50th Anniversary Rugby Weekend In NOLA Reminded Me Why I Love The Game By Jack Breen


50th Anniversary Rugby Weekend In NOLA Reminded Me Why I Love The Game
Reconnecting with rugby brothers was well worth the 8,256 mile round trip

By Jack Breen
In late January, I traveled 8,256 miles round trip from my home on Maui to New Orleans to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of New Orleans Rugby Football Club.
I have my old pal Fran The Man Thompson to thank for that. Fran and I met at a Tulane Rugby practice in 1979. Neither of us went to Tulane.
I was attending the school next door, Loyola University. It was my 7th year playing Rugby and was in my final year of law school. My team was Crescent City RFC where I had been captain and coach for all 3 of my law school years. CCRFC was formed in 1973 by a bunch of Loyola RFC alums. That same year a rival team, NORFC, was formed by Tulane RFC alums. Tulane continued to have its own team separate from NORFC that practiced two afternoons a week. But Loyola RFC had a hiatus until I helped revive it. They practiced with CCRFC two evenings a week and played a schedule that was coordinated with CCRFC’s and gave us more depth for tournaments than most clubs then enjoyed.
I was coaching all three teams for awhile my final semester in law school, as Tulane’s coach had been transferred with his job and they needed a stand-in who was over 21 until they could find a new permanent coach.
So, when asked by their captain Rick Geary, I agreed to be their interim coach. Fran was working as a rough neck offshore and had gone for a run. He was passing our practice and thought it looked like fun and a good workout and asked to jump in.
That is how college Rugby was at most universities back in the 70s. Coaches were in short supply, most were the team captain or a local club captain still playing, and whoever wanted to play on a university team was welcomed, whether they were a student or not.
LSU had a powerhouse in 1976 as some of their players were with the team for 8 years or so. They finally formed Baton Rouge RFC in 1977 and that club soon became an archrival of both CCRFC and NORFC.
Tulane drank after practices at a bar called The Boot. Drinking together was also part of the Rugby culture at most universities in the 70s.
Fran and I started talking story at the Boot after that first practice he attended and recognized we both have Philadelphia accents. We asked each other what part of Philly we had lived and what schools we attended. To our mutual amazement we learned we had both gone to the same high school, and had graduated from it the same year, 1973.
Monsignor Bonner was so big we had each spent 4 years there without knowing the other existed. I would never have thought that possible. I thought I at least knew the name and face of all of my Bonner classmates.
Particularly unusual I thought, especially since we are both red headed and by the time we graduated were both over 6 feet tall. But with more than 600 boys in each class and over 700 girls in each class at the school on campus just across a little driveway there were about 5,500 kids on campus. Fran and I have last names at the opposite ends of the alphabet so we never met coming in and out of homeroom.
It was my homeroom teacher who introduced Rugby to Bonner and as a result the club was mostly kids whose last names began with B or C. The club had to practice off campus.
We had been tracked differently by our standardized test scores, so we had no classes together. If we ever had the same lunch period we never knew it as a thousand kids at a time filled the cafeteria. We just never ran into each other during high school.
But once we did, 6 years after our Bonner graduation, we became fast friends. The first time I saw Fran after my law school graduation was at the NORFC reunion in 2012. I was amazed to see then how many players from back in our day attended. There were enough 55+ alums to form two full teams with plenty of rolling subs. The match was supposed to be a friendly affair but soon became known as the “Burry the Hatchet Match” and both of the old boys of the two clubs that merged in the mid 80s began hitting like they were trying to burry their opponents.
Fran had joined NORFC after playing a few seasons with Tulane and was still fit enough to play for the New Orleans RFC alums. I had spent a year and a half in a wheelchair after a spinal tumor surgery and did not risk playing with my old Crescent City mates, but did referee the match. Fran and I chatted a bit at the social but spent most of our time with the old boys of our former teams at the functions that had been arranged.
I have regretted not taking the chance at playing for a few minutes in that old boys match in 2012, and vowed I would at least get a few minutes in the old boys match this time around, hopefully in gold shorts that would prevent me from getting banged up too much. Guys in gold shorts only get touched, not tackled, and then have to lay down and recycle the ball back in an uncontested ruck.
I next saw Fran a few months ago. He has an older brother living on Maui and came out to visit him for a little over a month. He looked me up on Facebook and we had a blast touring around Maui together.
