Scott Eden; reporter, author

Scott Eden menu


Chicago Reader
December 8, 2006

On one end of the vast playing-field expanse at the Schiller Woods Forest Preserve, a park on the northwest side of Chicago, goal posts made of PVC piping rise from two endzones. Collapsible, portable, they arrive here four Saturdays every fall in the back of someone's car. Hashes of white paint stripe the field, 100 meters long, 70 meters wide, freshened the night before by a 49-year-old commodities trader named Bob Skoronski. He usually has help from a 12-pack of beer. "If the lines are a little swervey," he says, half joking, "you know why."

At 1PM on a Saturday in early November, just before kickoff, 15 men huddle together at midfield. Their ages range from 19 to 42. They wear jerseys with white collars, white rubber buttons and horizontal red-and-black stripes. They wear shorts shorter than most American men would be comfortable wearing. This is the home field—the home "paddock," in rugby vernacular—of the Chicago Griffins Rugby Football Club (RFC). This year the Griffins have proved themselves the best team in the Midwest, and perhaps the entire nation. Earlier in the season, in a game against Palmer Chiropractic, (chiropractic schools in the U.S. are, ironically enough, known for the quality of their rugby squads) the Griffins led 52-8. At halftime. The Griffins play in the western section of the Midwest Territorial Union of the national men's Division I conference, and should they win today, their final game of the regular season, they will have made it through all 10 matches undefeated, all but guaranteeing them one of the highest seeds in the playoffs.

A voice inflected with the accent of New Zealand carries through the air. It is both urgent and profane, and it belongs to Murray Roeske, 27, who just arrived in Chicago three months earlier from his hometown—Nelson, in the province of Canterbury, a ski-resort city of about 10,000 people, situated in the alps of the South Island. He's 6-2, 210 pounds. He has blond hair and the complexion of a Viking. He has a girlfriend he originally met while playing semi-pro rugby for a club in Hong Kong last year. With the ball in his hands he's an animal, charging into packs of defenders, elbows flying. Everyone calls him "Muzza." On the field, he wears an almost constant grin, and when he grins, his teeth flash red—the color of his mouth guard. Now, in the middle of the huddle, he offers a few encouraging phrases to his team.

"Fack all the rest of the games, mates. Fack all that—our season ends here!"

"You're a fack-ing hurricane in there, bro." He pronounces the last word almost like brore.

"Let's leave it all on the facking paddock!"

"Let's get nut up!"

The Griffins have their own fan base today—more than a hundred people milling around on the home team's side of the field—a factor that must to some degree intimidate the visiting club, the Pearl City RFC Black Bears, out of Muscatine, Iowa, who have brought no one with them but their own players. The Griffins' sideline resembles a huge, elaborate tailgate party. Under an awning is a makeshift canteen, and behind the bar are two bartenders, a keg of beer, and bottles of rum and whiskey and vodka. Lines form at the bar. There's a vat of hot chocolate with which to mix hot toddies. There are two portable heaters hooked up to propane tanks. T-shirts bearing various Griffins logos hang from a rack, and a sign advertises the Griffins merch—$10 shirts, $15 hats, and $20 flasks etched with the Griffins coat-of-arms. Everyone has a drink in his or her hand. The audience, in fact, appears mostly female. Every once in a while a plastic disc will sail into view from an Ultimate Frisbee match being conducted nearby by skinny young men in sweat pants. Only occasionally do the spectators direct their attention to what's happening on the pitch—a circumstance that somewhat belies the seriousness with which the Griffins take their rugby.

Above the party, a man stands on a platform held up by ten feet of scaffolding. He is a good friend of the Griffins' team captain, Brendan Brown, and with a digital video camera on a tripod, he tapes each home game so that the Griffins can later break down their performances, evaluate, find their weaknesses, improve. The Griffins have a full-time head coach, a 36-year-old Kiwi named Graham "Bush" Muir, who burns the games onto DVDs and passes the copies out to his A-side players each week. The Chicago Griffins self-scout like the Chicago Bears.

