Every game needs rules in order to ensure that everyone has a fair chance at succeeding in the game. If, however, fairness to all players is not a necessity, then no rules are necessary. In "Bang the Drum Slowly," this theme is inherent in everything from card games to life itself.
The Exciting Game Without Any Rules (or "TEGWAR"), is the game by which Henry Wiggins and Bruce Pearson play in everyday life. As a card game, TEGWAR is an exercise of dominance. The only rule is that there are no rules, and until a player acknowledges that concept, he has no chance of winning.
One player can defeat another without warning or just cause, but simply because they can. Some players are lucky and always seem to stay ahead while others can never overcome the luck their game will bring. Such is the dichotomy of the Wiggins and Pearson characters.
Wiggins has a successful career, a beautiful wife, a secure financial future and the ability to slip outside of the rules to make sure he receives whatever chance didn't bring him. Pearson, on the other hand, has no stable woman, career or health (he is diagnosed with a terminal disease).
Throughout the movie, Wiggins takes pity on Pearson, helping him to maneuver through life by learning the rules of TEGWAR. As a pitcher for the New York Mammoths, Wiggins takes catcher Pearson under his wing to protect Pearson from the smarter of life's players until he could compete himself.
In one scene, guitar-playing catcher Piney Woods sings the line, "Life is unfair. I'll tell you that." It seems to be at this point that Wiggins realized how truly fortunate he was to seemingly be winning at life. He fully absorbs how random life's triumphs and tribulations can really be.
At this point, the movie turns more toward establishing a sense of brotherhood between the players. Each player, despite the differences they previously had with Pearson (and there were many), showed apparently sincere sympathy...