Fran is a gregarious guy who gives meaning to the phrase happy go lucky. He is a great storyteller with a super sense of humor. He has exceptional EQ and most people tend to love being around him. Our friendship deepened greatly during a 12 and a half mile hike through Haleakala Crater, a difficult hike for even young folks at high altitude. You start at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level and descend 3,000 feet before ascending 2,600 feet of switchbacks on the other side of the crater that is so massive Manhattan could fit in it with room to spare.
Fran and I are both incessant talkers with an unlimited supply of stories to tell and spent the entire 6 hours in the crater swapping tales. I had a super fun time and Fran and I got together several times more during his visit, including some pool time with my wife and granddaughter at the condo complex where his brother lives and he rented a nearby unit.
Fran even charmed my wife, Maureen, not an easy task these days, as Maureen has had her fill of the type of banter ruggers enjoy over the past 43 years.
Fran convinced Maureen that I should go to the 50th reunion as my name had been bantered about when voting for the Hall of Fame took place at prior reunions and Fran said he could ensure I would be inducted if I appeared for this year’s big celebration.
Maureen could give a hoot about halls of fame and finds it humorous how much it meant to me to be inducted in the St. Joe’s one in its inaugural class a few years ago.
But she knew I have huge aloha for my old CCRFC teammates and that losing my older brother several months ago had me concerned that I might never again see some of the best friends I have made in my life.
To my surprise Maureen told Fran, “Jack will be there. I have frequent flyer miles and will use them for the reunion as his birthday present.”
Maureen feels she has seen more than enough rugby in here life and said it would be a boys weekend out and that she would stay home to do the babysitting of our granddaughter solo on the weekdays I would be away.
Our Violet’s parents are both public school teachers so we get to enjoy being with her every weekday. I retired from the bench to be able to enjoy those precious times and have not regretted it one moment. But I was willing to give up a few fun days with Violet to spend a weekend with many of my old pals, maybe for the last time for some of us.
My nephew Phil is a very highly regarded musician based in New Orleans who often plays before thousands of people, and sometimes tens of thousands. But I have yet to hear him play since he made the big time. I called him to see if he would be in town, or out on tour, and was thrilled his schedule had him playing his in town gigs when I would be in NOLA.
So, I left Maui looking forward to seeing old friends, listening to my nephew play, and being inducted into a second rugby hall of fame. It is not exactly how the weekend turned out. Phil texted me to say he had been invited to play on a month long a tour of Europe and would miss seeing me. I was more happy for him than disappointed for myself. After we got into town my old pal Bob Jones took me aside at the first get together and told me I missed being included in this year’s NORFC Hall of Fame class by 1 vote.
But the two guys who were getting in from my era are both friends, really good guys who have continued to do for the club for decades and I am happy for them and know they have both meant more to the club than I do.
I had such a good time over the weekend neither of those two things was able to dampen the enjoyment one bit. I will get to listen to Phil one day and my memories of playing with CCRFC and the friendships that endure from those days are more important to me than what would have been a wonderful honor but not one I needed to be happy about attending the reunion.
I most wanted to see and spend time with old friends, and did a great deal of that. I wanted to muster the guts to spend a few minutes on the pitch during the old boys match, and did that without getting banged up.
I did not expect to make a couple of new really good friends, but that happened too, and is a huge bonus at my age.
The flights over started with a red eye that left on a Wednesday and got me in to Dallas early Thursday morning, then to NOLA mid morning. When I arrived I grabbed a cab. Renaldo was a friendly driver who immigrated from Honduras many years ago and now has two sons who are policemen, one of them in NOLA. He has not yet been to a NOLA Gold match but promised he would give it a go with his son as it sounded to him like a nice father-son outing.
He knew just where I was staying, Elysian Fields Avenue and Rampart Street, and let me out right in front of the Blue 60 Marigny, where Fran had reserved the River Suite for us. Luckily the owner was just stopping by to see if the rooms had been made up, let me in early since they had, and gave me the electronic code that controls the front door to our suite. He knew of the Gold but had also not yet been to a match. He seemed to gain interest in going to one as we chatted about the team and how well they have been doing. Would not be surprised if he makes it out to his first match early this season.
I was exhausted from the long flights and grabbed a nice hot shower, and a nap, as Fran had texted that he would make it to town in a few hours. The place was nice. It has two rooms in an old house owned by a local lawyer who lives in the part of the house farthest off Elysian Fields Avenue. One room of the River Suite has a big antique queen bed and the other very comfortable separate beds that double as a couch when the trundle bed is stored below.
