This is the second short in a series I am writing about those flash moments you get in sports that NEVER leave you. Athletes know that these moments are not and CANNOT be planned. In the decades of sports, I still have these plays, these visions, and these games I can see like it was happening in the present. The second of many is this true tale of two rugby women in their prime completing the best play that college rugby has ever seen, a trick play inspired by a classic movie, The Little Giants.
BACKGROUND: THE LITTLE GIANTS
Now before I go into this tale, I must, of course, let you into the background of the title for those of you who may have missed the classic sports tale of The Little Giants. Every young female athlete, in my time, lived their life wanting to be ICE BOX.
Ice Box is the star player in the movie The Little Giants. She played with a ragtag team of boys since that was all that was available for a young girl, who wanted to play football.
Anyway, back to the story…
Now in the movie, The Annexation of Puerto Rico play is the game saving play– you know sports movies– this is THE play!! This is the one that wins the game in the last second with no time to spare. This is the carry off the field winning play!
Now, in the movie, it is well known that Ice Box is a star player and so obviously, the ball is going to her and she is going to be too well guarded to complete the play without being taken down.
Well, what do you do when you know the person getting the ball is going to be guarded too heavily to score?
That’s when you call in The Annexation of Puerto Rico– a FUMBLEROOSKI trick play.
In the play, the little Giants quarterback fakes the ball hard to Ice Box, who leaves looking like she has the ball. The best player on the other team, SPIKE, takes her down hard.
In the meantime, the ball actually goes to the team’s center leading to the eventual score in the play.
There is a classic moment when Spike is celebrating the smash he laid on Ice Box, where she gets to mouth, NO BALL as she shows him her hands.
UA RUGBY’S ICE BOX
Now this rugby tale doesn’t involve the exact same mechanisms considering our lack of a quarterback and differences of rules or laws, but in my head, my scrumhalf was Ice Box and we completed The Second Annexation of Puerto Rico, the old “Fumblerooski!”
As I have written on rugby before, we pride ourselves on respect and loyalty. We look to our fellow players to learn as we respect the work they put in. Allyssa Phillips, who we call ‘AP’, was not only an extraordinary scrumhalf, but also an exceptional captain.
A captain sometimes pushes aside the glory for the good of the team. Because of this, my rugby captains have always held a special place in my life. These are the women who have pushed me to be a better player and person. Every captain I have ever had in rugby has been sealed in my brain as one to look to for guidance and with this captain, I continue to do so.
There was something special about AP’s voice that made it easy to find on the field and easy to listen to. She knew exactly the words to say and how to say it to make me do THE THING, whatever that be on the pitch, at that moment. I wasn’t the only one as she had that captain’s way to find people and place them where they needed to be to succeed. She often took quite the hit getting people to succeed as scrumhalves often do. We never quite got the picture of protecting the scrumhalf the way football players protect their quarterback. No, instead, AP played a bit of everything keeping us together while a lot of new positions were learned that year.
A great player makes great plays for the team, but a great captain makes great players.
THE SECOND ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO
For this sport short, we are going to kick it back to 2010. The place is SUNY Albany, the home team is the SUNY Albany Women’s Rugby Football Club, UAWRFC!
We meet Allyssa Phillips, or AP, team captain and scrumhalf. We find Michie, who has yet to find her “Smash”; instead here we find Michie “Superman” Williamson, a college rugby prop from UA.
AP And Michie are both having exceptional games and are so in sync it’s as if they have internal walkie talkies. It seems as though every single word that AP says is projected straight to Michie and with no effort Michie responds. As the game goes on, something happens to Michie’s voice. Screaming plays and screaming for the ball, and then all of a sudden– all noise from the chatterbox’s vocal chords cease and nothing more will come out.
Michie manages to sign across the field to AP that she has no voice. This stops nothing. The two continue to play seamlessly with their fellow 13 members. Fifteen players as one always, the UAWRFC way.
Albany has the ball and is heading past the half. They must score to take the game.
Forwards ball– 5 meters gained!
The ball is moving. The ball goes out of bounds!
Forwards ball– 5 meters gained!
Forwards ball– 5 more.
The 80 minute match is nearing the end.
With half the forwards now on the ground, the backs get set. AP gets the ball out clean! The backs have it.
The backs pass seamlessly and move us up but get stuck at the 22.
AP calls our for her forward pods! We were forward heavy this game and we knew it.
AP ends up with the ball. She is stuck. There is no one to pass to and so she takes it.
She runs towards the tri. She is close, but someone gets to her. With no backup ready, AP takes it into contact and stays up with the ball. Her backup gets there and they force a maul.
The maul is moving, but the defense is getting there. More and more people begin to add on from behind their teammates. There is no way we are going to get the ball down to score, but the maul is still moving.
The ref screams to ‘produce the ball!’
The ball will certainly be held up if it isn’t taken out of the maul before the goal line.
No one has managed to strip the ball clean off AP yet. She still has her hands on it. I am behind her.
I can taste the tri. It is right there!!
I come from on sides, behind the maul ready to hit it. Instead, with no voice, I mouth to AP and point to my left where there is a huge open space. A HOLE! That’s my scoring hole!
She sees it too!
She manages to pop the ball off to me with no noise. No one knows I have the ball. I break off and slam that ball to the ground.
I SCORED THE TRY!
The maul keeps moving.
The maul goes right into the end and finally collapses!!
As the ref goes to blow the whistle seeing just the maul, I raise my hand triumphantly and show that the ball was with me and I had scored.
AP, still there in the remnants of the collapsed maul that she had taken on herself– pointing to me alone scoring- her with NO BALL!
In life, you won’t always be able to find or use your “voice” when you need to. Sometimes you’ll get stuck with the ball and get held up. Sometimes you just won’t be able to complete the play alone. In all of these situations, your ruggers will be ‘with you’
“With you” is one of the most used rugby expressions I have found in my entire life.
As I have said, Once a rugger, always a rugger– and ruggers never let a buddy go alone. No, we battle the shitstorms together, on and off the field, we’re “with you.”
Rugby has taught me time and time again that in this life, we just can’t do it alone, nor should we try.
You have to find the people who will be there for you when you’re voiceless, stuck, and struggling. In my life, that has always been my ruggers.
My rugby community has showed me what it feels like to SCORE a try on the pitch and in life. They have also shown me how to accept help graciously when I wasn’t able to be the one doing the scoring.
Now in this life, the cycle continues and I find myself exploring that role with the future of rugby. To the younger players I know, that’s you! That’s you!
To the young ruggers, you’re the future so please continue to grow the sport I love because I know you love it, too.