THE EARLY YEARS
As early as the 1800’s a game called football was played in America. It was originally known as “football” simply because feet and a ball were involved. Rugby, soccer, and football as unique sports would come later. By the 1840’s some sort of football was played at numerous colleges including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers. There were no universal rules-in fact there were very few rules at all. Eventually the contests became an informal rivalry between the freshman and sophomore classes. Often the object of the contest was to hurt the other team as much as possible. Henry Twombly (Yale 1884) recounts his father’s recollection of Yale football in 1844:
“ Kick the ball when you can and kick the other fellows’ shins when you can’t kick the ball…[football] was a melee and a scrimmage and that was the whole of it…The combatants robed themselves in old shirts and trowsers for the fray. We Juniors look on and hurrah for the Freshies. The Seniors shout for the Sophs. Shirts are torn from backs; blood flows from noses; trowsers only remain, but not intact… Everyone for himself and for his side . . . Athletics are athletics but the old football game rivals the Roman arena with the Greek thrown in for good measure.”
These early contests were no mere elevens or fifteens: upwards of 50 young men might join in a single competition. Sophomores were the challengers, and the freshmen had to supply the ball for the game. From its early roots, such meetings were a rough game.
Yale games were first played on college grounds then moved in the 1840’s to the New Haven City Green after faculty forbade play on campus. But competition on the City Green was doomed after a disastrous confrontation in 1841 between collegians and the Fire Department whose members happened to be on parade. The fireman, determined to hold their ground, faced an ongoing crush of players. As a result of his protest, Thomas Hudson Moody, ’43, was arrested and fined $20. The team had to pay $80 in costs.
Despite its arrival as a “new” sport in the U.S. more than a century ago, football was not a new pastime. Historians trace its origins back to “ancient times,” notably to Greece and Rome where a game known as Harpaston was played. Football historian Parke Davis describes this early game:
It was played upon a rectangular field marked with side lines, goal-lines, and centre line. There was no limitation upon the number of players, but these were equally divided between the two sides. A man standing at midfield passed the ball forward and the game was in action, the object being to drive the ball by passing, kicking, or carrying across the opposite goal-line. Its progress was impeded by blocking, holding, and tackling….the game was a prolonged scrimmage without order or method.
The early 19th century game played in America was modeled on games played in England on the fields of British public schools. (The historic universities of Cambridge and Oxford would not play until 1846). Initially players could use only their feet to advance the ball. That changed thanks to a young man playing on the Old Bigside field at the public school Rugby. The year was 1823. As the school bell struck five one team made a last ditch play and kicked the ball down the field. William Webb Ellis was waiting for it. According to the rules of this game, Ellis was allowed to “heel” the ball, catch it, and drive his heel into the grass thereby earning the right to kick for goal. But Ellis had other ideas: he picked the ball up and began running towards enemy lines. He fought off opponents left and right and made it across the goal line. The goal of course counted for nothing, but Ellis’ actions had stirred the wind of change. Soon running with the ball became standard and tackling (above the waist) soon followed. Thanks to the serendipitous actions of William Webb Ellis, rugby was born. Ellis is honored at Rugby school with a commemorative plaque that reads:
In August 1845, three senior pupils at Rugby School received instructions to codify the game of football. W.D. Arnold, W.W. Shirley, and F. Hutchins submitted 37 Rules that were passed and a Rule Book was printed. No masters of Rugby School had a hand in devising these rules.
In 1863 the clubs that had formed in London convened and adopted “The Football Rules of the London Football Association.” In this code players were not allowed to carry the ball. This style of play became known as the “Association” game. According to Parke Davis:
“The name of soccer, or socker as it is sometimes spelled, by which it is also designated, is merely a humorous derivative from the word Association.”
In 1871 rugby players decided to organize as well and 36 representatives from clubs in London and the surrounding area met and organized the Rugby Football Union. This new code was based on the original 37 rules passed at the Rugby School in 1845.
In America collegians began to play first soccer then rugby. Both games were introduced by Brits who had “moved across the pond,” and a game similar to soccer became a rite of passage as a contest between incoming freshman and sophomores at colleges along the East Coast. The term football is initially used for both games. A contemporary account of an 1853 meet between the classes of 1856 and 1857 is described in Richard Hurd’s “A History of Yale Athletics, 1840-1888.”