Rugby has been played in the United States since at least the late nineteenth century (sources disagree on when it first leapt the Atlantic from its birthplace on the public-school lawns of England), but despite this longevity it remains today at the margins of American sport. About 17,000 men from 550 teams play organized club rugby in the U.S., forming a passionate but little-known subculture with a reputation for boozy, frat-like hellraising more than any kind of athletic seriousness. It's a reputation that even the best clubs—the Griffins included—both represent and contradict. Brutal and highly technical at the same time, rugby takes years if not decades to master. Those Americans who do fall into it tend to do so in college, attracted to the intense physical challenge as much as, indeed, the beery camaraderie. Often they are athletes who've reached the ceiling of their talent in baseball, football or basketball and yet yearn still for the competitive fraternal adventuring frisson that only team sports can provide. All of this, the violence, the challenge, the sociable milieu, is a potent mixture: rugby the world over tends to produce in its players a devotion bordering on fanaticism.

Not long into the match, the Griffins score in spectacular fashion—a series of fast laterals opening up to the weakside of the field—with Brendan Brown, a speedster, spinning loose from a tackle and dishing the ball to another speedster running alongside, who gallops untouched into the endzone. The score is called a "try," not a touchdown. It's worth five points, not six. Conversions are of only one type—a kick through the goalposts—and these are worth two points, not one. Brown, a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he learned the game while playing on the school's club team, is now the captain of the Griffins A-side. He's been with the club for eight years and has made a number of Midwestern all-star teams. In civilian life, he's a freelance corporate writer. He dedicates up to 25 hours a week to the Griffins during the season, which runs from August to November. Rugby for Brown is both a hobby as well as a part-time job. It's also an almost all-consuming passion. A few days after the match, watching a replay of his try-scoring assist on the game tape, Brown described the play as "back-line porn." (The try came on laterals to the Griffins' quick-footed backs.) He rewound the tape and played it again in slow-motion.

From the ceiling of the canteen on the sidelines hangs a sign that reads, "Black Rock West," a reference to the Griffins' headquarters, a pub on Damen Avenue just north of Addison. The party had begun at the actual Black Rock at 11AM with Bloody Marys and a spread of breakfast food. Around 70 people were at the bar—friends and relatives of players, as well as more than a few Old Boys. An Old Boy is an aging alumnus of a rugby club. They may or may not still play for the team, but they're still involved with the organization, often donating sums of money large enough to write off on their tax returns. (The Griffins are incorporated as a 501 (c)(3)—it's a nonprofit organization.) At the game, most of the fans and Old Boys are decked out in Griffins paraphernalia. At noon, they'd all crammed into a school bus rented for the occasion, which ferried them to the paddock at Schiller Woods. They sat three to a row. They drank beer from a quarter-keg. No players were on the bus or at the bar—they were already at the field, limbering up.

The Black Rock is more than simply a hangout for the Griffins. (Which is a significant function; after-match parties, in which the home team hosts the visitors, is a customary observance as important to the etiquette of rugby as shaking hands after the game.) Four wealthy Griffins Old Boys—Terry Connors, Ed Giangiorgi, Jeff Melgard and Jim Roth—actually own the Black Rock, including the building it occupies. They bought the business and the property for $425,000 in 2000, and they use every dollar it generates in profit to help cover the Griffins' considerable budget.

Named after a prominent Irish club team that had been traveling through Chicago shortly after the Old Boys bought the bar, the Black Rock has an interior that feels a little incongruous. In the front room, there is almost nothing—no team photographs, no jerseys framed behind glass—to suggest that this is, essentially, the clubhouse of a rugby team. The décor is all stained oak and flat-screen TVs, and about the only items that might betray the connection are the mysterious plaques and small trophy cups sitting on a shelf behind the bar. Seen from a distance, they might as well have been awarded for darts. Matt Golden, Black Rock bar manager, former Griffins A-side flanker—his mates call him "Goldie"—explains the apparent incongruity. Once a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at the University of Virginia (he has his B.A. from the University of Chicago), Goldie knows a thing or two about symbology. It was his idea to downplay the sport inside the Black Rack: If the goal of the bar was to make money for the Griffins—and if your average civilian tended to associate rugby with bellicose, beer-drenched behavior—then, Goldie reasoned, the Griffins shouldn't scare away potential customers with heavy-handed rugby motifs.

As far as American rugby clubs go, the Griffins are a well-funded group. They spend $20,000 a year to bring over players from overseas. They spend $50,000 to $60,000 a year on travel expenses. (The national playoffs are in the spring, and the entire A-side, plus reserves—more than 20 people—must travel all over the country for those games.) Money is raised through a variety of means. From dues and other fees, Griffins members end up contributing about $25,000. The Griffins have three sponsors—Goose Island, the beer brewery; Rugby Athletic, an outfitter; and Athletico, a physical-training rehab center that also provides the team with trainers for game-day sideline triage. The sponsors contribute about $5,000 a year, and the Black Rock's bottom line supplies approximately $30,000. Other than that, individual Old Boys with disposable incomes will write checks for the balance, which might amount to about $10,000 year. All of these figures are rough estimates made by Terry Connors, Chairman of the Board of the Griffins RFC, one night at the bar of the Black Rock.

