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WHY RUGBY

by Rob Wagner

           It is tempting when trying to define "why" rugby to simplify it all to a few
           bumper stickers ("Rugby... Because"; "Rugby, The Only Game Our
           Mothers Let Us Play"; "In Rugby There Are No Winners, Only
           Survivors). But, of course, it is far more complicated than that. Notice,
           for instance, that the subject of this chapter is not "why play rugby," it is
           WHY RUGBY. This fine differentiation does not have to be explained to
           ruggers, but for the new or uninitiated, it does bear some discussion.
           Note also that "WHY RUGBY" is both a question and a statement, or
           perhaps a question without a question mark or a statement in question form.
           How appropriate that the topic itself should break the rules, even if they are
           the rules of grammar and punctuation.

           Rugby is not, "like soccer," as we all to often hear. Such a statement is a
           blasphemy of the good name of Rugby. Rugby is a natural evolution from
           soccer. Soccer, being the Neanderthal precursor to Rugby. The game of
           Rugby-football started with a man, William Web Ellis, following his finely
           developed instincts by picking up the ball in a soccer match and running
           with it (i.e. he broke a rule he recognized as stupid and limiting, starting a
           fine tradition of civil disobedience that was later adopted by Gahndi and King).

           Emerson said a mouthful when he said "whoso would be a man, must be a
           nonconformist. He who would gather mortal palms must not be hindered
           by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness," (but then
           he had a nasty habit of being profound) It could well be the rugby player's
           credo. You will find so many drawn to the game because they want to try
           something different, something exciting and new, and something that others
           may be just a bit fearful of.

           If that is not necessarily why they come to the game, they soon find a certain
           perverse pleasure in watching and listening to people's reactions when they
           tell them, "I play rugby." Most often the listener gets a strange look on their
           face, or grimace, and says, "Rugby, that's pretty rough, isn't it?" "Yeah,
           kinda," you respond as they look you up and down and wonder what manner
           of person is this?!. This, then, results in the statement changing from "I play
           rugby," to, "I am a rugby player." A subtle but important difference as the first
           phrase states what one does, the second defines whom one is.

           Simply (and frequently) put, Rugby is not a game, it is a life style. Its essence
           is not drawn simply from the physical competition on the pitch, but also from
           camaraderie that develops from sharing such an uncommon--common bond.
           It starts on the field but is reinforced during the post game gatherings (ok, ok,
           the party) when opponents break bread and toast each other with drink and
           song. The party is a celebration not just for the victors, but also for the
           vanquished (and a chance for a redemption of sorts by "winning" the, um,
           gathering). It is a unique endeavor in athletics.Whereas Vince Lombardi
           speaks for most competitive sport in saying, "Winning isn't everything, it is the
           only thing," the rugger, who still wishes to win, values the test of competition
           and the spirit of the game even more. So perhaps it can all be reduced to a
           bumper sticker after all {sigh}, "in rugby there are no winners, only survivors."
           And we survive well together, teammates and opponents alike.

           Finally, people play rugby because it is not football, and it is not soccer, and it
           is not any of the other sport you can think of. It is different, it is unique, it is
           rugby. More than a game, more than simple competition, flying in the face of
           what is expected of the American athlete. Rugby players are nothing, if not
           nonconformists. Ralph Waldo (yes, we're on a first name basis) would be
           proud, and would no doubt have captained the all-intellectual and social
           selects first 15, probably at eight-man (if he brought his own ball).

           We few, we proud, we ruggers must never forget our ideals, our objectives
           and our principles lest we become just another game that values winning
           above all else. Rugby has always been above that. It is about camaraderie
           and sportsmanship. Other sports often pay only lip service to those ideals,
           rugby exemplifies them. Mr. Robert Frost also captures the spirit of the
           game in "The Road Not Taken." Read on, and enjoy... and do not forget
           to read the explanation below the poem.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I__
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

           It's a little known nonfact that this was written by Frost to explain to his
           parents why he played rugby. They were adequately confused, mumbled
           their thanks, and wandered down to the local pub to lament the strange
           turn their son had taken. "If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
           perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music
           which he hears, however measured or far away."
                                               --Henry David Thoreau (writing of ruggers, I'm sure)