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Monday, May 11, 2015

Doug Ciacci

Doug Ciacci will be inducted (finally) into the Fairfield University Athletic Hall of Fame today in Fairfield, Connecticut. In honor of the man (that's him on the right end of the table at the 1964 Dogwood Festival), I'm revisiting my post about him from 2010.

He was enthusiasm incarnate.

Whether it was yelling for us to “Rally, Rally!” outside our rooms at the Bridgeport Motor Inn during the 1964 Dogwood Festival at 3 AM, or telling us that we could kick the ass of the Columbia Old Blues “A” Team at Van Cortlandt Park in our very first 7-a-side rugby tournament (in which we had – miraculously – made it to the Championship Game), or describing his excitement about the thought of joining another “A” team – the Green Berets – after graduation in 1965, Doug Ciacci
was an amazing ball of energy and focused power. The positive vibes that emanated from him were contagious and almost visible.
 
All-State Halfback at New Britain High School in 1961 and member of the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame, winner of the Boy Scout Medal in the 1950’s for saving a man from drowning while a 9th grader, co-founder of Fairfield University’s Rugby Club in 1963, Doug Ciacci was not your average bear.
            
He was our first Captain, our scrum half and our leader.

To me, he was always first and foremost a teacher. Anything I know about playing rugby, about competing physically and emotionally, I learned initially from Doug. Others preceded him and left little impact. Others followed, and some made big contributions, but Doug was always the standard.

He was 5’7’ but weighed 190 solid pounds and he was fast. He ran low to the ground, a slasher with great moves. But the thing that made him most special, as an athlete was that attitude: he just would not be defeated. You could watch him hyperventilate just before the opening whistle, like a weightlifter psyching himself up for the clean and jerk, stoking the internal fires. Once the game began, he was like a miniature Great White Shark, a machine made to play ball with maniacal focus and intent, his eyes like hot little coals darting across the field, seeking openings and gaps.

He was a loyal friend and a caring person. While his wit could carry a barb or two in it, you always knew there was no hurt intended, just the rough kiss of masculine camaraderie. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was capable of great depths of sentiment. He wasn’t really a particularly serious student in any sense, but you knew that whatever effort and application he could summon would be applied to the academic challenge at hand. He loved life and made sure to live it to the fullest. He was that rare combination: the lady’s man and the man’s man. I’ve only met a few.

We had a falling out at one point… senior year … and over a woman. There was a period of estrangement that lasted – on and off – for almost two years. And then, in the early spring of ’67… not that long before the end, we both attended a party for somebody at Mike Malkin’s on Manhattan’s East Side. By the end of the evening, we were off in a corner, drinks in hand, pledging each other our undying loyalty, respect, and affection. I was off to the Army; he was expecting to follow before too long. The Vietnam War was on and still in build-up mode, and he still had that Green Beret thing in the back of his mind, I suspect. 

It was a good night… a very good night.

I was in my second week of Basic Training at Fort Dix when I got the word from my Dad that Doug had been killed in a motorcycle accident on June 22nd. (I had been inducted on the 19th). I can still remember sitting in that tobacco ridden phone booth in my still stiff, ill-fitting new fatigues and inductee haircut and trying to digest the news. This cannot be, I thought. Anyone can die… but not Doug. The only good thing about this happening while I was at Dix, was not having to attend the funeral and see Doug’s father in the abyss of his grief. But I’ve heard about it from those that did.

It’s going to be forty-eight years ago this coming June. A lifetime.

One that Doug Ciacci should have had.