The value of the real estate, which has increased substantially since 2000, is the security on their "investment," though in the beginning, the bar was less an investment than a money pit. "The first two years were a total disaster," Connors says. "I should've put all my money into one-dollar bills and thrown them into the fireplace, because then at least I'd have gotten heat and light out of it."

All four Black Rock owners are in their early 40s, all started playing rugby in college, and all joined the Griffins at around the same time in the middle to late 1980s. Since then, they've forged a tight friendship and have gone on to lucrative careers in finance and commercial real estate. They now contribute far more money to the Griffins then they do, say, their alma maters. Only Ed Giangiorgi still plays for the A-side (most rugby squads field at least two teams, which can be though of as varsity and junior varsity). He plays a position called hooker—the equivalent of a center on the offensive line—and he's as physically stout as that analogy would imply. His mates all call him Eddie G, and when he's not hooking for the Griffins, he's a partner in a commodities trading firm with a seat on the Board of Trade.

Terry Connors started playing rugby as an undergraduate in 1983 on the club team of the University of Chicago (though after two years there, he transferred to Wisconsin, Madison), and he hasn't stopped since. "So it's been going on for almost 25 years," he said one night recently at the Black Rock, and he paused briefly to consider this fact, perhaps realizing that more than a few current ruggers on the Griffins' A-side were born after he started playing. "Twenty-five years," he said, shaking his head. "Jesus, that's a long time." Now 43 and an executive at a commercial real-estate lender, Connors has a rough voice and a shock of red hair and the build of a Ukrainian powerlifter. His shoulders look to be as broad as he is tall, which is five-five. Known to everyone as TC, he does play occasionally, but his aging body doesn't permit long periods of action. He no longer has a spot on the Griffins' A-side, playing exclusively now on the Old Boys squad that the Griffins occasionally send to "OB" tournaments around the country—like the Champions Tour in golf, or the Old-Timers game of the MLB.

When Connors joined the Griffins in 1987, he recalls, "Oh man, we sucked. We were terrible. That was a different time. The after-match party was as important, or more so, than the game. That's when it was a glorified beer league." The Griffins were founded in 1973 by a group of players who had defected from the Chicago Lions (which was started in 1963 and is the city's oldest rugby club) for reasons having to do with socializing. They felt that the Lions were a bit too serious. In addition to on-the-field play, the defectors were interested in off-.

But this attitude changed at about the time that Connors and the others involved in the Black Rock joined the club. The shift was brought about in large part by Bob Skoronski, the Griffins Old Boy who paints the hashes on the paddock each Friday before home matches. As an undergraduate in the 1970s at Yale, he played defensive tackle for the football varsity, and front-row for the rugby club. Skoronski has a good athletic pedigree: His father was the captain of the Green Bay Packers in the era of Vince Lombardi. In the younger Skoronski's four years at Yale, the team never lost to Harvard or Princeton. It was this competitive heritage that perhaps led Skoronski to seek out and play organized rugby in Chicago after his organized football career had ended, and then, when he took over as president of the Griffins in the 1980s, to transform the club from a drinking society into a national-championship contender. "If we were going to get better," Skoronski says, "we needed the best people playing for us."

Men's rugby in America is governed by a body called USA Rugby, and it has four divisions—III, II, I, and something called the Super League, which has only been around since 1996. In all divisions except the Super League, the regular season is conducted in the autumn and the playoffs in the spring, when the best 16 teams in the country meet in a single-elimination tournament that begins in March and ends in June. The Griffins weren't promoted to Division I until 1991, when the club won the Division II national title. The next year, amid the stiffer competition, they struggled to a losing season and missed the playoffs—they were literally out of their league.

