Old Blue: Rugby US Style
Marty Veale picked me up from JFK International Airport at midnight on Wednesday. He was wearing shorts and Jandals, a backwards cap and a beard so big it could house the homeless.
Six months ago, he and the chairman of the New York Old Blue Rugby Football Club, a genial Irish American named Brian "Psycho" Murphy, had stood with me in a hotel bar in Chicago and told me that I needed to pay them a visit. Six months later, thanks to them, here I was.
The trip had been planned to coincide with the club's annual old boys' weekend - a perfect time to get a sense of how much the game means to the men who have played for this club in the years since its formation in 1963. I got a sense of that, and I got the answer: a great deal indeed.
The club was founded by six Columbia University alumni, including celebrated New York Post and Sports Illustrated football writer Paul "Dr Z" Zimmerman and Apple's longest-serving board member, Bill Campbell. The club trains and plays at Baker Field, Columbia's turf ground at the top of Manhattan, overlooked by the Campbell Sports Centre, the building Bill Campbell built.
Bill is known as the Coach of Silicon Valley both for the fact he is a former college football coach, and because he has been the guiding hand in the rise of some of the world's most famous high tech companies. I would have a chance to sit down with Bill on Saturday night at the club's annual hall of fame dinner at the New York Racquets Club. He told me that captaining Columbia to the Ivy League Championship in 1961, and founding the Old Blue in 1963 were his equal greatest achievements.
In a nation obsessed with the self-obsession of the major leagues, rugby is a renegade, an underground world of amateur players who love the game for its spirit, its kinship, and its camaraderie. They love a beer after training, too, and a few more after the game. They want to make rugby a bigger deal than it is, but not at the expense of what they cherish most about it: friendship and fun.
Dan Payne, the athletic director of Life University in Atlanta and a former player, believes no other club in America has the spirit of Old Blue. On Saturday afternoon, Life, the reigning national Division 1 champions, defeated Old Blue 30-20 and after the game, while both teams shared beers and hot dogs outside in the spring sunshine, Payne told me, "We may have won today, but for the other 364 days of the year, Old Blue kicks everyone's ass."
Credited: Scotty Stevenson