I crashed on the top couch/bed. We had four old living room chairs and a nice sized round coffee table. There was a large credenza in each room and the larger one had a mini-fridge. There was also a big closet in the back room with a fold up bed that would allow the place to hold 4 people total, or 5 if two slept in the big bed. We also had a nice clean bathroom with a stall shower with prompt and plentiful hot water. It is easy to give the Blue 60 Marigny a great recommendation.
Elysian Fields and Rampart Street is one block off Frenchman’s Street with all of its music halls, and easy walking distance to the French Quarter, where the main event of our weekend was scheduled to take place. That was a very nice dinner at Antoines, one of the oldest and most notable of the many great restaurants of NOLA.
When Fran got in around mid-day, I woke up and Pat soon joined us. Chris, one of their teammates who is local also joined us soon after Pat got in. I had never met Pat or Chris. But we became fast friends. Chris and I played against each other when he was at LSU Law and both played with the same cast of characters a year a part with the Louisiana Select and Louisiana Exiles, the state representative team and invitational touring side composed of players from Louisiana and my club in Pennsylvania.
We knew all of the folks in each other’s stories. All four of us love telling stories and listening to the stories of others and we did that the entire weekend. It was the most fun I have had with other adults in a long time.
I have been a full time babysitting grandfather for the past two years and most of my fun times during those years have been with our granddaughter Violet or the few times they two guys I paddle Sufski with are able to hang out afterwards for one beer. As much as I love my times with Violet, and I do really treasure them, it was really nice to have a good length of time to swap stories with a bunch of adults over a few beers.
On Maui I rarely go out at night. In NOLA we stayed out all night into the morning hours each day of our long weekend. It felt like we were young again. Not sure I could have made another day of it, but am proud to say I did not fade until getting on my last flight on the way home.
Pat came to NOLA originally to study at Tulane and now works as a hospital administrator at Johns Hopkins’ campus near Washington D.C. I came to NOLA to study at Loyola Law School, and Fran to check out Mardi Gras and distance himself from the Philly winter. The four of us represented a good cross section of the old boys of our era, locals, and out of town folks who moved to NOLA as students or for jobs.
Before the night was over I would join up with Mike and Sammy, who were my back row partners and two of my closest friends during my years in NOLA. Sammy spent a season with Baton Rouge RFC after I left, before returning to NOLA after the NORFC – CCRFC merger. George, our sole Shreveport RFC alum before he moved to NOLA met up with me my first night in town and we spent time together at all the major functions. Skip who joined our club while studying at UNO met up with me late the first night and we stayed out together to 4 a.m.
It was great to meet up with Jack, Danny, Kevin and Billy who were CCRFC originals who had played at Loyola and Pat Delauise, one of the Loyola originals. We reconnected with a few of the SLU alums who joined CCRFC after their graduations the next night.
That means every club in Louisiana during my era was represented by alums from back in my day at the reunion. I thought that was really cool. The old CCRFC was very well represented. Our alums who turned up could have given us a good chance to win another tournament back in the old days, we had so much depth and so many of our best athletes.
Props available included Danny “The Neanderthal” Brasseaux and Craig “Buddha” Boudreaux. Kevin “Lightning” Kelleher was there to hook and we had several utility front rows available, including Rick “Stumpy” Zimmer, Randy Traylor, and Ron Vergines. Second row was full and strong with Fred “Big Daddy” Romero, Bob “Fire Walker” Jones, and Jerry “The Coastie” Gallion. The back row of Sammy “Popeye Arms” Farnet, Mike “The Piston” Kerrigan, and me was the same as the old days and the most fun unit I ever played with in my 16 years playing competitive rugby.
The back line would have Billy Gooddell, Jack Mauer, Caesar Lamonica, Skip Rizzo, Don Evans, and George Henderson with Bobby “The Chicago Cop” Scully and Joey Guinta both available at wing, and all of them in positions they played often more than 40 years ago. I don’t what to malign Caesar and Bobby by calling them backs, as they also spent time in the forwards back in the day, Caesar at 8 and Bobby as a utility flanker/ hooker. Billy Nixon, Brian Foster, and Jonathan May were all remembered from that old team with a toast as they have all passed on way too young.
