I was new to Illinois in 1993 and a fellow grad student, “Mick” Windham, decided we should go out for the rugby team. He had played overseas as an airman at Ramstein Air Base. It was all new to me. I had a grand total of two of Benny’s rugby practices under my belt when I met Steve.
My first Rugby Day (Saturday for lay-people) was a home match against Marquette. In classic college-side fashion, they showed up with about 17 players for a 3-match commitment. I was appropriately selected for Illinois’ C side, being the absolute bottom of the barrel. But at least I was chosen for the noblest of positions, lock.
Steve was playing for the Blaze at the time. By some gracious act of the Rugby Gods, he had an off week with his club side, so he traveled down to hang out with Teppen, White Trash, Grady, Triz, etc. and picked up a match with the opposing side. Marquette was so desperate for bodies, they took my noob self as a 2nd B-side lock, next to Erkle, who would’ve been among the best packies on Illinois’ A-side if he had not graduated. Erk coached me through that first match, helped convince Mongo not to rip my head off after I undercut him in a lineout (realizing I could not out-jump that 6’6″ monster, I took a practical, but completely illegal approach to the situation), and of course led us in song at R&Rs when the activities at the pitch concluded. I was hooked!
The following year, Steve joined us for his 2nd tour in Chambana pursuing his graduate degree… another kind act of the Rugby Gods on our behalf. He’d run the club as an undergrad and his sage advice helped me address various bureaucratic challenges when my turn at the helm came around. Those included “Super Secret Double Probation” due to certain inter-organizational conflicts best left undocumented. So many times, at the end of long road trips, it would be me and Steve who’d stayed coherent to get the van or Winnebago or jam-packed Oldsmobile home safely. A few unlucky teammates got arrested, but we never lost a one on our watch! Well, except for a couple in New Orleans and Kentucky and England… but they were all resourceful enough to eventually find their own way home.
TBC – “Texan”