This particular challenge was never met since by 1860 Yale faculty as well as the city of New Haven had banned the play of football. Other colleges followed suit and the game virtually disappeared until the end of the decade. At Harvard students held a mock funeral for the demise of their beloved game. By 1872 Yale and Harvard were eager to return to the game of bygone years. In April 1872 the Harvard classes of ’74 and ’75 met. The Advocate rejoiced and foretold the future of the game:
At Yale the revival of football was thanks to the inspiration and determination of David S. Schaff. Schaff had learned rugby in Germany where he attended the Kornthal School. (According to Yale records Schaff did not attend the Rugby School.) In the Yale Yearbook kudos is given to Schaff for all he did to bring football back to Yale and help insure the game would continue to grow both as a competitive and spectator sport.
The most lasting influence of the Class on athletics was effected when as seniors a few of its members, inspired by David Schaff, introduced football among American colleges by organizing a team which defeated Columbia. President of the first Yale football club, organizer of the team of twenty that played Columbia Nov 16, 1872 and generally regarded as the father of intercollegiate football in America.”
Schaff enthusiastically organized a game on the New Haven green between the classes of ’73 and ’74. However the game was halted almost as soon as it began-by the police! The faculty insisted that the students had a right to play on the green but the City of New Haven emphatically did not agree, referring to an earlier ordinance prohibiting play on the Green. Eight days later, on October 31, 1872, Schaff, along with Elliot S. Miller, Samuel Elder, and other students, called a meeting and voted to form the Yale Football Association. Schaff was its first President. One of the first tasks the Association tackled was to create a set of rules. These rules were largely based on the Association rules established in London in 1863. While Schaff was an enthusiastic rugby man, the twelve rules drafted at Yale were modeled on soccer, as were the rules of the other colleges: Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers. This code detailed among other things, the size of the field, distance between goal posts, and number of players (20). Rule Number 5 states:
In November Yale sent out its first challenge, to Columbia and subsequently played its first intercollegiate game in New Haven, on November 16, 1872. Unfortunately, due to a knee injury suffered in practice the day before the match, Schaff was unable to play this first game.
At 2:30 pm the game commenced with Yale classmates and townspeople some 400 strong there to cheer on the home team. The winner would be the first team to score five goals.
The Princeton team made its way to New Haven to play Yale on November 15, by night boat and, according one account, “nearly froze to death on the trip!” The game was named a “classic game,” with excellent play by both teams. As often happens in sports, unplanned events can take over the game.
In addition to the two 1873 collegiate games Yale, captained by Bill Halsted, played a unique game, against former players from the British public school Eton. From the Yale Record:
In 1873, Yale played the first “international” soccer-style match in America with players originally from England. Played in New Haven, the game had graduates and old students from the English school Eton. There were only 11 men to a side, but Yale liked the open play very much. They would continue to push this open style of play into the next decade. Yale won the game by a score of 2 goals to 1.
In 1868, students from Canada’s McGill University along with soldiers stationed in the Montreal formed the first Canadian rugby club. McGill captain David Rodger, who wanted to invade America with his team, issued a challenge of two games to the Harvard team. The first match would be played in Cambridge under Harvard’s rules, the second in Montreal under the All-Canada code, a form of Rugby. In the event both games were played in Cambridge since Harvard’s faculty would not allow the players to leave campus in the midst of a term.
As was expected, Harvard won the first contest without difficulty and then on the following day proceeded to hold the Canadians to a scoreless tie at their own game. Fifty cents admission was charged spectators, and the $250 thus collected was devoted to the entertainment of the visitors in a lavish pre-Prohibition manner. Harvard Crimson, 1868
In the following year Harvard began to experiment playing with rugby rules and by 1875 was playing exclusively with these rules. Inevitably the idea of a game with Yale under these rules arose and the Crimson sent a challenge to the Blue. Yale enthusiastically accepted the challenge but with the caveat that the rules be modified. The teams met in Springfield, MA on October 16, 1875 to formulate these special rules and chose November 13 for the game, to be played at Hamilton Park in New Haven. The rules were dubbed “Concessionary Rules” mostly to save face for Yale since they were basically Harvard’s rules. Some 2,000 spectators gathered to watch what would become an historic match. The draw was so strong that admission was raised from 25 cents to a whopping 50 cents.
