"I used to think," Eric Watson once told me in Dunedin, about 30 years after he'd coached the All Blacks early in the 1980s, "that you were the biggest prick unhung. Now I think you mightn't be such a bad bugger after all."
I've thought about Eric, and what he'd said, with warmth this week, when comparing his honesty to the weird, mealy-mouthed nonsense that was spouted on behalf of both sides in the Israel Folau settlement, and the daft way Quade Cooper talked about the repercussions after he famously kneed a prone Richie McCaw in the head.
• Phil Gifford: Journalists and officials must continue battle against drugs in sport
• Phil Gifford: The four biggest truths in New Zealand Rugby's hunt for the next All Blacks coach
• Phil Gifford: Seven talking points from the final weekend in Japan
There can be genuine apologies in sport. Ben Stokes was surely sincere when, as soon as the Cricket World Cup final at Lord's was over, the title won by England from a defection off Stokes' bat as he ran between wickets, Stokes told an interviewer, "I said to Kane [Williamson, Black Caps captain] I'll be apologising for that for the rest of my life. It was not the way I wanted to do it... the ball going off my bat like that... I apologised to Kane."
That's an apology.
On the other hand, the Folau debacle ended with the sort of statement only a lawyer could love, and not just because every weasel word would have added zeroes to already fat legal bills.
Rugby Australia was apparently sorry for the whole thing. "While it was not Rugby Australia's intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus."
Israel was sorry too.
"Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused."
Gregor Paul: Video has robbed rugby of its essence
D-Day revealed: All Blacks moment of truth awaits for Robertson
'One of the dirtiest players': Quade Cooper reveals McCaw confrontation
In other words, read any damn thing you like into the rights and wrongs. Because really, if Rugby Australia is genuinely sorry for "any harm or hurt" visited on the Folaus, does that mean Folau's reiteration on social media that gays are doomed to go to hell, after promising he wouldn't do it again, was okay?
Does it mean that not only should he not have been sacked in the first place, but he should also now be welcomed back into the Wallabies?
And if Folau is truly sorry for "any hurt or harm" he brought to rugby does that mean he'll feel he needs to do the honourable thing and refuse to accept the settlement (whether it's a mere $200,000 or a more likely $5 million)?
I think we know the answers to all those questions, and, while we're in vaguely biblical territory, most of us would expect to hear that hell froze over before Folau pulls on a Wallaby jersey again, or he decides he shouldn't take the money.
The size of the lump of cash Folau has won from Rugby Australia can't be made public, but how substantial it is may decide the future of Raelene Castle, the CEO of RA.
It's common knowledge rugby in Australia is cash-strapped, so if the Folau bundle is big enough to push the sport to the financial brink the buck is likely to stop on Castle's desk.
I have to freely admit to a bias in this story. In the 1990s, when she was a marketing manager at Fuji Xerox in Auckland, Castle and a mutual friend spent a weekend with my wife and myself at our bach at Waihi Beach. Raelene was hugely good-hearted and likeable, and also as crazy on sport as anyone I've ever met.
When she was appointed as head of RA in 2017 I speculated in print that she'd have to battle grumpy old men in Sydney like Alan Jones, who would resent her on three grounds - that she was younger than them, a female, and a New Zealander.
I would never have dreamed that her biggest threat might be from an open-faced, hugely gifted player, whose personal beliefs would include thinking that the Australian bushfires were punishment from God for Australia making same-sex marriage legal.
In the same week as the Folau settlement, came the admission from Cooper that, yep, he had intended to knee McCaw in the head in a Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane in 2011 while McCaw was lying defenceless on the ground.
That year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand was only five weeks away. Tokoroa-born and bred Cooper decided the best way to deal with the abuse that was raining down from Kiwi fans was to say that he embraced it. He said he liked being Public Enemy No 1 in New Zealand.
It made him play better. He even suggested it was a sign of the respect he was held in by Kiwi fans.
There's no record of whether the producers of a follow-up to the 1994 movie Dumb And Dumber tried to contact Cooper to feature in the sequel.
The only smart voice in the room was Cooper's grandmother, who tried to calm things down. In Kaikohe, Cooper's nana, Millie, sprang to his defence. "He's a good boy," she said. "He loves children and he loves the old people. He's not a whakahihi [arrogant] boy."
Now, in giving details in a podcast of his apology some years after 2011 to McCaw, Cooper at once manages to sound genuine, while also making himself look just as painfully naive as his statements all those years ago did.
Cooper says he saw McCaw at an airport. "It's not that he didn't care or he did care but, when I said sorry to him, I confronted it and said, 'I really looked up to you as a kid, you were my idol, everyone in New Zealand loves you and I loved you, so when I played against you it was just emotion, passion took over, you were playing dirty on me and I kneed you.' He's one of the best at [dirty play]."
Sadly no camera was there to capture McCaw's reaction to the "you were playing dirty on me and I kneed you" line.
But I'm inclined to think that even McCaw, the most self-contained rugby player in All Black history, might have found it hard not to burst out laughing.