Steamboat’s Cowpie Classic from a first-time rugby fan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a native football-loving Texan, I never thought of the origin of the term, touchdown until I went to the Cowpie Classic rugby tournament in Steamboat Springs.
To score in rugby, the player must make sure he touches the ball down to the ground for what’s called a “try,” which is worth five points. It’s this rule that gives football the term touchdown.
The Cowpie Classic is in its 44th year in Steamboat, and you can tell. Vendors sell rugby jerseys and T-shirts, beverages and food. Every team has its tarp to reconvene and plan while snacking on bananas and water.
Most teams are from Colorado, but there’s also a “misfit” team of rugby players who sign up as individuals and come together to play the day of the tournament. One mens team traveled from Iowa City because somebody knew somebody from Steamboat and brought a team called the Iron Hawks.
The Steamboat Bull Trout would defeat the Iron Hawks 40-14 in its first game, then fall to Boulder in its second 14-7.
“We didn’t have the ball a lot, our players were giving up penalties,” Steamboat head coach and player Michael Hickey said. “When we have the ball in hand, we can dominate games, but we didn’t have the ball much because of penalties, so we constantly let them keep the ball in our half, limiting our opportunities to attack.”
In rugby, downs don’t limit possessions. Since it’s played in constant motion, a team can keep the ball for the majority of the game.
The Steamboat Heifers women also struggled with possession opportunities against the Pterodactyls, losing 10-5 early in the day.
The Pterodactyls were a team like the misfits, with players from all over, dressed in lime green bodysuits and shorts. But Steamboat would have its revenge in the championship game, defeating the Pterodactyls 17-0.
“I think this is our seventh Cowpie tournament as a women’s team, and I’ve played in all of them,” Steamboat player Sarah Tiedeken said. “Now, we have six women’s teams. We have a lot of returning teams who like to come every year. We’ve turned Cowpie into a consistent, coed tournament.”
The Steamboat men weren’t as lucky in the championship, which was played in the pouring rain.
In a bunched-up player formation called a scrum, the Steamboat mens players pushed the ball with their feet to edge into scoring position.
Hickey would pick the ball up and fall with it to the ground for a score late in the second half to bring Steamboat within five points of Vail.
Two spectator were watching with their lawn chairs folded in their arms. The man in a blue shirt asked the other in a white shirt, “Did you see how they kicked that in?”
He, too, was new to the rugby scene, but his friend had been coming for years.
The clock ran out and Steamboat fell to Vail, 22-17.
The man in the white shirt turned to his friend.
“I remember 40 years ago, all Steamboat had to do was run out the clock, then Vail won it on a penalty free kick. It was almost a riot.”
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