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Tag: History vs. Hollywood

Questioning the Story:

How long have the real Tag Brothers been playing tag?

At the time of the 2013 Wall Street Journal article that inspired the movie, the group of men had been playing the game of tag for 23 years, starting in 1990. The year of the movie's release, 2018, marked 28 years of playing tag. The movie rounds up and states that the men have been playing the same game of tag for 30 years, which isn't all that far from the true story.

All ten of the real tag friends pictured in 2013.

How many real-life friends are involved in the ongoing game of tag?

The Tag Brothers movie trims the number of tag players down to five, but in real life a total of ten friends participate in the game. They are Bill Akers, Patrick Schultheis, Sean Raftis, Mike Konesky, Brian Dennehy, Joe Tombari, Rick Bruya, Joey Caferro, Chris Ammann and Mark Mengert. "The best thing about the game is that it has kept us in touch over all these years," Joe Tombari told Mirror Online. "It forces us to meet and has formed a strong bond between us, almost like brothers."

How did their game of tag begin?

The Tag movie's true story reveals that the decades-long game of tag began in Catholic high school in the early 1980s on the campus of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington. Back then it was mainly a slap on the shoulder or arm while going in and out of classrooms, or strolling down the halls. The first iteration of the game concluded when high school ended. Joe Tombari, who went on to become a high school teacher in Spokane, was last to be tagged. At that point, he was essentially "It" for life. Eight years later when the group was gathered together for a weekend, they reminisced about the game and the fact that Joe was still "It." Someone suggested the idea of starting the game up again. -WSJ

High school photos of the real Tag Brothers, pictured circa 1982 at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Washington.

Does the game of tag continue all year round?

No. The game is only played in the month of February, and whoever is "It" at the end of the month is "It" for the rest of the year. In the Tag movie, they play during the month of May. -WSJ

Are there any geographic restrictions to the game?

No. Instead of chasing each other around the playground, the men have literally chased each other around the country, traveling by plane, car, etc. Like in the 2018 Tag movie, their wives at times act as spies and coworkers are recruited to be on the lookout for other players and bar them from entering the office. -WSJ

Did they really sign a "Tag Participation Agreement"?

Yes. The Tag true story confirms that the contract exists and was drafted in January 1990 by lawyer and tag participant Patrick Schultheis. -WSJ

Read the full Tag Participation Agreement signed by the ten real Tag Brothers in 1990.

Is each main character in the movie based on a real person?

No. There are no direct one-to-one correlations between the movie characters and the real-life friends. For example, Ed Helm's character is a composite of several of the real Tag players (, and the reporter who follows the group around for an article is male in real life, not female. The Tag Brothers certainly inspired the movie characters and their actions, but the film is only loosely based on the real people. The film's premise of banding together to get Jeremy Renner's character, who's never been tagged, is mostly fictional. However, quite a few tags in the movie indeed happened in nearly identical ways in real life.

Watch the Tag movie starring Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Isla Fisher.

Can you tag a player who just tagged you?

No. Like in the 2018 movie, there are no tag-backs, meaning you can't immediately tag the same player who just tagged you. You also have to answer honestly if someone asks you if your "It." -WSJ

Was someone really tagged at a funeral?

Yes. Like Ed Helms' character in the Tag movie, Patrick Schultheis was tagged at his father's funeral. "I was in the front row, and so, guys were going up to communion, pattin' me on the shoulder, and Beef comes up and patted me on the shoulder and mouthed to me, 'You're It.' ... My dad would've thought it was funny." -CBS Sunday Morning

In real life, Patrick Schultheis was tagged at his father's funeral. It happened in the church, not at the grave site.

Have they broken into each other's houses in the middle of the night to get a tag?

Yes. Mike Konesky waited until 2 a.m. and broke into the house where two other players lived. He did so by sneaking through the garage and finding an unlocked house door. He burst into Brian Dennehy's bedroom and quickly switched on the light. Brian's girlfriend (now wife) yelled, "Run!" but there was nowhere for Brian to go. In seconds, he was "It." -WSJ

Was someone tagged while they were in a hospital room with their wife, who was giving birth?

Tag movie producer Todd Garner told Nerdist, "In real life, there's been tags at births, funerals, inceptions of kids, for real." No exact details were given on how the tag at the birth unfolded, so the movie's version could certainly be stretching the truth (in the 2018 movie, Ed Helm's character's wife's legs are spread open in the hospital room as Jon Hamm's character comes into the room for the tag.

The movie does leave out a tag that happened when one of the guys' wives was in the hospital going to chemo. "They came to be around him and support him, and they tagged him," Garner said.

What other lengths have players gone to tag someone?

In addition to flying across the country and breaking into each other's homes in the middle of the night, players have hid in trunks, put on wigs (including one member disguising himself as a granny), donned fake mustaches, and have even pretended to be homeless. -Mirror Online

Joey Caferro (left) disguised himself as a granny to get a real-life tag. Ed Helms' character (right) wears a similar granny outfit in the movie and gets flipped by Jeremy Renner's character (the flip never happened in real life).

Has anyone ever gotten hurt playing tag?

Yes. On one occasion in the mid-1990s, Father Sean Raftis flew 800 miles from Seattle to San Franciso just to get a tag so he could shed the "mantle of shame" as they call it. He curled himself up in the trunk of his friend's new Honda Accord. They had pulled up in front of Joe Tombari's house, a fellow player. Sean's friend knocked on the door and told Joe to come out and see his new car. Joe and his wife came out, and when the trunk was opened Sean Raftis popped out and tagged Joe. His wife was so startled that she stumbled backward off the curb and tore a ligament in her knee. "I still feel bad about it," says Sean, who today works as a priest in Montana. "But I got Joe." -Mirror Online

A more severe injury happened to actor Jeremy Renner on the movie's set. While filming a stunt on just the third day of production, Renner fractured his right elbow and left wrist at the same time. He was supposed to fall with a stack of chairs and then run, but the chairs didn't fall and he ended up plunging about 20 feet, sticking his arms out to break the fall. He had to wear green screen casts that were removed during editing. -The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Did the movie's cast meet the real Tag Brothers before the movie was completed?

No. The cast never met the real Tag Brothers prior to or during production. They were not involved in the making of the movie (Nerdist). The cast didn't meet the real guys until the premiere in June 2018, just days before the release.

Real Tag Brother Joey Caferro (left) wears a fake mustache and glasses to disguise himself during his attempt to free himself from being "It." Ed Helms' character dons a fake mustache and glasses in the movie (right).

Are players ever allowed to take a break from playing tag?

Yes. "Sometimes we allow friends a grace period," says participant Joe Tombari. "Chris [Ammann] is currently enjoying time off as he has two-year-old triplets and a four-year-old son." In the Tag Brothers movie, Jeremy Renner's character has never been tagged and wants to retire since he's getting married. The other players attempt to do everything they can to make him "It" and break his streak. -Mirror Online

Tag Brothers Interview & Related Videos

Expand on what you know about the Tag movie's true story by watching the interview below featuring the real group of friends.

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