You see, for the past couple of years, I have dreamed of playing rugby one more time. My life revolved around playing rugby for about six years in the early 1970s. As a member of the Detroit and Michigan State rugby football clubs at various times, it was the most memorable time of my life. During the fall and spring, two nights per week were spent practicing, while Saturdays were set aside for games at locations around the Midwest.
American football was actually derived from rugby. Having been seriously involved in both as organized sports, my opinion is that playing rugby is much more fun. I think of rugby as a combination of football and soccer. When you view rugby for the first time, each teams 15 players seem to be playing something akin to football in soccer uniforms.
The camaraderie among the players is a big attraction for those hooked on rugby. They come in many sizes, from all walks of life, and of different ages. Some of the most exuberant players come from other countries where rugby is actually the national sport, such as in New Zealand. In the 1970s, my rugby teammates were my best friends.
Wild post-game parties attended by players of both teams - who had fought each other ferociously only hours previously - is one of the universal characteristics of rugby. Salty rugby songs of European and Australian origin are usually sung in unison as the night wears on.
The only problem with my desire to play rugby one more time was I hadnt played in eons and couldnt claim to be in good physical shape necessary for 90 minutes of mayhem. There was no thought of playing a full-speed game; only the hope of playing in one of the so-called Old Boy games. At 35 and older, the Old Boys have modified rules to help the alumni survive an entire game.
When the Blues (based in Traverse City) offered to use me in a game against the Detroit Old Boys in the recent Cherry Pit Rugby Tournament, I jumped at the chance. Hooray, my old mouthpiece and rugby shorts still fit. Of course, I dont think the Blues realized I was 20 years older than some of their old boys and hadnt laced up a pair of rugby boots in over 33 years.
After a short pre-game warm-up, I was already breathing heavily. My image of playing a casual game was quickly short-circuited when the referee announced we would not be playing Old Boys rules; the game would be expected to be very competitive. Then, I noticed that the Detroit team had many huge, athletic players who appeared younger than 35. Had Detroit noticed the success of the Chinese gymnasts who allegedly lied about their ages and sneaked some young-bloods into this game?
Around the time of the opening kickoff, a downpour of rain soaked everyone and continued for most of the game. Maybe it a sign from above that I should be home sleeping in. Oh well, no going back now.
I had expected the Old Boys to be a group of out-of-shape graybeards leaning on each other. Instead, both teams were very serious, hustling everywhere, sometimes trampling me when I got in the way. I ran around for a few minutes with the rest until it suddenly became clear I wasnt the player I was in 1975. I was gassed for virtually the rest of the game. The score wasnt even close as the Detroit Old Boys beat us decisively. My body remained stiff and sore for a week with the usual gashes and bruises.
In other words, I HAD A GREAT TIME. Rugby scrumming, rucking, and lineouts were still familiar after all these years - no problem. Once I got used to the speed of the game, I didnt embarrass myself too much and actually was involved in a few tackles. Despite my early fatigue, it is undeniable that I had a great physical workout. When is the next game scheduled, lads?
Many thanks to the Grand Traverse Rugby Club (better know as the Blues) for showing me a good time and helping to fulfill a dream. The Blues are Northern Michigans rugby team and offers four different squads: the mens team, alumni (Old Boys), under 19 boys, and under 19 girls teams. Rugby experience is not required for new players. For more information, log on to www.tcrugby.com or call Coach Tony DellAcqua at 231-499-7901.