Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Know Thy Enemy ... Know Thyself

For those of us who are serious BYU Rugby fans, even BYU Rugby Superfans, there's really only one opponent out there who means anything to us. No, sorry folks, I'm not talking about that pack of Redskins up north ... Competitive though they are in rugby, the Utes haven't really shown that they are fit for a National Title bid in recent years and hence don't quite register as Public Enemy Number One as far as BYU is concerned.

No, my friends, I'm referring to that great Gold and Blue Beast that somehow snatches away the coveted National Championship trophy, year in and year out. What's their secret? Why are they so good? How do they do it? Who are they? Where can I get some of their magic potion??? The questions are endless, yet anyone even semi-familiar with the Golden Bears of Cal-Berkeley knows the general answer ... It's a conspiracy!!!

Take a look at a recent article on their team website, and you'll see what I mean:  

Bears Welcome 17 Freshmen: New Players for 130th Year of Team

You don't have to read between the lines to see the writing on the wall here ... heck, even the title says it all! 17 Freshmen recruits? Most teams are lucky to get 3 with any experience ... 130 years since the team's founding??  I don't even know many teams that have existed for more than 30 or 40 years ... Seriously??? There's got to be something fishy going on here ... Or is it all just Cal Rugby as usual? Hmmm ...

If I were to paint a picture of the typical American college rugby team's organization, it would probably look like a drab and murky blob of indistinguishable color, shape, perspective, and even purpose. Harsh as that may sound, it's the truth. On the other hand, here's what the Cal picture looks like:

Read through the above-linked article ... See how many of the player profiles say "son of Cal alum" or something similar. You can just feel how there is obviously more going on behind the scenes with alumni relationships, recruiting, and most importantly, the establishment of a standard. Cal Rugby means doing and being the best in everything. There is no conspiracy, no fuzzy math, no question about it. The expectations are high ... always ... period.

So ... what about the BYU Cougars? Who are we? Where are our alumni? What are we doing? How are we so successful* in rugby? (*excluding National Championship Finals) What is our standard? How high are our expectations? How clear and crisp is our program's picture?

Again, there are many questions ... but I would submit, my fellow BYU Rugby friends, that we all know the answers ... collectively, at least ... but what are we doing about it?

Are we merely a team of Mormons from Utah or are we a mix of players and fans all over the Nation and the World? Are the BYU Cougars merely the American-college-knockoff version of the New Zealand All Blacks or are they something unique unto themselves? Do we have an alumni organization, and if so, where is it? What does it do? Do we want to see BYU win a National Title without paying for a ticket or are we encouraging our kids to go to the next BYU Rugby Summer Camp? Do we really want BYU Rugby to achieve victory or to just participate for the "experience"? How high do we want to climb? How long do we want to be there when we make it? Why? Why does it matter?

Brothers and sisters, ladies and gentleman, BYU Rugby Fans, we are a Family; we are proud of each other; we personally and collectively care about one another's successes and failures.

On a personal note, two years stand out in my mind ... two final games that hold significant meaning for me: 2006 and 2009. I wish the former occasion would have been the setting for as much pride and joy as was experienced on the latter occasion, but it was not.

In 2006, BYU had one of the best, most-talented teams ever seen before in college rugby. Even critics and coaches alike affirmed the fact. For the first time in the BYU Rugby program's history, the team made it to the National Title match against none other than UC Berkeley.

I badly wanted to attend the match but did not think I was able to afford the trip. My older brother, Craig, was starting at lock for the team, and I wanted nothing more than to see him succeed and be rewarded for his hard work over the years. He was the pioneer of rugby in our family. The two of us helped start the first rugby club in our town; we knew what it was like to lose in a championship final, and we didn't want to experience that bad taste in our mouths ever again.

The match was incredibly close. BYU made a strong second-half comeback to put the score within 3 points of victory. BYU's final drive came so close to success. There was no shortage of close calls, no lack of guts or unfailing hope for the win. Yet, win they did not ...

That was a tough day for me, because I knew how tough it was for my brother. We never had much outside of each other, and so each other's success meant that much more to us. To get so close to victory and then be deprived of it almost seemed unfair; it was such a sickening feeling.

Turn the page to 2009 ...

The BYU Rugby team was having a great season, looking more strong and dynamic than they had in previous years. Though it was the first time in a long while that I did not have a brother on the team, nevertheless I had made a commitment to myself to support the team more so than I had done in the past. I made it personal.

Again, BYU succeeded in making it to the Final Match against Cal. Again, the match was incredibly close with seemingly numerous setbacks. Yet, Our Boys displayed an incredible resilience, staying in the game to the very end, putting up an unbelievable wall of defense, and maintaining an ever-attacking offense. The result was again a 3-point margin ... however, this time in BYU's favor.

Unforgettable ... in every sense of the word. I was happy; I was emotional; I was overcome by the miracle. I was proud of the team, the coaches, the fans. I was proud of myself, my contributions and efforts, my sacrifices and hopes. I was so glad to have brought my friends to the game, to have them witness what to me was an incredible victory, years in the making. My family couldn't believe it; my brother and other former players who weren't even there struggled to sleep at all that night. The feeling was so validating.

I've wondered at times if my volunteered involvement with and support of the BYU Rugby team is right ... if I should instead be spending my time and means on other pursuits ... But I'm always reminded of those days in 2006 and 2009 when the BYU Men's Rugby team experienced a great loss and a great win. The emotions there were real. And that's when I see how BYU Rugby isn't just some commercial sport that wants my money without seeing my face or knowing my name. Rather, it's directly tied to my family, my friends, my university, my sport ... and even indirectly, to my religion. It's part of my identity, perhaps the most unique part of who I am.

My friends and fellow fans of the BYU Rugby Family, let us join together to make something more than ourselves. We've already got a great thing going here ... the BYU Rugby team and community are the Best of the Best! Let's make sure that we know it, that our friends and family know it, and that even our opposition knows it.

Then, and only then, will we have a clear picture of who we are, what we want to achieve, and how we can achieve it. And if, after everything else, you're still asking yourself, "Why?", then all I can say is, "Come to a game, and you'll see!"

Merry Christmas and BYU Rugby Forever!!!

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