Bruce Perschbacher isn’t certain on the exact year he started to play for the SIU club rugby team, but he knows it was around the time he moved the location of his shop, Yesteryear Tobacconists in 1975.
Perschbacher, a Carbondale resident and owner of Yesteryear Tobacconists, said he still makes it out to the pitch for a match with the team from time to time, but now the 54-year-old spends more of his time maintaining his rugby collection at his shop.
He said he learned the game from his neighbors as a youngster growing up in Johnsonville and was immediately enthralled with the sport.
“I had an older family that lived behind me, they had grown up on the south side of London,” Perschbacher said. “They gave me a bunch of old rugby magazines and taught me the game. It was something that I hadn’t been exposed to, baseball, basketball or whatever else wasn’t the same.”
The SIU club rugby team is steeped with a winning tradition, and throughout time the issue arose of where to keep the numerous awards, trophies and memorabilia the team had attained during the years. Perschbacher’s shop was the easy choice.
“There used to be a house that two or three guys on the team would live in and hold club meetings there and keep all of the awards,” Perschbacher said. “Over the years, new people would move in and others would move out. It wasn’t the most stable environment to keep stuff in.”
Soon the once barren walls of Yesteryear Tobacconists were filled with SIU club rugby awards and memorabilia, along with rugby items from all around the world that Perschbacher attained throughout a lifetime of fandom.
While his time on the field has diminished, Perschbacher’s rugby collection and love for the sport has grown.
“There’s a certain fascination when people come in and start looking around,” he said. “There’s usually a different twist on why or how they are interested. It’s something that you will see at very few places, especially in this country.”
The biggest fans of Perschbacher’s collection are his current and former teammates, nicknamed “Old Loads.”
“All these guys appreciate when they come back, whether it’s once a year or once in 20 years, they can show their kids and grandkids a picture of themselves playing,” he said. “I’ve done a lot for the guys over the years and they have for me. It’s become like a family.”
Erik Hartley, an SIU alumnus and “Old Load,” said he looks back on his days with the club with appreciation for the time and effort Perschbacher puts in.
“When I was on the team, Bruce’s financial backing and support were huge,” he said. “He also played a major role for the young guys, taking them through the shop and showing them the history of the program, really letting them soak it all in.”
Hartley played for the SIU club rugby team from 2008 until his graduation in 2011.
Club president Dan Lowery said Perschbacher’s contribution to the team plays a major part sustaining the rugby tradition at SIU.
“It’s great that Bruce is around to keep track of the history through the years,” he said. “That way, no team is ever forgotten.”
Perschbacher said rugby players share a love for a sport that is different than any other, and therefore each rugby player shares similar personality characteristics.
“We’ve never had a good reputation on campus, that goes without saying,” he said. “We probably earned a lot of it. I’m sure to the outside looking in, it’s like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ with some of the things that happen.”
While the team doesn’t embrace its poor reputation, Perschbacher said it is the natural mindset of rugby players not to care what other people think.
“People may say it’s barbaric or that we (shouldn’t) do some of the things we do on the field, but we didn’t ask you to our party,” he said. “You don’t see crowds at the matches. You’re not playing for crowd approval, you’re doing it because you want to do it. We’re not the most subtle bunch in the free world.”
Perschbacher said his shop has allowed him to showcase his rugby collection and keep up with the rugby team for so many years because it offers a distinct product and small-town feel.
“When somebody comes in here, I’m here,” he said. “It’s not like walking into a department store or grocery store, it’s a family business and you’re going to see me. I have wanted to keep playing, and the fact that I am here and stay involved has allowed for the guys to tell me the schedule and when they are going to play.”