At noon on the day of the game the train from Boston arrived with a throng of 150 collegians, chronicled at the time as “the biggest crowd from Boston ever seen in New Haven.” Parke Davis
Yale lost to Harvard by a score of four goals and two touchdowns to nothing. William Arnold was captain of the Yale team. Arnold was one of a long line of Yale Captains to work at fine-tuning his players with training and scrupulous devotion.
Under his captaincy the Yale Football Team, in the autumn of 1875, played its first intercollegiate match under rules from which, by successive modifications and additions, has been evolved the modern game. He was the first of Yale’s captains to recognize the possibility of breaking away from the old style of contest, and of arranging a game with Harvard upon terms so advantageous to the latter, considering Yale’s lack of experience, that the result could hardly have been doubtful. His judgment, which was questioned at the time, had been amply indicated by the extraordinary development which the game has received, largely at the hands of Yale men, and by the preeminence which Yale has long maintained in this branch of athletics. Yale Yearbook, 1901
In the fall of 1876 another rules meeting took place in Springfield. Attending were Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia. The rugby rules by which Harvard had played McGill were adopted. Additionally a new league, the Intercollegiate Football Association was created. Yale, while agreeing to play under the new rules, refused to join the league. As with the rules created by Rugby School students in 1845, the new rules were determined not by college bigwigs or coaches, but by players themselves.
At the 1876 council meeting a uniform code of rules based on the Rugby Union code was passed though with one major difference: rule 7 states that “a match shall be decided by a majority of touchdowns; a goal shall be equal to four touchdowns; but in the case of a tie a goal kicked from a touchdown shall take precedence over four touchdowns.” The English rugby rules always specified that a team win was based on goals with each goal being worth one point.
Yale, though it was not a part of the Association, was the victor in 1876. The Blues played every Association member-Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia- and defeated all. The victories are credited largely to Eugene V. Baker, captain in 1876 and again in 1877, who had followed the Eton match so carefully. He had studied the Rugby rules exhaustively and drilled his players relentlessly. (Yale was playing with a round ball as opposed to the rugby oval ball. Harvard who Yale would meet shortly, “kindly” supplied a Rugby ball to Baker). Baker was wise in many ways; among other things he realized the importance of sending a Yale representative to all council meetings that would discuss rule changes.
In 1893 Baker’s classmates placed a plaque in the newly refurbished trophy room that reads:
In recognition of the services of
EUGENE V. BAKER. ’77
The organizer and Captain of
Yale’s first victorious football team.
This room has been furnished
And this tablet placed here
By his classmates, 1893
On November 18, 1876 Harvard met Yale at Hamilton Park. A column in the Yale Courant provided an eyewitness account of the game which Yale.
The gay suits of the players, the wrestling, tumbling, and running, the equestrian feat of the Harvard captain and the leap over his shoulders by a hard-pressed Yale man lent a pleasing variety to the scene suggestive of a Roman circus or hippodrome.”
The game is also considered an important piece in the development of American football.
The tactical formation of these eleven is important, as it was a forerunner of the succeeding evolutions that determined a distinctively American game. Six of the players formed a line of forwards or rushers. Behind them were stationed two players known as halfbacks, whose duties resembled those of a modern quarterback, and behind the halfbacks stood three other players designated as backs. The ball was put into play…by a kick. Thereafter the ball was put in play by a “scrummage,” as in English Rugby. Parke Davis
Freshman halfback Walter Camp made his first appearance at this game. Henry Twombly, who played under him, describes Camp:
Walter was tall, strong, and very muscular. His fingers were long and sinewy. He once told me that in his undergraduate days he used to study, holding a football in his hand in order to accustom his fingers to the feel and grip of the ball.
Walter Camp became Yale’s representative at intercollegiate meetings and would attend every meeting until 1925. Camp captained the Yale team in 1878, 1879, and 1881. He is credited with the creating many of the rules that would change Rugby and eventually lead to the uniquely American football game including the play from scrimmage, the numerical assessment of goals and tries, the restriction of play to eleven men per side, set plays, sequences, and strategy features.