The others who were missing will owe the first round next reunion. Food and beer were as plentiful as the stories being told. I drank more beer over the weekend than I have in the past 5 years, literally. I knew the name of Lee Circle had been changed but was not sufficiently woke to realize there is no longer a Dixie beer, which is what we drank back in my day. The look the bartender gave me when I ordered 4 Dixies for my first shout was quizzical at first, like is this guy putting me on. Then it switched to a look of pity, like is this poor fool so old he does not known the name was changed long ago as being inappropriate for the modern age. The light finally lit and I felt a bit foolish when he said, “It’s not called than anymore, but we do have the same beer now called Faubourg.”
A bit less nostalgic when being ordered, but the taste brought back the memories I was seeking. We also drank some Bud Light, Coors, Abita, and Guinness, but I steadfastly avoided hard liquor, except the one Sazerac Cocktail I promised myself I would have for old times sake. Its the signature drink of New Orleans, more traditional but a bit less popular than the favorite of tourists, the Hurricane.
We walked about 10 miles each day and listened to good music or ate great food every time we stopped walking. We ate so much good food and walked so much that I never got to the point of staggering or slurring my speech, and neither did any of the rest of the old boys I spent my time with over the weekend.
Nursing beers is an art. By age 67 most former Rugby players have mastered that art. But we all knew we would have too much to drink to even think of driving. I did not rent a car in anticipation of how much drinking was likely. When driving was a necessary forethought had designated drivers for us.
God bless Pat, he took that duty one of the nights. Not only did it mean not drinking for the night, but if you have never been to NOLA you may not have any idea of how many drunk drivers are out at night. There is no open container law enforced, so bars give out go-cups, and there are still drive up bars in NOLA, the city in the world with the most bars per capita. Pat had lived in NOLA long enough that he was totally ready for the driving craziness and we got around without incident.
Fran’s pick up truck already has loads of scratches and scrapes on it so he was happy to lend it to Pat to drive us around. Fran lives a few hours away on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, right on the western side of the state line between Alabama and Florida. He owns and writes for a newspaper there called The Mullet Wrapper. The name gives you a feel for his self deprecating sense of humor. He figured more folks would buy his paper to wrap fish than those who bought it to read his stories. Or at least that is the line he tells to explain the name. When I first heard it I thought Fran named it for the mullet he used to wear or he had gotten into rap music. He found that pretty amusing. He had not realized he had a created a double entendre when the name of the paper was spoken, but likes that it did.
Based on what television news reports NOLA was supposed to no longer be the friendly racially harmonious city I remembered. People who have not been there said it had become so racially divided and crime ridden I was likely to encounter trouble, even though I would be traveling in a group of fairly large men. “You are not young any more and are now the age that ruffians target.” That is what friends of my wife had Maureen concerned about as she kissed me goodbye at the airport in Kahului, Maui.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. The people we encountered were nice, engaging and of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I think people sense how you are looking at them and respond to you in kind. We were a gregarious group of old guys who genuinely like people. To us NOLA was the friendly city I had always known.
We were engaged by folks of all races in friendly conversation as we walked around the town. We chatted up with the many delivery men we passed on our morning strolls, and the wide spectrum of folks who walk the streets of the French Quarter morning, noon and night. Usually our conversations began with football as it was a big NFL playoff weekend.
Fran has a good collection of Eagles jerseys and wore one each day. Some folks liked the Eagles and opened our conversations with “Go Birds.” All the Saints fans we met were pro Philly as folks from both cities tend to have a mutual dislike of the Cowboys and Giants. Other tourists would tell Fran their team was better, one saying, “We are going to beat the Eagles like a drum.” Fran would steadfastly defend his Birds against the chiding of Giants, Cowboys and Forty-Niner fans in a jovial way, and they responded in kind.
It was the friendly kind of banter Rugby folks love, devoid of any malice. Soon we would say why we were in town, and that brought the conversations around to rugby. I would inquire whether the folks who stopped to chat with us had ever played or seen Rugby and encouraged them to go to the nearest team when they told me where they were from. With locals I would always say NOLA has a great pro Rugby team that deserves the support of any fan of the Saints. If they were under 50 I would encourage them to try playing with NORFC. If older, I would encourage them just to attend a GOLD match. We met a few Brits who had played and soon formed a front row with them for photos. One fellow was coaching and he and I had a long chat that had him and his pals following us to the next few bars we were hitting. Chris noted that it took me all of about 30 seconds to bring Rugby into each conversation. He jokingly said if I lived in town he could easily get me a job as a brand ambassador for the GOLD. Many of the locals we encountered knew of the NOLA GOLD and several had been to matches. I was so happy to hear that. One of the NORFC alums from my era, Tim Falcon, is the team owner and I really want him and the other owners of MLR teams to succeed with their investments.
