11 September 2011

My introduction to rugby ...

Growing up in the US meant that my sports interests were dominated by baseball, basketball, and football, the "Big Three" American sports.  While in graduate school, I was introduced to other sports by friends and colleagues.  I saw my first soccer game when I was about 24 years old; I played cricket for the first time when I was about 25 years old.  As my research moved into sports physics, I became a lot more familiar with sports that are popular outside the US, like soccer and cycling.  Studying the aerodynamics of soccer balls and modeling the Tour de France have opened my eyes to wonders in sports I never knew as a child.

Today is a special day in the US.  We remember that terrible Tuesday morning ten years ago when we were so viciously attacked.  Thousands of innocent people lost their lives because a group of people had no respect for human life.  Feel free to read countless words elsewhere for analysis of the pernicious people who were responsible.  My blog concerns physics and sports, and sometimes a little more.  Hate and fear are borne out of ignorance.  Even in the sports world, ignorance of a given sport may lead one to dislike that sport at first sight.  I was that way with soccer.  After just a cursory peek at the game as a child, I thought it was boring, certainly not like the action in the "Big Three" American sports.  It wasn't until my mid thirties that I really watched soccer, and then grew to love The Beautiful Game.

While living in Sheffield, England during my 2008-09 sabbatical year, I had great fun watching "football" in pubs.  I also had a lot of fun watching a sport I knew very little about -- rugby.  On a trip to Ireland, my family saw the Irish national team play on television while we had a fantastic meal at the Brazen Head Hotel in east Dublin.  After seeing a few more rugby matches in English pubs, the game grew on me a little.  Nothing like removing ignorance of something to like it a little more, right?

Instead of watching American football on its opening Sunday today, I watched the NBC replay of the US vs Ireland match in the 2011 World Cup of Rugby.  Despite the fact that the US lost by the score of 22-10, I rather enjoyed the match.  My country's team is clearly not as good as the Irish team, but I admired the way we fought on defense.  The rainy weather and some sloppy Irish passes made me appreciate how much physics there is in rugby.  Reducing friction between the ball and a player's hands does not make for good passing!

My interest in the science of rugby has grown through knowing Trevor Lipscombe, my former book editor at The Johns Hopkins University Press.  I have just started reading Trevor's book, The Physics of Rugby, and it is a wonderful read.  Click here to get a copy from Amazon.  I highly recommend it!

Finally, I learned something else while watching the halftime show on NBC.  I did not know the name Mark Bingham.  Born just 106 days before I was, he played on championship rugby teams at UC Berkeley.  Mark Bingham was one of the heroes on United Airlines Flight 93, which went down ten years ago today.  I'm glad to have watched the rugby halftime show because I got to learn about Mark Bingham.  Click here for his Wikipedia page.  Click here for efforts made after Bingham's death to give people who are victims of prejudice an opportunity to shine on a rugby field.

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