The conference of 1876 created what would become a tradition: the annual Thanksgiving Day game. The two leading teams from the previous season would play each other in a championship game. The first of these games was played between Princeton and Yale in Hoboken, NJ at the St. Georges Cricket Grounds. (It would later to move to New York’s Polo Grounds where it quickly became a fixture of the social scene of the city’s wealthy).A reported 1,000 spectators watched the game. Some brave souls ventured from New York and New Haven to watch. Championship.
Not much changed in the rules in 1877 and Yale, though sending a representative to the intercollegiate meetings, did not become a member until 1878 when it applied for and was granted membership.
On November 23, 1878, Yale met Harvard in Cambridge and defeated its rival 1-0. Oliver D. Thompson, class of ’79 scored the winning goal using a Rugby tactic by drop-kicking the ball off his instep as opposed to his toes.
Harvard wins the toss and takes the wind. Yale kicks off. Harvard at one works the ball, by runs of Wetherbee, Cushing, and Houston, into Yale’s goal. Camp gets the ball and runs it out of danger. Sedgwick runs it back again. A random kick sends the ball into a small pond of water near the field of play, but both teams plunge in after it to the huge merriment of the spectators. Parke Davis
A week later Yale met Princeton on November 28th, Thanksgiving day in Hoboken. Despite dreary, wet weather the game drew a crowd of close to 4,000 spectators. There was severe criticism publicly and in the press about the price paid by the schools for the playing field: $300. Fifteen years later the cost of renting the field in New York cost $10,000.
At the 1879 council meeting Walter Camp represented Yale. Resolutions were passed changing the number of players from fifteen to eleven. The Rugby scrummage was abolished. Camp’s new scrimmage rule stated:
A scrimmage takes place when the holder of the ball…puts down on the ground in front of him and puts it in play while on side…by snapping it back with his foot. The man who first receives it from the snap-back shall be called the quarterback.
In the succeeding years these changes would be seen as a first step towards the transformation of Rugby into modern American football.
Throughout the 1870’s rugby became not only a crowd pleaser but often a game of serious competition and training. No more the casual announcement of a match between sophomores and freshman tacked to a tree. An editorial in the Yale Daily News in the 1880’s even suggested all Yale players “reduce their consumption of tobacco and not to stay up late nights lest they be not hardy enough to win.”
Throughout the 1880’s, the number of fans attending college rugby matches had grown steadily. Teams now dressed in splendid team uniforms reflected the growing prestige of the game. When Yale and Princeton met in 1881, Yale players were dressed in canvas jackets, corduroy pants, and blue stockings and caps. Princeton wore their orange and black shirts with white flannel pants and black stockings and caps.
Ten thousand people flocked to the polo grounds to witness yesterday’s match. They came in stages, coaches, and private carriages. They crowded every Harlem train on the Sixth-avenue elevated road for two hours, and at 3 o’clock, half an hour after game had been called, they were still swarming into the grounds. New York Times, 1881
This match between Yale and Princeton would become famous, or infamous. Princeton took advantage of new rules to play “the block game.”
The safety, which came into play in 1881, originally was merely an incidental play in defensive tactics. When made it in nowise affected the score, but permitted a team to put the ball in play at the 25-yard line. Hence a team which had the ball nearer to its own goal-line deliberately made a safety and then moved out to the 25-yard line. ...Princeton discovered that this rule could be evaded by touching down in the corners enclosed by a projection of the side line and goal line, the touch-in-goal….Princeton and Yale had been struggling only four-and-one half minutes when the former obtained the all and the “block game” was in action. Parke Davis
Henry Twombly, who would later be captain of the Yale team, wrote:
The Princeton game was in New York at the Old Polo Grounds, 115th Street. Snow had fallen during the night and a squad of men was set to work in the forenoon to remove the snow. This task was not completed until 2:30, half an hour after the time set for the beginning of the game. A dozen or more tallyhos lined one side of the field, from the tops and the sides of which floated ribbons and flags displaying college colors in the greatest profusion. . There was great running, passing, and tackling, and the ball went up and down the field with great rapidity. The ground became heavy and slippery and the ball was covered with sleet….Then came the “block” game. The crafty Princeton captain, with the ball in Princeton’s possession on her 25-yard line, directed his halfback to keep rushing the ball instead of passing or kicking. . Yale held Princeton for scrimmage after scrimmage, but Princeton still held the ball at the end of the game, which ended in a draw. Princeton had made 11 safeties to six for Yale but safeties did not count in scoring.