For those who had not yet seen the GOLD live, Chris gave them directions to the Gold Mine on Airline and I would not be surprised if some of them actually turned up to watch matches in person this season.
Fran and Chris get together in each others hometowns fairly frequently. So, even when Chris was not with us, Fran helped Pat and I find our way around to our old haunts much better than if we had visited town with our families and had to search for them from memory, Fran is a lover of multiple music genres and knew his way around the music halls of Frenchman St. and the Quarter. His routine was so well known to Chris that after phoning to say he would meet up with us in the quarter somewhere on day two, and would call when he reached town to see where we were, Chris literally bumped into us at a street corner in the Quarter. That happened at the very moment Chris was dialing Fran’s number to say he had just parked his car.
Fran’s first stop in the Quarter was the Chart Room at Chartres and Conti Streets. Beers were $3 a bottle and soon our table was full of empties. I remarked that a round for 4 was just about the same price as one beer would be at a bar on Maui. We saw loads of bands and Fran was generous in tipping all of them which made us popular in all of the places we stopped.
I was very interested to see many of those music halls as my nephew Phil has played in loads of them. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for him, we did not get to hear him play. But I did get a photo of me standing in front of a two story high mural of Samantha Fish on Frenchman’s. She is the leader of the band bearing her name that Phil played with before tens of thousands of people all over the USA and Europe before the pandemic.
Pat and I had not been to NOLA in a long time. We each had a list of foods, drinks, and places where we hoped to eat and drink while in town. Fran and Chris made sure we hit nearly every one of them. Crawfish étouffée was at the top of my list and I ate my fill. Crab, jambalaya, catfish, red beans and rice, gumbo, shrimp and oyster and shrimp po’boys, Oysters Rockefeller and broiled oysters as well as fresh oysters on the half shall were among the others.
Pat wanted much of the same and cheese grits and southern biscuits. That sounded good to me too, so we found them for our first breakfast in town, and hit that place, as well as Marie’s, the Marigny’s best dive bar, two days in a row.
The first day I had a combo plate with cheese grits, a crab cake, crawfish étouffée, a biscuit and poached eggs. Pat got a sweet potato waffle with cheese grits on the side. Fran ate eggs, sausage, hash browns and a biscuit, the same meal all three of us ate the next day. Of course we hit Cafe Du Monde for beignet and cafe au lait. I tried to blow the powdered sugar on my mates but they had smartly sat with the river, and thus the wind, to their backs. The wind caught my sugar blow and it ended up coating me, which caused all of us to break out in loud laughter. That was the whole idea behind blowing the sugar and it did not matter to me who it was that got coated. Powdered sugar brushes off very easily.
We took some tourist type photos on the River Walk and at Jackson Square and hit a few more places for beers in the Quarter before it was time for lunch. Mother’s was one of the old haunts high up on our list but we knew it might have a line to get in longer than we cared to join so we had Central Grocery for a muffuletta as our back up. It seems either the Katrina disaster or the pandemic gave many of our old haunts the opportunity to expand into buildings next door and that was the case with Mother’s. The line was not bad at all and so we got in and got a table. I thought about getting a Ferdie’s Special, a po-boy made with ham, roast beaf and au jus that Mother’s is famous for making, but it had been cold for me on the walk and the combo plate just looked too good to pass up. I feasted on jambalaya, gumbo, French bread and more crawfish étouffée. We sat outside whenever possible and engaged anyone who we encountered on the street. At one side walk set of chairs we were joined by an obviously very high young black guy in long dread locks. He was affable and trying to fit in with a group of guys twice his age obviously having fun. We humored him as he reminded us of some of the old days when our own mornings in the Quarter had been the hazy end of a long night of partying. We all could empathize. He seemed to realize finding a bed would be more enjoyable than having more laughs with a bunch of strangers and went on his merry way wishing the Eagles good luck in the big game the following day.
