Keep Your Head on a Swivel

I have played rugby for more than twelve years now and to this day, no coach or player, has ever told me to keep my head on a swivel. I suspect most true ruggers would have no idea what that means and proffer some witty criticism of such an idea. I was reminded of the term while watching the NFL playoffs this weekend . I saw a play, rather I felt it through my TV. I felt it enough to sit down and jump back into the rugby vs. football discussion. Give ear to my argument o ye warring sides and shut up already.

The New Orleans Saints had the ball and while attempting one of those American forward passes, the defender, from San Francisco, capitalized on his assigned defender falling down, and intercepted the pass. Normal enough. The defeated receiver in a noble effort at redemption picked himself up off the ground and began to pursue his opposition who was beginning his run back the other direction. About two strides into the chase a Forty Niner came flying in from off-screen, hit this poor unsuspecting receiver right in the chest, lifting him up off the ground and sending him flat on his back. In football its called a pancake block. They hurt. That New Orlinian failed to keep his head on a swivel or he would have seen it coming.

This is the huge differentiator between the two games and one of the key factors that renders a comparison irrelevant. Most who argue which sport is better spend all their time on padding, specialists, and play stoppage, I have never heard anyone deal with blocking. I assume it is because most who huff and puff in these discussions haven’t played both games, or if one has, I assume they at one point, in either sport, performed poorly leaving the arguer bitter and likely suffering from a head injury that destroyed the part of the brain dealing with logic and reason.

I'm in there somewhere

I recall as a sophomore in high school I was excited to have an opportunity play “special teams” for the varsity. I got my chance to pursue a kickoff against a rival team and did so with gusto. In my youthful exuberance I became distracted from the ball carrier by an opposing player whose intent was to block me from the ball carrier. My intent became running over this blocker, and I did. I had a thirty yard running start, exploded square into his chest, and he landed flat on his back. It was exhilarating. I felt full of power and adrenaline as I stood over the top of him gloating. The play wasn’t over yet and upon realizing this I took one step backwards and turned to pursue the ball carrier, wherever he was.

As soon as I turned around a flying human missile planted his head right in my chest. My feet came off the ground, I lost my breath, and everything liquid or liquid like inside my face exploded onto the inside of my face mask. I was flat on my back trying to regain my breath, my bearings, and my pride.

I played football for years and every play of every game or every practice, included my hurling myself headlong into my opposition as fast and hard as I could. I loved it.

In my first ever rugby game, an opposing player picked the ball off the corner of a scrum and tried to slip by on the short side of the field. As the backside flanker I had a great angle on him and took off like a rocket. I planted my forehead in his chest, wrapped up, and drove him into the ground. In rugby a tackle does not signify the end of play, but it was the end for me and that other guy both. He rolled on the ground holding his shoulder, or so I’m told because I couldn’t see very well, my nose was broken. I never tried that again.

I'm in there, I promise.

In the years since switching to the egg shaped ball, I have never endured the type of hit I received on that play my sophomore year. I’ve never had the sort of internally deflating hit that comes out of no where. I have been trampled, knocked heads, broken my nose again, but never been completely deflated out of no where. It doesn’t happen because not only are there no pads in rugby, but because there is no blocking.

They are not the same game, lets stop arguing.


5 thoughts on “Keep Your Head on a Swivel

  1. More than just the blocking, it’s very seldom anyone gets blindsided. There’s no standing still, there’s no looking thirty yards downfield, there’s no big DT being blocked into you from behind.

    It is indeed a different game.

  2. Dude, Imma’ sissy.
    Rugby hurts too much and the pain (without the padding to absorb much of the blow) lasts too long.
    But yeah… I got knocked out cold on kickoff coverage while jogging downfield watching a play develop.

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