Friday, October 14, 2011




A couple of months ago Mike Malone and I received an e-mail from Mitch Eisenberg, aboard the USS Carl Vinson, who is the organizer of the ship's rugby team. The Carl Vinson was due to take part in Fleet Week festivities in San Francisco and me wanted his guys to have a run.

Not having any local contacts, he asked rugby supplier Matt Godek, a long-time friend of military rugby, for Bay Area contacts. Matt steered Mitch our way.

Mitch and Mike Malone are both attorneys, JAG officers, Mike having served in the Marine Corps.

We thought the California Maritime Academy would be a good fit and so did coach Steve Hiatt, and but for the fact that the CMA pitch is being replaced with an artificial one they would have hosted. As it was, we needed to find a third.

San Francisco-based BA Baracus has a reputation for hosting and entertaining touring sides, and true to form they readily agreed.

Two other referees were available: Bryant Byrnes and Jordan Bruno, as well as Bryant's son Clay and my grandson Ben Bravo to TJ.

The format for the competition would depend on which teams turned up with what numbers.

As it was, the fog was rolling in at the Ocean View rec center and the Navy men were late. CMA, preparing for a collegiate Sevens qualifier at the end of the month at St. Mary's, came prepared only to play sevens. So Baracus and the Maritime Academy played two games of sevens, by which time the guests of honor arrived.

Next, Maritime would play the sailors in sevens, after which the CMA team would depart. Then Baracus and the Carl Vinson would play an eighty-minute match of fifteens.

There was a large and boisterous crowd on the touch line, many of whom were new to the game and pretty much cheered or jeered at every play, depending. Perhaps ten of the sailors were taking part in their first-ever match.

Understand that they train on the hangar deck of the ship, it being a metal-surface parking structure for aircraft.

Lieutenant Commander Eisenberg played for the All Navy team early in the last decade and has taken on the responsibility of spreading the gospel of rugby.

Baracus 7 – MARITIME ACADEMY 19 Referee: Bruce Carter
ARs: Ben Bravo, Clay Byrnes
Maritime is preparing to play in the California Sevens at St. Mary’s October 29-30. This will be a qualifier for the USA Rugby College Sevens Championship.

Baracus 12 – MARITIME ACADEMY 21 Referee: Bryant Byrnes
ARs: Ben Bravo, Clay Byrnes

MARITIME ACADEMY 14 – USS Carl Vinson 12 Ref: Carter
ARs: Jordan Bruno, Bryant Byrnes
The Academy team took at two-try lead, after which the Navy men found their land legs and scored the last two.

B.A. BARACUS 60-ish – USS Carl Vinson 10 Referee: Jordan Bruno
ARs: Ben Bravo, Bruce Carter
Referee Coach: Bryant Byrnes
Naval Rehydration Counselor: Clay Byrnes
The inexperience of the Carl Vinson crew showed through, as Baracus ran in probably ten tries in the first sixty.

Ironically, their inexperience showed even on their first try, when the Carl Vinson winger ran about 68 meters toward a 70-meter try. His teammate, knowing it was the winger’s first game, called out, “Put the ball down.”

Perhaps the caller was an officer. In any event, the winger proved his obedience by dotting the ball as nicely as you please this side of paydirt. Luckily, there was support – plenty of support – and the try was collected with a minute and a half left.

After being blanked for 78 minutes, the Navy boys managed a second try after a series of phases from the re-start! There may have been some synergy for ‘let’s play two’ but the post-equinox darkness was setting in.

After the matches we repaired to Ireland's 32 on Geary Avenue, where I bent the elbow many a time in the early eighties. They used to pass the hat there for the "freedom fighters".

A lonely, near-empty Saturday-evening room was transformed into a loud, crowded, happy place as fully and rapidly as only a rugby crew can do. The bartender wisely called in reinforcements.

My wife and I decided that in this decade we would contribute to the cause of the freedom fighters, with Linda buying and pouring pitchers of Sierra Nevada, telling the sailors who said, "Thank you, ma'am", "Call me mom!"

This is not to imply that Baracus neglected their duties: no-one wanted for food or drink and the sailors' money was no good at all.

From there all were invited to Baracus' pub on Haight Street to watch the RWC quarterfinals.

LCDR Mitch Eisenberg had invited those who wished to tour the carrier on Sunday. The referee corps all wished: this is a Nimitz-class carrier whose first home port was Alameda.

Sunday morning at the Ferry Building saw sailors and Marines on shore leave and a mounting crowd for the air show later in the day. We were stopped by guards at the embarkation point only to find our names were not on the list for tours. Disappointment.

But then, the magic word: Rugby. That and 'the lawyer'. Even the guards seemed to know that the ship's attorney ran the rugby team (this on a ship with a complement of about 5000) and that he was offering a personally-guided tour, hence no list of names. Just then, around the corner strode Mitch like the Pied Piper, a contingent from the Maritime Academy in tow.

