The Eugene Housewives 1979-1989: When Fun Ruled

By Amy Circus

Logo by Jill Chappel

It all began in the spring of 1979, when Kim convinced Andy to coach a women’s team. Kim solicited recruits on the University of Oregon campus, at a local bar and at the county fairgrounds. She begged friends and acquaintances feeding them the line, “You look like a rugby player.” And thus we assembled for our first practice. As an introduction, we watched a VHS tape of the New Zealand All Blacks as they annihilated an opponent. The match was neat and tidy, fast and furious, hard-hitting and competitive and we were confused. The following week, we took to the field and began practicing twice a week. Our three coaches, Andy, Tony and Lauren, all players with the local men’s team, were patient, kind, funny and dedicated; they stuck with us despite all the whining, moaning, bleating and grousing we could dish up in a 90-minute practice. They pared the game of rugby down to the minimum, feeding us the basics and nothing more. For example, they showed us proper tackling form, though we never actually tackled. Might as well wait for the banquet to serve the dessert, right?

After a few weeks, our Coaches announced an opportunity to play at the Portland Pigs Tournament. We broke into our cookie jars to contribute to the $60 entrance fee and, on May 5th, 1979, we arrived at Delta Park for our first match. We were a rag-tag group, just 14 players, sporting jerseys borrowed from the men’s team. We watched a few minutes of a women’s game in progress and felt relieved at how similar they looked to us in practice…or at least how we thought we looked. Soon enough it was our turn to take the field to play the Corvallis Cosmos. There were very few spectators but we felt all eyes were on us, and they were keenly aware we were new at this game. The referee said he would point out our miscues as the game progressed. He’d be earning his pay today, I thought.

The game commenced with a kickoff, followed by a whirlwind of running, pushing, shoving, bumping and panting. Whistle after whistle, this game of organized chaos began to make sense. We chased Corvallis players over every inch of green. As the final whistle blew, we collapsed on the spot, like a souffle whisked out of a warm oven. Then came the cheers – cheers of success, of satisfaction, of exhaustion. Corvallis had carved out a decisive win, 16 – 0, but we had survived and we had fun.

Sunday, we tried to lift our heads off our pillows, but found it nearly impossible. Duty spurred us on. We moved cautiously, assessing each creak and twinge our bodies revealed. At breakfast we compared notes and counted heads. Once refueled by coffee and home fries, we headed to the field for our encore. The designated pitch was deserted except for a men’s team warming up on a distant field. Our opponent was nowhere in sight. Was it possible we were overly prompt? Or was this typical for Sunday Tournament Rugby? Perhaps our performance the day before made such an impression, our opponents stewed all night anticipating their fate, and couldn’t muster the will to show up? “How rude,” teammate Deb announced. In reality, our disappointment was minored; yes, we were eager to play again, but our bodies were grateful to put it off until next weekend.

1891 Martha Cleveland Program

We returned to our practice regimen and eagerly sent an invitation to our new friends, the Cosmos, requesting they join us for a home game. Given their close proximity to Eugene, Corvallis became a regular sparing partner. The Corvallis and Eugene women’s teams shared many similarities, including that neither was affiliated with a college or university (this changed for Corvallis in later years). Our teams were a blend of students and women in the workforce but all of us were young. When fall season rolled around, our roster had 16 names, but we failed to field a full side for the first match. We were consistently lacking bodies but over time we learned the art of salesmanship, begging and borrowing players from other teams.

Slowly our roster filled out and we no longer had to cobble together a side. On occasion, opponents pestered us for our team name. I was never sold on the idea we needed a name or mascot and suggested that we just be the Eugene Women’s Rugby Club. Jayme, our charismatic hooker, had another idea. When the subject of a team name came up again, Jayme announced she had the perfect name, but was waiting until she had me in just the right mood before revealing it. I took that as a compliment, that Jayme needed my blessing.

Eugene was gaining a reputation as a team who liked to have fun, and who usually brought the fun with them. Early in our tenure we lost regularly. We rarely scored, so it was helpful to be motivated by something other than winning. We chose fun. Our Eugene team was a wonderful mix of unique, dynamic and quirky personalities with just the right ratio of performers to congregation – it equaled success. We loved to laugh, we loved to sing, and if you had a special talent, we were there to egg you on.

As we embarked on the next season, Jayme found just the right moment to unveil the team name. “Housewives,” she burst out enthusiastically. “Isn’t it great?…because none of us are.” Jayme began miming household chores and posing like magazine-ad housewife images of the 1950s. Whether it was Donna Reed, Laura Petrie or Carol Brady, Jayme had her covered. I actually liked Housewives – it was irreverent and cheeky, and it fit us. And it played off a rugby song we liked – I Don’t Want to be a Housewife. Our baptism as the Housewives wasn’t announced formally. Rather, we slowly began referring to ourselves as Housewives – The Eugene Rugby Housewives.

After two seasons of drought in the scoring department, we tasted our first success in April, 1980, winning our opening match at the Mudball Tournament in Seattle. We scored three trys against a new team from Willamette University. Our luck was fleeting and we lost our next contest with the Jericho Old Girls, which dropped us into Sunday’s match, pitted against our arch-rival, the Portland Zephyrs.

