I'm lucky to do what I do for a living. I get to hold the sporting equivalent of Wonka's golden ticket, an all-access pass to watch the sport I love from the best seat in the house.
Sometimes that seat is on the sideline, from where I can feel the tackles and hear the pain; sometimes it's high above the action, in the commentary box, from where I can see the game unfold and talk about it with some of the best people to have ever played it; sometimes it's in a bar after the match, sharing a beer with people who know far more than me about the game and are always happy to share what they know.
On Saturday, however, I got to sit in the best seat of all: next to my friends Murph, Chris, Bex, Jay and Robert, on the aluminium bleachers of Baker Field, as the 1 train rattled to and from the Bronx behind us and our mates played the game of their lives on the hard and unforgiving turf in front. We were there for our club, for the Old Blue of New York. We were there, and so was every other club alumni who could muster the courage to get a leave pass from the missus for the weekend.
There was one missing, of course. Founder Bill Campbell would have been there, swearing with the best of them, if he hadn't gone and died the week before. Still, Campbell was so in love with his club that he managed one last act of generosity from the other side - he turned on the most perfect blue sky day after a week of Manhattan mist and gloom and rain.
The team must have known he was watching, for they went out and crushed the Life Running Eagles in a defensive display only matched in brutality by old boy Richard Luthmann's merciless cross-examination of the refereeing team.
Luthmann is no stranger to threatening behaviour. He once binge-watched Game of Thrones and attempted to settle a legal dispute in Staten Island (he was the defendant) by requesting the court give him the right to face off with the plaintiff in a trial by combat. He claimed the centuries-old practice had never actually been outlawed. The case was eventually settled. On Saturday night, he ate the button off my dinner jacket. I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't kosher.
The more genteel members of the club's alumni could not have been anything but impressed with the performance of veteran Dom Wareing, who spends his days teaching under-privileged kids how to play rugby and spent that afternoon rearranging the anatomy of his opposite. After one viciously twisting Wareing hit, the Life centre finally got to his feet, only to find he was actually running on his hands.
Club president Quentin Unsworth, an unimpeachable human with an emperor penguin's build and an intellect unrivalled in a tighthead prop, crushed everything that moved and revelled in the scrummaging contest, which ended with a unanimous points decision in favour of the Old Blue. Life went backwards so often their No 8 started making beeping noises.
The three key members of the backline were an Englishman, a Welshman and an Australian, but this is no place for jokes. First-five James Bird, who for some reason (other than being Welsh) attracts more heckling from his club mates than the opposition, managed to accidentally kick a couple of goals. That really sent the fans into raptures. All except for Jay, who had wagered his entire holiday fund and a pair of towel shorts on Bird missing every kick.
By the end of the afternoon, the Old Blue had won in a canter and the hotdogs and beers tasted better than ever in the sunshine at Baker Field. Club chairman Brian 'Murph' Murphy, legitimately one of the top five people to have ever loved the game, dropped us back in midtown before the club dinner and the night ended quite a few hours later at the Old Town bar.
It ended, of course, with one last beer. In the best seat in the house.