Favorite bars of mine that we hit included Pat O’Briens and LaFete’s Blacksmith Shop in the Quarter, Joey K’s and Fat Harry’s Up town, the Basin Lounge out on West End Boulevard and Sala on the lakefront, not in that order. We also hit some other great spots whose names I never got but were must see places for some of the NORFC alums in town for the weekend. For someone living on Maui, as I do, the prices were so good I could hardly believe them. For raw oysters I paid for a dozen less than one would cost at a restaurant on the Valley Isle. I spent like a drunken sailor and still came home with about half of what I had expected to spend.
Fran, Pat and Chris were actual NORFC alums and not particularly fond of my old CCRFC teammates who did not keep playing after the merger. A bunch of my really good friends were already getting long in the tooth and the merger was the final sign it was time to hang up the boots. My old CCRFC mates wanted to get together for a meal on Thursday night so I separated from my roomies and new good buddy Chris and ate with my old teammates. It was a fabulous get together at Joey K’s, a restaurant on Magazine Street that had been owned by one of our teammates and his wife and sold to a couple of loyal employees when Sammy and his wife Cindy decided to retire.
After a dignified affair with wives and girlfriends those of my old teammates who had come to town stag wanted the Crescent City Boys to go “Out on the piss again” which was our old drinking song. I do not have a good recall of all the places we hit but I think it was around 4 a.m. when Skip and I left Finn McCools, a favorite watering hole of the present day NOLA Gold fans. When we got in there I was so happy to see lots of folks drinking Guinness, as it soothed my throat which had been strained. All day I had been talking over the live music in the places we had hit earlier in the day and walked miles in temperatures about 20 degrees cooler than they ever get in Wailuku, the town where my family and I live.
Friday we had two official NORFC functions available, touch Rugby matches at City Park and a homemade noodle jambalaya and drinks get together at a local soccer club house so swag and tickets to the big dinner the following day could be distributed. Three of us started off the morning off at the same corner restaurant just off Frenchman’s that had unlimited coffee refills and some great food. Then we separated again as another group of CCRFC guys some of whom could not make the dinner the night before had come into town to share a meal out by the Lakefront at a place called Sala. My three amigos for the weekend had no connection with CCRFC and just dropped me off. I stayed there so long chatting up that I never made the touch matches. Some of the CCRFC boys had to head back out of town so I was really glad I was able to make that get together.
I missed the touch Rugby matches but caught back up with Fran, Pat and Chris at the soccer club house event. That was the first time all of the alums at the reunion came together. It was astounding to see how many of us had turned up. There was a couple of hundred of us. A quarter of us had played in the 70s. We reviewed some of the club’s highlights, two national championships, and a D1 Final in successive years, and a CCRFC alum from my era who went on to become the winning coach of the first Women’s Rugby World Cup, George Henderson.
It had never struck me before that my coaching tree, part of the legacy of a coach is the coaches he or she helps develop, included a branch that had risen up to become a World Cup winner. I knew George had coached the National Team but it never registered with me before that was the World Cup winning team. I found that really cool at that moment and felt even more proud of the times we spent together. George was a great student of the sport. I remember our first conversation. It was in Shreveport after his team’s first match. He picked my brain and digested every morsel of what I could offer him as the captain of a team with the responsibility of organizing its practices, coaching, and selecting the team and which positions would maximize the talents of athletes for the benefit of the team. George moved to NOLA, soon thereafter and joined CCRFC. He picked my brain after every practice and match for the next couple of years. It is so fun to be around someone who so loves the sport that he never seems to be able to get enough of its many nuances. George is that sort of fellow. He has a wonderfully analytical brain and went on to become very successful in business consulting as well as coaching.
We have huge aloha for one another from the few years we spent together, playing, analyzing and loving Rugby and it was really wonderful to see him again. We left the soccer club house in City Park and hit a very nice bar with an oyster bar in the rear out by the lakefront. I was astounded by the price of the oysters, $8 a dozen. They were killer. When we left there I was able to convince Pat to take us to the Basin Lounge, the bar CCRFC drank at after every practice and home match. I was worried it would no longer be there. The owner was a good old boy who had played major league baseball for Pittsburgh and the Phillies and the place was on its last legs when our practices moved out to City Park. We revived the place with our patronage and the owner treated us great. I thought it might not have lasted after the merger and the club owning its own bar, or that Katrina or the pandemic might have finished it. The circumstance was exactly the opposite. The Basin never looked so good. The new owner had sank money into it and opened up the back room and the back wall so there was a nice outside seating area as well as a well lit area where the old poker/Rugby party room had been.
