Lester Duhe photo
By Fran Thompson
LSU coach and former USA Eagle Bob Causey was one of seven people recently inducted into the The US Rugby Hall of Fame. Causey’s rugby teammates from LSU, Baton Rouge and the USA national team were among those celebrating with Causey and his family in Colorado. He was introduced into the Hall by Scott McLean, a longtime teammate and Causey’s co-coach at LSU.
Causey was described as a massive, imposing lock forward by U.S. Rugby Foundation President Brian Vizard, his former teammate on the national team.
“He was an old-school bust-em-up second row,’’ Vizard said. “I made my Eagle debut in 1986 and Bob was on that team. The first thing I noticed when we shook hands was how big his hands were. And the veterans on that team, I still don’t know if this is true or not, but they said Bob used to catch big old catfish in the bayou with his bare hands. I fell for it. I still think that way. He’s got the big mitts.’’
Causey was the 86th rugger to play on his sport’s national team. He made his Eagle debut in a test against Canada in 1977 and his last game for the national team was against England at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.
“I first began playing with Bob in 1980 when I was a freshman (at LSU),’’ said McLain during his introduction. “To an 18-year-old kid, Bob was very intimidating. He was 6-foot-6, lean, and strong from working construction and long runs along the Mississippi River. Bob’s the only guy that could hang a sheet of sheetrock by himself. Anybody that’s tried to do that knows that’s pretty impressive.
“It’s no easy task to be selected to play for the United States, especially for someone coming from Louisiana,’’ McLain added. “We didn’t get a whole lot of exposure. We had to travel far for our games. So, if you have an opportunity, you better take full advantage of it.’’
McLain and Causey began coaching LSU together in 2005.
“Bob and I took a lot of road trips,’’ McLain said. “We became great friends and had some great teams. When you go somewhere with Bob all you talk about is rugby. He hasn’t played in many years. But he loves it as much today as he did in 1977. And rugby loves him, especially people – our people.’’
Causey said that he and McLain have clicked as coaches over the past 15 years because both believe that, same as with them, the rugby experience will give them confidence to succeed in life upon graduation. Plus, coaching is his way of paying forward the rugby knowledge he gleamed from select side coaches George Catchler, Ray Cornbill and Ron Mayes.
He said with a chuckle that he has never emulated former Eagle captain Ed Burlington’s tendency to use the “good-day-to-die” speech from the movie Little Big Man when addressing his Bengal Tigers before a big match.
Causey first thanked his family (Helen, Cary, Matt, Scott, Kayla) during his acceptance speech. “Your love has been my biggest blessing, and I thank you so much for the sacrifices that you’ve made supporting me and my rugby, because I know that was hard to do a lot of times,’’ he said.
He also thanked the teammates who joined him in Colorado. “We’ve been rugby brothers since we were young, invincible and unstoppable, and we still are,’’ he said. “And I know that I would have never have achieved the goals in rugby and in life had you guys not been my friends supporting me and influencing me.’’
Causey started playing rugby in 1972 at LSU, learning the sport from the team’s player/coach, Rob Haswell. He described the South African as very much a rugby man. “He taught us about being gentlemen and the things in rugby that go along with being a good player,’’ Causey said.
Causey also thanked Gary Lambert, a fellow national team player and LSU teammate who started out playing in the backline before Causey brought him into the scrum.
“At one point we were playing an ERU game against the Springboks and I actually took the ball from one of the Springboks,’’ Causey said. “One of them tackled me, and the whole Springbok pack ran over the top of me as I’ was trying to get up. Well, I was still squished on the ground and here comes Gary. Picks me up, dusts me off and says ‘we’re gonna get ‘em Red, we’re gonna get ‘em.’ And I was like ‘yeah, Gary, we’re gonna get ‘em.’ And we tried and we did.’’
Causey said even better than competing against the best players in the world was socializing with those players at post match receptions. “That was a great thing to be able to do,’’ he said.
Causey was on the USA side that beat Japan at the 1987 Rugby World Cup. The team also played well in a loss to Australia in its second game leading up to its third match v. England.
“The sportswriters decided to start writing about how this would be USA’s chance to beat England,’’ he said. “After all of this hype, one of the things that I noticed was, of course, the field’s twice as big. The goal posts are twice as high. There are twice as many people in the stands.
“But the one thing that I remember was that big bright rose on the English crest and what that means. They were not only playing for themselves and England Rugby, they were also playing for England. They were playing for what they represented as Englishmen.
“They were playing with a pride that was theirs, that they had worked on. And my wish is as we continue to grow with USA Rugby is that our Eagle crest gets big, twice as big and that we have pride, not just for USA Rugby, but that we are proud to represent the USA.’’
Causey said he did not know if he was inducted more as a player or a coach, but McLain said his strength in both capacities and as a person is not only his wilingness, but his natural inclination to work as hard with the best players as beginners.
“His dedication, toughness and camaraderie are as legendary as his exploits on the field,’’ McLain said. “Bob is deeply respected and truly loved by Louisiana. His LSU players look up to him like the legend he is.
“And everywhere we go, we see some old guy there and he goes ‘Hey, aren’t you Big Red?’ I played against you. Bob will usually take ‘em over to the side and say ‘yeah, I remember playing against you, too.’ That’s what Bob was about. The sport of rugby.’’
Charlie Fontenelle, a longtime teammate of Causey said his friend’s induction into the Hall of Fame was the highlight of his own career.
“I can’t speak for all of us, but playing with Big Red was the best it ever got for me. Of all the rugby players I saw and played with, there was no one else in his league,’’ he said. “Gary Lambert was a great rugby player, but Big Red was like playing with your big brother/best friend. Always there with you, always giving the best effort and always being the best player on the field.’’
Causey concluded his acceptance speech by saying he was proud to represent Louisiana rugby in the Hall of Fame.
And as Fontenelle said, rugby players throughout the Deep South Rugby Union are equally proud of Bob “Big Red’’ Causey.