After 30 years on the team, a veteran says goodbye to Haggis rugby
Robert Lopez, ‘the ageless wonder’ hangs up his boots
On Saturday, Robert Lopez prepared for his last competitive rugby game with Park City Haggis.
After playing with the Division II men’s team (the top division in Utah) for the last three decades, and with major surgery looming, he said, it’s time to hang up his boots.
Jason Hoke, president of Haggis, said Lopez has been “a mainstay of the team.”
“He’s just been around to help with whatever for years,” Hoke said. “I think he’s been president, he’s been captain. He’s been everything under the sun.”
Lopez got his start at 15 when he played with Highland High School — a rugby juggernaut. Though his father played soccer, Lopez said he felt the pull of the school’s rugby tradition, and once he tried contact sports, he couldn’t go back to soccer.
He took a break from Rugby to play football with a junior college, but returned to rugby after pressure to use steroids dissuaded him from the gridiron. He joined Salt Lake Rugby, where, because the sport was still esoteric in the U.S., he found he could create a real impact on the teams he played with.
Back then, Haggis and Park City Muckers were two separate teams, with Haggis having many players Lopez looked up to.
One day after a game in which Salt Lake Rugby beat Haggis, the team asked him to come play for them.
“It was kind of an honor to think I was actually formidable enough to come play with them,” he said. “So I came up here, and, in fact, I scored my first try up in those posts right here at Park City. That was memorable, and I fell in love with Haggis.”
He became seriously involved with the team, and after it merged with Park City, he helped the squad win the men’s rugby Division II national championship and served as a major financial sponsor along the way.
Now, Lopez said he is playing with the kids of those he played with decades ago.
“One of these guys came up to me after practice and said, ‘You played with my uncle,’” he said.
For example, Lopez currently plays with the sons of his former teammate, Jack Walzer.
“From the time (Lopez) stepped into the men’s clubs, he’s been a strong leader and motivator for a lot of the people on the team,” Walzer said. “Then, as he got older and had his own business, helping them financially to get where they wanted to go. He’s been an integral part of … the team.”
Now, at 50 years old, Lopez said his body needs a change.
He will undergo surgery to reopen his nose and clear his throat to prevent sleep apnea.
“I’ve broken my nose probably 25, 30 times over the years,” he said. “A few concussions here and there. … CPAP (ventilator) and all that, I can’t breathe. I play some old boys (games) here and there, but competitively, I’m done.”
Lopez took the field for his last competition with the Haggis competitive team in the second half of the game, and helped it shore up the 88-24 victory over the Denver Harlequins.
Afterward, Lopez said it was a good game to end on.
“It’s one of those games where you’re trying to get some momentum and feel each other out then bring the old man in,” he said with a laugh. “But we looked really good. We have a couple tough games next week in Denver, but it’s in great hands.”
That’s another reason why he said the timing is right to retire. With capable people steering the team, he said he doesn’t have to be so involved.
“I’ve had my hands on it for a long, long time (because) I didn’t want to lose the continuity of the next generation, but it’s in great hands,” he said. “I’m leaving it in a great situation. It will always be there.”
Lopez said he will still be around, perhaps in a coaching role, but for now, the man the team calls “the ageless wonder” is officially retired.
The Park City High School girls golf team took second in the Class 4A state championship tournament on Thursday. It was the team’s fifth consecutive time as runner-up.