ALUMNI WEEKEND (PT V)
A true sports underdog story with lots of male nudity.
Part V- “Heeey, Zulu Warrior! Hey! Hey!”
SATURDAY, TWO HOURS TILL GAME TIME
I had no idea bars opened this early.
Here I am once again. Oscar’s. The late morning light filtering into the dive seemed as out of place as I did. Walking to the bar with my rugby kit slung over my shoulder, I noticed a dark blue Infiniti sedan with a USA Rugby bumper sticker.
Could it be? Was Bobby Meuser here?
After placing my kit on the pile of kits next to the door, I scanned the room. All of the guys from last night were present. They might’ve been up the whole night for all I knew. Many of them were in the same clothes and certainly looked haggard enough. There were a bunch of new faces as well- but none of them seemed to fit the outsized profile that’s been built in my mind over the past several months.
We didn’t have to wait long for the call to be made- time to head to the field. There were decidedly less guys in driving shape than cars to be driven, so my services were in fierce demand. I wound up driving Shaggy’s car, which was filled with older, reasonable-looking alumnus. On the way, Shaggy- who was tall and lanky with dark hair with a couple noticeable greys and an epic Fu Manchu told me how he came to his alias because when he joined the team, he had hair just like mine. He was one of the main planners behind Alumni Weekend and seen as a leader amongst the alumnus. With his status and laid-back demeanor, Shaggy would make a good ally.
I only got us a little lost, and in return, I only got a little punched. By the time we did get to the pitch, most of the group was already there. Even more alums went straight to the field. There were easily over one hundred current or former Norsemen present now- along with many friends, fans, loved ones, and general troublemakers.
Our home pitch rested on the side of a mountain on the outskirts of town. Scranton’s famed anthracite coal mines ran beneath. It was a very large pitch- the maximum-allowed dimensions. For some reason, rugby pitches could be varying lengths and widths. Scranton’s was unique also in that there was a marked slope to the pitch, owing to its mountainside location.
Both college and alumni sides warmed up together. Leading the stretches and drills was current team president, Kevin Karabin. He was only a sophomore, but he was elected President and captain as soon as team policy allowed. Kevin played flyhalf and his father was our coach. He had played at high school powerhouse Bishop Shanahan outside of Philly and held the school’s scoring record. Kevin made the all-conference team every year at Scranton, but never had a nickname, and kept to himself for the most part.
He actually seemed to hold a strong disdain for most of the team and his teammates. This was a trend I noticed amongst the team’s captains and it’s most dedicated members… it was something that vexed me until my own turn as captain.
I was getting ready with everyone else, but my chances of actually playing were slim. This was a big game, and I was a freshman. More than that, it should be noted that I was also really bad at this point of my career. I was a decent athlete. My diagnosis of Diabetes in the fall had robbed me of a lot of my athleticism cultivated over the course of my undistinguished high school track career- but not all, and I was recovering more every day. Aside from that, I was still learning the rules. What I did develop very quickly was the right mentality. I always had a pretty high sports IQ; even when I still stunk in basketball, I realized that if I could just make my free throws, I could stay on the court in pick-up games, allowing me to continue to compete and learn.
In rugby, I realized early-on that the right mentality could make up for a lot of shortcomings in skill. If you’re not the meanest, dirtiest, craziest guy on the pitch, then you will always be looking out for whomever is- taking mental bandwidth away from executing the game plan. I could chase people down and throw my body around. I picked up a lot of dirty tricks (as you’re getting up off the ground and there’s opponents still down near you, take one of their shoes off!).
Rugby touched a deep, dark place in me- somewhere that didn’t get a lot of daylight. It was probably the safest, most socially acceptable method to explore that place.
Anyway- I stunk, but I had no reason not to be ready. I actually felt bad for the college guys. Ordinarily, the alums who come back are the ones who’ve continued to play, meaning that they’re probably good. Many of the college guys were just barely rugby players. The alums usually spank the college team. The college team hadn’t scored a try on the alums in the past two alumni matches.
I ready myself on the sideline near midfield along with the rest of the FNGs. I feel a small pang of pity for the college guys- out there, knowing they’re going to get stomped. My FNG brethren look pretty ragged. Everyone else around us had already started drinking heavily again, but the other FNGs were clearly mid-hangover. The looks on their faces stood in stark contrast to their crisp, clean uniforms.
Karabin set to kick off, but he paused to do one final body count. He recounted. Confused, he started asking his team where someone was. 15 players is a lot to account for. Everyone on the sidelines began looking around. It didn’t take long to find the missing Norseman. He-Man, the starting outside center, had crawled underneath a picnic table to get out of the sun and nurse his hangover. The main crowd had gathered between the pitch and the table, and the top of the table was filled with people standing to look over the large crowd- unmoved by the clearly visible set of cleated feet sticking out from below.
Karabin didn’t waste time trying to drag He-Man out onto the field. He quickly surveyed the sideline for options. His eyes settled on me. Kevin gave a quick point, “You, outside center now.” He didn’t find this situation was funny as everyone else did. He wanted to win.
I lined up amongst the backs like I was told to. I was terrified. My heart was racing. How bad would this be? I thought about the wrath I had incurred when I didn’t screw up. Now the game was on the line. Karabin held the ball up. His father, who was our ref today blew two short, strong blasts from his whistle, and Kevin kicked off.
