FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL MASTERS RUGBY TOURNAMENT
I’m sitting here with my hamstring screaming, reflecting on the 2008 First Annual French Quarter Festival Masters Rugby Tournament and wondering 2 things – why the hell did I play and who won?
On Friday, April 11th, at the fields in Gretna a combined New Orleans/Baton Rouge RFC Masters side rumbled over the Texas XXXs in the opening match. Watching some of the legends of local rugby (Bob Causey, Gary Giepert, Tim Falcon, Sammy Fornet) scamper around the pitch was inspiring. The ever-youthful Billy Gooddell (Somebody needs to follow him to where he’s hiding the fountain of youth.) between playing matches with the NO/BR side and the Memphis/Nashville/Tennessee side was arranging an over-50 match for Saturday at noon. While the Tennessee side battled the Morristown/South Jersey lads, I caught up with old NORFC teammate Gene Gerdes. I had heard that Gene had suffered a stroke and found out this was true. But at 60 years of age and with a warning from a doctor that cerebral bleeding from his stroke put him at severe risk if he had a head accident, Gene was keen to strap on his boots and feel that exquisite pleasure of involvement in a match of rugby. The last match of the day saw The Blacksmiths defeat the NO/BR side. I headed over the bridge to meet my wife for a bike ride to French Quarter Fest with a weirdly wonderful feeling of knowing you truly exist and have had a good life because of this network of rugby.
Saturday, I picked Fran Thompson up at 8:30 a.m. to get to the pitch for the 9 a.m. Mobile v Morristown. On the cloudy but gorgeous drive over the swollen Mississippi River, Fran gave me the key to an old boys successful play in a Master match – keep your head bobbing as if you are running, no matter how slow you’re going. Mobile’s defeat of the Jersey lads ended dramatically with a snap and a cry from a Mobile player for everyone to stop. A Jersey player’s leg was broken. While the Blacksmiths bettered the Texas XXX in the second match, Fran and I philosophized with Baton Rouge Old Boys Gary Myers, Mark Lawson, and “Big Red” Causey about the pleasantly strange relationships between players and fans from different teams in rugby. At a loss for the perfect description without resulting to the clichés of camaraderie or a rugby brother/sisterhood we fumbled with comparisons with the angry hostility that exists between fans of professional football or soccer teams. Examples were given of being cursed while wearing a Dallas jersey in Philadelphia. As we know, if you were to wear a rugby jersey for a certain club in another club’s city, the questions would be welcoming and about who you know. As the next match (Mobile v Tennessee) started, Billy runs up and says there will be no over-50 match, so if I we want to play get ready to go in at half.
I’m feeling pretty good. I see Gene getting his kit on. I jog to the car and put on my boots and trot over to the side of the pitch to stretch and watch the hard charging Mobile boys, pound through the Tennessee side. The half ends. For the past several years I have had a personal rule that I don’t play for any side that cares if they win. I figure it is not fair to that side or me as I am no longer willing to make the physical sacrifice to win a game of rugby. Looking at the Tennessee fellows and the over-50 bunch that was volunteering to fill in their ranks, I figured I didn’t need to poll the team if they wanted to win when they asked if anyone wanted to play fullback. The Mobile onslaught continued until my hamstring popped as a back who had me well out paced cut back inside. I forgot to keep my head bobbing.
Why did I play? Was it for that boyhood/young man feeling of youth and healthy enjoyment of a good game? Was it by still playing to feel to wonderful rugby experiences past? As I hobble around the house, my sweet Carolyn (who is in some ways delighted that her prophesy that I would get injured has come true) is extracting promises that I will never play again while making me far more comfortable than I deserve to be. The recovery period from a pulled hamstring I know only too well. As I look forward to shuffling around for the next few weeks, I think how lucky I am to not be the fellow with the broken leg. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why I played. I’m expanding my rule to include not playing in matches where either team cares if they win.
The ceremony to award the trophy to the tournament champion was held on the side of the pitch before the New Orleans RFC division II regional championship match against Atlanta Renegades. I was medicating myself on the bleachers while the award ceremony took place. I heard second hand that Morristown were the crowned the tournament winners. Criteria for deciding the champion were in the areas of how far they traveled and performance on and off the pitch. A simplified criterion was which team had the most fun. There are, I believe, a few disputes over who had the most fun. I heard the Texas XXXs had so much fun before they left Texas they declared on their website they had won the championship before the tournament ever licked off. As every one was heading off Saturday afternoon to the French Quarter to enjoy the fantastic music, food, and ambiance of the free French Quarter Festival, there was still a lot of fun to be had.
The 2nd Annual French Quarter Festival will be held Friday, April 10th, and Saturday, April 11th, 2009. For more information contact Tim Falcon at 504.884.5471.
A goal of deepsouthrugby.net is to create a historical record of rugby in the region. If you attended the tournament and would like to be listed send your name, club affiliation, and comments to deepsouthrugby@ hotmail.com.