I didn’t plan on writing this article. When the weekend started, I was really annoyed that I had a ten-page paper hanging over my head, and I had to spend most of my time all the way down at West Windsor fields for the Ivy League Rugby Tournament. I probably wasn’t even going to play. If you don’t know, that place is about a thousand miles from campus: it’s past Lake Carnegie. Yeah, it’s that far.
On the Saturday of the tournament, we all gathered at Frist for a team breakfast. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day outside, and I’d invited several friends down to the pitch. Even so, I felt like being in my room sleeping and playing PS2 (believe me, I can do both at once). I mean, in college, waking up at 7:30 on a Saturday is unheard of for the average person, and, in general, that’s just what I am here at Princeton: an average person, who’s taken some dull classes thus far, with no idea about any possible concentrations, receiving good but unspectacular grades, enjoying himself at the Street on occasion, but usually just getting bored by the social scene. My life here at school, while better than high school, is still remarkably average. Little really stands out. So, on this Saturday, I didn’t expect anything to be different. Looking back at the last two days, however, I couldn’t have asked for a more exhilarating experience.
My experience with rugby thus far had certainly been positive, and though I’m certainly not very good as of yet, I can see myself improving, and the guys I’ve met on the team are people I’m going to want to know many years from now. Yet, each game we’ve had really hadn’t been all that exciting. We kept crushing people, or, in case of the games I was involved in, losing but being proud of the fire with which we played. I should mention, I’m on the B-team; the A-team actually hasn’t lost a game I’ve seen. Saturday morning was more of the same, as we shut out the overmatched Brown team, 15-0. I was kind of cold at that point, and I was walking around the vast set of fields wishing I were in bed, not getting whipped around by sudden bursts of wind. When it came time for the semifinals match-up against Harvard, even though our opponents were supposed to be the best team out there, I assumed our team was going to roll over them as well.
Harvard had other ideas. We weren’t getting our asses kicked, but Harvard was making sure that we knew why they were ranked number one. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing lightly, but we on the sidelines didn’t notice. We started to cheer harder and harder for every wheeled scrum, for every successful kick, for every Harvard knock-on. I’m sure most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, and that’s fine. You really don’t need to know. Just understand that our team was playing at such a high intensity that all of us watching were sucked into the attitude of the afternoon. For a while, I forgot I was on the team, and I was just amazed to see all these guys fight our New England rivals to the death, and not give up in any way, at any point.
Yeah, I sound like a cheesy movie script, I know. I figured I would. It’s impossible to say a lot of this stuff without going into severely charted territory, and for that I apologize. But it must be said that these guys really played Harvard tough, and when our hustle, drive and talent resulted in a last-second victory, I was very glad to be part of the small on-field celebration. Whatever unhappiness I had about being down on the field for the whole day had dissolved into a temporary euphoria, and when we were on the field, I felt like I was part of the team once again. We all circled up and congratulated the team on a glorious victory, but we knew that the journey was unfinished.
As for Saturday night, I considered going out with some friends, but then I decided that my awful impending paper needed to be addressed. I was tired as all hell, but I needed to do some work, and so I sat at my computer and stared, of course. Stared for hours. Messed around on Thefacebook.com, because everybody’s doin’ it. (I mean, seriously, everybody is. It’s ridiculous.) But for five hours, none of the paper got accomplished.
It wasn’t actually due until Monday evening. None of the previous papers for that class had taken me more than a few hours, but this was a research paper. So, I told myself, that meant, like, five hours, including research. In the back of my mind, I’d thought I would have a chance to write the paper Sunday night, because, before that day, I didn’t really know if we were going to have any chance of winning the final. If we hadn’t reached the games on Sunday, then of course I could have spent that day reading, writing and procrastinating. But once I saw the way our guys played against Brown, and especially against Harvard, I knew that we were not only going to play Sunday (I mean, once we made the finals, it was just how things worked), but that we were going to win. Watching these guys – my teammates – perform so well at what they love to do erased all doubts I had about being so far away from campus, demolished all negative feelings I might have had about just being on the sidelines, and certified my belief that joining the Princeton rugby club will have been one of the best things I do during my time in college.
The final had a different feel than the Harvard game. Yeah, it was even more important, of course, but the Harvard game had been our exhibition of pure heart and the hunger for a cup our team hadn’t held for twenty-five years. Sunday’s game… well, that was our exhibition of dominance. The Cornell team played hard, and had surprised both Dartmouth and Yale with their fire and commitment, but what they possessed in intensity, they lacked in pure talent. It was like some of those Ewing-led Knicks teams of the mid-nineties: they were always able to fight off Reggie, or Barkley, or Shaq, but whenever Jordan and his teammates played the Knicks, there was no question who the better team was. On this Easter Sunday, we were the Bulls.
Except we don’t have a Jordan. We have awesome players, committed young men who make the trek (or the drive, in most cases) down to the pitch all week long, guys who know how to play the game and aren’t afraid to show the world what they can do. But we don’t have just one person who everyone points to at the end of the day. For every high-pressure kick that Cam connects on, there’s a hard ruck made by Nate. For every time Johnny hustles to chase down a loose ball, there’s a perfect tackle made by Griffeth. For every time Petey crashes through an unprepared outside center, there’s a wonderful rip by Josh. The list goes on, and on, and on.
I’ve only been playing the sport for just over a month now. I still have to get used to slowing down to speed up, staying low to tackle, and coming up in a flat line sometimes, although sometimes I have to stay back, and sometimes I chase kicks, and sometimes I prepare to chase kicks even when I’m really not supposed to, and… so on. Clearly, this will take a while. And I don’t mind that. I’m not going to stop playing this sport unless my body tells me I can’t. And, even so, it would take a lot for me to listen to it, because it whines a lot and it really needs to take a chill pill because I’m only seventeen and I shouldn’t have been waking up with a stiff back for four years. But, that aside, I’m very happy to be a part, however small, of this club, because these guys, and the sport itself, have taught me a lot about teamwork, support and camaraderie, things I was sorely lacking here at school. Cancun made me happy and confident, but rugby’s made me proud, and not just of myself, but of all of the team and everything that’s associated with it.
So thanks guys: not just for a great weekend, but for bringing that dirty dingy, beer-filled cup back to central Jersey, where it belongs. Next year, I hope I can do my part to keep it here, but for now, I just thank the team for bringing me into the fold, and for playing their asses and guts and thumbs and ankles off for this prize.
For every time Staff Writer Justin Gerald hustles to chase down a loose ball, there’s a perfect tackle made by Nassau Weekly.