All hail Mike Dunafon and Debbie Matthews, king and queen of Glendale
Glendale Raptors men's rugby team.
Glendale bills itself as "Rugbytown USA."
And, as the only city in the nation with its own municipally owned rugby complex, the moniker fits. But the association is largely the result of the efforts of current Glendale mayor Mike Dunafon, who has been a player and a coach and who suggested turning the open space near city hall into a rugby pitch. Dunafon and his wife, Shotgun Willie's owner Debbie Matthews, have been the town's king and queen for fifteen years, helping to drive business and shape policy.
And Dunafon isn't shy about taking credit.
"Since Deb and I got involved, Glendale has become one of America's most dynamic cities," he says in a video clip available on his website, mikedunafon.com.
The clip is part of a reality series called "Under the Gun" that stars Dunafon and Matthews. They're producing it with a Los Angeles-based director named Patrick Guthrie, who used to work for Fox Sports International and co-authored the book Rugby for Dummies. Guthrie met Dunafon during the planning for the Infinity Park rugby complex and is a true Dunafon believer. According to him, Dunafon and Matthews were approached by the likes of HBO and Playboy to do a reality show centered around Matthews's club, but turned down the offers when the networks wouldn't give them editorial control. Instead, the three decided to produce a show themselves.
But their vision is different from the all-access, behind-the-scenes tenor of most reality TV. In fact, it seems more like a platform from which to share Dunafon's political views, which he explains on his website: "Imagine a world that is libertarian, secular, fiscally conservative, big-family, small-government, and decidedly pro-business. Imagine an America where Liberty defines all of our choices." The show's hashtag on Twitter is #RestoreLiberty.
"The editorial voice of the show is Mike's," Guthrie says. "He has a certain way of connecting with people that is a genuine and intuitive way. I would say that he has gravitas. When he walks in the room, everyone turns around and goes, 'Who's that guy?'"
Thus far, twenty clips have been posted to Dunafon's website. They're a mix of autobiographical tales and lectures by Dunafon on subjects such as marijuana (he's for it), gay marriage (ditto) and intolerance (he's opposed).
Shotgun Willie's makes an appearance, too. One context-free clip shows "drunk strippers" getting into a catfight in the locker room. "Come here, you little bitch!" one girl shouts as a bald-headed manager attempts to keep the corset-clad women away from each other.
"The point of this is to show that in this family, you have two people who are involved in very different ways that are very important in the future of their city," Guthrie says.
The lecture clips, in which Dunafon wears a three-piece suit and speaks directly to the camera, have the feel of a Sunday-morning sermon. In one reality-style segment, Dunafon actually dons a pastor's robe and presides over the wedding of two gay men at a historic church in Morrison that he and Matthews purchased from the Pillar of Fire International ministry.
"We told them they were welcome in this church," Dunafon explains in the clip, "[and that] we were going to perform gay weddings, and 22 of their parishioners said, 'We're all for it. It is not a problem.' So we've already made some headway in doing away with intolerance."
Another clip explains the couple's backgrounds: She was born into a pioneering Colorado family, became a single mom and eventually took over the strip club. The clip portrays her as a grandmother who likes to garden but who can also be a hardass when need be. "Saturday night I was in, and it was butt-crack city!" she yells at her staff in one scene. "They can wear G-strings all day long, but if they don't have enough honor to cover up the top of their ass crack..."
He was born in a home for unwed mothers, drifted from relative to relative, and eventually used his talent for football to get to college. He got a contract with the Denver Broncos but was cut from training camp after he tore both of his hamstrings. He traded his house for a boat, set sail for the Caribbean, and spent seventeen years in the islands playing guitar and doing standup comedy. It was there, the clip explains, that he discovered rugby.
The videos are flattering; they make no mention of how Matthews was allowed to keep Shotgun Willie's after her ex-husband went to prison for cocaine trafficking, or of the accusations of rough politics that have been levied against Dunafon and his friends over the years.
Under Dunafon's watch, Glendale has established its own competitive men's and women's rugby teams — who play under the banner of the Glendale Raptors Rugby Football Club — and has hosted national and international tournaments at Infinity Park and won awards for its turf. The stadium was purposely built with the capability to broadcast matches worldwide, and with the opening of the High Altitude Training Center — which boasts two practice fields, strength-training facilities, a recovery area with hot and cold tubs and a classroom for reviewing video footage — Dunafon hopes international teams will come to Glendale to train for the Rugby World Cup. Those training sessions could be broadcast in the teams' home countries, he says.
"Glendale's pitch is considered one of the finest rugby pitches in the world," Dunafon boasts. The stadium attracts more than 20,000 players and fans to Glendale each year, according to the city's application for state tourism incentives, which is good business for the nearby hotels that sponsor it. "We made a promise to them that we would fill their hotel rooms on the weekends when they needed it most — and it's happened," Dunafon says.
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