Yale immediately challenged Princeton to play a match game any time, anywhere, but Princeton…declined.
The annual meeting in early fall 1882 outlawed the “block game” with the adoption of a rule, suggested by Walter Camp, stating that “If on three consecutive fairs and downs a team shall not have advanced the ball five yards or lost ten, they must give up the ball to the other side at the spot where the fourth down was made.” Thanks to Camp the downs system of play was created.
Of interest is a system of signals created by Camp 1882 with which to communicate with his teammates. Other teams were also creating such signals, though compared to the complex signals of today they seem simplistic. Nevertheless they got the job done. Camp recorded these signals. Some are listed here.
“Look out quick Deac” Mean Twombly run through the rusher line, the ball being pushed to Peters
“Play up sharp Charlie.” Mean ball will be snapped and then thrown to Wyllye for a run.
“Calling an end in will be followed by:
Completion signal by the hat Mean end throw is to be made.
Henry Twombly describes the intricacies of signal 3:
In signal 3 the completion signal was made by the way the quarterback put on his hat. We wore small blue knitted caps; if the quarterback pulled his hat on the left side, the ball was to be thrown to the left end. If he pulled down his hat on the right side the ball was to go to the right end.
As the 1882 season played out, rugby was clearly being edged in favor of football, but this transitional year marked the height of popularity for the Thanksgiving Day Championship Game. New York was THE place to be seen and as such is worth noting. The teams traveled to the game in what were referred to as “tallyhos” and the scene of horse-drawn carriages draped in team colors was a sight to behold. Henry Twombly describes it:
The Yale team customarily put up at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. No special parlor car for us; we all went down in an ordinary passenger day coach and were just as well off as the pampered teams of today. Most of us went to Daly’s Theater in the evening…but had to leave before the play was over to be in bed by 10:30. Sleep? Not a bit u until we had worked off our excess nerves with a big pillow fight, in which Harry Slocum got rather the worst of it. A big bolster split in halves during the melee and the feathers covered the room.
The following account of the Thanksgiving Day football games between Princeton and Yale which took place in New York during the '80's and '90's is taken from an article contributed by Richard Harding Davis to Harper's Weekly in December 1893 and reproduced in The Daily Princetonian.
There is nothing more curious or more interesting in the history of New York City within the last decade than the development of the Thanksgiving Day game. Ten years ago the game was a sporting event, and nothing more, of interest to but a few thousand faithful ones, and to others a public and private nuisance, because for them it disturbed the peace of Broadway at night, and left a vacant chair at the dinner table of every family in which there was a boy! Today the sporting character of the event has been overwhelmed by the social interest it has aroused in itself, and which has enveloped it and made it more of a spectacle than Greatest Sport Event. But it is still the greatest sporting event and spectacle combined that this country has to show. It is one of the things every foreigner should be taken to see, and which no foreigner could possibly appreciate. No one who does not live in New York can understand how completely it colors and lays its hold upon that city, how it upsets and overturns its thoroughfares, and disturbs its rapid routine of existence, and very few even of those who do ' live in New York can explain just why this is so; they can only accept the fact. And they accept it gladly. The enthusiasm of the few faithful ones of ten years back is mocked at and set, at naught today by the thousands who do not know a touchdown from a three-base hit, or whether Yale is a city, state or club, or its eleven a traveling combination of ex-pugilists. They are only certain that two teams of young men are going to fight it out in Harlem, and that "the Yales"are blue, "the Princetons" are generally referred to as "tigers," which fact makes them the choice among the voters of the east side. The significance of that day, which once centered in New England around a grateful family offering thanks for blessings received and a fruitful harvest, now centers in Harlem about 22 very dirty and very earnest young men who are trying to force a leather ball over a whitewashed line.