Rugby opens doors. I've played or refereed in eighteen countries, made friends all over the globe, and done some pretty cool things following the unpredictable bounce of the oval ball. Visiting one of the mightiest warships on Earth with my family and friends on a glorious, sunny day on San Francisco Bay - all I can say is, if I refereed another sport I probably would not have gotten the opportunity.

Special thanks are due to Mitch Eisenberg, who gave up a day of liberty in San Francisco to escort some new rugby friends around his sea-borne world. The Spirit of the Game is alive and well in this officer's heart.


It’s not enough to read about the activities of the Flock on Hail, Pelicus!



We are hurting for enough referees to cover these events. Please raise a wing and volunteer – if you’d already done so, thank you.

And if you are reading this on Thursday night or Friday morning and you can play hooky on Friday, October 14, they could use you at the Fiji Day Sevens at Sheeran Field at Golden Gate. At present we have three refs for Friday for a highly-competitive tournament with a festival Island atmosphere.

Your scribe is off to New Mexico to help out with a Referees with Promise camp at the High Desert Classic or else he’d be there.


In Chico:
NorCal Triple Threat – Tempe Referee: Lee Salgado
No report received.

EPA Lady Razorbacks – Opponent Referee: Bruce Ricard
No report received.

Santa Clara – Alumni Referee: John Coppinger
No report received.

UOP – McGeorge Referee: Scott Wood
No report received.

SF Fog 0 – TEMPE 41 Referee: John Pohlman
T.Js: Amy and Mollie from the FOG
My first rugby game of the fall was both an enjoyable challenge and a safe journey.

The safe journey relates to how I finished last season: being run into on May 29th while refereeing an under-19 all-star game, breaking a rib and puncturing a lung.

Finishing this game healthy was good. Not visiting the doctor was great.

The enjoyable challenge started at the Job Corps Field on Treasure Island. The FOG were hosting Tempe in a Division 1 Woman's game. Both teams are part of the Pacific division which includes teams from Seattle, Portland, Northern California and Arizona. I believe this may have been the end of the season for both teams.

I arrived at 10:00AM for an 11:00 o'clock kick off. It was a welcome sight to see two old friends coaching the teams. The FOG is being coached by Ben Whiskey, formerly from Vallejo. Tempe is being coached by an ex-teammate friend of mine, Brad Fligas.

Both teams had plenty of players warming up and the field looked good.

The FOG was being captained by Jen Tetler. Jen is a fellow Pelican. The FOG has lost a lot of experienced players but still looked to have 30 dressed players. Many rookies. Tempe was captained by Katie "Pudge" Wright.

Both captains did a great job. There was no complaining or arguing from the players.

Jen won the toss and elected to receive.

This was an interesting game. Both teams had good athletes but Tempe was better organized and had Pudge at #9 leading way. Tempe's #8 and #10 were also experienced players. This led to multi-phase ball which broke down the FOG defense and allowed winger #15 Mary Whittaker to score trys at 7, 14, 16, and 39 minutes. Mary was about 5'2" and 110 with full kit. But when she had space, she could carve it up.

Half time score Tempe 31 FOG 0.

The FOG slowed down Tempe in the second half, for a final Tempe 41 FOG 0.

I blew my closing whistle and heard a noise which overwhelmed my whistle. The thunder over head was planes buzzing the field. Yes, The Canadian Snowbirds started their air show with a fly over. Oh yeah it was fleet week and TI is one of the best spots to catch the action.

After the game I was gathering rosters and feedback, with the air show going on, the Navy ships littered throughout the bay...the FOG women dressing in a western theme and the smell of pig roast throughout the air. Life is good.

What... I mean what could you possibly add to this scene. While the free beer helped, it was the Daisy Duke theme that most of the FOG players chose to wear that caught my eye.

Yes take me back to the 80's and the Daisy Duke short shorts and halters, thank you ladies. Life maybe good, but Rugby Life is Great.

Seconds: SF Fog – Tempe Referee: Bruce Ricard
No report received.


You can register as a referee, player and/or coach all at the same time.

Matter of fact, it’s much easier to do it at the same time… it’s difficult to go back.

If you go to:

Membership Forms
Dual Role Registration Form

Fill out the dual role registration form and submit

Rugby Aboard
Lieutenant Commander Mitch Eisenberg, who organizes and plays for the USS Carl Vinson’s rugby team, welcomes a flock of Pelicans aboard ship.

Left to right: Bryant Byrnes, Clay Byrnes, Bruce Carter, Ben Bravo, LCDR Eisenberg, Don Goard


For the Senate
Pelicus Scriptoris