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Tag the Movie, starring Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm, is based on a true Spokane story. Here's that story. 

click to enlarge TAG Rated R. Directed by Jeff Tomsic. Starring Jeremy Renner, Rashida Jones, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress. Opens everywhere on Friday, June 15.
  • TAG Rated R. Directed by Jeff Tomsic. Starring Jeremy Renner, Rashida Jones, Jon Hamm, Isla Fisher, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress. Opens everywhere on Friday, June 15.

TAG: AN ORAL HISTORY

You may have heard there's a Hollywood film opening next week based on events that happened right here in Spokane. "Wow," you might think. You may have also heard Jeremy Renner is in it. "Hawkeye from Avengers! Cool!" And maybe somebody told you it's about tag — like the game you played as a kid. And you might be like, "Tag? Wait, are you serious?"

You wouldn't be the first to have that reaction. But indeed it's all true. This particular game of tag started as an antidote to high school boredom, then morphed into a way for 10 friends from Gonzaga Prep to stay connected as grown-up life came at them. In 2013, the whole tale landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. And now Hollywood's take hits screens across the world, with this tantalizing tagline: "Based on a True Story. We're Not Kidding."

What follows is that true story. (I'm not kidding either.)

TAG 1.0: 1971-1982

The Tag Brothers' story starts way before high school. One of the things about Gonzaga Prep is that most of the students went to parochial school together. Siblings knew other siblings; some of their dads even went to the old Gonzaga High School together. Many of them knew each other starting in first grade: Sean Raftis and Mark Mengert went to St. Francis Asissi together; Brian Dennehy and Patrick Schultheis went to Assumption; Bill Akers and Rick Bruya met at St. Charles; and Joe Tombari and Joey Caferro got their start at St. Al's.

MARK MENGERT: Sean and I took first communion together at St. Francis. I met Caferro and Tombari as a seventh grader when I moved to St. Al's. I don't know what drew me to Caferro. He just made me laugh; I couldn't help but want to hang around him. And then Tombari, he's always been the glue — he knew everybody.

JOE TOMBARI: I still remember riding on the handlebars of Joey's bike. He'd just let go, put his hands over your eyes and keep peddling. That was Joey C.

PATRICK SCHULTHEIS: Some of us worked for Knights of Columbus, running the chain gang for the parochial football league.

TOMBARI: Those parochial school memories come up all the time. We were always playing sports, we hung out at GU, sneaking in to play hoops. We played a lot of whiffle ball. No matter what, we were always playing some kind of game.

Soon enough they all arrived at G-Prep — a place that only a few years before had been all-boys. The opportunities for misbehaving multiplied, but Jesuit priests have been dealing with such monkeybusiness since the Reformation. They doled out, with relish, something called JUG, which translates as "Justice Under God" — an after-school work/penance program for screw-offs. Think of Prep, circa 1982, this way: A no-nonsense school where nonsense is the coin of the realm.

JOEY CAFERRO: At St. Al's, it felt like there was really no adult supervision. It was almost like a challenge every day of what we could get away with. When we got to freshmen year, the people who were willing to do these kinds of antics — we kind of found each other.

SCHULTHEIS: I knew the first day I met Joey Caferro that we had the same twisted sense of humor. Within a day we were playing practical jokes on each other.

click image Click the Inlander cover to read the print version on your phone, tablet or desktop.
  • Click the Inlander cover to read the print version on your phone, tablet or desktop.

MENGERT: They issued JUG freely in those days. I had it threatened a lot; I was a recipient often.

BRIAN DENNEHY: Some people make the assumption that G-Prep is like an East Coast prep school. In our day, it was a pretty economically diverse high school and pulled in kids with really different backgrounds. Once we got there, the Jesuits pushed all of us to be our best, work hard and engage academically. They certainly tried to celebrate everyone's talents — from the jocks to the smart kids — and without a doubt the Jesuits had an appreciation for humor, especially if it demonstrated some sort of intelligence.

CAFERRO: We had to strike a balance to get to more of the complete person the Jesuits were trying to develop. There's a lot of pressure on a kid, and we all felt that. The humor came from that place. It was a comedy culture. We had a competition every day to make people laugh.

Although memories are fuzzy, at some point during the 1981-82 school year, when nine of the Tag Brothers were juniors and Schultheis was a senior, the game commenced. Some think it took place during the morning break; others recall it between 5th and 6th period. But with a bell at the beginning of the break, and another at the end, a perfect daily game session already existed for them. Once the final bell rang, tag was over until the next day.

TOMBARI: It was almost like a fad, and tag consumed us from the beginning, like suddenly when everybody had fidget spinners a couple years ago.

