It’s my favorite of all the rugby jerseys I own. It lives in my gym bag, which lives in my van. The bag lives in my van for the same reason I have a pair of cleats wedged into the frame of the back door of the same vehicle.
“Uh, why are there shoes stuck in your door?” a friend once asked.
I thought the answer, “because I play rugby,” was sufficient but he was not satisfied.
Any true rugger, especially an American one, is always prepared for a game. It is not some hopeful infatuation with the game, it is a responsibility.
You see; I am a prop. Better yet, I play both loose and tighthead. I play that one position that if a team finds themselves without, the game is ruined for all. A rugby game with uncontested scrums is like a basketball game with four foot hoops… only worth playing if you are five years old. So I must always be prepared to play.
This leads to why this is my favorite jersey.
On one occasion when I only intended to watch, I was asked to play. The hosts of the Hogfest tournament were short on their B side. This B side was especially “B” in that their A side consisted mostly of players who had the experience of one season behind them. I had ten.
B sides are usually a motley crew and this was no different. I fished into my bag for a blue jersey to make an attempt to match the rest of the guys who themselves struggled to piece together outfits that could be called uniform. I normally won’t wear the jersey of a team I haven’t played for in anything but a social setting and I was surprised to realize that since college I haven’t played for a team that wore blue. The royal blue of Samoa was not the navy that would have worked best, but it separated me from the Crimson of the other team and that was all that could be hoped for.
We were playing the A squad from HBS. That’s HBS as in Harvard Business School.
I have little recollection of how that game went. I’m sure we lost.
Here is what I do remember:
A major feature of rugby games with inexperienced players is a major mess conglomerated around the ruck. People dive over each other, shove for no reason, and the ball is usually killed. These are the games I find myself most useful because a killed ball results in a scrum. I’m sure we scrummed 500 times that day.
At one such breakdown HBS had skillfully cleaned away our entire pack leaving one lone forward posted over the top of the ball, patiently waiting for his team to set up behind him. With all the other forwards in a pile making little attempt to untangle themselves, and this guy sitting there like he ruled the world, I cleaned him.
I put my shoulder in his stomach, wrapped both arms around one of his legs, and drove him one meter into the air, two meters back, and about five meters into the ground. It was quite rewarding and completely legal.
Play went on behind us, I popped up to my feet and offered my hand. He accepted my help but once on his feet exclaimed, “you f_ (insert homosexual slur here)”, and took a wild swing at me with his free hand. He was obviously no boxer and I easily ducked under his hook and stood right back up nose to nose with my attacker. I looked at the rage in his eyes and inexplicably started laughing. I jogged back to join the game in progress and could not wipe the smile off my face.
At half time many of the guys gathered around to tell tales of what had happened thus far. Some brought up my rucking and many excitedly talked of how that guy had tried to fight me. I chuckled and brushed it off as no big deal. With further urging I recounted my memory of the brief event adding commentary to try to make it interesting. In summation I said,
“Really, he left his chin just hanging out there. I should have hit it, he would have been out like a light. In fact, I really should have done it because I have waited my entire life to knock out a privileged rich kid without fear of being sued. Who knows when I’ll get a chance like that again?”
The response from the guys was unexpected. No laughter, no relating acceptance, no support. My comment was met with blank stares. Well, not blank exactly, more like petrified. I think one guy faked a nervous chuckle.
It took me a few moments to realize what had just happened. One of the drawbacks of being prepared to play whenever and with whomever, is you may not fully appreciate who you are playing with. It wasn’t till after the game that I fully realized that the one school that outranks HBS scholastically and is in fact ranked number one in business, was the one I was on. I learned that day that no matter how excited, no matter how good the story, never forget your audience.
Thankfully those guys are an understanding bunch, or possibly just undersized, as they have repeatedly invited me back. I am convinced they are the best bunch of privileged rich kids I have ever met and I no longer have the desire to knock anyone out for the previously stated reason.
That being said, and thanks to these guys, I don’t trust that I will pass up the opportunity again if it ever presents itself.
I now have a jersey in the appropriate colors, and the pictured one has gone back in the bag.