Though the clubs of USA Rugby are mostly made up of amateur players, each team is allowed to have five foreign players on its roster (only four are allowed on the field at any one time), and because these overseas chaps are often paid to play, they render the league somewhat closer to semi-pro. After the Griffins' frustrating first season in the top division, Skoronski and Connors and the others came together and decided to finance the hiring of a player-coach from New Zealand. His name was Greg Doolan, and he instilled in the Griffins a level of discipline previously lacking. Some of the older players quit, unable to deal with the heightened intensity, but many of the younger players took to the new spirit. Because most of them were relative beginners at the sport, they wanted to learn from Doolan, a Kiwi who, like most Kiwis, had been playing the game since he was a toddler.

The Griffins have remained in Division I ever since, steadily raising the quality of their play until, today, the club is considered among the nation's powerhouses. There are 65 Division I teams, and two in the Chicago area (in addition to the Griffins): the West Side Condors (who lost to the Griffins this season, 41-17), and the Southside Irish, whom the Griffins did not play (they belong to the eastern division of the Midwest Territorial Union, while the Griffins play in the western division).

To complicate matters further, there's also the Super League, originally formed by 14 long-standing Division I clubs that wanted to break away and create their own wholly professional conference. At this, they did not succeed (it failed financially), but the Super League remains the uppermost division of men's rugby in the US. This has caused a bit of political havoc within the membership of USA Rugby. Promotion and relegation to and from the Super League is somewhat arbitrary, and not based purely on performance. Super League teams often play "friendlies" with Division I clubs, and the result is sometimes a trouncing in favor of the Division I. The Griffins, for instance, played the Super League Kansas City Blues last year, and won 60-0. And this season, the Griffins defeated the Chicago Lions, one of the founding Super League members, 23-13. The result wasn't as close as it looked. For a majority of the match, the Griffins played a man down—he was red-carded in the first half for throwing a punch. The Lions and Griffins are archrivals, they play every year despite the game having no consequence to each other's playoff hopes, and the relationship between the two can be, at times, acrimonious. To hear the Griffins tell it, the Lions don't want more than one Chicago club in the Super League, and have actively lobbied for the exclusion of their cross-town nemesis.

Regardless of all this, the Griffins now have the longest streak (10) of Sweet Sixteen appearances in the history of Division I, including three Final Fours in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Its primary goal, however, has remained elusive: the Division I national title

Since Doolan, more than 20 foreigners have been through the Griffins program. At first it was just one at a time, but around 1996, the club began to take as many as the rules would allow, or that it could afford. The second foreigner the Griffins brought over was a Kiwi (the Griffins prefer New Zealanders) named Timmy Ainsle. He was Maori, the tribe of Polynesians who first arrived in New Zealand a thousand years ago. He had a glass eye; no one knows how he lost it. He was 5-8 and 220 pounds and liked rugby almost as much as whiskey. Shaking off jet lag, he started his first game for the Griffins the day after his plane landed at O'Hare, at a road match in Milwaukee, and ten minutes into play he was red-carded and ejected for punching an opposing team player. He knocked the fellow nearly unconscious. (In Ainsle's defense, Bob Skoronski says, the other guy had thrown an elbow.) The third foreigner who played for the Griffins was Tony Barber, "a big, tough kid," says Terry Connors. "The problem was his face was all broken up," the result of a bad car accident in his childhood: "It was always iffy if Tony was going to make it through a game without breaking a bone in his face." Before Doolan, Ainsle and Barber, the Griffins had a reputation among other Midwest clubs as soft, as nonentities. After Doolan, Ainsle and Barber, this was no longer the case.

Currently, the Griffins have three foreigners on their roster: Murray "Muzza" Roeske and Scot Puckett, both New Zealanders, and Ryan Westaway, an Aussie. Muzza and Scottie have standard travel visas. Westaway actually has a professional athlete's visa, sponsored by the Chicago Griffins RFC. He originally came to the U.S. to play for the Lions, but he didn't get along with the club's coach and last year defected to the Griffins, despite their affinity for Kiwis. (Clubs tend to align themselves with certain nationalities—some prefer Aussies, others South Africans, and still others the Welsh or Irish or Scottish. The Lions like their Australians.)

Part of the reason that the Old Boys purchased a building to go along with their bar was to have a place in which to store their ringers. (Before the club had this property, Old Boys would put up overseas ruggers in their own houses.) Above the Black Rock are two floors of apartments, inside which the Kiwis "flop" free of charge for the duration of their stay, generally spanning the regular season and the playoffs. Puckett and Muzza live on the top floor, a kind of attic with a kitchenette and two small bedrooms. (Westaway, who has a day job as well, rents his own apartment elsewhere.) They receive $200-$300 a week in walking-around money. Typically, the club covers their airfare, which runs around $1600 roundtrip, Auckland to O'Hare. During the fall the Griffins practice twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Other than this and Saturday game days, Muzza and Puckett have little in the way of immediate responsibilities. Almost every day they work out—cardio and weight-training—at a gym owned by another Griffins Old Boy. Nightly they descend to the Black Rock and order their dinners from the pub menu. On occasion they'll go out and sample the Chicago nightlife.

