By Mona Malacane
Together with his teaching accolades, a career in commercial television, and years of pro bono work with media professionals in developing countries, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that Robert Affe is also a former rugby player. (If you’re unfamiliar with the game, former Telecom blog writer Mike Lang wrote a great post explaining the game that you can read here)
As a freshman at Georgetown, Bob originally wanted to play his childhood sports: baseball and football. But after attending the freshman sport assembly and listening to the new coach – an ex-NFL quarterback in his first coaching job – promise intensive “two-a-days” (practices) and a drastic upgrade of the dismal program, Bob decided football at Georgetown just wasn’t for him. As he was leaving the assembly he ran into the considerably more relaxed rugby coach, whose only “firm rules” were that he come to practice and that players should not drink beer during the game. Bob thought, “That sounds fairly reasonable, sign me up.” Coincidentally, Bob’s city upbringing had conditioned him in rugby techniques. “I’m from New York so I grew up learning how to evade things like taxis, delivery bicycles, and aggressive panhandlers, so a pursuit-and-tackle game like rugby kind of [came] naturally. I was used to people chasing me all the time.”
The Georgetown rugby team was small and didn’t come with the celebrity or following that many sports programs have nowadays, but they were scrappy. “We would play anyone who would play us,” Bob explained. “One year the coach told us the next game was against ‘West Virginia’. We assumed he meant the rugby team from ‘West Virginia University’, but when they came off the bus, it looked more like the team from the ‘West Virginia Department of Corrections’. They were enormous.” The only “equipment” that Bob and his fellow players wore were mouth guards, so at any given time there were usually a handful of players with minor injuries. Luckily, one of Bob’s teammates was in med school and he had a car, so if anything got too out of hand he could drive them to the hospital. I doubt it even came to that though because, even back then, a familiar rugby taunt was, “Soccer players pretend they’re hurt; rugby players pretend they’re not.”
His moment of infamy was during a match against a team that featured a former star player from the University of Southern California football team. Bob was alone in the open field with the USC star running straight towards him. “I’m standing there and it’s only me and this big guy and I figure this is a do or die tackle and I had terrible form and I leapt at him … and inadvertently caught him right under the Adam’s Apple. He went down as if he had been poleaxed. The ball popped loose, the game ended and I just kept running, off the field and back to campus.” Bob also recalled some “home” games that the team played on the National Mall, “literally in the shadow of the Washington Monument.”
But what Bob most enjoyed about rugby was the camaraderie and the legacy of the sport. “The part of the game that is very attractive is the sense of amateur sport, and it’s very convivial.” Win or lose, the home team hosts the visitors with post-game celebration, partying, and songs with lyrics of questionable, if historic, propriety. Rugby is equally about fellowship as it is about intense competition.
If this post piques your interest in this lesser known sport, you should know that IU has two rather successful rugby teams. The IU men’s team was the Big Ten Champion last year, and the women’s rugby team, the Redstorms, recently won the 37th annual Virginia Women’s Invitational Tournament in Charlottesville, Virginia.