Friday, January 20, 2012

- This Rugby Thing

Some of you peeps are really caught off guard by this whole "rugby-obsessed" thing.  Seems a bit out of left field, right?  Right.  Well lemme tell you a story...

Once upon a time there was a man.  He started playing rugby at NC State and continued when he transferred to UNCW.  Then he was one of the founding members of the Cape Fear Rugby Club.  Then he met a woman, who loved disco and dancing which wasn't his jam, but he went with it anyway.  While he waited for her to get ready before their first date, he sat down and did a crossword puzzle.  They got engaged in the car one night before heading into the bar to hang out with the rest of the rugby crowd.  And they got married on May 15, 1982 at Greenfield Lake and had a pig pickin' for their reception.  Pretty much as quickly as socially acceptable they had a daughter.  They named her Laurie.  Laurie Elaine.  Although, if she had been a boy she would have been named Gareth, after Gareth Edwards - one of the greatest Welsh rugby players ever who scored what is commonly referred to as "The Greatest Try of All Time".

I spent nearly every 4th of July weekend growing up at the Cape Fear Sevens Rugby Tournament, which has grown into one of the largest 7's tournaments in the country.  Here's a great write up the Wilmington Star News did last year.  Even though I spent a lot of time around the sport, I never really learned the game.  Rugby was my "favorite" sport - but that's mostly because I was a major Daddy's Girl.  I never played, but I never played any team sports.  When most kids are learning how to play sports I was riding horses and competing in shows on the local circuit - and even at the state level a few times.  One summer during my Master's program I wanted to head home for the tournament but the water pump on my car broke.  I rented a car.  At the tournament I drank beer and watched some games where I saw a guy dislocate his shoulder and then pop it back into the socket.  Then I drank some more beer and partied with the South Africans.  Then I passed out in the restroom.  My mom not only had to find me, but she also had to drive me home.  I think the lesson here is to be careful when partying with South Africans.  And to be careful when drinking in the sun.  And to make sure you always have a DD.

I haven't been back to a tournament since.  That embarrassment took a while to fade.  Although, as far as rugby tournaments go my actions were par for the course, they just occurred a bit early in the day.

At this point, nothing is really signaling that I know anything about rugby.  But, then I moved up here.  Far away from everything I know, and everything I thought I knew about myself.  In May I checked out the Pride Parade and saw the local gay rugby team marching.  Every now and then they would stop and do a line out, and then pass the ball as they were running to keep pace.  It got me thinking..."I should look into local rugby teams and maybe check out a game".  Google found the Metropolis Rugby Club for me - the only Division I team in Minnesota.  The only problem was that their spring season was over.

So, I forgot about them.  Around August my mom and I were talking about the lack of cute guys in my life and she was all "You should go to a rugby game!"  Now this approach worked out quite well for her, so I googled again and found out that their season was starting at the end of the month.  Which was the same weekend my good friend Karen would be in town.  I didn't even have to spend all week trying to talk someone into going with me.

And that's how I ended up on the sidelines of every single home game Metropolis played this past fall, except one.  I'm not going to lie, there were enough cute guys at that first game to warrant further investigation.  But something else happened at that game too...I realized I really enjoyed watching the actual game. By the second one I realized I wanted to know the rules.  I needed to know the rules.  What position their numbers stood for.  Why there was a penalty called at that ruck.  What is a ruck?!

This is the point where the stars just happened to align, because it was a World Cup year.  I have the uncanny ability to get completely absorbed into any big sporting event.  The Olympics?  You bet your ass - summer and winter.  Fifa World Cup?  I watched nearly every game in 2010.  March Madness?  Let me tell where you went wrong with your bracket.  Golf?  I worked at a country club so it's been known to happen.  Kentucky Derby?  I'll make you a Mint Julep.  Superbowl?  I'll watch that!  (I would also like to point out that I've been saying the Packers defense is weak and relying on Aaron Rodgers to bail them out since like...November.)  Sorry baseball and NBA - not my jam...yet. (This year I have had awesome times at Twins and Timberwolves games, so I'm not writing anything off).  What I'm saying is - the Rugby World Cup was the perfect opportunity for me to totally immerse myself in a new sport.  

And boy did I ever.  I had the pool play schedule memorized.  Because it was in New Zealand, I didn't catch nearly as many full games as I would have liked - but I would wake up every morning afterwards and check scores and watch the highlights video.  I read nearly every news article published on the official website.  I started following rugby people and news outlets on Twitter.  Many people would consider information overload...and yet, I couldn't get enough.  I wrote about my picks here.  I had my lengthy, total rugby-focused phone conversations with my Dad, and always had goosebumps when we hung up.  Even though I'm ridiculously close to my dad, he's a man of few words and doesn't say much on the phone, but these conversations lasted 30 minutes or longer.  For the first time I felt like we were really connecting over something we both cared about that wasn't directly related to family.  Not only was I becoming passionate about this sport, but I loved that it brought my dad and I closer.  I think it's kind of awesome that even though I grew up around rugby, I found my way to it by my own path in my own time, and fell in love with it all just the same.

At this point I'm not looking for a boyfriend any more.  Well not one within rugby.  Or I mean, that could be great...I'm just saying I watch games because I love watching games.  There is no ulterior motive.  For the first time in my life, I am a legit "sports fan".  During the World Cup I not only fell in love with our Eagles, but the Australia vs. Wales bronze medal match solidified both teams as international favorites, with Australia having the slight edge.  When the world cup was over I jumped right into the Heineken and Amlin cups taking place in Europe, and the HSBC Sevens World Series.

Here's a quick rugby lesson: there are normally 15 players on a side and they play 40 minute halves.  In the game of Sevens - it's seven on a side, and seven minute halves - hence the name.  It's therefore fast, and super exciting to watch, and it will be making its Olympic debut in 2016 in Rio.  The USA competes in the World Series and for the first time ever, has offered paid contracts to 15 men and 8 woman to start building up our Olympic teams.  I'm a HUGE fan of Sevens and love watching the tournaments.  I stream them online and have been known to wake up at all hours of the night to catch games live from Dubai and South Africa.  

Rugby is giving me one of the best birthday presents ever by having a jam packed February schedule.  The 6 nations is starting up and will have games 3 of the 4 weekends with Wales playing my other favorite, Scotland, ON my birthday.  The Sevens World Series has stops in Wellington and Vegas.  Some of those games from Vegas should be televised and if you get a chance to check any of them out I highly recommend you do.  If you catch a USA game look out for my favorite - Tiberio, who is one of the paid players and will hopefully make the squad...and send me a jersey.  On top of all this, super rugby starts up in the southern hemisphere at the end of the month.  Good luck beating that anyone else that gets me a gift.  Seriously though, if you're my friend - don't get me a gift.  Just hang out with me and make me feel special.

Sooooooooooooooo that's the story of how rugby moved from the background to the foreground of my life.  It's my jam.  And one of the best things about it is that it seems to love me as much as I love it.

I think it's a keeper.

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