This past weekend made me proud to be a member of this team. The turn out of Riot players, active and old, was amazing. The turnout of Riot supporters there to cheer us on was also amazing, the main part of which seemed to be the offspring of Michael Archibald. Below you’ll find a brief write-up of the Riot’s efforts at the 2016 Whiskey 10’s tournament for your reading, if you were unlucky enough to not be there or if you were lucky enough to be there and wish to relive the glory.
Before reading the article, open the following link meant as background music to the article. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC9syForxPs Turn on your speakers or headphones, click the link, then immediately turn back to the article and begin reading.
Thanks for your time and thanks for being part of the Riot.
The Indian Removal Act was initiated in 1830 and was an American policy followed well into the 20th century. Under it, many American Indians died tragic deaths. That is the history now known, a history of sadness. Out of the 500 Nations, few had the strength to fight the American settlers. Despite the defeat in the Sioux war in 1881, the Great American Plains remained a bloody battleground because of one nation, the Comanche. The Comanche were a fierce group who relied on speed and skill to dominate the region. Warriors in heart and spirit, every Comanche believed deeply in fighting and war. So much that no Comanche ever surrendered, even their women and children refused to retreat and fought to the death. In fact, the Comanche were such fierce warriors that their very name “Kimantsi” is Ute for “Enemy”. By 1865 the Comanche had defeated the Apache, a much larger tribe, for dominance over horses and land. It was in the spirit of the Comanche that the Riot took the field on Saturday.
In the pregame, players were tight with anxiety and energy. There was the feeling of a strong horse in a stable, kicking the wooden planks. Silence, thud! You're startled, your attention is arrested, your heart is beating fast. Nothing happens for a while. You start to walk away past the stable and shake your head and shake off the worry. Then, again. Silence, thud! It was the feeling that something would break and something would happen, sudden and frightening. The first team representing the Riot donned their black jerseys, black like the angry hair of a Comanche warrior riding wildly- black hair, copper skin, copper sand, blue sky. And in their hearts there was black, contrasting the green grass, white lines, gray skies, festive tournament- for the Riot Black took whatever was pent up and hurt the Rockford Misfits. Some of the Old Boys had not played in years, and there was a brief part of the game as those players adjusted to game speed. It took only a moment though, and then the group was working as a unit, delivering punishing hits and running with blistering speed. Men like Josh Venkus, who hit so hard I thought he was trying to make right something from long ago, a past far beyond him, something ancient; and hits from Nick Zoustros, who was Zoust-astic. The Comanche of the past weren’t so much a tribe, there was no cultural hierarchy. They operated as loosely formed bands, with flowing relations, with individuals stepping up to lead when needed. So too with the Riot Black in the first game. Forming pods and forcing gaps, and tackling effectively as a team. This plan was effective, as the Riot Black won against Rockford, 10 to 3. Each player found a moment where he was needed and where he stepped up and lead.
The Riot Yellow team was a newly formed band of warriors, many of whom had yet to play together. Riot Yellow’s first game did not go well, Fox Valley 40, Riot Yellow 0. Fox Valley was a very strong team and would go on a deep run in the playoffs. Riot Yellow struggled to organize and struggled to get their rhythm going on offense. Most of the game was fought in Riot Yellow territory, but there were shining moments. Andrew Abtahi repeatedly broke the Fox Valley line and ran, his feet only touching the ground long enough to take flight again, dirt and dust and sweat and hard work filling the air behind him. The Riot Yellow understood that a warrior is defined by his courage, and the yellow of the Riot’s jerseys was the only thing that did not speak of courage on that field. Though the team hadn’t worked in the first game, the individual efforts were immense. Due to miscommunication at the beginning of the second half, Pierre Lafon was assigned to play the pack and also the back line. With esprit d’honneur that would do Lafayette’s memory justice, Pierre played with immense energy, tackling all over the field, as often with the backs as in the pack. Unfortunately, individual efforts will often be beaten by team efforts and the Riot Yellow were devastated. As the players walked off the field, the Earth gave them mixed omens, the sun came out, but the players’ gaze fell upon the ski hill next to the field, remind the Riot Yellow of the work they had before them.
