Eddie Duffy (C’20) pauses to evaluate the game. Photo courtesy of Duffy.
By Kristopher Kennedy
Per the old adage, rugby is “a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.” Perhaps no more apt a sport could be ascribed to Eddie Duffy (C’20), the consummate gentleman-hooligan, and a four-year member of the Purple Haze Rugby team at Sewanee.
When Duffy arrived at Sewanee in the fall of 2016, rugby was nowhere on his radar; he had grown up playing baseball until his junior year of high school, before picking up lacrosse for two years. When he came to Sewanee, Duffy reflected, “I wanted to play a sport, I wanted to be active, I wanted to do something,” but that something was yet to be determined.
That is until Duffy’s freshman roommate, Callan Low (C’20), proffered rugby. Low was a rugby player himself, and so the freshman Duffy figured, “Why not?” Duffy’s experience with the game was pretty minimal; he recalled, “The most exposure I got [to rugby] was the fact [that] my cousins had sent me a rugby jersey. That was pretty much it growing up.”
But Duffy quickly evolved into a Purple Haze fixture, playing as a hooker (one of the forward positions) since his sophomore year. His tackling skills have improved over the years, while he has always possessed a natural rucking (when multiple players from both teams contest the ball on the ground to claim the ball) ability, his game’s forte. Now, in his senior season, Duffy has become a technically-sound team leader.
In a game this fall against the University of Memphis, the Haze only had 13 players make the trip—in a sport that requires 15–and so two players had to be picked up, meaning every man had to play due to a total lack of subs. But, early in the first half, Duffy sprained both his ankle and his ACL.
Lying on the ground in agonizing pain, Duffy recognized that Memphis was making an offensive drive down the field, and so, as he remembered, “I go, ‘I can’t lay here anymore. I have to go and I have to help my team.’” And so Duffy played the rest of the half on that bum leg, a reflection of the warrior mentality and leadership-by-example he’s always brought to the table.
“The Sewanee Purple Haze is the SEC of Sewanee” is a common jest among the rugby team that does, in fact, possess elements of truth. Over the years, Duffy has competed alongside the Haze against schools such as Vanderbilt, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Mississippi State—as well as other DI programs like UAB and Memphis. As Duffy affirmed, “We play a lot of big DI schools and we don’t back down. We’re a scrappy bunch of boys.”
In regards to the rugby team’s perception across campus, Duffy believes the Haze are “not talked about.” He said, “Last year, we had one of our best years in three or four years and [there was] not a word…nothing in the Purple…no buzz on campus…I definitely wish we were talked about a little bit more.”
Duffy has been surprised by the community that surrounds rugby; he noted how integral sportsmanship and couth behavior are to the sport, stating, “You pat the guy on the back after 80 minutes [of] just beating the tar out of each other.” Duffy said that players from opposing teams will often hang out after the games, an anomalous feature of rugby that is seldom custom in other sports.
Duffy said that he is “one hundred percent” sticking with rugby after college, remarking, “I wanna keep playing for as long as I can.” But, wherever his rugby experience takes him, it will all have started with the Purple Haze. Duffy stated, “The guys that I have played with, the place that we have been…[rugby] is what I did first. Before I did anything else—I was a Sewanee student, and then I was a Sewanee Purple Haze player. I was able to find my niche, find my people, and from there it’s just been awesome.”