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An American in the French Languedoc

Super Rugby Bowl

Today was Super Bowl Sunday in the United States. Coincidentally, the Elite Rugby League battle of the Corbières between rivals FC Lezignan and AS Carcassonne occupied the regional sports marquee.

Commercials for the Super Bowl telecast will exceed $1 million for each intelligence-challenged thirty-second segment. Admission tickets will exceed four and five-figure dollar sums for choice seats (if they can even be obtained). The game itself will likely be cautious and forgettable as the majority of these overhyped contests have become. 

At Moulin Stadium in Lezignan, the best and only seats on the grounds are ten euros. But why sit? The best viewing is available by strolling the stadium railing or standing adjacent to one of the team benches field level. The matches rarely lack in activity or pace, regardless of outcome. The colorful spectators add to the amusement…especially with their choice of insult. Piped music and raucous group cheers add to the intimacy of the 3500 fans packed inside. 

Rugby is the sport of preference within the Languedoc. Soccer is played but rarely draws well unless the French National team opts for a Montpellier venue. The concentration of professional rugby teams occupies the southern quadrant of France. Most villages field a competitive squad. At the professional level, heftier foreign players are imported from the United Kingdom, South Africa and the South Pacific to supplement the more domestically stocked skill positions. 

My own genuine interest in professional sports dimmed significantly when I began to become older than the participants. Their excessive salaries contributed to my apathy. An American professional football career is brief. National Football League player’s careers rarely exceed six years and even the best rarely excel past thirty years old. I’ve seen enough former competitors (some who I played against) retire gracefully before thirty with fused vertebraes, severe nerve damage and persistent migraines from excessive physical contact. 

Many earned their salaries since they will be functionally unable to work (at least physically) the rest of their adult lives. Most will fade into certain oblivion, an uncomfortable adjustment following an abbreviated lifetime of disproportionate attention and acclaim. 

On the Lezignan gridiron, AS Carcassonne dominates the early action with two immediate essais (touchdowns), two conversions and a penalty field goal for and an early 14-0 lead. During their November encounter at Carcassonne, the hosts won 24-12; Lezignan however is currently in the league’s fourth position with 8 wins, 4 losses and 1 tie. Carcassonne is in seventh place with a comparable 7 win, 4 loss and 1 tie record. Each are still in a position to catch the leader Toulouse, but only seven matches remain in the season. 

After the second score, a Carcassonne supporter clad in lemon yellow scoffs “this is too easy!” A surging essai by Lezignan counters his optimism eight minutes later. The conversion kick is shanked wide, so the gap is merely closed to 14-4. The scoring stalls over the next twenty minutes and the first half concludes with no points added. 

FC Lezignan supporters are wrapped in kelly green regalia and a curious green beret tops off the décor. It is one of the few instances I’ve actually seen berets in France, contrary to a popular American misconception. I think American high school French language teachers continue to promote this fetish to a credulous audience of indifferent students.   

There are multiple announcements praising local businesses supporting the local team. Their names are read so quickly, it begins to resemble a phone book recital. There is an extended pitch directed towards the regional wine tent, promoting local vintages. Curiously everyone has a beer or soft drink in his or her hands. Men outnumber women three to one. 

Play or rather the melee resumes. Rugby always seems one punch away from a full-scale brawl. There is numerous kicking, scraping, pushing, gouging and in between jabs, full tilt sprints with the ball, generally ending badly for the carrier. There is no protective gear as in American football, so the pops reverberating throughout the stadium are full throttle bones colliding. Injury pauses are an expected interruption and frankly, I think cortisone chewables should be standard issue for all players. 

The players are spirited and athletic, but not comparable to the physical specimens playing university or professional level American football. My thought throughout the match was if several American football gladiators were inserted into either line-up, there would be homicide rather than bruised muscles, bleeding and cramps. I doubt many of these players will have extended careers, judging by the extended contact they endure each match. 

Carcassonne scores a third essai and conversion during the first eight minutes of the second half. Lezignan however is not planning to be embarrassed on their home turf and gamely crawl back with two essais of their own over the next thirty minutes. They are within striking distance as the score narrows to 20-16.  

Unfortunately, the game clock is unsympathetic and Carcassonne is able to stall out the remaining two minutes and claim victory. After eighty minutes of menacing stares, shoving and vile threats, both teams embrace at the center of the field and bury the games aggressions. 

The biting cold of February prompts a frenzied exit past the wine tent and towards the jammed parking lot. The team clubhouse beer concession is in full throttle and seems like an appropriate outlet to commemorate this rousing competition. The walls inside the clubhouse are lined with team photos and mementos of past greatness. This years team is the centurion club and although they will unlikely add any new award hardware to the inventory, their grit and enthusiasm is both admirable and comparable to their predecessors. 

The American Football Super Bowl is scheduled for a midnight live television viewing here, due to the time differences. I’ll read the summary tomorrow. I hope each corporate advertiser got their respective multi-million dollars worth of recognition. 


Marques Vickers

Marques Vickers uprooted from Northern California to the Languedoc region of southern France in June 2005. He currently resides in the wine village of Montseret.  

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