On a quick turnaround, Riot Black faced old rivals the Iowa City Ducks and the Riot Black were on the hunt for another win. With jerseys still wet from the hard work in the first game, the Riot Black jumped out to an early lead and the side lines assumed the game decided. An unsettling occurred. The relaxed and cheery sideline grew quiet and sick as the horrible sounds of hard hitting disturbed the air, their ears, their hearts. It was a sound hard to explain, but your brain would recognize what it was hearing, even over the din of jokes and laughter and beer and sunglasses; it is the sound of weight, of pounds of fleshy hate slamming into like kind. It is the sound of force. It is a crack, of skin breaking, of bones bending, of sweat spitting. The two teams raged against one another, hurling bodies and forearms and knee caps and skulls at eachother like so many weapons. It is the sound a tomahawk makes when it hits a tree. A use of force to stop another. With heads down, mouth opened with uncertainty and disgust, fans realized the sound was coming from the field and the crowd nervously, though completely watched a difficult game unfold. Iowa City would have their say and worked hard to tie up the game, then take the lead. The Riot Black battled, as if to the death, and maybe if they had more time the Riot Black could have regained momentum and kept their perfect record. Like so many histories, circumstances were against them and when the pitch of the whistle arrested the cracking sounds of body against body, will against will, and the game ended, the Riot Black lost, 19 to 10.
At Mid-day break the sun was out, the beer was cold, and the team let loose. Black Shel Silverstein was telling us where the sidewalk ends, some rugby fanatics watched international play on their phones, there was teasing, and lazing, and arm chairs put to good use. There was laughter and friendship, there was enjoyment and life. Which is what the day is really about and what the Riot loves most. Both teams had a break and that break was enjoyed in many ways but all as a team. This reporter could sense however, underlying it all was a focus on the rugby left to be played. It was a great thing to be a part of, people carousing, but only so long as they were kept from taking the field again. Then it was time for the Riot Yellow to take the field again and they looked to fix their kinks and succeed as a team. Unfortunately, Riot Yellow was up against a highly experienced and highly talented South Side Irish team. Riot Yellow showed dramatic improvement, the dark spirit form the first game was dead and Riot Yellow focused on fundamentals and clicking as a unit. Riot Yellow deployed an important tactic, though they were outmatched, with each score against them, Riot Yellow conferred and agreed on a single issue to work on until it improved. Riot Yellow continued this tactic and Riot Yellow gained strength as the game went on. Concentration and toughness characterized the Riot Yellow’s second game of the day. And here is what I mean. SSI scored six times during the game. Each time they kicked off, their talented fly half was able to put the ball in the same exact spot. Every time that ball dropped from Sister Sky to Mother Earth exactly ten meters from the point of the kick. This allowed the SSI pack to attack with ferocity and exactness. Dustin Leatherman was there every time, in the same exact spot, there to catch and secure the ball for the Riot Yellow, and there to get pummeled by the SSI. Yet Dustin did not waiver, he caught the ball, got smashed, and got back up to do it again. Every time. I can only imagine what was in his head, but I know that it was ice and steel that was in his veins. Though the game was only 20 minutes, many skirmishes had broken out and about half-way through the second half, with tempers flaring, Riot Yellow took a violent stand. A fight broke out and the impartial ref called the game to avoid any further chaos. Though the Riot Yellow was gaining momentum, and was therefore disappointed the game was stopped early, a man can only take so much and has to make a stand when it was necessary. The Comanche fought to the death and the Riot Yellow would not lay down either. Once play was over, so was the heat of the fight. In manly sportsmanship, the Riot yellow shook hand with the SouthSide Irish players.