MENGERT: Mayhem I think is the appropriate term for it. I don't remember exactly how tag started, but I do remember it became very competitive very quickly.

click to enlarge The Tag Brothers in 2013: (standing left to right) Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann, Brian Dennehy; (kneeling left to right) Fr. Sean Raftis, Joe Tombari, Joey Caferro, Rick Bruya. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SEAN RAFTIS
  • Photo courtesy of Sean Raftis
  • The Tag Brothers in 2013: (standing left to right) Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann, Brian Dennehy; (kneeling left to right) Fr. Sean Raftis, Joe Tombari, Joey Caferro, Rick Bruya.

RICK BRUYA: We weren't into too many schemes then. It was more like every man for himself.

CHRIS AMMANN: It was all over the school grounds — running through the halls, bursting through doors. We got dirty looks, but for the people who knew us, it was probably not much of a surprise we were playing tag.

BILL AKERS: I remember one time, we were running really fast, and I stepped into the oncoming traffic and ran over this sophomore girl. I found her later to say sorry, and I'll always remember her asking, "Why did you keep running?" Um, I didn't want to get tagged. "You guys are so immature!"

Tag picked up steam as the year went on, reaching its inevitable conclusion on the last day of school. Tombari was "it," and he had no intention of going through an entire summer wearing that badge of shame.

AKERS: The most lasting memory from that time, and it created the foundation we built on, was the conspiracy tag we pulled on Tombari. Schultheis was a senior, so he was already done with school, and Joe had no sixth-period final, so he was going to drive up to Schultheis' house and tag him.

SCHULTHEIS: I had finished finals, so I was just hanging out at home [up on Five-Mile Prairie — a good distance from G-Prep].

TOMBARI: I knew I only had 30 minutes. There are a couple ways you can go, and I turned right on Monroe on the way up. Wrong choice — it probably cost me four minutes. Just down from his house, I see Schultheis walking out, just standing there. Kinda weird, I thought.

AMMANN: I don't even remember who ratted Tombari out that day.

AKERS: I'm the guy who sold him out.

SCHULTHEIS: Akers called me from school, and said, "You didn't hear it from me, but Tombari is going to borrow my car and come up to tag you. Be prepared." So I'm standing by my mom's station wagon. When I saw him coming, I jumped in and locked all the doors.

TOMBARI: I was like, "Ake needs his copy of Mice and Men back for his final." Then Patrick says, "Are you it?" Oh shit, I'm thinking, now what? I know I have to answer truthfully, but I don't say anything. I just drop my head in failure.

MENGERT: That vision of Patrick sitting in the family car, taunting him — classic. Tombari didn't have a backup plan, and it cost him dearly.

CAFERRO: Apparently Tombari was unwilling to break the glass.

TOMBARI: So I scrambled back into Ake's car, and I had 10 minutes to get back to Prep. Maybe I could still get a tag in.

AKERS: There were three or four of us standing around at school, and here comes Joe, ripping into the parking lot, jumping out of his car and running across the lawn. He was maybe 30 yards away when the bell rang.

TOMBARI: That wrong turn on Monroe — damn!

AKERS: It was kind of a Charlie Brown moment — he was so close.

MIKE KONESKY: I remember somebody saying, "Joe, you're it for life!"

TOMBARI: For the longest time, I never knew how Schultheis found out I was coming. Akers finally fessed up to it, but only like three years ago.

MENGERT: Tombari was so competitive, it really did bother him. I'm not sure if we named that one, but I'd call it "The Judas Tag." Akers loaned [Tombari] his car and ratted him out.

TOMBARI: I thought we'd play tag again. Why wouldn't we?

AKERS: We thought it was perfect that Tombari was it. We never played tag senior year. Why would we? We won.

click to enlarge "I'm so happy with this cast," says Jeff Tomsic, the director of TAG. "I set out to find a group that — if you squinted at them —  you'd swear you were seeing your own old friends. Except for maybe Jon Hamm. He's better looking than my friends at least."
  • "I'm so happy with this cast," says Jeff Tomsic, the director of TAG. "I set out to find a group that — if you squinted at them — you'd swear you were seeing your own old friends. Except for maybe Jon Hamm. He's better looking than my friends at least."

TAG 2.0: 1989-2013

After senior year, the nine Tag Brothers in the class of 1983 went off to college, just as Schultheis had done the year before. New friends, cramped apartments, beers to consume, degrees to earn. Although nine of the 10 brothers live in Washington state today (with Raftis in Montana), back then they were spread all over the West Coast and even out to Boston. In December of 1989, a few of them gathered at the Duchess Tavern in Seattle during a buddies weekend. Those old tag tales came up.

