Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rugby Movie!

The first time I saw “The Power of One” was with my friend Pete.
It was the night before he was to leave on a two year mission for our church. Now what you do on your last day before leaving is significant. During the next two years a 19 year old missionary will not watch any TV, listen to any radio or secular music, not email or make social phone calls, and no movies.

Pete despite his popularity, was never all that social of a guy. On his last night of social freedom he just wanted to relax and watch a video. I had never heard of that movie, nor had anyone else I knew. I have no idea where he picked it up or why. There was no preface, we simply popped it in and sat back.

I loved it. A coming of age tale wrapped in a message of the individual’s responsibility to stand up for what is right. It seemed appropriate for one about to embark on a religious mission. I filed it away in my memory. Wished Pete well, and then followed his footsteps two weeks later. I went to Atlanta.

Upon my return, older and strangely aware of race in a way I wasn’t before, I went on with my life. Part of that life, a big part, was rugby.
A big enough part that I have suffered two broken noses, surgery on that nose, two broken thumbs, or rather the same thumb broken twice, two concussions, 32 stitches on my head or face, I am not sure how many times I have lost the toenail from my big toes, and I experienced the joy of surgery to replace my ACL.
This affair with the egg shaped ball has continued over thirteen years, four states, and five teams. I plan to nurture the romance as long as the lady will have me, or as long as I have insurance.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of playing with or against all sorts of people from all sorts of places once touched by the British Empire; Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific, and of course, South Africa.

Every Afrikaner I ever met, at some point, lived up to the negative stereotype “The Power of One” planted in my mind. The first was a coach whom I overheard telling another group of players how Polynesians are not meant to play rugby as they are not built for endurance and are simply not mentally capable of sticking to a game plan when the game is on the line. This was my first day with that team and I immediately went across town and joined a Polynesian team.
The second encounter was in the office of my employer. I was alone at my desk when one of our contractors walked in and had a seat. He was a former professional in his native land, a prop forward. He was waiting for the boss to show up, but he never did. During the boredom of our wait he entertained me with feats of strength, one of which was tearing a phone book in half with his hands. After the demonstration he turned to telling stories. He told of how he used to play all over the world, how he used to hunt wild game on safari, used to drink unheavenly amounts of Guinness, and of course how his country was ruined by the end of apartheid. This included him telling me how the “natives” used to kill each other by tying someone up, placing a gasoline filled tire around their neck, and lighting them on fire. He continued that he wished they would have done it too all the black people so he could go home.
The third time, in another state, on another team, we were running a warm-up lap around our practice field. We shared the field with a local little league football team. On this particular day the football team was having a scrimmage which forced us to alter our usual course by a whopping twenty yards. As we passed behind the stands of Moms and Dads watching their kids, one of my teammates shouted something in Afrikaans that neither they nor I understood. But I did understand that one word, which allowed me to get the gist of what he must have said.

I cringed when I watched the Springboks win the most recent rugby World Cup. Why them? How could the most dominant All Blacks team ever, loose to those guys? Where is the Karma?
Then I saw Invictus.

I read some reviews from writers who get paid to write, writers who said things like, “the soundtrack is melodramatic, the slow motion is over used, but the whole feel-good cheesiness of it all is overshadowed by the fact that this is how it actually went down”.


Matt Damon, Morgan Philanderer Freeman, and Clint Eastwood have etched their way into my heart with this one movie.
Matt Damon; preppy poet, super spy, pick pocket, card shark, and janitor genius, can now add Afrikaner flanker to the list.
Morgan Freeman has been a lot of things, including God, but to me he was Jull Pete (sp?), the boxing trainer/prisoner in “The Power of One”. Jull Pete now playing Nelson Mandela? There is justice!
Clint, the king of cool, Dirty Harry, you have done what no other sports movie director has done, remained accurate.

The greatest sports movie is of course “Rudy”. So much so that I refer to that clamming up feeling one gets preceding a cry as “the Rudy feeling”. Yet that movie, as well as all other football movies, messes up the football.

There will be a clip of the team in the huddle where the quarterback will call, “flanker left 26 veer”, and then the team will run to the line and run a pass play. Or the classic final touchdown scene where the hero is running down the sideline behind the fat guy who blocks one, then another, then another opponent till the ball carrier makes the touchdown. Most players are happy to get one successful block per play let alone three. That is Hollywood. Thank you Mr. Eastwood for not doing that to Rugby.

Your scrum may have been a little long, and if I recall correctly the whistle was blown while the ball was still in play, but that is far outshined by the fact that all the players on the field looked forty years old.

The actors playing ruggers were not pretty, they did not look like top flight professional athletes, but they did look like rugby players. There was an actor who was only in a few bit parts, who said no lines, who actually looked a bit like Andrew Mehrtens. Jonah Lomu looked like Jonah Lomu, maybe a bit smaller. There were no helicopter tackles and by any movie standards everyone looked a bit slow while running.

It was real rugby!

But most of all, above all else, it made me forget my disdain for a group of people. I will not be ordering a gold and green jersey any time soon, but I will admit that Schalk Berger may be a better flanker than Richie McCaw. I will cede that they scrum better than everyone else. Mostly I will admit that they helped provide a great sports story. They proved that while I dislike most everyone I have met from there, they were worth cheering for.

Go All Blacks!


Corbie said...

We went and saw it last night. My husband, a 28+ year veteran of the sport also love it - though I did hear him mumble something under his breath about the kick not going 10 yards (yada yada...this is where I tuned him out). Great political story, great sports story...still second (or third or fourth) to Rudy, though.

Scottish rugby fan said...

Ok, you've convinced me to see Invictus. Can't wait to see Damon as a flanker - F. Pienaar, no less! The mind boggles!
But Burger better than McCaw? Wash out your keyboard and your brain with carbolic soap.

Scottish Rugby Fan said...

Ok, you've convinced me to see Invictus. Damon as a flanker - F. Pienaar, no less! The mind boggles!
But Burger better than the peerless McCaw? Wash out your brain and keyboard with carbolic soap.

uglyblackjohn said...

Nope, that's not for me.
Football has pads and substitutions.
Rugby hurts too much.
(It's not so much the pain as the ever increasing recovery time as one ages.)
In Hawaii and back in Cali., I always seemed to have a bunch of friends who played Rugby.
These guys always assumed that I'd enjoy it.
But nope - by the time I was recovered from a single practice, it was time to get hurt again...

But yeah... "The Power Of One" was a graet movie.
I don't have the energy...

SOILA. said...

I'm with you on this one! GO ALL BLACKS!!!!! Love it when they do the Maori Haka chant before their games and wish Johnny Clegg's Impi was their anthem and not the bokkie's.

I loathe the Bokkies! Maybe because of all the crap I hear coming out of almost every other Afrikaner's mouth...

Good post.

Lindsey said...

screen comments! aaagh!

Anyhow, Just want to say that the (2) Afrikaaners I have met are quite lovely people, although I haven't had the opportunity to talk race with them. They both seem very down to earth and sweet. I'm sorry you have run into people that have only solidified the bad impression you initially received from The Best Morgan Freeman Movie Ever. For you, EIGHT PUNCH COMBINATION!

uglyblackjohn said...

I have (maybe) ten white friends from S.A. out of the 15 S.A.s I've met.
Most seemd quite surprised that I don't come across as what most have seen on TV.

I always ask about the racial problems over there. Most tell tales of retribution after Apartied ended.
Most seem amazed at how well different nationalities and races get along here in the States.