William Webb Ellis | URugby | College Rugby and High School Rugby

William Webb Ellis

An ol' pal and teammate Jim Fraivillig sent an email today to my coach George Betzler. The email announced the 200th birthday of the famed William Webb Ellis. Ellis, of course, is the rebel who picked up the pill and ran down the pitch. Ironically, I played like a rebel and George spent his time on the sidelines trying to keep me between the lines. It was a great time in our lives.

The articles, written by Tal Bachman, take you all the way back to the moment when Ellis picks up the ball and literally creates our game -- or so the legend goes, right. I was playing the other day with my great-nephew Stevie. He was making up games on the fly. He was working us .. playing goalie with the soccer ball quickly switching to shooting and catching the Nerf rocket ... then it was music and dancing -- constantly creating a game and interacting with all who dared. Did Ellis create the game of rugby at Rugby school - sure why not. Someone - like Stevie - decided to change the rules - everyone followed - and the rest is history. The stone near the statue of Webb Ellis reads:

This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis
Who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time
First took the ball in his arms and ran with it
Thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game
AD 1823

Again, I buy it. Stevie would have done it. Why not William? 

Now quoting Tal Bachman I delve into what I really enjoyed about his perspective:

For starters, rugby maximally engaged a player's entire body. Between place kicking, tackling, scrummaging, passing, punting, catching punts, catching passes, kicking along the ground, rucking (binding with teammates to push opposing players back from over a tackled player), line-outs (throwing the ball in from the sidelines), ball-running, mauling (forming into a giant group to protect a ball-carrier, which then moves together down the field), no body section was left out. Fingers, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, torsos, hips, legs, feet—even heads were involved, since heading the ball was permitted. Every part of the body had to work together, with both maximum finesse and coordination as well as maximum power, to thrive during a match. Or even survive a match, since serious injury was always a possibility. Achieving this "total stud" level of whole body coordination, finesse, power, speed, and toughness, was itself a big thrill.

Then there was the intellectual part of the game. You couldn't play without developing a spectacular level of cognitive ability. So many things happened so quickly every moment of a game, at so many levels, with such high stakes (i.e., instant injury) that no other activity compared cognitively, save for perhaps actual melee combat. And the game's rules were complex enough that there was no end to the strategies one could deploy. To end up being able to think that quickly, that strategically, that intensely, and that many levels, was itself a huge thrill for players.

Then, there was the fact you could not win, or even begin to play, without developing the ability to immerse yourself psychologically into a single mind made up of your mind, and your teammates'. Yes, you used words to communicate. But much stranger, and more addictive, was the communication that often began to develop without words. It felt something like telepathy.

My passion for rugby started when, as an American, I was very young - 15. I just fell in love with the game. It seemed to suit me. I played some fullback and center but really found my way at fly. When I played select side, there was nothing better than the play-by-play after matches with the likes of Charlie and Jimmie and Will, Petrakas, and coach Signes. It was intoxicating. I remember trying and failing to convince my - at the time - girlfriend's mother that rugby was worth all the time I was spending. It was like chess - I tried to convince her. She wasn't buying it. To this day, I truly believe, rugby was the cornerstone of what and who I am today. I love rugby. Thanks William for picking up the ball and changing my life.

Good to hear from you, albeit indirectly, Jim. George keep on keepin' on. I love you man.