KONESKY: We were like, "Tombari, you're it for life. Loser! You've gotta buy the first round."

AKERS: When we get together, we always act like we're 15 years old again.

AMMANN: If we don't see each other for six months or a year, it doesn't matter. We just start up where we left off.

DENNEHY: Bringing back tag — I would definitely say it was beer-inspired.

KONESKY: Joe brought it up: Maybe we should keep trying to play? We penciled it out right there; by the end of the night we were pretty serious about it.

There would need to be rules. Tag can't go all year, so how about the month of, say, February is tag month? And as in high school, there would be no tag-backs — if you're it, you have to tag one of the remaining eight brothers. Finally, you must be honest: If a brother asks if you're it, you have to confess. They decided to call Schultheis, who was just starting as a lawyer in the Bay Area. And thus was born the TPA — The Tag Participation Agreement.

SCHULTHEIS: I thought, I can write a contract. That's what I do for a living! I typed it out myself because I was brand new on the job and knew I shouldn't use law firm resources. This was pre email, so I printed out copies, dropped them in the mail to each of the guys, with an envelope to mail it back. I even paid postage. I got them all back before February 1, 1990. It was game on.

JACKI KONESKY (mike's wife): Back at Prep, tag was just them being goofballs. After the contract and everything, that was them staying connected because they missed the whole goofball thing.

With the TPA signed by the 10 Tag Brothers, Feb. 1, 1990, was Opening Day. Living in the Bay Area with four other Tag Brothers nearby, Joe Tombari was it — and had been since the Judas Tag nearly eight years before. By the early morning hours of Feb. 2, two tags will have gone down.

TOMBARI: Nobody knew what would happen. Mike and I were in the car, heading out for beers. I just reached over and tagged him and said, "You're it!" He was like, "Whoa! Let's go back home, who am I going to get now?" I said, "No way. I've been it for eight years. We're going to go drink a beer." Later that night, like at 2 am, Mike wasn't done. We knew Patrick never locked his garage [at the house he shared with Dennehy]. Konesky went over there, raised the door, and slipped through the kitchen — Dennehy's room was right off the kitchen.

KONESKY: This was all a really stupid idea, but there I was. I opened the door and turned on the light, and Dennehy was there in bed.

But he was not alone.

KONESKY: To his girlfriend's credit — now his wife, Johanna — she didn't hesitate and just yelled, "Run Brian!"

DENNEHY: Johanna will tell you that night was one of the reasons she ultimately married me. She thought anybody who has friends like that — with that sense of humor and the shared loyalty — has got to be a good guy. She loves the game to this day.

Despite its quick start in the Bay Area, tag ran in fits and starts in those early years. Still, there were some classics — the Drive-By Tag and the What's-in-the-Trunk? Tag.

BRUYA: One time I got invited to a party at Tombari and Konesky's place. We had a good rager going on, and then I crashed on the couch. They got up at the crack of dawn and left me there with a note I found when I woke up saying, "Tag, you're it!" I lived 40 miles away, but I decided I'd come back the next weekend and stake 'em out. Joe and Mike, they went into hiding. I knew Patrick and Brian rented a house that wasn't too far, so I called up, and Dennehy answered. I said, "Want to tag Patrick?" We made a deal. "I'll be by in 10 minutes." So I literally drove by his house, rolled down the window, didn't stop or get out, and tagged him.

SCHULTHEIS: I remember sitting in the front room, Brian was hanging around and he walked out the front door for a minute. He came running back in and tagged me. I ran out, but Bruiser [Bruya] was already gone.

BRUYA: That was the last day of February; Patrick was it for the year.

Sometimes tag can get pretty rough, as even Jeremy Renner found out when he broke both his arms doing a stunt during the filming of TAG the movie. Sometimes even the wives have been caught in the crossfire.

FR. SEAN RAFTIS: Caferro wanted to tag Tombari, but he was in Seattle and Tombari was in California. So I took the tag from Caferro and then flew down to San Jose. Konesky picks me up to go meet Joe with his new wife, JoAnne. He says, "I'm going to tell Joe I got a new stereo I want to show him."

KONESKY: There was a complete lack of any other clever plan — just put Sean in the trunk and see what happens.

RAFTIS: A block away, I climb in the trunk. We pull up. I'm waiting. I hear voices.

KONESKY: You don't know how its gonna play out. I didn't want to leave Sean in the trunk too long. So, you know, I'm thinking, let's do this.

