force of will, and--oh yeah--for standing over the fallen King Théoden and slaying the undead leader of the Nazgûl, the Witch-King of Angmar!  Some serious Macbeth-ian prophetic shenanigans were involved, but it was still totally awesome.  

8) Vancouver Nighthawks (MLU)— Nazgûl 
The Nazgûl…vultures that expect their fill of doomed men's flesh. Out of sight and shot they flew, and yet were ever present, and their deadly voices rent the air.
Verdict: The Black Riders are deeply evil, perverted wraiths bent to darkness by the Rings of Power.  When the servants of Sauron take to their winged mounts, they are perhaps the embodiment of the Nighthawk, the terrifying predators who bring death from the skies.  Of course, they can't finish any higher in the rankings than Éowyn, but still, they're pretty badass.  

9) Toronto Rush (AUDL)—The Ride of the Rohirrim
Don't blame the sprites.  We'd run away in fear, too. 
And the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.
Verdict: Seriously, has there ever been a more epic battle maneuver than the charge of the Rohirrim?  Thousands of horsemen of the highest quality showing up at precisely the right moment to charge in and rescue the good guys?  Suffice it to say, for the film version, the programmers had to rewrite the behavioral parameters for the orc sprites to avoid having all the orcs just immediately run away in every direction.  Toronto "Rush" seems like a near-enough approximation for a "charge," so we'll give it to them.  We fully expect a pristine delivery of Théoden's speech before their first playoff game.  

10) Rochester Dragons (AUDL)—Smaug
The dragon’s wrath blazed to its height, and he was blind and mad with it.  No one had dared to give him battle for many an age…
Verdict: Okay, come on, you had to see this one coming.  The Dragons were never not going to get matched up with the only dragon to appear in the major books.  Smaug is pretty darn awesome and scary as far as villains go, since he's the main source of fear and conflict in The Hobbit (the characters are still totally ignorant of the importance of the Ring).  Unfortunately he can't really rise much higher than this in the rankings, since he is killed by a lone arrow in his only on-stage battle.  

11) Bluegrass Revolution (AUDL)—The Last Alliance
And they made the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and the hosts of Gil-galad and Elendil were mustered in Arnor…Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the ring from his hand…and took it for his own.
Verdict: We kind of struggled to come up with a good one for the Revolution here, but we finally settled on the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.  This is the combined military effort that originally overthrew the Dark Lord at the end of the Second Age of Middle Earth.  Isildur cut the Ring from Sauron's hand, and the armies of the Dark Lord fell.  Alas, as awesome as it was, the Last Alliance can't finish higher in the rankings since the strength of Men failed when Isildur kept the ring instead of destroying it (pictured).  

12) Philadelphia Spinners (MLU)—Shelob
Yex, this is a thing.  Check out Gollum in the background.
But still she was there, who was there before Sauron...and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men...
Verdict: Shelob is another of the ancient evils of Middle Earth, across whose path our stalwart hobbit stumbles.  Seriously, how many ancient powers can you possibly run into in one journey?  In any event, Shelob is the great, immortal, evil spider who guards the secret entrance to Mordor, the web-Spinner whose hunger is never satisfied.  Orcs and mortal men are her playthings, and she is so powerful that she exists in a state of symbiosis with Sauron, neither feeling threatened by the other.  Suck it, Aragog.  

13) San Francisco Dogfish (MLU)—The Watcher in the Water
Something has crept, or has been driven out of the dark waters under the mountains.  There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.  
Verdict: Goddamnit, really, Frodo?  We're starting to think that Frodo used to be that kid who would go around hitting hornets nests with sticks, just to see what would happen.  Alright, whatever.  The Watcher in the Water is yet another ancient, evil beast of Middle Earth.  This is the only water-bound monster that we managed to find, so we're assigning it to the shark-based Dogfish.  The Watcher's main job in The Lord of the Rings is to force the Fellowship into Moria, but it's a pretty darn tough monster in its own right.  A Saruman v. Watcher battle should definitely be pretty cool, even if the Watcher finishes all the way down here in the rankings.  

