Lars the Interloper doesn't exactly wield the hammer of the gods: It's only made of high-density foam wrapped with duct tape. Still, when he swings it at you, you duck -- even if your name is Thorklak the Dominator, Volgar the Widowmaker or Chlamydia the Uncomfortable.
Which it might just be -- if you were at Banksville Park some Sunday morning, playing a game of VikingBall.
VikingBall is played much like street hockey, except the goalies -- now dubbed "Vikings" -- no longer have to just sit there and take it. With a hammer and a shield made of foamcore, they can stray outside the goalmouth and, in the best Viking tradition, look for someone to hit. When Vikings strike opponents, they score a point, which counts the same as a goal. Games are typically played to 7, without period breaks or an intermission.
"We wanted to start a street-hockey league, but we didn't want to spend all that money on goalie equipment," says Ian Finch, who co-created the sport with his brother-in-law, Rodney Wozniak. "We were like, 'What if the goalie had a shield?' And we got to thinking about what it would be like if the goalie could score."
Thus emerged VikingBall, which makes no claims to Norse authenticity whatsoever. "We called it that only because the goalie's shield was round," says Wozniak. (It also gave players excuses to call themselves ridiculous names: On the field of battle, Finch is "Lars the Interloper"; Wozniak is "Moses Monty Z.")
The goalies are confined to a "Viking zone" surrounding the net -- so, sadly, the two Vikings can't bash away at each other. But Finch says many players are street-hockey veterans, and "some of the juiciest hits come when people try crashing the net."
Horned helmets are optional, and during a rain-drenched game a City Paper reporter observed, only Rick of the Red Parentheses was wearing them. They were handmade, a Christmas gift from Mrs. Parentheses. ("She's very tolerant," her husband explained.)
Currently, the American VikingBall League consists of two teams -- the Drakkars and the Bearhounds -- numbering roughly three dozen players in all. Lately, the League has been circulating flyers to drum up interest. Until now, much of its growth has come from Banksville Park onlookers who thought it looked like fun.
Says Finch: "The overarching idea was, 'If you build it, they will come.'"
If it sounds like Finch plans to demand a taxpayer-subsidized arena someday, be advised: VikingBall already has its own league-sanctioned merchandise. You can find team gear on www.cafepress.net, as well as T-shirts asserting "Odin Is My Co-Pilot."
This is the difference between VikingBall and that game you invented in your backyard when not enough kids had baseball gloves. Sites like CafePress make it possible to produce limited quantities of custom items, and sell them to an unlimited audience. And if you post your rules online (as the AVL has done at www.vikingball.com), your game could end up being played in a backyard on the other side of the world.
Already, VikingBall has been name-dropped in a May New York Times article about "highly conceptualized art-sports [invented] by young artists and promoted on YouTube and other Web sites." Along with such sports as circle-rules football, straightjacket softball and "class-conscious kickball," VikingBall was identified as a sport that is "supposed to be competitive ... but also art."
It's unclear how conceptual VikingBall is, actually. It mostly looks like guys playing street hockey, and occasionally being hit with an oversized hammer. And although Finch is the league's poet-warrior -- he was seeking his MFA in poetry when he established it -- once in the heat of battle, the closest he gets to skaldic poetry is quoting Steve Perry:
"Remember what Journey said!" he shouts to a flustered teammate. "Don't stop believin'!"
Finch, at least, never will. "I have a summer trip to Sweden planned," he says. "And don't think I'm not bringing the fliers."