Ten years ago a solitary "haberdasher," as he delights to call himself, used to decorate his windows before Thanksgiving Day with orange and black and blue handkerchiefs. Those of us who were in college then considered this a rare piece of condescension on his part, and a sign that the public, as represented by this solitary shopkeeper, was interested in the struggle of the college boys up on the polo grounds, where 8,000 people formed what was considered in those days a magnificent audience— an audience in which the young men outnumbered the young women 50 to one, and whose members strayed over the field, lost themselves on the big grandstand and spent the greater , part of their energy shouting "Get off the field!" at the two or three hundred politicians, newspaper men, actors and attaches of the polo grounds, who walked complacently around the lines. It was only necessary in those days to take a few sheets of writing paper with you, and to say that you were a reporter, to get a place inside the ropes. There was no system worthy the name, and no order. The real reporters, with very few exceptions, never saw a football match from one year's end to another, except this particular one, and so gave only descriptive accounts of the game, in which they spoke humorously of the splints and bandages and ambulances, and gallantly of the girls with ''eyes of Yale blue" and those who "wore Harvard crimson in their cheeks." And the fact that a Tammany politician had attended the game in a white greatcoat was of much more important news interest to them than that either side had scored. In those days a man who drove out to the game in a cab, instead of taking the elevated, was considered a profligate, and there were seldom more than 20 of these to be seen on the field, seated on the driver's box, and waving a large flask and a small flag.
After the game in those early days all the students massed themselves in Koster & Bial's, which was then at 23rd Street, and packed it so full that, after 9, a man who wished to leave it had to be passed out over the heads of the crowd; and this the crowd would do for him with a cheerful alacrity that landed him hatless and breathless in the lobby, with the impression that he had been caught up by the sails of a windmill and hurled into space. It was a curious sight. The hall was very small, very dirty, badly lit, and with a low ceiling, against which the smoke rolled and clung like waves on a shore. Below this, and on the single balcony that ran like a horseshoe around the building, were more men than the floor could hold, and who overflowed upon each other's shoulders, and stepped from table to table, or dropped from the boxes to the heads of the men below. These were all very young men, in what were known in those days as Newmarket coats and high curly-brimmed hats, and with silk kerchiefs bound around their necks inside the collar of these green greatcoats. The silk kerchief was one of the fashions of that day, and it gave the unknowing ones the impression that every well-dressed young man of New York was suffering from a severe cold.
Now all this is changed, and the city surrenders herself to the students and their game, as she never welcomes any other event, except a presidential election. Three days before the event, fakirs from Nassau and Ann Street swarm up town like an invading army, or like two invading armies, with banners and flags and artificial flowers in the true colors, and with tiny leather footballs and buttons and rosettes and ribbons and tin horns and countless varieties of badges. They give the streets as much color as the flowers give life to the Paris boulevards, and the city is enfete and divided into rival camps. Photographs of the players show in every shop window; and their pictures appear and reappear with each edition of the daily I papers. The legitimate gambling on, the floor of the Stock Exchange is neglected for the greater interest of betting on the game, and the odds given and taken are quoted in the papers as regularly as the rise and fall of a railroad stock. Seats for the game sell at $15 apiece, and boxes at $150, and the men who took the few solitary cabs to the polo grounds ten years ago have now to engage a coach one year in advance, and pay $20 to reserve a place for it. The collegians begin to arrive in town on Wednesday, and one sees nothing but young men enveloped in huge greatcoats with yellow shoes, and canes wrapped in ribbons. They make Broadway between the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Yale team lodges, and the Hoffman House, where odds are given and taken on the game, almost impassable. In the corridors of these two hotels men who graduated in the '70's are sure to meet men who graduated with them, and they gather here from all over the United States, from Texas and Oregon, with that disregard for distance that the Western man soon learns, to talk football, and to wager large sums of money with utter strangers, who agree with them readily enough to leave sums of two and three thousand dollars in the hands of a man who is also a stranger to both of them. This man is Billy Edwards, an ex prizefighter, who keeps guard over the glassware of the Hoffman House bar, and who has become a most important figure in this great sporting event. He is the depositary of almost all bets, and gives nothing in return for the bundles of bills left in his charge but a piece of paper, and yet so great is the confidence in him and his integrity that he goes to sleep on the eve of Thanksgiving Day with as much as $50,000 in his possession, belonging to men he had seen but a few hours