14) Detroit Mechanix (AUDL)—Smiths of Eregion
Many eyes were turned to Elrond in fear and wonder as he told of the Elven-smiths of Eregion and their friendship with Moria, and their eagerness for knowledge, by which Sauron ensnared them.
Verdict: Basically, it's all the smiths' fault.  They're the ones who not only forged the initial Rings of Power, but who actually collaborated with Sauron to do so.  No, don't worry, Sauron won't go forge the One Ring to dominate all the other rings, he's a nice dude.  Apparently nobody had any clue that Sauron was the bad guy, which is a little surprising given the proclivity toward prophecy that seems to run throughout the people of Middle Earth.  Leave it to Detroit to bring doom upon us all.  

15) New York Rumble (MLU)—The Drums in the Deep
Doom, doom, doom…the drumbeats rolled…doom!
Verdict: Seriously creepy drums brought on in part by that fool-of-a-Took, Pippin.  They may just be a prelude to the Balrog, and the battle with the Cave Troll but they set the tone marvelously.  

The tomb of Balin.  Pre-Cave Troll.
16) NJ Hammerheads (AUDL)—Balin
We cannot get out.  
Verdict: Few dead people (who remain dead) have such powerful resonance in the story.  The chilling final words of Balin's scribe tell with unsettling clarity the suffocating feeling of being trapped, surrounded on all sides by enemies.  The twin hammers of war and of mining bring a connection between the dwarves and the Hammerheads.  

17) DC Current (MLU)—The River Anduin
The River had taken Boromir, son of Denethor, and he was not seen again in Minas Tirith...
Verdict: The Great River Anduin is pretty sweet, since its Current carries the Fellowship south out of Lothlorien (and takes Boromir's remains safely to his nautical funeral on the Great Sea).  Still, one wonders if being the Isen or the Entwash would have done more to help the Current unseat Saruman in the playoffs (look it up). 

Seriously, G, you're the wizard of fire.  Dafuq? Can a
hobbit get a space-heater up in this mountain pass?
18) Minnesota Windchill (AUDL)—The Storm at Caradhras
There are fell voices on the air, and those stones are aimed at us.
I do call it the wind. 
Verdict: The vicious storm in the mountain pass at Caradhras forces the Fellowship toward the long dark of Moria.  The Windchill is matched only by the ferocity of the snowfall and the crash of the avalanche.  Upside is that Legolas just goes for a stroll on top of head-deep snow like it's solid ground.  Maybe the Lembas diet will be the next big thing?  

19) Portland Stags (MLU)—The White Deer of Mirkwood
Out of the gloom came suddenly the shape of a flying deer…yet if they had known more about it and considered the meaning…they would have known that they were at last drawing towards the eastern edge…
Verdict: Yeah, you got us.  We couldn't really find a good stag reference anywhere.  We're going out on a limb here, but there's a deer mentioned briefly in The Hobbit, so we're gonna' run with it.  The main gist of the deer is that it's a sign of good things to come, namely, the approaching edge of Mirkwood.  Sadly, its a sign that the hungry dwarves don't read properly...instead they just try to kill and eat the poor thing, and they get further lost in the woods, to be set upon by spiders.  Interesting factoid: the spiders of Mirkwood are the children of Shelob.

A really cool rendering of the scene by Alan Lee
20) DC Breeze (AUDL)—The 'Wind' in Bilbo’s Riddle
Voiceless it cries / Wingless it flutters / Toothless it bites / Mouthless Mutters
Verdict: Okay, this may be a bit of a stretch, too, but we had to put in a reference to "Riddles in the Dark," since it might be the single coolest scene in any of Tolkien's work.  The scene presents itself as just a really creepy aside in a children's tale of treasure-hunting and dragon-slaying, but it is later revealed to be one of the biggest turning points in the history of Middle Earth.  The Breeze, like the 'wind' in Bilbo's riddle, may be a minor part in a small scene, but there's still a chance that they may help to shape the fortunes of the movers of the world.  ( know, not.  See: CT Constitution, RI Rampage, Buffalo Hunters.)

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