Thursday, March 6, 2014

The famous ruggers article

In a now famous article first published in the New York Times back on Oct 13th, 2003, the reputable newspaper researched the now-famous public figures who played rugby, mostly in their college days. 

Many think of rugby as a foreign sport, since few remember that rugby was actually the dominant sport in American college athletics until the new American football emerged from the original rugger.  After about a decade of uncertainty over which game would predominate the college sporting landscape, teams would often meet on game day and negotiate among captains which rules and their many variations they would follow that day.  Often, the home team's rules won out.

A few highlights from the New York times article by Peter Fitzsimons are republished below.  Some of the names and stories are shrouded in myth, some may even be fact.  The picture below is allegedly Pres. George Bush back in his playing days.

Vantage Point : From scrum to fields of power: a dream team of ex-rugby players
"In the autumn of 1968, two enthusiastic young Americans, in universities on opposite sides of the Atlantic, were playing a heavy contact football game with no helmets or pads — a game that would stand them in good stead in their later political careers.

One played in the second row for Oxford. The other was the fullback for the Yale rugby union side that did so well by beating Harvard that year. Step forward and take a muddy bow, Bill Clinton of Oxford and George W. Bush of Yale.

They are but two of rugby union's famous alumni who have gone on to make their fame in other fields. There are enough, in fact, that it is easy to form up a World Rugby XV of famous people who have played the game. "
Meat Loaf. Ten years ago I was standing in the wings of an Australian TV show with the captain of Australia's 1991 World Cup-winning team, just about to go onto the set. It was then that the next guest on the show, the rock singer, Meat Loaf, tugged at my sleeve. "Is that Nick Farr-Jones?" he asked, clearly impressed. He told me had played rugby in his younger days and remained a fan.

Bill Clinton Lock. On a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 1968-70, the man who would become the U.S. president came across rugby and adored it from the first.

"Being an American, I didn't know any of the rules," he reminisced to the Sydney Morning Herald when on a visit to Australia in 1996. "But I was the biggest guy on the team, so the coach just said to me: 'Clinton, go out there and get in someone's way.' So that's what I did, just got in people's way." While I don't know what kind of a rugby player he'd make these days, he'd be a good man to go on a rugby tour with!

Jacques Chirac Lock. The French president is about the same height as Clinton and could be counted on to give the side some Gallic flair. Fifty-odd years ago, he played in the junior side for Brive. He also briefly played in his university days.

Pope John Paul II. There are claims His Holiness played rugby for Poland, though I doubt this. Such a feat would have shown up in one of the many biographies, and it hasn't. What I do know is that when a club I played for in Italy, Rovigo, was given an audience with the pope in 1981, he was greatly knowledgeable about the game.

Che Guevara Open-side breakaway. Che was actually a good breakaway in the early 1950's for the San Isidro Club, in one of Buenos Aires's most salubrious suburbs. Even while Che was fomenting revolution, he paid the rent by writing match reports, and with some mates he even launched a rugby magazine by the name of "Tackle." It ran for 11 issues before petering out.

Boris Karloff No. 8. Which rugby team wouldn't want to have Frankenstein charging hard at opposition? Karloff was one of the founding board members of the Southern California Rugby Union in 1936.

Prince William Fly half. Fly halves need to be classy by nature, and even though the heir to the heir to the British throne could only make the Eton third team, I think he's the one for us. My only fear is that he will be targeted, just as he was at Eton. An opposing coach once apparently told his team that once they tackled the prince, they would be able ever after to tell their grandchildren they once tackled the king of England. The whole team piled into him all game long.

George W. Bush Inside center. The president played fullback for Yale in 1968 and was a part of their dramatic win over Harvard that year.

Richard Harris Outside center. A former player for the famous Irish club Young Munster, Harris was obliged to retire from the game at 19 when he contracted tuberculosis. He went on to find fame as an actor. It was recalled upon his death this year that he said: "I'll tell you this: two Golden Globes, one Grammy, five Grammy nominations, two American Academy Award nominations, two British Academy Award nominations, one Cannes Film Festival award, four gold records, one platinum record and so on. I am also a multimillionaire. And you know what? I'd give it all up tomorrow, the whole lot, for one Irish rugby cap. Just one."

James Joyce Right wing. All rugby teams must have at least one whining winger. Joyce played at Belvedere, the Christian Brothers school he attended in Dublin. And anyone who has read "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," in which Joyce devotes the five opening pages to the horrified recollections of a 12-year-old boy playing out on the wing for his school rugby team, will know that he had the whining down pat.

Yoshiro Mori Left wing. The former Japanese prime minister was a very keen rugby player and retains his passion for it. At least one winger should always be thinking of a comeback attempt.

Sir Edmund Hillary Full back. Hillary played for Auckland Grammar School in the 1930's. Besides, it can't hurt to have as the last line of defense a man who took on Mount Everest and did not flinch.


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