Jason Hodge from rugbyfan.net said I could use this, and so I am. It was originally posted there. - Wes

Rugby, Grubbers, Ruggers, & Me

By: Doug Sassaman


I have discovered the ultimate sport. A game of such simplicity and pure violence you canít help but fall in love with it. Iím not talking about Roller Derby (which I still pine for ever since they banished it) or WWF wrestling (which is just plain silly), no Iím talking today boys and girls about Rugby. To the untrained eye Rugby is a game of Schmeer The Queer Ė that cruel game from childhood, and to the trained eye itís an organized game of Schmeer The Queer. Itís the only game I know that officially uses the term Ďmaulí to describe a pile of guys using whatever means necessary to get possession of the ball.

I knew it was for me the first time I saw it on channel 175 several years ago, and when I saw my first live game in New Zealand I was holding back tears of shock and joy. The game is simple. One man picks up the ball from a twisted pack of arms and legs and he runs as if a rabid dog with froth dripping from its fangs is chasing him. His goal: run the ball to the other side of the field, dive into the end zone, and wet himself. This rarely happens though, because en route to the end zone, a vigilante mob overtakes the player with the ball and spreads him across the field like peanut butter. Once a tackle is made, everybody leaps with glee onto the pile like kids jumping onto a mound of leaves. Cleats rub across faces, tufts of hair and bits of teeth fly, until another hapless player emerges with the ball. The wise and cowardly pitch the ball backwards to another teammate moments before they get leveled - they still get leveled, but theyíre spared the gang pile. The new guy, shocked to find the ball suddenly in his hands, gets rid of it like a hot potato, and before you know it a chain of teammates form, each waiting their turn to run three steps and pitch the ball back to the next guy. The poor sap at the end of the line takes a bruising. I found out later that this was not an act of spinelessness, but what is called an offensive strategy.

Actually my view of the game diminished once I found out there were rules involved. Strategies, positions, you name it, this was an organized sport and quite frankly it ruined some of the mystique for me. It tempered my view of a bunch of back yard bullies going for broke. At least in Roller Derby of old, a testosterone-laden female could elbow another in the face and the referee wouldnít twitch a hair follicle. But still I took a measure of solace in that the only forms of protection Rugby players wear are cotton shorts and double-ply polyester shirts, which helps explain why the average playerís nose looks like a Coney Island roller coaster.

Unlike American football, Rugby players are hewn from the same mold. In football you have your thin spindly wide receivers, your 800 lb linebackers that more closely resemble cinderblocks than humans, and the kicker who looks like my uncle Ned. But in Rugby everyone averages 230 lbs, has legs the size of my waistline, no neck, flat face, and eyes that sparkle like Charles Mansonís. They play both offense and defense for eighty minutes straight, only stopping for half time and to remove bodies.

I had my first real insight into the game recently when we were invited to stay with some friends in the Coromandel Peninsula, two hours outside of Auckland. The New Zealand All Blacks (thatís their name) were playing the Australian Wallabies (a marsupial that hops) for the Bledisloe Cup. This game is big. Real big. The average Kiwi would barter breathing for a year for a victory over Australia. So we huddled around the TV at game time and it felt a lot like a Super Bowl gathering. Beer and chips flowed freely. I had a list of questions I wanted to ask my hosts about some of the intricacies of the game. Like how come when someone gets tackled another guy from the same team can pick up the ball and just start running again? What on Godís earth are a Scrum, a Grubber, and a Rugger? Whatís the difference between a Loosehead and a Tighthead? Is a Hooker a position or someone who helps players to relax after the game? And please, oh please, can someone describe what a Garryowen is or does?

Little did I know I would be the one fielding questions. The game wasnít going well for the All Blacks, and somewhere along the line, being an outsider, I became the vent to help the Kiwiís ease their frustrations. Just as I was polishing off a fistful of chips and preparing to ask the first of many Rugby questions, someone lobbed the first warning shot across my bow, "How come in American football, when someone gets tackled, everyone stops and stands around? Why donít they keep the bloody game going?" I had a mouthful of chips and before I could muster a response, a second shot from the other side of the room came at me, "Why do they have two totally different sets of players for offense and defense? Are they in that bad of shape they canít keep playing?"

I began chewing like mad and took a swig of beer to wash down the deck, when suddenly the guy behind me scored a direct hit, "Why all the silly pads?" He blared.

In a fine mist of beer and chip bits I initiated my defense before anyone else could take another shot. I answered the first two inquiries with calmness and clarity, but the insufferable Ďsilly paddingí question I attacked with fervor because I have taken the heat on this issue since the day I arrived in New Zealand; as if I was the grand-sissy, personally responsible for making NFL players wear padding. I explained in measured tones that the forward pass in football exposes players to more risk; that some NFL defensive players are so massive and brutal, a mere glance from one can cause bowels to loosen. I tried to paint a picture of an NFL game without pads, of Reggie White wearing Dan Marinoís spleen for a bonnet after a spectacular tackle, but somewhere between my mouth and their ears my words got lost in the carpet. No matter what I said or how dramatic my gestures, the reply was, Ďso why the pads?í

At length, I finally gave up the ship, "Because Americans are a bunch of pris-ass pansies."

"Yeah, thought so mate."

In the end, the All Blacks lost, American football was betrayed, and I still donít know what a Garryowen is.

For more from Doug Sassaman check out his website at CosmicBurp.com