Rugby and Me
Rugby has been a very important part of my life. Most of my friends and many of my adventures in life have come from my participation in this sport. I was never particularly good at it, but as the sport most always assured “anyone who came to practice got a match”, I have probably played 450-500 games in my life. Not bad for someone living in the United States, where Rugby is a “minor sport.”
As I was transferred many times early in my business career, I had the opportunity to play for teams in Los Angeles, Portland, OR, Omaha, Boston, Seattle and Boulder, CO. I usually had no problem starting for the “A” side at fullback, wing or, sometimes fly-half, for the mediocre sides I lined up with, but I had to work hard to stay on the first side for the better teams like Mystic River in Boston.
A wonderful thing happened when I was about 35 years old and living in Seattle; the appearance of “Old Boy” or over 35 Rugby. I believe the Evergreens from Vancouver, British Colombia were a prim mover in this development. The Seattle Old Guard (SOGgies) was soon playing 8-10 matches home and away against old boy teams north of the border. Same rules as the standard game, but with an understanding among all players (well most at least) that play was conducted with a restraint consistent with our ages. Men now play this form of Rugby into their 70’s and beyond. As a wise friend and Rugby sage once put it, “98% of the fun and none of the bull&%$#”. Old Boy Rugby vastly extended my playing career until I finally gave it up a few years ago after turning 60.
There is something special about Rugby and those who participate in it. It is a form of combate on the “pitch” that forms a bond between those who play it. I could go to any Rugby clubhouse in the world (and some are quite nice) and feel welcome as part of the brotherhood.
I started Rugby at California State College Los Angeles after returning from the Peace Corps in 1968. I was looking to take a physical education class along with my other studies as a way of getting in shape. I noticed they had a class in Rugby and remembered someone had once mentioned that I should try the sport. So, I signed up for the course.
First practice and it was love at first sight. I was attracted to the uniforms, constant movement, contact without pads, the importance of kicking the ball ( I fancied myself good at that) and the history and traditions of the sport that included, comradeship, partying and singing with the other team after a match. I was hooked and turned out the next week for the school team.
We CSCLA Diablos had an excellent Rugby team, sort of coached by an ex-NFL defensive back and great guy, John Hurdle. The school football team had been very successful in the previous years and, as many of the players had run out of eligibility for that sport, they turned to the club Rugby team. Of all the years I participated in the sport, this first team had the best athletes. Had we had more knowledgeable coaches, we could have been very good.
As it was, in the two years I played for the team, mostly starting at fullback, we won the Southern California Championship of both college and men’s teams in 1971. We had earlier defeated a combined University of California campuses team that was on its way to Australia where they did very well. One of my best friends from that team, Joe Hendrix, recently passed away after surviving a number of years with a heart transplant.
After graduation I played a year with the Pasadena RFC and went to work for Scott Paper Company in sales. In those days the way to move up in a corporation was not only to work hard, but to be willing to take transfers to new locations for higher level positions. Thus began my odyssey of moving from city to city that I mentioned above.
One of the advantages of playing Rugby in those days for me was that when I moved to a new location, I would show up for practice with the local side and immediately have 30 new friends. Not only friends, but many people who spent their lives in the area and were able to introduce my family and me to local experiences we would not have had elsewise.
1973 Pasadena RFC
1973-1974 Portland Oregon RFC
1975-1977 Omaha RFC
1978-1979 Mystic River (Boston) RFC
1980-1991 Seattle RFC
1991-Present Boulder RFC
Another appealing aspect of Rugby is the tradition of “touring” to play matches, often times to foreign countries. It is a wonderful experience to visit strange lands with good friends and team mates.
Some of the tours I have participated in include:
British Colombia (many times), Edmonton, Canada and Acapulco, Mexico with the Seattle RFC
Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungry and Chile with the Boulder Old Boys.
I also saw some matches in Ireland, England and Wales for the 1999 World Cup. This is a quad-annual event between the top 20 ranked national teams.
My friend Dave Cunningham and I try to make it out to the USA 7’s (a fast paced, abbreviated form of the sport with 7 players on a side) each February in Las Vegas. Last year we flew out to Hong Kong for the world renowned Hong Kong 7’s (well worth it).
Injuries? Yes, but not as many as you would expect. Mine have been mostly limited to cuts that needed to be stitched up and a twisted knee that bothered me for a while. My biggest problem over the years has been pulled hamstrings, which seriously limited my availability at times, especially towards the end. But these were small inconveniences compared to the pleasures the game has given me
The Welsh say that “Rugby is the game they play in heaven.”
And I say, “you are never more alive than when you are on the Rugby pitch.”
- Published in Personal Interests