before, and the faces of whom he has quite forgotten. Everything on four wheels and that will hold 20 men on its top in the city of New York goes up Fifth Avenue on Thursday morning. It is like a circus procession many miles long. It begins at 10 in the morning, four hours before the game, when the coaches meet in front of the Fifth Avenue and the Brunswick Hotels, where a crowd has gathered to cheer them as they start. The streets are empty, for it is a holiday, and the sounds of the bugle calls and coach horns and the rifle-like cheer of Yale and the hissing sky-rocket yell of Princeton break in on the Sabbath-like quiet of the streets like the advance of an army going forth triumphantly to war. There is everything, from the newest English brake to omnibuses, draped from their tops to the level of the street with cloths of yellow and blue, hung in festoons or dropped in four straight curtains from each corner and dragging in the mud, and with wheels covered up entirely or decorated with ribbons around their spokes, and suggesting monster revolving pin-wheels. Some of the brakes have six horses, none less than four, all blanketed in the true colors, and every coach carries 20 shouting men and excited young women smothered in furs; and the flags, as they jerk them about, fill the air with color. Every coach load yells for all the pretty girls on the next coach if they wear the proper colors, and race scornfully past those who do not; and from the Washington Arch to the layers of flats in Harlem there are holiday-makers out along the route to see the procession pass, standing in some places three and four deep along the sidewalk. And from houses all along the course there are bits of bunting and big flags; sometimes it is only a strip of paper-muslin fluttering from the eighth-story window of a cheap apartment house, and again it is a big silken banner swinging from the house front of some important friend of one or the other of the two colleges, who has built a dormitory or given a son to the football team.
Manhattan Field, where the game has been held of late years, looks to the spectator as if it were laid out on the top of a tableland, with the grandstands built up around its edges. It is exactly as though you were in a pit or in the mouth of a monster crater lined to its edges with human beings. Last week these human beings numbered 40,000. They were ranged around the whitewashed gridiron, and separated from it by a stout board fence four feet high. Inside of these fences were the reporters and telegraph operators, and the coaches and substitutes lying on the ground or crouched out of sight against the board fence. Back of the fence, boxes stretched around one-fourth of its circumference and behind the rest of its extent people stood in a solid mass until they reached the grandstands, where they rose skywards as closely packed together as fir-trees on a mountain side. But just as human beings are more interesting than fir-trees, so this portrait gallery of faces was more impressive than a forest of pines. It was as if all the faces of the portrait gallery had been cut out of their canvases and pasted together on a wall a quarter of a mile in circumference and 50 yards high. When every other one of these 40,000 human beings stood up and yelled and waved a blue or an orange and black flag, the effect was worth crossing an ocean to see.
Richard Harding Davis (who would later establish Lehigh’s football team) wrote about a day spent with the Yale team in 1893. By this time American football had won out over rugby as rules changes continued to make the sport more diciplined and organized. The commitment with which Yale teams played beginning under the tutelage of Eugene Baker continued into the 1890’s. Artist Frederick Remington, Yale 1879, went along to draw illustrations for the article.
Very few people who watch football as it is played today have the least idea of how much is being done before them. They only see the result unless they watch a team at practice, and so know how carefully every little point is studied and worked out…We used to think we had practiced quite enough if we spent an hour racing around the field and occasionally kicking the ball and falling on it. But they know better now. They were long sad-faced young men…with a patient demeanor that impressed you that there was much at stake. And that they were willing to suffer a great deal before they gave up. They all limped-everybody limped..and the majority of them I discovered, when it was time to rub them down, were only held together by yards of rubber bandages…they were painted in fine stencil-like effects with iodine, and the bodies of most of them resembled envelopes that have passed through the Dead-letter Office, and have stamped and cancelled and crossed and recrossed with directions. There is nothing so marvelous in surgery as the rapidity with which a Yale football player can recover from breakages and sprains that would send any other man to bed for a month…
The question remains as to whether there is an exact date when rugby football essentially was replaced by American football. The change certainly began in the early 1880s with the establishment of the downs system and the replacement of the scrummage with the scrimmage. As the 80s progressed tactics and organized, planned plays effecting an entire team became the norm. The free-for-all of rugby play, the melee of arms and legs at every angle that characterized early rugby disappeared. Happily rugby made a triumphant return to Yale in the 1930s thanks again to the influence of the British: notably Harold Cooper and Cecil Bullock.