The ball seemed to hang in the air a while, but it fell into the arms of a man called “Hawk” on the wing on the far side of the field. The initial line of defense came up too fast and completely overran him. He flew down the sidelines and found paydirt before our back three could corral him. 7–0 Alumnus. I was relieved in that it wasn’t me who blew their assignment.
The next kickoff was aimed closer to the middle of the field and found the arms of a goliath forward who was taken down before I could get to him. We line up for our first defensive phase. After being pushed and barked at into position, I look up to find the opposing outside center. Coiled, ready to strike, is Bobby Meuser.
His arms looked like legs. His legs looked like cartoon action figure legs. He had an two inches and 60 lbs on me. Meuser was barking something at the flyhalf and had that look in his eyes that wide receivers get when they know they’re in a bad mismatch. He wanted the ball.
There were a couple phases of plodding forward balls before the flyhalf spun it directly out to Meuser. Fortunately, because of Kevin’s pressure, he had to catch it flatfooted- but he still had enough real estate to pick up some steam. Even if he had room to make a move, he had already made up his mind he was going straight through me. After a couple steps up, I realize what he’s going to do and sit down in position to receive him.
His knees are pumping. His shoulders are lowered. His lips curl back revealing his mouthguard. I angle my body and plant my right shoulder into his midsection. Bobby Meuser lets out a defeated gust of air as I wrap his legs and drive him into the ground. Stopped dead in his tracks. I hit him so squarely, he fumbled the ball forward. “Nice tackle!” He commends me as he gathers himself. He’s human! I did a good rugby thing! I’m not sure what part of what just happened was the most surprising.
Play continues, but there was a change in the atmosphere. Maybe I won’t totally embarrass myself.
The Alums score a couple more try’s. Kevin snakes his way into the end zone for one. Even though I’m playing outside center, I make a point of trying to be next to Kevin whenever I can. He has a nose for the ball and always makes the right decisions.
On a counter attack off a kick, the fullback, Fat Brendan, gets the ball to Kevin. The Alumni wing has an angle on him, but I circle around to Kevin’s outside. Around mid-field, Kevin draws the winger in and drops off a perfect pass to me. I burst into an extra gear as I catch the ball and blow by Kevin and the winger. I have nothing but 55 meters of open field and the animal part of my brain takes over. I have one purpose- score. There’s no one to pass to, and the Alumni fullback is closing but doesn’t have a good angle. Closer and closer. I could feel the crowd rising up. I push my legs as hard as I can. Score score score. End zone end zone end zone. My brain function was limited to the shared instincts that make lions chase down gazelle.
I feel the fingertips of an alumni on the back of my shirt, but it’s too late as I’m already sliding into the end zone, touching the ball down for my first ever score. Once again, I made the crowd go crazy. As I jogged back to midfield, near the sideline to receive congratulations, Bubu and Fucker Joe were dancing back and forth singing “Heeey, Zulu Warrior! Hey! Hey!” I had no idea what that meant.
The game goes on. We are playing the Alums even. Our winger, OG, outruns everyone on a broken play. Fat Brendan picks a perfect running line right up the middle and Kevin dumps it off to him for another score. Kevin even catches his own kick-off.
The Alums spin the ball wide. OG converges on the attacking winger just as the ball gets there. As they are both fighting over the ball, OG rips it loose and I snatch it out of the air at our own 40-meter mark. Since the Alums were attacking, their fullback and wingers were up in the attack line, leaving no one back. I have another breakaway- it was longer, but I could have moonwalked all the way to the end zone. My first two tries in my career- coming against the big bad Alums.
I was pumped now. I felt like I could score every time I touched the ball- which had pretty much been true so far. The Alums were looking old and tired. I received a kick deep in our territory and once again, the showman came out. Time for a hat trick. An Alumni back was on me immediately, but I easily juked him to oblivion. I had some space now, but another Alumni had position on me. I sized him up. He was smaller, and clearly well past his playing days. His shorts hung baggily off his scrawny legs and he was almost entirely bald. I must’ve sensed what Bobby Meuser sensed when he sized me up before I upended him. If I had support to dump the ball off to, I wasn’t focused on it. I ran straight at him and went straight through him, barely even slowing down.
Several steps later, I was gang tackled. I would have to settle for the glory I already had. Coach Karabin sounded the whistle, bringing the first half to an end. All eyes were on me as I jogged to the sideline. As I received congratulations, Bubu inquired in his heavy Brooklyn accent, “When did you become wonderful at rugby?” A fair question.
He-Man, along with several other upperclassmen wanted back in, with the game improbably being a game now. I watched the rest of the game, including the overtime, from the sideline. That was fine with me. I calculated the odds of either matching or surpassing my first half performance as highly unlikely. Better to go out on top.
Another comment from Bubu had left me ill-at-ease for the rest of the match, though.
“We’re gonna see your dick later.”
What? Did this have something to do with my newfound career as a male exotic dancer?
Upon hearing this, Scoomhead put his arm around my neck and took up the chant “Heeey, Zulu Warrior! Hey! Hey!”
Stay tuned for the epic conclusion!
Missed Part IV? Read it here-
As always- comments are always welcome.