Portland was the opponent of record, but the real contest was with the weather. The match was played in pelting, freezing rain and blistering-cold wind coming off of Puget Sound. At half-time, our muscles tightened as we huddled close. After a few minutes, we ran to field positions and begged the referee to cut the intermission short and restart the game before we all froze. Both teams were grateful to resume play, one of the few times the Zephyrs and Housewives agreed on a referee’s call. Our jerseys, shorts, socks & cleats dripped with the rainwater collected from the skies. The water weight was compounded by the caked mud collected from every collapsed scrum or ruck. Each player suffered as they carried these pounds of weather. Our legs were already laboring with every step just to pull the adjacent foot from the suctioning mud. Backs’ fingers froze like crooked claws, making it impossible for them to catch the slimy ball passed from a teammate who was slipping into the mud.

The conditions erased any advantage either side had coming into the contest. We battled back and forth, neither side gaining ground, and many players silently yearning to hear the ref’s final whistle. Miraculously, Shawn, our flyhalf, found a hole in the defense, tapped into a repressed ballet step, and slipped her way into the end zone. We were thrilled, but the bitter cold had zapped our energy for revelry. The final minutes ticked away as both teams moved fruitlessly over the pitch, secretly aiming for the last patch of green not yet reduced to a mud puddle. Our joy and the Zephyrs disappointment was muted by the cold. Our congratulations were short & cursory, so much so, that had it been after any other game, it would have been considered insulting and fueled a vendetta for years. In this case, we all understood survival, so expressed our condolences while jogging together to the sideline, or offering a wave from 15 yards away. Then we made a bee line to our car, stripped off our walnut-colored mud, used the inside of our wet jerseys to wipe the mud off our bodies, and ditched the mass of landscape into a garbage bag. From there we jumped into the car and ransacked our kit bag for the extra sweats we’d saved for the ride home. After games like these, the six-hour trip home was almost welcome. While we wanted to be home and in the shower or in our fuzzy slippers, the time spent driving home was irreplaceable. We relived every minute of the game with our passengers. We praised a teammate’s gutsy play, or fully described another for the benefit of those who didn’t see it from the bottom of a muddy tackle. We congratulated one player, laughed at another, and relished time together and the misery that bonded us.

Even with success, we still strained to consistently field a full side. Together with Corvallis, we found a solution to our low numbers by combining forces for two major road-trips, competing as the Cosmic Housewives. Our closest opponent was 40 miles away, Portland was100 miles and Seattle 260 – a trip which became surprisingly routine. Our efficiency at hitting the road on a Friday night increased out of necessity. We’d leave work by 5, run home to grab our gear, and hop into the car with the driver of the first leg. Along the road, we’d be delighted to pass or be passed by a fellow car of ruggers, and even attempt to rendezvous at designated exits to grab food or just say hello. Excited conversation filled the car for the first hour or two, or perhaps a good radio station dictated singing, Motown being a particular favorite. Longer drives required backseat napping to be rested for the next driving shift. That season, the Cosmic Housewives, took 5th place at the Golden Gate Tournament in San Francisco, and two weeks later, made the 650-mile trip to Missoula, Montana for Maggot Fest.

1982 Martha Cleveland Program

Our identity crisis resolved, we surged ahead. Our levels of dedication to rugby ran the gamut. For some, it was the hub of life, with all facets of life revolving around rugby. They put careers or families on hold; others did not. Either way, once a newbie decided rugby was a good fit, they found a role in the team family. As new players arrived, we swept them into the fold, showed them the basics, and told them to keep up and that we’d explain more later. As a team, our experiences extended beyond the playing field. Rugby is an intimate sport – any forward remembers the first time they were told to put their head ‘here’ or grab your teammate ‘there.’ After repeated close encounters, we came to know each other's idiosyncrasies. Most of us had been raised outside of Eugene but now, in our adopted community, we functioned as surrogate mothers and sisters to each other. We were young women finding our way and our place. We welcomed the visits by our teammates’ parents and relatives; often their relatives became OUR relatives, too. The result was more extended family – a family caring about you, watching your back, and having a greater understanding of your history. Families thrive on the energy created within, and the Housewives’ cup overflowed. We put this untapped creativity, talent and education to work. As our first season drew to a close, we discussed awards and agreed we wanted annual awards to acknowledge field play or other contributions to the team.

  • Most Valuable Back

  • Most Valuable Forward

  • Most Improved

  • Cross-Your-Heart In Support Award

  • Rainbow Award (best bruise)

  • Honorary Housewife Award

Most of these seem self-explanatory, save the Cross-Your-Heart; awarded to that player who, on the field, always seemed to be there when you needed help. Voters were encouraged to interpret this personally, as well.

The Honorary Housewife Award developed from a crazy, pink gingham apron Jayme sported. There were no “finalists” for the Housewife Award, it was open to any team member named on the ballot. We were often amazed to see how like-minded we were in those years when the winner received a decisive number of votes. The first year, the Honorary Housewife Award was awarded to Mel – our fast moving, uncouth, quick-tempered, unrefined teammate – who impressed us with her knowledge of car engines, and her ability and willingness to fix that 'little noise under the hood.' Mel could also be found with a vacuum in hand after muddy cleats paraded through the post-game party house, or with a plumber’s helper, unclogging a toilet.

While the early 80’s were a struggle, our reputation as a competitive and fun side grew and by the mid-80’s we had become a good team, qualifying for the 1986 and 1987 National Championships.

1986 and 1987 Nationals Programs

(click images for full-size version)

But while winning was nice, we loved nothing better than devising a pre-game or post-game surprise, specially cultivated to make our guest opponent get in the spirit. Here are a few:

  • The Halloween special performance of The Wizard of Oz. Our fra