RAFTIS: Mostly I remember the anticipation of it all. I hear the key in the lock, then it popped. I see a hand coming down, and for some reason it was JoAnne, not Tombari. She got so startled, she backed up and fell over the curb. Joe was stunned, and I jumped out and nailed him.

KONESKY: JoAnne was limping when we went out later that night, but she was laughing. We all felt horrible.

RAFTIS: I still feel really bad about it. Turns out JoAnne tore her ACL.

Even though most of the guys kept the game to themselves, family members and co-workers started to figure it out — especially during the month of February, when it became kind of obvious.

DENNEHY: During February, the game definitely brings out the worst in everybody.

AMMANN: Let's put it this way: In the month of February, I carry costumes in my car — wigs, extra clothes. I've changed in my office and gone down the freight elevator to avoid being tagged.

MENGERT: When my family members would find out about it, they were like, "Tag? I don't get it..."

Eventually the story started to spread: Out with his college friends, Schultheis' stepson told the story of his dad's weird pastime. One of them knew a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Pretty soon, journalist Russell Adams was making calls.

RUSSELL ADAMS: I had doubts about the story at the start. I wondered if readers would relate to 10 guys they never heard of who chased each other around for a month each year. I thought my editors might ask for something broader, like a trend story about adults who play kids' games. (Wall Street Journal, 5/10/18)

click to enlarge Gonzaga Prep Bullpups
  • Gonzaga Prep Bullpups

SCHULTHEIS: I told Russell, "We're just 10 idiots who play tag. This is not a story."

ADAMS: Then I got the response [from my editor] to my proposed story on the tag game: "Oh god yes." (Wall Street Journal, 5/10/18)

AKERS: I got a call from Russell, and I couldn't get back to him. Really, I wasn't sure it was legit. Guys were talking about how this reporter was calling, but I thought, this is bullshit. Even on the Monday before it came out, I was thinking, why would tag be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal? I go to work on Tuesday, WSJ pops up, and there we are.

At the time, Dennehy was just a couple weeks into a new executive job at Nordstrom. The Journal latched onto that business connection, and his head shot — done in the trademark Journal "hedcut" style — accompanied the start of the story on the front page.

DENNEHY: The next morning, in Starbucks, I picked it up, and the barista said, "Is that you?"

After the story hit the stands on Jan. 28, 2013, the calls came quick — book tie-ins, movie pitches, Australian TV producers wanting interviews. At one point, among the 10 Tag Brothers, they were fielding 60 calls a day.

AKERS: On Monday, I didn't believe any of it. By Friday, we were hiring an entertainment attorney.

click to enlarge While the original game of tag started at Gonzaga Prep, in TAG it's depicted as "North Spokane Valley High."
  • While the original game of tag started at Gonzaga Prep, in TAG it's depicted as "North Spokane Valley High."

RAFTIS: We didn't know how to navigate these waters. We needed to get somebody who knew the business.

SCHULTHEIS: There was so much happening, even within the first two days, we did a conference call, and I said, "Guys, how are we going to deal with all this?"

Meanwhile, down in Los Angeles, screenwriter and producer Mark Steilen was having his morning coffee when the phone rang. Steilen wasn't just any Hollywood player; he was also a G-Prep grad, but six years older than the Tag Brothers. It was Spokane calling; an old friend and fellow Prep grad was on the line.

MARK STEILEN: I'm having coffee one morning, and Bob Sestero calls me from Spokane. He's like, "Have you seen the Wall Street Journal?" Bob's an attorney, so he reads dopey stuff like the Journal. I had to pay five bucks to pull it up on my iPad. Bob still owes me five bucks.

TAG 3.0: 2013-2018

After the Wall Street Journal article, with the world suddenly watching, the stakes for tag went up — and the schemes got more elaborate.

JACKI KONESKY: There are two kinds of tag wives — those who are very protective, and those who are like, whatever, bring it on. If you ask me where Mike is, I'll just tell you. We probably need a contract for the wives.

SCHULTHEIS: The wives are a key part of it. To begin with, they let us get away with this shit.

AKERS: It's not just my wife; my whole family has thrown me under the bus.

DENNEHY: There's a lot of betrayal, a lot of calling people's wives, their children, even people we work with. All of them have been directly involved in tag.

TOMBARI: The game is so much better now. With all the wives and kids participating, it's exploded. And it has strengthened relationships between the families and kids — kind of like they're cousins, but related by tag, not by blood.

ESPN and CBS both sent out crews to follow the brothers around in 2013, when there were 30 tags in 28 days. Some classic tags were in the offing — not one, but two tags that took place in church, along with the notorious Zag Tag.

