Sometimes you mullet. Sometimes you don't.
Whatever that means, Troy Nichols just didn't — despite his heroic first name — have the mullet mojo like last year.
The defending Flora-Bama Interstate Mullet Toss champion stepped into the fish-flinging throwing circle on Saturday, shirtless, muscled and confident.
"Gotta stay humble," the 31-year-old said while awaiting his turn on Saturday, Day 2 of the iconic Perdido Key event.
Moments later, after hefty applause, Nichols' fish flew high, not that far and to the right, sending lounging bystanders on the sidelines scurrying as the mullet missile raced their way.
He wouldn't top last year's winning throw of 167 feet. But by Saturday afternoon, halfway into the three-day event, no one had. The top throw for 2014 stood at 143 feet — far short of Nichols' throw last year, and way, way off the record of 189 feet set in 2004 by fish-flinging legend Josh Serotum.
No matter. A slippery, sloppy throw wasn't going to ruin anyone's day at the Flora-Bama, where thousands had descended for the annual Mullet Toss, which has become for Perdido Key what the Running of the Bulls is for Pamplona, Spain — a chance for tourists and locals alike to drink, be merry and do things that defy logic.
It has grown for sure since its inception in 1985.
On Saturday, thousands upon thousands of fun-seekers swarmed to Perdido Key on Escambia County's western side, clogging the two-lane Perdido Key Drive. Smart folks parked at the Winn-Dixie on Perdido Key and took the shuttle to the Flora-Bama. Brave folks searched for parking. The "cheap" $10 parking spots went early. Still, the $20 and $25 parking lots that had sprung up at area businesses, condos and residences didn't deter most. Those spots went fast, too.
"I love this place," a man resembling former President Abraham Lincoln said, nursing a beer quietly at the end of one of the Flora-Bama's many maze-like bars. "This is my first visit here, but I plan on coming back."
OK, his name is Warren Denney, a Tennessee visitor who looks exactly like the beloved president, and was wearing one of those big Abe Lincoln hats to boot. Yes, he is a professional Lincoln re-enactor.
"A friend told me about it, that they had this big event where they throw mullet," Denney said, a Lincolnesque — we're guessing — chuckle behind the words. "I'm glad I came. The people here are the nicest, friendliest people."
Could that be because you look like Abe Lincoln? Who is not going to be nice to Abe Lincoln?
"Well, you can tell the people here are great," he said. "Everyone's having a great time."
Then, his brow furrowed, his posture straightened and he declared "I will come back again" in such a solemn tone, you'd swear he was going to recite the "Gettysburg Address."
Denney was just one of the head-turners among a flock of costumes, flesh, fish, food, bikinis and alcohol.
The hungry sat on faded picnic tables near the Flora-Bama covered-deck stage, sampling from the sea. Some munched on crawfish stuffed into cardboard boxes along with corn and potatoes. Others ate grouper sandwiches and shrimp. If mullet was on any menu, we didn't see it.
But there was plenty outside. Full fish sat in blue buckets of water, awaiting the next person from a long line of sunbaked would-be mullet tossers.
VIP tossers, including Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino and members of the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, threw mullet, and, just like the peasants, were told by the emcees "Go get your fish" after their throws.
One of the Flora-Bama's most beloved souls, Pat McClellan, tried the discus style of fish flinging. He went round and round, then heaved the mullet a decent distance. It wasn't his throw that was the problem. It was his follow-through. The furry fella fell flat in the sand.
Surrounding the official throwing area on the beach and scattered far down the beach were hundreds of beach and picnic tents set up for the partygoers making a long day of it. Under one tent, college dudes guzzled from beer funnels, offering girls, and girls only, a swig.
"Let's go back to the bar," said one middle-aged man to the middle-aged women with him, as they had ventured deep into a sea of loud, shirtless, tough guys holding court in the sand.
"Free meat! Free meat!" one guy yelled, carrying a dozen Jack Link's beef jerky sticks. He got them from the young model in the Sasquatch T-shirt handing out free samples for the jerky company. But the young man's very loud proclamation didn't go unanswered.
"Keep your meat to yourself," one woman said, walking by. "We don't want none."