In September 2011, Gannon Moore was up into the wee hours of the morning, his eyes glued to a flickering laptop screen.
“What are you watching?” Moore’s roommate asked. Moore, who was a running back at Southwest Minnesota State at the time, spatted back, “I’m watching the World Cup.”
It was the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Moore fell in love with rugby during the spring when he wasn’t playing football growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D. It was the sport that, as a college athlete, he just didn’t have the time to play.
Three years later, when Moore was out of college and his dreams of playing in the NFL were dashed, he was playing pick-up rugby every Thursday in Sioux Falls. There, Sean Fulley, a former Kansas City Blues player, invited him to join the team the next week in Denver.
“That literally was why I got back into rugby,” Moore said of Fulley. “It was just the right place at the right time. Him seeing me play was just random.”
Flash forward two more years, and Moore has uprooted his life after college, set aide the career in football, to play for Blues 15s and 7s teams in Kansas City.
About four years after watching the Rugby World Cup on his laptop, Moore was in camp with the Eagles, the USA Rugby team which represents the United States at major tournaments. His sights were set on the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the first Olympic rugby contest since 1924.
Then he fell short, as did his teammate who spent time with the Eagles’ camp, Walt Elder. With a near-impossible chance of sneaking into the Eagles’ player pool at this point, both have accepted that they’ll be watching the Eagles from home next month.
But with that, the two have turned their attention to 2020, and even the 2019 World Cup.
“I got into rugby two and a half years before the last World Cup, and I was really set on that, and apparently that’s too early to do that,” Moore said. “But in my mind, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t be playing in the next one.”
Elder is well over six-feet tall with a brawny build and long strawberry-blonde hair. The 24-year-old has been with the Blues for over a year now and picked up rugby at Kansas State before he fully immersed himself in rugby culture in South Africa.
There, he found a stronger emphasis on the 15s game, the original, true form of rugby. But in America, the fast-pace 7s game, which will be in the Olympics, is what has started to help rugby broaden its horizons.
“7s appeals to America specifically, not only because it’s going to be an Olympic sport but also because it’s very fast flowing and very fast paced, action-packed,” Elder said. “ Americans are very conditioned with things like basketball and football to really enjoy that fast-pace craziness.”
On Saturday, the Blues will host a 7s tournament at Swope Park — the second of three qualifiers for the USA Rugby 7’s Club Nationals for the Frontier 7’s Region. The Blues are one of three Kansas City-area sides who will compete, with Kansas City RFC and Sporting Club Rugby 7’s Academy as the other two.
There, in front of some USA National Team talent scouts and selectors, Moore and Elder, along with the rest of the Blues, can begin to make their impression again. This tournament — this series of tournaments — is how to get back in the team’s favor again, the path to the 2020 Olympics.
“I’ve done what I can so that I can pursue rugby to play at the highest level, and that’s the theme of a lot of people in rugby,” Moore said. “It’s not like there’s going to be a payout. But no one plays for a sport that long because of the money…
“We’re all just doing it for the love of the game.”