Puckett, 31, has been playing rugby since he was 15—a little late as these things go for New Zealanders. He's a burly fellow with a puckish face and disheveled brown hair dyed a streaky blond. Like almost all other high-school graduates Down Under, Puckett took his OE—his "overseas experience"—and has traveled extensively. Like most male Kiwis, he used rugby as a way to finance his excursions, which worked particularly well in places that were part of the former British Empire. "The good thing about rugby is that it's played all over the world," Puckett says. "And wherever you go, you automatically have fifteen friends." In the U.K., he played in his early 20s for a club north of London called Hitchens. In China, he played for a club in Kowloon, the district in the north of Hong Kong. At Hitchens, he was set up even better than he is in Chicago: as well as free room and board, he had the use of an automobile. He received a wage of 100 pounds per game. So packed with Kiwi ruggers was London at the time that Puckett would frequently run into old childhood teammates and opponents at pubs and tube stops; they were in England doing the same thing.

Born and raised on the South Island, near Christchurch, a city of about 350,000, Puckett is an elementary schoolteacher by trade and is on something of a sabbatical from the classroom while he plays rugby in America. (He returned to New Zealand on November 15, a couple weeks after the conclusion of the Griffins' season, but he'll be back in the spring for the club's playoff run.) It might be his last stint as a player. "It's getting tougher," he says. "You hit your thirties and your body picks up a few more injuries, and then it takes longer to recover. It's a bit like drinking. You could go on for ages when you were younger. Now, one day a week is almost too much."

For the Griffins, Puckett plays scrumhalf and Muzza plays flyhalf—positions that might be thought of as the co-quarterbacks of a rugby side, which consists of 15 players. During matches, they direct traffic, call plays, manage the game. Ryan Westaway, who splits time at flyhalf, scrumhalf and center, has a similar role. In both practices and in games, all three act as assistant coaches to Graham "Bush" Muir, who arrived in Chicago in 2000, recruited by the Griffins to both coach and play. He is the fifth foreign head coach in Griffins history, and by far the winningest. Since he took over six years ago, the club has gone an astonishing 92-9-1. And in the fall of 2006 especially, they've announced their dominance: 41-17, 59-17, 83-8. If the Griffins have become a national power, Bush is perhaps the biggest reason why.

At the paddock at Schiller Woods, a rope keeps the fans off the field, and Bush stands on the other side, observing the game action with his narrow eyes. His arms are folded. He wears a black fleece vest that says on the breast, "American Rugby Outfitters." He wears black warm-up pants and a black woolen ski cap that covers a dome fully shorn of hair. His playing and coaching career has spanned more than twenty years and a half dozen countries and cities: New Zealand, Ireland, London, Montreal, New York City and Western Australia. In addition to his duties as head coach of the Griffins, he played the No. 8 position—a kind of flanker—until last year, when he ripped his Achilles tendon, an injury that effectively ended his career on the paddock. He has since "burned his boots," as the saying goes, which is meant to signify a rugger's official retirement. In New Zealand, however, the term is literal: whenever a player calls it quits for good, a ceremony is performed in which his cleats go solemnly into a bonfire.

Bush does not react much during the game. He shouts encouragement and instruction every now and again, but in no way does he resemble the head coaches of American football teams, with their headsets and demonstrative gestures and micromanagement. He is, however, intimidating. A big man, 6-2, 240 pounds, he is half Scottish, half Maori. Maori, he says, ought to be pronounced "Moldy—like what grows on bread. But most people say it 'Mowry.'" He grew up in a village called Taupo, in the alpine region of the North Island, near a lake surrounded by rainforests surrounded by conical white peaks that rise 9,000 feet to the craters of active stratovolcanoes. There are ski slopes underneath the craters and rugby pitches underneath the slopes. Bush began playing on them almost as soon as he could walk. He has not been home for any extended period since leaving New Zealand on his rugby-financed OE when he was 20. He's 36 now. In Chicago, he works as a clerk for Eddie G.'s trading firm. He has an American wife he first met at the Black Rock.