KONESKY: Just after the story came out, Tombari and I went over to Montana to tag Raftis. It was pretty funny — the choir saw us coming and all kind of smiled knowingly at us. Raftis didn't even see us. Even the congregation was chuckling at that point.

RAFTIS: I could tell something was going on, and then there they are — Joe and Mike sitting in the front row.

KONESKY: Everybody kind of laughed, and then it was pretty cool — he wove tag into his homily.

RAFTIS: It's very easy to translate the tag game into a homily. Our whole faith is founded on friendship with Christ. Friendship is holy. We all have a yearning for the permanent, for the eternal. With the friends who stick with you, you have that fidelity — that faithfulness. I got tagged right after that.

KONESKY: Then we went and had coffee and donuts afterwards with the parishioners. They were all great.

When Judge John Schultheis passed away in 2013, it was a big loss for Spokane. St. Al's Church would be full that Saturday, the 16th. Do you even have to ask what month it was?

SCHULTHEIS: Guys were wondering, is the funeral fair game? I said, "You know my dad. Of course it's fair game!"

KONESKY: I sat with Beef [Joey Caferro's nickname], and there was a lot of talk of, "Is this respectful?"

SCHULTHEIS: My dad had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes and play practical jokes. And he's got a history with Caferro — when Joey got married, he officiated the wedding. Dad was cracking wise the whole time, teasing them both. It was funny as hell.

KONESKY: Pretty soon, Beef was like, "Yeah, I think I'm gonna do it."

SCHULTHEIS: When all the guys were coming up to communion, they were tapping me on the shoulder to offer their condolences. Beef came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and mouthed, "You're it." Dad would have loved that.

Dennehy has always been a tough tag, rarely getting over to Spokane for visits. But the word was out that he had tickets for a Zags home game with his brother Shaun and their wives. The date? February 28, 2015 — the last night of the month.

AMMANN: Mengert was it, and Tombari helped come up with this plan. They wanted the Spike costume, but GU wouldn't allow that. So Tombari got the Bullpup mascot costume from G-Prep.

MENGERT: We went in the restroom, Joe handed me a duffel bag. I'm 6-5, and this costume was made for like somebody 5-5. And these things are really hard to see through. I'm out there, and then the real bulldog, Spike, he kind of confronts me, with like his palms open, staring at me. So I've got to hurry, and I look down and they've got unbelievable seats — like courtside. I had to wait for a time out, and the whole gym kind of quieted down, watching me.

AMMANN: He walked down the aisle, scooted through the row towards center court, and just handed him a note that said, "Tag, you're it."

MENGERT: His brother just started roaring laughing. And Brian had that look of like, you gotta be kidding me.

click to enlarge Still silly after all these years: Bill Akers (left) and Mike Konesky at Gonzaga Prep. - 1983 GONZAGA PREP YEARBOOK PHOTO
  • 1983 Gonzaga Prep yearbook photo
  • Still silly after all these years: Bill Akers (left) and Mike Konesky at Gonzaga Prep.

But that was not the end of the Zag Tag, as Akers was up to his old tricks, having told Dennehy to text him after the game. But it was not to go out for drinks; they only needed to meet for a second so Akers could relieve Dennehy of his tag with mere hours left in the month.

CAFERRO: So we all met Mengert up at JJ's. Akers had snuck in, he was hiding. We were all in on it.

MENGERT: We all went up there to celebrate. "Great tag! Great tag!"

AMMANN: Mengert was so proud. "Best tagger ever!"

AKERS: As Mengert walked out of the bathroom, he was facing the table where they'd been sitting. They're gone, he's confused, looking around for them. I tap him on the shoulder from behind and say, "You're it, Huckleberry!"

CAFERRO: There was nobody left to tag — we had all gone out to my truck to watch through the window. Mengert put the Bullpup head back on and flipped us off for a nice photo opp.

MENGERT: They all wanted to come back in if I promised not to tag them, so I did and we all had another beer. We've had some pretty good betrayals, but that one ranks right up there. That was a dirty, dirty maneuver.

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Steilen's role that first day would turn out to be just the kind of providence tag needed. Even though the Tag Brothers thought all the sudden attention was mostly a lark, as he read the Wall Street Journal story that morning, Steilen did not.

STEILEN: Right away I thought it was a great premise and that it could be something special. But I also assumed I wouldn't be the only one going after the story. I started making some calls.

First he called his friend and partner on past projects, Todd Garner, a seasoned Hollywood veteran.

TODD GARNER: I thought immediately it could be a movie. Once I had tried to buy the rights to The Full Monty, and I originally thought of TAG as a Full Monty kind of story — a group of friends finding ways to stay connected, to help each other out.

