Welcome to another riveting installment of what I like to call "Shane Attempts To Understand Sports." Trust me, I'm about to give it the old college try.
I've just never been one for the gridiron. Or the diamond. Or the court or the pitch or the rink or the field, for that matter.
Some people grew up on ESPN. I grew up on MTV. Some kids collected baseball cards. I collected records. Some kids spent Friday nights cheering their high school's basketball team on to victory. I was a few doors away in the cafeteria, lugging in speakers and getting set up to DJ the after-game dance.
This is not to say I live an entirely sports-free existence. I'm pretty skilled at fair-weather fandom. I've breathed rarefied 'Jordan Air' at the United Center. I was in the stands at Wrigley during Sosa's home run streak. I seldom miss a Super Bowl, and I'm glued to the Olympics every four years. But if there isn't any regional or national pride luring me in, I usually can't be bothered.
Well, with one exception. I like NASCAR, and I'm tired of apologizing for it. Sure, it might represent most societal aspects I detest, but cars that go fast are cool, so sue me. On most Saturday nights, I'm DJing at some club until the wee hours. That usually means I wake up midday Sundays groggy and brain dead. In those ugly Sunday moments, about the only thing my brain can successfully process is cars turning left for three solid hours.
Last Sunday, I woke up in my usual addled state of post-gig numbness. I flipped on the TV, but no race was on. That's because it was Saturday, not Sunday. (Told you my brain was addled.) Instead, I inadvertently tuned into the start of the final game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
"Well," I thought, "This could be a rare treat." Here was a perfect opportunity to watch a sport I'd only previously experienced through fleeting glimpses while channel surfing. This wasn't just a chance to watch some rugby. This was a chance to watch the BEST rugby on Earth, right? This was the World Cup, and the last match of said World Cup. (Honestly, until last weekend, I didn't even know rugby HAD a World Cup.)
I sat there and watched the whole thing. And two hours later, I can safely report that I still have absolutely no idea what was happening. I'm somewhat convinced that the players didn't have any idea what was happening. I'm not even sure if the announcers were speaking English. I'm not even sure rugby is a sport.
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I like to think I operate at or above the average level of human intelligence. As the game/match/whatever it's called went on, I assumed I'd eventually understand the gameplay. Nope. The more I watched, the less I understood. The less I understood, the madder I got. By the end of the game, players were celebrating and I was seething.
Rugby is sort of like football, in that there's a ball and you (sometimes?) use your feet. The field/pitch/whatever it's called looks footballish in nature, but with way fewer lines. Players attempt to score the rugby version of a touchdown, which is called a "try." This I like because "good try, Brown," was really the only compliment I ever heard from any P.E. teacher (albeit often with an eye-roll.) If only we had been playing rugby, I would've been a hero!
So rugby is like football ... mixed with a fair dose of the kid's games Red Rover and keep-away, with a heaping helping of a "Clockwork Orange" level of ultra-violence. If we had been playing rugby in P.E. class, I'd be no hero — I'd be dead. Every rugby player looks like an MMA fighter. The game employs giant menacing dudes running full bore into one another. In most sports, when a player starts spitting blood, they're considerately and promptly led off the field. In rugby, they wipe it on their shirts like a bold fashion choice and just keep on keepin' on.
The teams try for a try (sigh) by running kicking, and passing the ball downfield. Well, except they actually have to pass the ball upfield because you can only pass to a player that's behind you. The opponents, meanwhile, attempt to tackle the ball carrier — and that's when things go entirely off the rails.
If a defender stops a ball carrier's progress, a bunch of players come together for a violent game of footsie called a "ruck." If the carrier keeps the ball in his hands, it gets even more violent and is appropriately called a "maul." If neither of those resolves the issue, someone yells for a "scrum" and all hell breaks loose.
Basically, all the players dogpile into one another in an attempt to become WAY more intimate than necessary with the nether-regions of their smelly, bloody teammates. Based on the evidence I saw, I believe the objective of a scrum might be to successfully insert one's head entirely into the buttocks of the player in front of you. No offense to rugby enthusiasts out there, but that's not the kind of try I'd ever care to try, thanks much. Eventually, the ball comes flying out of the middle of the fracas and play resumes as soon as the players gather up their missing teeth.
So, congratulations (spoiler alert) to the South Africa Springboks for (I think) beating the British team, who apparently have no name because nothing else makes sense in rugby, so why start now? The Springboks, by the way, are also called the Amabokoboko because presumably that's the noise one makes when your teammate behind you successfully scrums.
Does anyone out there actually understand this game? I'd love someone to explain it to me. The crowd sure seemed to dig it. The announcers REALLY seemed to love it. I tried to understand all the tries, but it was too trying. Maybe it's a great game. Maybe it requires alcohol to appreciate. Or maybe I should just stick to spinning records and watching cars turn left. Go Springboks! (p.s. What's a springbok?)