The Griffins hold their twice-weekly practices in the outfield of a baseball diamond near Foster and Pulaski. Here, on the Thursday before the Pearl City match, Bush made much to the boys of an offensive strategy he called "slow ball." Bush as a coach has been described as a "hard ass," a "bad ass," and "not someone to be fucked with." Slacking at practice or in a game has resulted, in the past, in both physical as well as verbal remonstration. When he remonstrates with the Griffins, it's with, among others, lawyers, physicians, investment bankers, landlords, construction workers, painters of houses, and his boss, Eddie G. Amid a series of complex drills during Thursday's practice, he roved in and out of his figure-eighting players.

"Boys! Boys! I'm trying to fucking teach you to slow ball!"

"You look like a bunch of fucking idiots out here who don't know what the fuck they're doing!"

If rugby has a tendency to produce fanaticism in its practitioners—to a point where they're not only willing to spend large amounts of time and money on the upkeep of their clubs, but also to sacrifice their bodies into early middle age and subject themselves to the cajoling of Bush—one of the big reasons why may be found in the nature of the game itself.

"When you play a game like that, you're bonded in blood, so to speak," says Bob Skoronski.

"It's a game where, by and large, aggressive play is rewarded," says Terry Connors. "You have to play all-out, all the time. Every player has something specific to do, but at the same time it's a free-flowing game where everyone has to be able to do everything."

"You tend to become best friends with your mates," says Scot Puckett. "And that contributes to how you play together. It's kind of hard to explain, unless you've played the game before. It's kind of like the bond that soldiers build up. I won't compare rugby to going into battle. But between rugby players, there's a bond you don't necessarily have with other people."

"It's hard to imagine what course my life would have taken if I hadn't found rugby," says Brendan Brown. "It's the only outlet I can think of that provides that kind of physical test, and the framework to challenge yourself on a regular basis. I didn't play my first year out of college, and I always look at that as a year I can't get back."

"It's addicting," says Jay Rizzo, a Griffins Old Boy who's been with the club since 1991. "It's kind of hard to explain. I consider it the ultimate team sport, because you're never going to win with just one great player or superstar athlete out there. It comes down to 15 guys being in sync and playing well together. People say it's a brutal sport, but no. What it is is difficult. When you're out there, struggling and fighting for the ball, it's personal. When it's your turn to get down there and fight for the ball, you don't let your teammates down. They've been putting everything they've got into each play, and you don't let their effort go to waste."

Rizzo pauses and says, "All the friends I have now are guys I met playing for the Griffins."

Now, on the pitch against Pearl City, the Griffins have possession close to their endzone, and "slow ball" develops. It resembles a power running game in football. It involves a highly technical sequence of offensive "phases." Because play is continuous in rugby, there is no fixed line of scrimmage. Possession is maintained via these phases, of which there are two subcategories: "rooks" and "mauls." To the untrained eye they look like miniature scrums or multi-person grappling sessions, but they are in fact precisely assembled structures of human form. Body position is of ultimate importance. It's a lesson in physics—mass, velocity, momentum, collision. The bodies serve to surround and shield the ballcarrier from the defense and, thus, from turnovers. The offensive players who form these rooks and mauls must drive forward with their legs, pushing the ballcarrier toward the endzone against a wall of defenders attempting to keep them out. It's like a phalanx. Each person has his role; each person is precisely placed for maximum function in the larger system. Meanwhile, the backs—the speedy ballcarriers and flankers and wings—rotate in and out of the maul in a kind of rude ballet. They enter the pack, peel off with the ball, advance it. The original maul immediately deforms and reforms again, surrounding the ballcarrier at the point where the defense has stopped him. The process begins anew, and the Griffins pack drives against their Pearl City counterparts, slowly making ground, meter by meter. Watching the game film later in his apartment above the Black Rock, Scot Puckett says, "I'll tell you what. If we play like that against most teams, they're not going to be able to stop us."

It's just before halftime, and the Griffins, as they perform their slow ball, are winning by only one try. In the second half the lead will widen until it becomes a blowout over an exhausted Pearl City, 46-10—but now, in the middle of the Griffin's maul, the ballcarrier is turned backwards, his shoulder blades facing the endzone, which is technically precise form, and he rides on the momentum of his driving teammates, their heads low and their legs churning, like a charioteer in reverse. Finally the maul crosses the goal line—the defense helpless against it—and the Griffins score.

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