It's my secret shame that I love watching World Cup soccer. I know, this may forever taint all of your opinions of me from here until the Apocalypse, but it's the sad truth. Like most red-blooded Americans, I really couldn't give a flying disembodied nutsack about soccer most of the time, but for one month every four years I seem to find myself inextricably glued to the television watching every frustrating failed goal-scoring attempt like it was James Bond trying to disarm a planet-smashing nuclear warhead with two seconds left on the timer and the fate of Western civilization hanging in the balance. I become one of those guys who tell their co-workers, "Wow, that was a great match", after a 1-1 tie game that was, in all actuality, probably about as boring as a textbook on Neanderthal art history. I use the word "pitch" to refer to a soccer field, even though the word causes me actual, physical pain every time I say it. I really can't explain exactly what it is that turns me vaguely-European for four weeks out of the year... maybe it's the blood-and-guts drama, maybe it the way so many people from all over the world seem to think that this is the greatest shit since baked potatoes, maybe it's the fact that it comes on in the middle of the workday and gives me a legitimate excuse for ditching my cubicle and watching sports in an unoccupied conference room, or maybe it's just that it's supported by a fucking psychic mini-Kraken that serves as the closest thing real-life has to a creepy-as-hell aquatic Hypnotoad. It's like every time the World Cup rolls around there's some sort of bizarre vortex that tears a hole in the fabric of the universe just long enough for the citizens of America to realize what life might have been like if the Revolutionary War had gone a little differently and we were still run by British, and, much like our period as one of the King's colonies, it's pretty cool for a little while but eventually we get over it and go back to doing our own thing.
There is, however, one dark, unspeakable aspect of international soccer that I cannot in good conscience seem to overlook. One monumentally un-badass facet of the game that dominates the sport, and which rears its hideous bulbous head with such alarming frequency that it's impossible to watch an entire match without clenching your fists in a mildly-pissed sense of outrage – the unbridled, shameless flopping.
Soccer is probably one of the only organized sports out there that actually rewards pussy behavior (though I have to admit that basketball is getting there). Like it or not, for whatever reason there's a huge incentive in the sport for some big, supposedly-tough douchebag to send himself hurtling through the air every time his opponent's leg gets anywhere close to the ball. These goddamned floppers routinely go flying at the first sign of a challenge, and then spend two minutes rolling around on the pitch howling and weeping like they've just been shot in the kneecap at point-blank range with a shotgun. Then, as soon as the foul is called, these faking assclowns just pop up like nothing's wrong and start sprinting around without so much as losing a step. Sure, I have no doubt that it probably hurts like a motherfucker when you get tripped up while running at full speed, but this is some of the most ridiculous weaksauce shit I've ever seen. Every other sport has a culture that requires you to take it like a man – don't let the other fuckers see that they hurt you, get your ass up, and tough it out. Don't give them the satisfaction of knowing that they've hurt you, and don't stop trying to crush peoples' faces inside out until you hear the whistle. In some soccer games it's more like there are twenty-two NFL wide receivers on the field simultaneously bitching and complaining about calls – some of these guys spend so much time rolling around or arguing with the refs that they completely take themselves out of what might have actually been an interesting play, shamelessly trying to draw a bullshit foul call rather than actually playing the fucking game the way it was intended. It's infuriating, especially to people who enjoy badassitude.
The game of rugby is the exact opposite of soccer. I won't pretend that I really know anything about the sport – I think I've probably watched three rugby matches in my entire life, and those were at like four in the morning while I was intoxicated and not in any position to be trying to remember or absorb any sort of new information. I tend to think of it as a crap-your-pants insane cross between Mutant League Football, Blood Bowl, Base Wars, and Kill the Man with the Ball, and from what I've seen, that might not be too far off. All I'm really certain of is that when you're talking about international rugby there's one team that perpetually dominates the sport year after year – the New Zealand All-Blacks – and among the All-Blacks, there's one man who is an epic legend that all badass aficionados (even those who couldn't give a crap about sports) should be able to appreciate: Buck Shelford.
I love that the cover of his biography is just him showing off his unstoppable ballsack.