The manager of the Basin could not have been friendlier and wanted to discuss once again being a sponsor of the club. I introduced him to a current officer and they were chatting up when we heading in for the night at around midnight. We were making an early night of it since the following day would be the old boys match and then a good match between NORFC and St. Louis Bombers. We hit our breakfast spot and headed out to the field in City Park for the matches.
I geared up to play and thought I would wait until near the end when I thought everyone would be tired and the pace would be slowed a bit. But I had not been to many old boys matches before and was unaware it works just the opposite. The oldest guys played first and the pace picked up as the match went on as younger and younger old boys subbed in until it was two teams of slightly over 35s. The oldest guy was from the visiting team, the Twighlighters from Vancouver, B.C. He is 88 and was an 8 man. So they started the match with an uncontested scrum and him having a pick and go. His pace was barely a walk, but great on him he was out there doing it. When he was touched he passed and the walking pace picked up a bit. I was encouraged to go in at the first break as the pace would only keep escalating. To my delight jersey number 7 was available and given to me. I went in after the first score and supported the receiver of the kick. When the ball went out I got to the ruck first.
Fortunately, it was uncontested as the ball had been passed to Bob Markel who was in gold shorts. I got to the next ruck second and the ball came back to my feet. I tried to bend over to pick it up but was so slow the ball was in the center by the time my hands made it down near my feet. There was a bit of a line break and the ball came back our way and I thought I might receive a pass, but Bob Markel went into another ruck and I was his first support. The ball was lost in that next phase and the opposing backs swung it wide back to my side of the pitch. I got within 5 meters of the ball carrier as he turned the corner and beat our wing, but no closer. All told I had run about 4 “sprints” of may 15 meters each, more running than I have done since my spinal surgery 20 years ago. I happily put my hand up and a guy 10 years younger came on for me. I left with a huge smile on my face. Mission accomplished! I played in an actual match at age 67, and bonus did not get banged up at all. LOL
As I jogged off you would have thought I had just won the World Cup. My old mates were cheering wildly and ushered me into a circle to have a celebratory shot with the other oldsters who had just come off. One old boy brought with him the head of his femur that he had requested his surgeon to give him after his hip replacement surgery went well. He had varnished it and turned it into a shot glass. Weird, huh? Weirder still, those of us who successfully played in the old boys match this past weekend, without being carried off, drank a celebratory ounce of bourbon out of that varnished femoral head. Not something that I ever imagined I would do. But it is sort of the NORFC old boy corollary to shooting the boot, the tradition of having new Rugby players drink a beer from their boot after scoring their first try. Almost all Rugby athletes have shot the boot. No harm done from either tradition and now I can say I did both. Was not on my bucket list, but doing something crazy now and then is. I am not sure I would recommend it, but attending a Rugby reunion is something I highly recommend doing.
We were well fed with freshly bar-b-qued hamburgers and supplied with limitless beer on the sidelines as the old boys game wore on to an eventual tie, a perfect ending. Then the young studs took the field and reminded us what Rugby really looks like. NORFC won 25 -17 over the St. Louis Bombers who play in the USA Club D1. It was a big win and we headed off to shower and get ready for our big night out with big smiles on our faces. We walked through Frenchman’s listing to the music pouring out into the street and then did the same through the Quarter up Bourbon Street. Pat could now join us in having a few beers on the way as there would be no more driving that night.
We somehow got twisted up and walked up to Canal before making a U-Turn and finding Antoine’s on its side street, St. Louis. Antoines is in the heart of the French Quarter and has been one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans since 1840. I had eaten there only once during my law school years, when my buddy Gary Gallagher came to town. He was working and making good money and took pity on his penniless student pal. Gary is a Rugby teammate from high school and college who now lives in the cottage on the property my wife and I own. We did it up at Antoine’s from soup to cigars and it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I could not imagine a couple of hundred Rugby folks sitting down to dinner there. But the place has an upstairs that is much bigger than I knew. There were somewhere around 400 people in the rooms upstairs while people unrelated to our reunion were dining downstairs. Men were all decked out in sport coats and their women in elegant evening wear at our gala. I did not realize we had invited both of the visiting teams to join us until we got upstairs and saw the multitudes. There was an open bar with 6 very capable bar tenders that kept the drinks flowing, all top shelf. I later learned the bar bill alone was $17,000. I drank water as I was intent on not starting to drink hard liquor and had so much beer already I had no interest in waiting in line for another.
