Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Palmer vs. Life

There's something oddly self-perpetuating about chiropractic colleges playing rugby. - Wes

No Holds Are Barred When Chiropractic Colleges Vie

(By John Helyar, Wall Street Journal; Dec 1, 1986)

MARIETTA, Ga. -- When classic rivalries are renewed each autumn, the bluebloods have their Harvard-Yale, the chiefs of staff their Army-Navy, the surfers their USC-UCLA. And the chiropractors have Life-Palmer.

For bone-jarring, bragging-rights passion, the more venerable classics have nothing on the annual rugby clash between the nation's two biggest chiropractic colleges. Their sixth meeting came one Saturday last month on the Life campus here. Before proceeding to what happened, several things should be noted that didn't: Nobody's jaw was broken, no "ringer" charges were leveled and the game wasn't stopped early on account of fighting.

All of these marked the 1985 game, making it hard to top for sheer electricity. Still, this year's game did feature a major brawl, much to the chagrin of a Palmer alumnus named William Godbey. The Alabama chiropractor, together with a Life-alumnus friend, had recently visited both campuses urging coaches and players to keep their cool this year.

"It's like the Alabama-Auburn game," says Mr. Godbey, who was jostled in the melee. "The intensity is just very high."

Why? In the beginning, there was D.D. Palmer, who founded the chiropractic discipline in 1895 and, soon after that, a school in Davenport, Iowa, to teach it. Palmer College of Chiropractic became the leading producer of chiropractors. Beginning in the 1960s, it also became a top rugby school. Its president at the time -- D.D. Palmer's grandson D.D. -- took a shine to the game and began giving rugby scholarships, drawing first-class foreign players.

Palmer and rugby were an unlikely combination. The sport, begun in England in 1823, is far older than Palmer's subject matter. And chiropractors have been second-class citizens of medicine while rugby has an elitist air. It has been called "a ruffians' sport played by gentlemen."

Rugby has much in common with American football. The teams seek to advance the ball over goal lines. A "try," worth four points [Now five. - Wes], is comparable to football's touchdown. If the ball, a bloated version of the football, is then successfully kicked through uprights, the conversion is worth two points. Teams can also score on three-point penalty kicks.

The game doesn't have football's forward passes or planned plays. It features deft laterals and a great deal of kicking. A team consists of 15 men instead of 11. There is no blocking, no substitutions and, for all the tackling, no pads. The game is fluid, stopping only for out-of-bounds balls or infractions. The latter often call for forming a scrum, in which eight players from each side interlock in a pack and struggle mightily for control of the ball.

"Those rugby players are tough, sure enough," says Sid Williams, 58, Life Chiropractic College's president and an old Georgia Tech defensive end. "I don't know all the rules, but I enjoy the sheer manhood out there."

This chiropractor-entrepreneur founded Life in 1974, and it grew to about 1,400 students by the early 1980s. But Mr. Williams still wanted something to build Life's prestige, something to promote the profession, something enabling Life to rub shoulders with big-name schools. He decided on rugby.
Dr. Sid, as he is known on campus, had another reason for picking rugby. He knew that Palmer played it, too. He is, in fact, a little obsessed with Palmer. He has portraits of founder D.D. Palmer and son-successor B.J. Palmer on his office wall. He bought B.J.'s Florida retirement home and made it a museum. He is also a Palmer alumnus who contends that Palmer has relinquished its early role of aggressively promoting the profession, a role that he is trying to assume. "They're the fountainhead," he says. "We're the spearhead."

With rugby scholarships, Life fast attracted top players. With success and an ambitious schedule, it started "having dialogue," as Mr.Williams puts it, with big-name schools. It had dialogue with the Harvard Business School to the tune of a 42-3 Life victory that gave Life the 1984 national graduate-school championship.

Life players keep one another going with on-field chiropractic injury treatment, a practice that opponents say gives the Lifers a near-bionic quality. Often, Life also brings along a chiropractic table, and its players sportingly offer treatments for non-chiropractic opponents.

Nevertheless, the team's success and stars (it currently features three members of the U.S. national team) have occasioned some sniping. "There are those who say it's the best team money can buy," says Edward Hagerty, the editor in chief of Rugby magazine. Mr. Hagerty says there are some 1,200 rugby clubs in the U.S., about half of them collegiate.

Palmer, which still gives its own rugby scholarships, remains a power. It won the first four Palmer-Life meetings and grew increasingly cocky. Last year, at a pre-game banquet for the teams, a Palmer player announced that his squad would "give a clinic" on rugby the next day. The Life players fumed and fretted -- and the next day, says then-captain Phil Delport, "we played in the roughest game I've been in in 26 years of rugby."

On the opening kickoff, Life's Glen DeGraaf charged down the field and into the well-placed elbow of a Palmer player. It broke his jaw. But Life raced to a 15-4 halftime lead, and in the late going, with the score 18-4, the game deteriorated into frequent fist fights before the referee stopped it early.
Life players unashamedly called it "a spiritual experience," while Palmer players repaired to the locker room to charge that Life had been using some ringers. Nearly all the Palmerites skipped the post-game beer bash, an unheard-of boycott of a traditional rugby intermingling rite called "the third half."

With all this having simmered for a year, the rivalry was ready to boil again this November. In Marietta, Dr. Sid told a pep rally, "Palmer is like Mother England, and we're the Colonies rising up against her." In Davenport, Palmer's acting head, 50-year-old Donald Kern, declared, "They've got a ways to go before they catch us."

Finally, it is the day of The Game. The 500 or so fans here on this gray day include a frenzied group from Woodlynne, N.J., who have come at the behest of Bob Super, Life's chief student cheerleader. They are waving school-color green and white pompons and chanting, "Life! Life! Life!" as the opening kickoff soars.

The early hitting is fierce. Palmer looks sharper early on but repeatedly misses penalty kicks. A gaggle of Palmer alumni look on anxiously with Mr. Kern. "Twenty years I've been watching this," he says, "and I still don't understand it." Life finally breaks through to score a try as the crowd goes wild. The conversion is good, and the score is 6-0.

That is still the score early in the second half when a Life player is tackled hard going out of bounds. Life captain Gary Lambert, feeling that Palmer player-coach Jonathan McKiever is gloating over the downed Lifer, administers a whack to Mr. McKiever's head. Mr. McKiever goes sprawling and a donnybrook is on.

After a referee's stern lecture, action resumes. Palmer finally hits a penalty kick, slicing Life's lead to 6-3. Mr. Williams, Life's president, nervously paces the sidelines. Life assistant coach Nick Howard nervously tells him, "We're going to win if we don't make any silly mistakes." Palmer blocks a Life kick, the ball rolls crazily around and Mr. Howard groans.

But Life's 6-3 lead stands up, and its players hug and whoop. Watching the victory throng, Mr. Kern of Palmer mutters, "Much as I hate to do this. . . . " He makes his way to Mr. Williams and shakes his hand. "Just glad to get out of there alive," says Dr. Sid, cordial in victory.
Everybody showed for the third half.

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