In that first week after the article hit, Steilen, through his brother Nate, had managed to connect with the Tag Brothers — offering to guide their project. G-Prep, again, was the common denominator.

STEILEN: They told me they already had two offers, and I knew people were going to start throwing money at them. I said, "Guys, I think it's a really funny idea. I can't write you a check, but if you give me time, I think I can put a pitch together and maybe sell it to a studio." The truth is they didn't know me; they didn't have any reason to trust me other than the fact we're connected by our hometown, shared friendships, schools.

AKERS: We had a number of options, who to go with. We decided that if anybody could tell our story, it would be Mark.

STEILEN: Our shared culture definitely informed how the movie came together. That let me bring a level of candor to it; I never worried about telling them the truth. Still, for them, it was a big leap of trust, like, "Steilen's a Prep guy. Let's give him a chance." That could have cost them some dough.

Soon they did things few groups of friends ever even contemplate: They formed an LLC, signed away the rights to their life stories, hired an entertainment attorney and retained the services of a Hollywood talent agency. They got a payment up front (relax — nobody's retiring) and perhaps more if the film pulls a Titanic at the box office. Meanwhile, Steilen had a production team in place, a story and even managed to get Will Ferrell and Jack Black tentatively attached to the film. That was plenty to open a lot of doors. Still, in Hollywood, they have something kind of like Catholic purgatory, where ideas for movies go to find out if they'll actually ever get made. That's where TAG landed.

BRUYA: Even after we all signed contracts, they were saying it's still a slim chance that this is going to become a movie. We all had pretty low expectations.

STEILEN: I told them we're all going along for a ride. One out of a million gets to the goal line, so you gotta enjoy the process.

KONESKY: We had already sold our life rights, which gave them 18 months to do something with the project. We went through a couple cycles like that.

STEILEN: Garner and I went out and pitched it — it's like a little road show to the studios. A couple of studio execs had seen the article. I'd worked out the story pretty tightly, and we got a few interested right away.

DENNEHY: None of us thought anything would come of it. All of sudden we hear there's an out-and-out bidding war. Multiple bids. Then you're going, "Wow. That's amazing."

KONESKY: It came down to New Line and Dreamworks — as in Steven Spielberg Dreamworks. In the end we picked New Line because their treatment showed that they got that the game is not only about tagging buddies, but staying in touch as we all get older.

With New Line Cinema on board, the rest of the team started to fill out. The concept moved to an R-rated film, instead of PG-13, with the idea to have an all-star cast, instead of two big leads. Ferrell and Black were out. New Line handed to reins to director Jeff Tomsic, who had been gaining notice for lots of TV projects, like The Detour, Wrecked and Broad City. TAG would be his first feature film.

JEFF TOMSIC: When I read [the script], I was sort of blown away that these guys had found this perfect workaround for staying in touch with your childhood friends.

SCHULTHEIS: Jeff Tomsic is terrific; he clearly gets us.

GARNER: We had a bunch of different actors interested. Everybody had the same reaction: This is more than just a comedy.

TOMSIC: I'm not a cynical person, but even so it was a little bit scary to make a movie that's this earnest and hopeful. One thing that's rare in the world of comedy is finding a big heart and making that the core intention.

The team was thrilled by how many great actors joined the cast. From the obvious star power of Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Ed Helms to up-and-coming talents like Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress, the five Tag Brothers in the film (instead of the 10 in real life) represent a range of great acting chops. The women are equally impressive, with Leslie Bibb, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Annabelle Wallis. There's even a bit of karma as one of the actors and an original Tag Brother share the same name: Brian Dennehy.

STEILEN: Even getting guys like Hamm and Renner to read your script is amazing. You can imagine how much stuff they get offered. And talk about hitting a home run with the women in the cast — Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones. When I saw the emails, I was like, are you kidding me? Can't tell you how glad I am that I was able to come through for the guys.

DENNEHY: I think the Jeremy Renner casting is a stroke of genius. Having an actual superhero playing a superhero in the game of tag is brilliant.

Despite everything seemingly coming together, there was still a hurry-up-and-wait element to it all. Until...

KONESKY: One day we got the call: Studio time was booked. After everything that came before, TAG was finally happening.

In the final stages of filming and production, the distributor of TAG, Warner Bros. (New Line's parent company), invited some of the Tag Brothers down to Atlanta, where final scenes were being shot. The guys will be featured in interviews for the DVD release; they even wore Go-Pro cameras during the 2018 Tag Season.