Riot Black was still in the hunt for the playoffs, so they saddled up and rode toward destiny. I wonder if the fans sitting on blankets were able to feel vibrations on the ground. I wonder if any one knows what their future holds. By 1885 the last Comanche leader, Quanah Parker had lost his wife, his children, and all his relatives. Yet he had not lost his willingness to fight. Again and again, Quanah rode out with a band of warriors to raid ever more settled and urban towns and ranches. Quanah was considered the last Comanche Chief, though the Comanche never developed such an office. It is because Quanah rejected assimilation, and also because Quanah fought hard to secure resources and wealth to provide for his people, and it was lastly because he was the last American Indian fighting that he was considered the last of the most brave and brutal American Indian nation the world had seen. Riot Black took the field and met the fate and the Chicago Dragons. Riot Black were brutal against the Dragons, running hard and tackling harder, like the edge of knives. Riot supporters held their breath in a scary moment when Torrian James lay on the ground with a knee injury after making an incredible play in Dragon territory. Torrian was able to walk off the field however, proving that not even Torrian James can hurt Torrian James. The Comanche had a strange grieving ritual. When a family member was hurt or lost, a Comanche would cut him or her self repeatedly. Devin Dowling, seeing Torrian’s injury, eventually enacted his own blood letting ceremony, smashing his own nose out of grief in a tackle. As Devin walked off the field, his nose flowing, he was smiling, I guess because he made the hit, or maybe just because he’s Devin. While the third and final Riot Black game was being played (the Riot Black would not make the playoffs because other teams had similar records, but greater point differentials), Jim Riemma was somewhere in safety, in a rented tux, on a parquet laminate dancefloor, his head kicked back and face smiling up at the drop tile ceiling illuminated pink and purple, shouting “Criss cross! Criss Cross! E’rybody clap your hands!” in a voice cracking with excitement. Little did he know that the Riot Black were sprinting to an amazing shut out against the Dragons. After the Riot Black-Dragons game, the sullen Dragons sought to a small victory in any way they could. Riot Black player Doug Anderson spoke with a Dragons representative after the game, extending the modern equivalent of the peace pipe, an invitation to Mahoney’s to celebrate with the Riot after the tournament. Perhaps of was a case of “fool me once, Doug” that the Dragons representative turned Doug down, or perhaps it was frustration over the outcome of the rugby game, but Doug was told that the Dragons would be washing their hair that night, proving two unfortunate realities: 1) the Riot-Dragons treaty that stood for so long was over, 2) Jim Riemma would be the only one getting married that weekend. Sorry Doug.
I can hear now the wind between the soaring feathers. It was not at the time, but it is so loud in my ears now. The final game for the Riot was the third game for Riot Yellow and Father Eagle soared high above. So did the hopes and expectations of the Riot Yellow. The team was improving rapidly and it was time to chase down a win which had eluded them all day. It was a game where every player on the Yellow side pitched in and it worked. The Riot jumped out to an early lead. On the second kickoff, Big Jason tackled the receiver so hard the receiver’s body went jelly. Did you know this, if you ground bones you can make gelatin? Big Jason hit someone so hard that the man’s bones structure became meaningless and the receiver’s arms, head, feet, and shins stayed in one place, but his torso went Westward by two feet, so that the man formed a perfectly curved “C”. I’ve seen many things in my life, but I had never seen a man turned into jelly. It brought up a feeling I didn’t like, a primitive feeling, but also thrilling. I could see why early humans picked up a rock to destroy another man’s skull, the rock is harder. The bones turn to jelly. And I watch Big Jason make that tackle and I smiled grimly because I saw something I had never seen before and because I was glad I was on the same team as Big Jason. He was not the only man to hit hard in the third Riot Yellow game. Brandon Myers seemed to be everywhere at once, both on the offensive and defensive effort hitting hard and breaking Lake County’s lines. Brandon’s hair style for that day was a cunning one. A bushy beard but no hair on top, he confused opponents by looking as if he’d already been scalped. His play was no laughing matter and neither was the game. The Riot Yellow jumped out to an early lead of two tries, but then let the pressure off and Lake County jumped right back into the game. It was a see-saw match from there, and time plain old ran out on the Riot Yellow. They were down a score when the final whistle blew, but if that game was full length then there can be little doubt the Riot Yellow would have won.
By the end of the tournament, every one felt very good. We had a lot of fun, we played well, we got a few new bruises, and we renewed the spirit of the Riot, a team who looks upon a Spring of renewal. If you look at the team photo at the end of the tournament, not only are you impressed by the handsome faces and the sweet noodies, but you’ll see men who are able to step away from their individual lives, their individual needs, and come together for a common cause. After the tournament, the war party went to Mahoney’s to become a St. Pat’s party and we continued to strengthen our friendships, reconnect with old friends, and celebrate the history of our tribe and our people. The Riot Black and the Riot Yellow were both mixtures of Old Boys and Actives and in that mix we found success. I must admit, I lingered quite a long time on the rugby pitch Saturday. It was difficult for me to walk away. The strength of the bonds of the Riot club had me tethered. I’m sure many Riot members know what I am referring to. I sincerely hope that going forward you feel the tug of the bond and you do not pull away. I hope that the whole club pulls together and continues our success from the tournament. Today, the Comanche has dwindled to just 17,000. Only 1% speak their native language. It will take the effort, heart, and energy of all the wonder people that make up the Riot Rugby Club to make this Spring a success and to keep our nation strong.