You Don’t Grow Out of It: Rugby

As a child I was often described as rambunctious. Now that I am a grown man, maybe slightly past grown, that is probably not how most would describe me, but that is only because I eventually learned how to sit still in my chair (turns out the secret to this all along has been money; I get paid to sit in my chair and it works beautifully).


But I’m still that guy.

And by that guy I don’t just mean energetic, I mean there is something fundamental about me where I am compelled to run into other people. Exercise doesn’t really cure it. I’ll run if I have too, but if for some reason it’s okay to shove somebody, maybe even get shoved back real hard, I will do it without question every time no matter what. I say shove because maybe I’m slightly shy of saying hit, but hit is probably more accurate. Punch could apply, but it doesn’t have to be a fist. It could be a shoulder, an elbow, or maybe just a shove as long as it is hard enough that you need to work to stay upright.

I don’t really want to hurt anyone, in fact, I really don’t like the idea of hurting people yet there is this odd thing, a very real thing that wants to be rowdy. It is fun. Plain. Simple. Fun.

I am not alone.

Not even a little bit.

There is a breed of person, I have mostly found them playing basketball, who object to even the slightest brush and hold the word “foul” sacred, but then there are these other ones. My people. These are the ones who throw elbows under the basket. These are the guys who sprint to the other end of the court not to try and block your shot, but to try and set a pick or take a charge. My people.

People like me are often found on football teams (the American version), in mosh pits, or wrestling. They, we, used to be boxers but now it’s mostly MMA, which is maybe just a tad too mean for the general person… but maybe not. The mosh pit was great and offensive line wasn’t the worst, but those things don’t carry over into adulthood. Not really. Football without pads isn’t the same game, my ears hurt if the mosh pit is too close to the speakers, and kids appear to find grown men in such places creepy. I get it, but here I am with this playful urge to push and shove. What do I do? Where do I go?

Pardon my rhetorical question, my lazy device, because I obviously have the answer, but I have long been perplexed at how few of you do.

It’s rugby.

It’s perfect.

I am not arguing that rugby is better than football (the American version) or that basketball is bad. I like basketball and love football. I love football like one might still have warm feelings for a first crush or kiss, no, it’s more developed than that. We aren’t divorced, we never broke up, so maybe football and I had a serious relationship but then one of us got a job on the other coast and things just didn’t work out and we had to affectionately pursue our own business, admiring each other from afar.

Which is part of why rugby is perfect. Less business. Not the sport, there’s plenty of room for business there, but I mean the game.

If you are an American and aren’t familiar with rugby don’t apologize, it’s not your fault. Most of us are introduced later in life, and that’s okay. Let me describe it.

It’s a game.

First, a bunch of people get a ball, then they run around throwing and kicking it, all the while shoving and tackling each other. There are boundaries and you do keep score, but most importantly there are built in ways you get to shove, tackle, and even throw each other. Yes. You get to throw people. Up in the air. They tend to be large people, so it ends up being more of a heave than throw, but it is still fun.

When someone is running with the ball, you tackle them. When the person with the ball is on the ground, you get to shove people from the other team away from the ball so you can pick it up and keep running. That’s called a ruck. If this kind of shoving isn’t productive, you stop, and your 8 biggest people hug together in front of the ball and collectively try to push the other team’s 8 biggest people backward, till the ball pops out the back of this reverse tug-of-war, at which point your smallest player picks up ball the ball and tries to pass it away before someone tackles them.

If the ball is on the ground in front of you, you just pick it up and run. If someone passes you the ball, someone else is going to try and tackle you, so run. You can run right at people, or try to run around them, or throw the ball away to someone else. My favorite is to pretend to pass the ball but then keep it and run right at the potential tackler. You can score points by running the ball to the end of the filed or by kicking the ball through a set of goal posts, and you just keep playing, shoving, and tackling till you are exhausted, or for 80 minutes, whichever happens first.

Then, after the game, you rub menthol on your neck and legs, glue up any small cuts, then go hang out with the other team. Often this is at a bar or what non-Americans call a “pub”. At the pub people sing songs, drink, tell stories, or just chat about whatever. Other times you go somewhere and sit around a bowl, or a 5 gallon bucket, filled with muddy water and you listen to reggae. Someone will always play Lucky Dube.

It won’t matter who those other people are, where they are from, or how rough the game was, this after party will always be great, because above all else these are people who love to crash into other people.

For fun.

So it isn’t just me. There are a lot of us. I don’t know why this is fun. I don’t know why I want to crash and tackle and ruck or scrum. But I do. I always have. I think I always will. It is why, if we are friends, I might hip check you for no reason. It is why, if we are just sitting around, I might shove your chair or kick your shoe. I’m not trying to be annoying; I just want to play, and pardon me if I pause when we greet, I am just restraining myself.

But if you are an Aggie Old Boy, a Greenville Griffin, Park City Haggis or Atlanta Renegade, especially if you are a Wharton Wharthog… or a Giltini, Eagle, Puma, All Black, Wallaby, Bok, or Cherry Blossom… If you are CHABAL! I will shove you.

Lets play.