AKERS: To see 400 people hanging around — actors, electricians — all wearing TAG gear, there were even TAG vans, it was all pretty surreal.

click to enlarge Ed Helms (chasing Jake Johnson) plays "Hoagie" in TAG. "It's just such a sweet premise," Helms told People magazine. "It's one of those stories you can only turn into a movie because it's real."
  • Ed Helms (chasing Jake Johnson) plays "Hoagie" in TAG. "It's just such a sweet premise," Helms told People magazine. "It's one of those stories you can only turn into a movie because it's real."

TOMBARI: The people were so nice. It's funny, but we were kind of celebrities down there. They're setting up a shot, and I see Konesky walking right up to talk to Rashida Jones.

TOMSIC: Some of my own friends came to the set, and when I met the real Tag Brothers I realized they were so much like my old friends. It was incredible to watch [the two groups] get along. Knowing these guys now — the Tag Brothers — is my favorite part of all this.

For a final capstone to the saga, Warner Bros. invited each Tag Brother (with their plus ones) to the world premiere of TAG at the Fox Theater in Westwood Village, Los Angeles. Right about the time you're reading this — June 7 — they'll be mingling with the stars and striking a pose on the red carpet. Tombari and Raftis will even appear with Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. On June 8, Warner Bros. has set up a private L.A. showing for the gang's friends and family, who are coming from Spokane and all over the world to celebrate the fact — and the movie definitively proves it as fact — that they weren't so "immature" after all.

AMMANN: For the premiere, I've got family from all over coming to L.A. — my oldest has been in London, but will be with his girlfriend from Buenos Aires prior to the premiere, so he's flying in the night before. He's coming, along with some of his Chapman film school friends who are flying in from New York; my wife and youngest son, then my brother and his wife, and my mom...

AKERS: To say this is a once in a lifetime thing is a vast understatement. We're going to try to revel in it.

THE TAO OF TAG

Every Tag Brother will tell you that perhaps the best part of the game is laughing about tag over a couple beers. In those moments, the questions come up. What is it about this silly little game that lodged itself in America's brain?

MENGERT: I think it caught people's attention because of the fact that it's adults playing a kids' game, which is, uh, let's just say strange.

CAFERRO: We went to school. We got jobs. We worked. Now what are we best known for? Running around trying to touch other men against their own will.

OK, let's try again, but c'mon! Be serious this time, guys. Why did tag resonate to the point that even Hollywood wanted in on the action?

KONESKY: The first thing you need to know is it's not really about tag.

BRUYA: It's all about the friendship.

DENNEHY: For guys, communication is hard sometimes. I don't think any of us are very inclined to pick up the phone and chat about our lives — especially not our emotions. In contrast, tag provides a scheduled, contractually obliged friendship. You can't ignore it.

JACKI KONESKY: They laugh like a bunch of little girls when they're together. I think it's so healthy and healing.

TOMSIC: Adulthood has all these constraints that don't include silliness, and being silly and stupid are really healthy. Tag is just finding a way to be stupid with a purpose.

RAFTIS: When our story went around the world, it was because of the strong message about friendship. This is a story about Americana in a way — being able to grow up together, stay together. It's that golden thread of friendship that appeals to the best in us.

The old G-Prep priests — and the many teachers and staff who carried out their mission — would be proud of Father Raftis and his Tag Brothers right about now. Remember: Even the founders of the Jesuit order started out as friends at school together. But no Tag Brother should rest easy, as the man at the cold, black heart of both the Judas Tag and the Zag Tag is it. That's right, Akers wears the tag, and he's getting way too much time to hatch his next plot. Watch your backs, brothers. February is coming.


MEET THE REAL TAG BROTHERS

(All photos from the 1982 and 1983 Gonzaga Prep yearbooks.)

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BILL AKERS is the senior vice president for the Washington market at Premera Blue Cross; he splits time between Spokane and Seattle with his wife, Tesie, also a Gonzaga Prep graduate.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Akers is the master of betrayal. When Mengert did the Zag Tag, and got me at the Gonzaga game, Akers had already set the stage to betray him into motion. Akers was only too willing to throw Mengert under the bus to get a good laugh." (Brian Dennehy)



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CHRIS AMMANN is chief operating officer of a financial services firm in Seattle; he lives in Gig Harbor with his wife Julie, also a G-Prep grad.

