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The Prez of the Ritz Loves Rugby

Not a headline that I expected to come out of the America's Cup of Polo, but strange things happened during that magical afternoon in Leesburg. For a really comprehensive review of all the strange things that went on, check The Dude Abides. The part where we interviewed TV superstars and Redskins coaches will come later; for now, let me talk about Simon Cooper, the President and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which was sponsoring the British team. When we found him, Cooper, himself a Brit, was sitting in front of the Ritz tent, wearing an official British team jersey and enthusiastically rooting on his team. I asked whether he had ever played. He said he had not.

The trophy they were playing for, plus my head.

"You know, this is just like a big rugby field to me," he said. "That's much better. You know, you don't have to worry about the horse. I don't know how these guys do it, you know, with one hand you're trying to steer the damn horse, the other hand trying to hit this little ball while you're riding full steam."

Not what I expected from an important corporate exec type. Incidentally, I actually tried to ride a polo pony while hitting a polo ball the other day. The contact was not impressive, and my horse was traveling about seven inches per hour at the time. Anyhow, as a sop for never actually writing about rugby, I figured I'd just turn this interview over to another sport, asking Cooper about his rugby-playing status.

"I finished my rugby," he said. "I'm too old for that now."

I suggested he might referee instead.

"I wouldn't referee if you paid me," he said. "I want to play. I hate referees, who are you kidding? God, I hate referees. All my life. They don't understand, the referees. They used to penalize me. They just didn't, they got it wrong. They just didn't understand. It was friendly pats, it wasn't meant in anger."

Let me interrupt here to say that the Ritz tent had an excellent cheese plate. In fact, I saw Joe Muldoon, the brother of U.S. player Charlie and a U.S. alternate, inside the Ritz tent by the cheese plate, in street clothes.

"Doing surveillance," he explained, surveillance evidently requiring taste tests. "I'm infiltrating the other side. It starts the night before. You have to take them out on the town. It's an ongoing thing."

Anyhow, I also asked the aforementioned Ritz-Carlton Prez and COO Simon Cooper what makes rugby the world's greatest sport.

"There's a number of things make it the greatest sport," he said. "I think the greatest thing to me is, when the game is done, the game is done. You beat the crap out of each other when you're on the field, and when the game is done, the game is done....If you harbor anything, your own team is going to be done with you. The game's finished. What goes on the field, that's it."

Plus, winners buy, I pointed out.

"Winners buy, but losers buy the next round anyways," he said. "You just keep buying 'em. If you ever go to a good post-rugby game in any good English pub, if they have a carpet you don't need a sign to the washroom. You just look for the smooth part of the carpet. It's just guys drinking their beer and heading to the can. That's just the way it is."

At this point, for some reason, his PR person suggested that maybe we should wrap things up. But earlier, I had asked whether he had made any sort of friendly wagers with the Cartier folks, Cartier being the sponsor of the U.S. team.

"Not at the moment," Cooper said. "I offered them hotel rooms in exchange for diamonds. But they didn't take the bet. You'd think they would have gone for that, wouldn't you? So mine's a little bit more perishable than theirs, but so what?"

For a response, I tracked down Fariba Jahanbani, the director of Cartier in the D.C. metro area. It was halftime, and the U.S. trailed the Brits, 2-1. I asked about the hotel-rooms-for-diamonds wager.

"Oh, I don't know if I'm going to take him up on that offer," she said. "We're going to win anyways. America has to win, America will win. We will always catch up. Remember Boston."

"The Red Sox?" I asked.

"The Boston Tea Party," she said. "We won."

True. But for the record, the Brits won, 7-3, on Saturday.

For First-Timers, Match is a Lesson in Polo 101 (WaPo gamer)
Horsing Around in Loudoun County (The Dude Abides)

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 14, 2007; 2:54 PM ET
Categories:  Rugby , Weirdness  
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Next: Al Saunders Loves Polo

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