Plus, I wanted my pallet fresh for what I knew was going to be a great meal. The food was amazing. Appitizers were souffle potatoes, Charbroiled Oysters and Oysters Rockfeller. The buffet served by waiters in tuxedos, as were some of the local men who knew how fancy a place Antoines is. Perfectly medium rare thick slices of filet mignon were followed by Trout Amandine. That was followed by Chicken Rochembeau and Deconstructed Roquefort Salad. The Deseret was a show as much as a dish. Have you ever seen a Baked Alaska for 400? The flame rose about 15 feet high. It was as delicious as it was spectacular to watch prepared. The upstairs had a huge ballroom and two smaller dining rooms, one of which had a balcony overlooking the street. I spent a good part of the night on the balcony as it was absolutely delightful out there chatting up with small groups of friends and it was too loud in the main room for me to try to use what was left of my horse voice.
Fran slipped away from the cocktail hour before dinner for the Eagles game and when he came in brought the good news that they would be playing for the NFC Championship. We walked back to our place and listened to music after the dinner and stopped to listen to music and chat with folks who commented on the Eagles jersey Fran wore under his sport coat. We thought about stopping at Pat O’Briens and LaFete’s Blacksmith Shop as we would have done back in the day but were feeling so perfectly full at midnight that we just decided to get Pat to bed so he wouldn’t be dragging ass in the airport in the morning.
Chris showed up in the morning to take Pat to the airport and Fran and I went trooping around Frenchman’s and the Quarter again. We hit Pat O’Brien’s, a Friday night staple for the CCRFC and ran into a few Brits who are involved in Rugby as youth coaches and partnered up with them as we both were planning to hit LaFete’s next. There was a nice fire place in LaFete’s with a crackling fire going strong it it. I had been just a little bit cold the entire weekend and it felt great to sit by a warm fire. We caught a bar lunch watching some of the AFC games and listened to some music on Frenchman’s where I had the one Sazerac Cocktail I had promised myself. It was as good as I had hoped. I wanted to go Uptown to Fat Harry’s which was the main hangout for Loyola and Friday nights with the CCRFC boys who lived Uptown before we would go down to the Quarter and meet up at Pat’s.
It was a long trek but Fran was game. He figured I only get to NOLA about once a decade and that he would humor me. We took the St. Charle’s Avenue Street Car which was fun and nostalgic. Fat’s was a bit disappointing. I had recalled great ship and oyster combo Po-boys but what we saw on the plates of the young people in there did not look as good as I remembered. But there was a very nice restaurant right next door. I told Fran it was my treat and we had a fabulous meal. He saw someone eating what looked like really good Bar-b-que shrimp and got that as an appetizer while I got the crab bisque. We had both gotten so geared up for oyster and shrimp po-boys that we passed on the red fish dinner that looked very appealing and spilt two po-boys that were huge and great. The French bread was fresh made on site and killer. The brown sauce on the shrimp appetizer was perfect for dipping and we went through two loafs of bread as well as the loafs our po-boys were made from. Then we had a spectacular carrot cake with pecans and a wonderful hot white sauce topping. It was a fitting last harsh of the weekend.
We caught the street car back and walked once more through the quarter and Frenchman St.
Playing Rugby in New Orleans provided some of the best memories in my life and so many life long friends that the gratitude I feel for having them in my life is boundless. I thought until this past weekend that I knew who all of those good friends are but this past weekend several more emerged. I am so glad I went to this reunion and hope I make the next big one. We joked when we parted, “See you at the 75th.”
Fran was kind enough to wake up with me at 4:45 a.m t. drive me to the airport. We were well on our way on I-10 when it became obvious there was a big accident up ahead. Fortunately, we were able to get off the exit before the one intended and remembered our way around well enough for me to catch my plane on time. The Security lines were a mess because the accident had delayed hundreds of folks and the folks in the line were all very anxious. But it did not appear that anyone had to sprint to catch the flight to Dallas. The Dallas to Maui flight went off without a hitch and to my delight my daughter Maura rang me just as we landed. She would pick me up on her way to get Violet on her way home from school. That mean I got to see my little sweetheart who I missed during the second longest time I have been away from her since she was born. It was a perfect ending to a fabulous weekend.
As a post script our pal Pat texted us the Thursday following our big weekend to say he tested positive for Covid but was not having severe symptoms. He must have gotten it on the plane back to DC as Fran and I both tested negative once he told us to test.

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