In Praise of Rugby


It's civilizational, according to this reader:

I played something like 200 rugby games over 17 years and probably a like number of games of touch football, and I can honestly say that nothing inspires the excitement of lining up at standoff and putting the ball in play. On the other hand, playing quarterback, even on the sandlot, is remarkably fun -- sort of a chess game where the opposition pieces are jumping around and trying to knock you down. Actually, there is a lot in common with playing standoff in rugby and quarterbacking in football, except that you put your life on the line each time you touch the ball in rugby.

The most interesting part of the subject though is this: I have played with and against some remarkably smart and accomplished people on the rugby field; it would be hard to imagine a more intellectual bunch than those MIT teams (the future physics chair at U Chicago was a forward, and the team included numerous future PhD's). The scar I have through my right eyebrow was put there by a Cal Tech professor. Also, the relationships we had with opposing teams at those profane postgame parties were also fun (the single exception in all my time being the B School, which failed the hospitality test utterly).

The most jarring discovery when it came to the game of rugby football was its gentlemen's culture - the culture of hatred that is the essence of football rivalries was absent in rugby - the home team always held a beer party for the visitors, and we drank and sang barroom ballads well into the night. (There is probably a PhD in comparative linguistics somewhere for a study on the historical origins of songs like The Wild West Show or The Marrying Kind, and how the language is subtly misunderstood by Americans sometimes.) It was also interesting to become part of an international culture which seemed to take the concept of sportsmanship seriously. In New England or later southern California, it was possible to play with and against players from the British Isles, France, New Zealand, the U.S., and now more and more, Samoa and even Tonga.

I don't think that video at the level of YouTube does justice to the sport, but it's what we have for the moment. One thing the sport has left me with: I can't get into the idea of golf. The ball just sits there.

(Photo of Boston College rugby team.)