Shelford is a New Zealander of Maori descent, meaning that his ancestors were part of an uber-intense warrior-culture that tattooed their faces, beat the shit out of European colonizers by clubbing them in the dome with jade bludgeons until their skulls exploded out their ears, and cut off the heads of their enemies to carry around as trophies demonstrating how good they were at killing people and lopping off their heads. The Maori are seriously nuts, and you really don't want to cross these guys unless you enjoy being put in a headlock that's only marginally less decapitation-inducing than having a dude clamp a giant bear trap on your neck. In order to honor his heritage, Shelford revamped the haka, the moderately-terrifying dance the All-Blacks perform before games as a way of collectively threatening the opposing team with bodily harm just moments before beating the shit out of them with a few career-ending tackles that would leave most normal humans crumpled in a boneless heap on the floor. Shelford is believed by some people to be the greatest player to ever play at his particular position in rugby, whatever that position may be, and he captained the All-Blacks during a period of time when they went undefeated for three and a half straight years. What I'm trying to say is that he was good at rugby.
And now, finally, a good twelve hundred words into the article, we get to the crux of why I chose to include Shelford on the website this week – his incredible, literally balls-out actions during a match with the French national team in 1986 that was so hardcore and brutal it's simply known as the "Battle of Nantes". Actions that rank very high on the list of the most badass things ever recorded on the field of any sport throughout the course of history.
During his international match against the French, Shelford was basically just running around doing his thing (a "thing" that usually involved charging around the field without any kind of padding more protective than a headband and hitting dudes harder than Ronnie Lott decapitating a receiver on a crossing route) when all of a sudden, about 20 minutes in, he ended up on the bottom of a huge-ass pile of anarchy with a bunch of giant rugby motherfuckers kicking and clawing for the ball. In all the fighting and battling for possession, Shelford was jacked in the face with a bare-knuckled roundhouse punch that knocked out four of his teeth. But that wasn't the worst of it – not long after getting de-toothed with a sucker punch, a French cleat found its way through the pile and struck Shelford directly in the ballsack, ripping it open leaving one nut hanging out of his scrote.
You are reading this correctly – the guy got Monkey Steals the Peached by a fucking spiked boot in the middle of a rugby game. Displaying what can only be the utter, literal definition of balls-out, Shelford amazingly didn't even seem to give a shit about a wound that would have brought even a berserking Viking warrior to his knees in agony. Bleeding badly, missing a ball from his goodie sack, and in what could only have been excruciating pain in both his face and groin, Shelford didn't roll around on the turf crying like some kind of professional soccer flopper punk. He didn't get carted off to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency surgery. He didn't even go to the locker room strapped to the back of one of those little golf cart thingies. This psychotic madman got up, walked off the pitch holding his balls back in place, stood on the sidelines, and waited patiently while the team doc stitched up his nutsack on international television. Without anesthesia. With a cameraman right in his face, taping the entire gruesome procedure. I didn't find the footage of the incredibly-unhygenic surgery, but I'm not going to lie and say that I tried very hard, either. There are some things which can be sufficiently described with text and don't necessarily require people to see things that can never be unseen.
Seriously, are you kidding me with this shit? Not only is this the most insane tale of on-field toughness ever recorded, but shortly after having a threaded needle repeatedly jammed into in an area where most guys aren't particularly keen on inserting pointy objects, this unstoppable Rugby-Bot 9000 came back and played the second half with a stitched-up junkbag and a mouthful of gauze to prevent him from coughing and spitting blood all over the place Alice Cooper-style. Despite being only slightly more well-put-together than Frankenstein's Monster at this point, Shelford continued pushing it to the limit, and didn't slow down, half-ass it, or back down from hardcore contact – while trying to plow through for extra yards later on in the game he took yet another huge hit and ended up receiving a massive concussion. To this day the guy has absolutely no recollection of the game. Maybe that's a good thing… it would be the only game he played for the national team in which the All-Blacks lost, and intensive hardcore crotchal trauma is generally not the sort of thing most people would presumably be too keen on remembering. Shelford would get his revenge nevertheless, simply on principle alone – a year later he and the All-Blacks would square off against the same French team in the finals of the first-ever Rugby World Cup and with a fully-functioning ballsack (we can fix it… we can make it better, faster, stronger…), Shelford overcame his groin-kicking adversaries and led New Zealand to the world championship in the sport of professional badassball.
In honor of Buck, I should hope the All-Blacks would try to work a little bit group crotch-chopping action into their haka.
New Zealand Speakers
Rugby Hall of Fame