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.
Booboo once told me, “Tex, you fought with everybody!” He was under the influence of Demerol at the time and also threatened to punch me in the nuts from his hospital bed… but he had a valid point. While I did put Erkle in a headlock once at R&Rs for his attempts to keep me from getting thrown out during a day-drinking session (Erk was not successful; even the benevolent bouncer Quinton eventually tossed me), we never actually fought. I have always admired how Steve manages to lead in a way that preserves sufficient order to keep the group on track without creating conflict with or among those being led. Despite years of mentoring by Steve, I apparently never mastered those lessons. That’s why Erkle became a seargent major and I occasionally get punched in the nuts by my buddies.
Thanks for the memories. So many memories!
– Cape Girardeau “Roo Tour.” Me booking the Downtower triple-homicide motel. Is that rat poop on the carpet? Oops. Winning the party at the armory. Purple Crackle serving cheap booze in chipped glasses until 4 a.m. Randy: “You sure are sorry, Sorry.” It sticks.
– Indoor training at Kinney. Endless wall sits. Erkle representing forwards in our push-up challenge vs. the backs. Erk even excels at the miserable parts of rugby. Bastard!
– Rugby tour: Screw the Brits in 1996. One hundred stories thereabout. No, two hundred. Most led by Erk.
– Co-ed summer 7s at the Complex Fields. Forbidden brews in the parking lot. “Rollers! Get ’em down.”
– Mexico. The grippe. The Zoo (appropriately named). Bulls win! “Does tequila have laxative effects?” Cooter: “Wow. The sun(set) is pointing right at me.” Walking the entire length of the largest bay in Mexico. Beautiful chaos.
– Cape Girardeau again. Me booking the Relax Inn; same awful motel, new name. Oops. Ranger Dick knocks his first almost-try but we sweep the tournament, anyway. Pikeeez. Purple Crackle; no, we never learn. Guys singing “Ring of Fire” while slowly burning away the flame-retardant straw sombrero I was wearing. Fair enough. Rainbow almost swimming the channel on the way back to the motel. One last really bad idea for the weekend.
– Erk scoring the game-winning push-over try to beat the complete jerks at Southern Indiana. One bold car-load of us staying to party with them, anyway. Grabber rejected by a small-town doorman but somehow finding his way back to our car. Pack 6 of us into a small sedan at 3 a.m. Erk and I wake ‘em all up for rejuvenating biscuits and gravy at 4 a.m. on the way home. God bless truck stops.