A BROTHER SAYS: "There's nobody in our group like Jeremy Renner's character in the movie, who has never been tagged. But Ammann went the longest because he lived in Boston, then Portland. He didn't get tagged until 2005. Since then, he's been stalked – and we've made him totally paranoid." (Patrick Schultheis)


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RICK BRUYA is the youth and adult sports recreation coordinator in Auburn, Washington, where he lives with his wife Kathy, a fellow Gonzaga Prep alum.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Rick's like a one-man sleeper cell — very quiet. But the wheels are always turning with the Bruiser. He's very committed. In a Cold War epic, he'd be the guy who shows up in the last scene, out of the shadows, to tag you." (Sean Raftis)



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JOEY CAFERRO is a flight controls engineer for Boeing; he lives in Kirkland.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Joe will always be in a disguise. I don't think he's ever made a tag without one. He did the old lady disguise. Another time, he wore a mustache and a safety vest and was casing Ammann's office building. He looked like one of the Village People. A couple people reported him to security." (Rick Bruya)



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BRIAN DENNEHY is a partner with Bain and Company, where he is an expert in digital marketing, with offices in London, New York and San Francisco; he lives in Seattle with his wife Johanna.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Dennehy is probably the most expressionless: When he gets tagged, he just takes it like a man. We had so many great tags back in the Bay Area during the '90s, that when he came back to Seattle around 2013, he really brought the glory days of tag back with him." (Joe Tombari)


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MIKE KONESKY is a technology executive for IBM. He lives in Spokane with his wife, Jacki, who also graduated from G-Prep in 1983.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Mike hates getting tagged. The funny thing is, it's almost always Jacki who sells him out. And he doesn't surrender easy. He was coaching one time, and when I made it out on the court to tag him, he still tried to run. He even had his players try to block me. He really hates it." (Mark Mengert)



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MARK MENGERT is a machinist at a local Spokane shop, where he works with his brother Dan. He and his wife Christy live in Spokane.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Mengert has this misguided belief that he's the best tagger out of all of us. He's even got this championship belt, like for boxing or pro wrestling. Even though he's kind of a quiet guy, and generally not one to seek out the limelight, when it comes to tag, he can be a little boastful." (Chris Ammann)



film1-13-d654cb4a321f99de.jpg

SEAN RAFTIS is a Roman Catholic Diocesan priest, serving in the Diocese of Helena. His parish is in Columbia Falls, Montana, at St. Richard Church.

A BROTHER SAYS: "If any one of us hasn't been tagged in a long time, Sean will take it upon himself to make it happen. He'll always think creatively to get a good laugh. As a Catholic priest, Sean is in a unique — and vulnerable — position on Sundays, and has been tagged after mass. Sean really cherishes the game." (Mike Konesky)


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PATRICK SCHULTHEIS is chairman of the corporate department at the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and managing partner of its Seattle office. He lives in Kirkland with his wife Dianne.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Pat's one of the one of the most elusive players — a very hard guy to tag. He's also the most intense. Before February, he will gather his support staff at his law firm and say, 'If you turn on me, I'll fire you.' And he's semi-serious." (Bill Akers)



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JOE TOMBARI teaches math and physics at Gonzaga Prep; he lives in Spokane Valley with his wife JoAnne.

A BROTHER SAYS: "Tombari's really the heart behind the game. He's my closest pal, and we go back the furthest — to first grade at St. Al's. He was the lightest gray sheep of all the black sheep at St. Al's, and I think he exemplifies the real spirit of the game of tag more than any of us." (Joe Caferro)



ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS ORAL HISTORY

RUSSELL ADAMS: The Wall Street Journal reporter who first revealed the game of tag to the world on Jan. 28, 2013.

JACKI KONESKY: Married to Mike, she's also a 1983 Gonzaga Prep graduate and attended St. Al's with her cousin Joey Caferro. She's also a director of strategy at Boeing.

TODD GARNER: Producer of TAG; past credits include Paul Blart: Mall Cop and XXX State of the Union.

MARK STEILEN: Producer and screenwriter (with Rob McKittrick) of TAG; Gonzaga Prep 1977 graduate; has worked on There's Something About Mary, Mozart in the Jungle, Will, Shameless and is currently working on HBO's Divorce.

JEFF TOMSIC: Director of TAG, his feature directorial debut; past TV credits include Wrecked, Broad City and The Detour.


DON'T MISS THE END CREDITS!

As with all the Marvel movies, you don't want to leave the theater early. Stick around after the conclusion of TAG to see the original Tag Brothers in action.


click to enlarge ted_mcgregor.jpg
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Like nine of the 10 Tag Brothers, Inlander Publisher Ted S. McGregor is a proud member of the Gonzaga Prep Class of 1983. McGregor says: "I think it's so fitting this story is hitting in June, as new generations are graduating and thinking about how to keep the friendships they've built. Consider the story of tag as a commencement address of sorts. The message is simple: laugh and love. And don't forget to hire a good agent.

The original print version of this article was headlined "The It Crowd"

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