February is, without a doubt, the most magical time of the year. The month when winter loses its novelty, influenza runs rampant, useless holidays dot the calendar and everyone bitches relentlessly over an alleged lack of sports intrigue.
Suffice it to say, I never understood the logic behind this final grievance.
Considering most major conferences on the college hoops scene remain hotly contested throughout the month, it’s unfair to call the game a lull before March Madness. I pity those who missed the latest barnburner in the Duke-Maryland epic or Bobby Knight and the Techies’ stunning upset of Kansas this week because they were busy crying in a corner over the end of the football season.
With the exception of Illinois and the Big Ten, anything can happen before the tourney draws nigh — particularly in leagues like the Pac-10 where nobody plays defense.
Even the world of pro basketball seems less dismal than usual this year. The Eastern Conference finally sports some muscle; the Lakers are, alas, disassembled; and, best of all, Mike Finley and D-Ha stand poised to make some noise as soon as Mavericks’ head coach Don Nelson puts that wrinkly one-trick pony Darrell Armstrong out to pasture.
Although, maybe I got it all wrong. Perhaps the discomfort of dwelling in the football vacuum comes more from the loss of a contact sport rather than just an exciting one. After all, in the decades since pro boxing started to go horribly awry, nothing really quenches the American blood lust year-round anymore. College hockey — captivating though it is — only appeals to a small percentage of the national population and the NHL’s once-rising star might burn out before even going supernova.
What this country really needs is a healthy dose of organized violence, and no, I’m not proposing a draft. In fact, call me Yenta — I think I’ve found a match.
With the NFL fresh off its latest offensive-empowerment campaign and 2004-05 NHL season officially in oblivion, now, contact-sports fanatics, is the winter of our discontent. Yet, across the pond, the sons of York enjoy a glorious summer, thanks to the greatest rugby union on the planet.
Earlier this month, the BBC implemented a system of streaming broadband feeds to supplement its live broadcast coverage of Six Nations rugby. With 100,000 unique users logged on in the pilot run, the new high-def rugby pandemic safely scored over web casts of the Summer Olympiad, according to BBC officials. For both declared and prospective fans here in the states, this innovation may prove very well-timed indeed.
Hankering to see a bloke get plastered out on the field of battle? Simply log on to the BBC some spring night after last call and tap into the live action. Seriously, other than a little after-set boredom, you got nothing to lose, right? Of course, right.
Now, here’s what you’ll gain: the wondrous spectacle of a full-contact sport packed with daring dashes for try, strategic ball control and ruthless tectonic hits. Keep in mind football became the second American pastime with this very equation — but allow me to explain the bonus variables.
Watching rugby, a new fan can witness all the action of American football, undiluted by constant stoppages, unimpeded by unnecessary Kevlar and unpolluted by pompous grandstanding. In rugby, when a forward lays out the ball carrier, a celebration jig will never follow — there simply isn’t time for it.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, the battle for supremacy out on the pitch begins during a period of Pax Americana on the contact-sports scene. A few years back, Vince McMahan (that enduring parasite of sports culture) unveiled the XFL, looking to gather fans by pandering to the lowest common denominator. The XFL pitched superfluous theatrics — easily the worst element of pro football — as a selling point. Rugby, on the other hand, promotes only the purest aspects of the American game.
So why does this springtime phenomenon never catch fire in the states?
Personally, I blame the NCAA. Ever since the association banned intercollegiate boxing following the death of a Wisconsin title fighter in 1960, the NCAA bosses have refused to indulge the public’s interest in any full-contact sport not grandfathered in. Year after year, worthless new programs are extended varsity status while rugby remains relegated as a mere preoccupation.
Want an explanation? Me too. The NCAA, naturally, claims it doesn’t wish to sponsor such a violent sport in the realm of college athletics.
Well, the gentlemen on the pitch will play with or without NCAA endorsement; the refusal simply means they must do so without adequate sports medicine. But as long as the NCAA keeps its hands free of blood, right?
Believe it or not, as of right now, a rugby football club exists to represent the cardinal and white. Believe it or not, last year the squad made a trip to the Midwest Final Four — yet, scarcely a word was said of it. More’s the pity, but at least that situation can easily be remedied. For the love of rugby and the entertainment of countless potential fans, American interest needs to start somewhere.
So what were you doing last weekend? Were you tuned in to that sad exhibition formally known as the Pro Bowl, or watching France rally back to stun the defending World-Champion English team in Twickenham?
More importantly, where will you be when March Madness and the Frozen Four conclude in just a matter of weeks? Will you be wishing hopelessly that the school fielded a baseball team, or watching the University of Wisconsin RFC scrap out on the pitch?
Good choice, boy’o.