By the late 1800s the game of Rugby Football was all but gone from Eastern colleges and universities. Rugby would continue to be played on the West Coast until World War I but in the East it lay dormant for about 50 years. The game was but a distant memory if that for most fans. A New York Times reporter in Bermuda in 1928 happened to catch a rugby match and wrote about the oddities of this “game.”
One strange game –strange to these eyes- was seen: English Rugby. It was played on the grounds of the Bermuda Athletic Association. This observer never found out what it was all about . . . the first odd point is that no substitutions are allowed. If a player loses an arm, or a leg is divided into several unequal segments, he is allowed to leave the field. This explained the dilapidated condition of half a dozen players who were still staggering up and down the field late in the second half. They were going to stay in as long as they were conscious.
Two years later, in 1930, rugby was back at Yale. Harold Cooper, a Davison scholar from Cambridge University studying at Yale, and a few of his countrymen initially introduced rugby as a way to bring together a team of British subjects to play a similar group of transplanted Brits at Harvard. But enthusiasm was so great among undergraduates for this “new” game that a team was soon in the works.
All students interested in playing Rugby are invited to attend meeting to be held in the Athenaeum Common Room, at the corner of High and Elm streets, this evening at 7:15. Yale Daily News, February 13, 1930
Harold Cooper claimed that 1930 was the perfect psychological moment for rugby to return to Yale. At any rate there seemed to be enough interest to get a team going. “There is at present a sufficient number of English students in the University familiar with the game to form a strong nucleus for a team . . . [I am] quite satisfied with present indications of the quality of team Yale could present.” said Cooper.
Two weeks later the first rugby practice was held in the Field House. Lineups for two teams of fifteen were announced; most of the players were Americans. Cooper, along with fellow Englishman Cecil Bullock headed up recruiting players and organizing practice.
There will be a Rugby practice game at the Field House this afternoon at 3:45. All substitutes listed below and any others who report will play for at least half of the game. The line-ups follow:
Captain’s Fifteen: Clegg, fullback; Dockery, Foote, Meek, and Crowther, three-quarters; Whiting and Wills, halfbacks; Hayes, Godman, Stewart, McEwen, Hess, Espy, McKleroy, and Cooper, forwards.
Secretary’s Fifteen: Noble, fullback; Norton, Hall, Savage, and Miller, three-quarters; Fleming and Bullock, halfbacks; Jenkins, Janeway, Jones, Goodrich, McCrary, Hayes, W. White, and H.G. White, forwards.
Spares- Bronckie, Calkertson, Creat, Dreyfus, Elvin, Faeth, Heddon, Henderson, Heming, James, Knight, Lewis, Mathew, and Scott. Yale Daily News, February 25, 1930
Yale, the first East Coast college to form a club, and was soon followed by other schools including Harvard and Princeton. The Philadelphia Marines formed a team and independent clubs started springing up in other cities.
Initially Yale rugby was played exclusively in the spring and the school administration was adamant that in no way would it replace American football.
Rugby is not expected to supersede American football to any degree whatsoever. The best claim made for it is that there is a greater equalization of playing opportunities for all of the players involved, that it gets away from the one-man star system and that it brings out the best type of sportsmanship in its players. It is unlikely that rugby will ever infringe on the popularity of football. Yale Daily News, February 1930
Nevertheless, many of the players on the early rugby teams were members of the Yale Football squad, including: W.W. Greene, ’30, R.A. Hall, ’30, J. Godman, ’30, and J.R. Stewart, ’31. The Yale rugby team would draw athletes from a wide range of Yale fall sports including crew, track, soccer, polo, wrestling, and baseball.
Let the Games Begin
Yale’s first match, against the Philadelphia Marines, was scheduled for March 29, 1930. In advance of the first game, Captain Cooper staged a match between two teams, the “probables” and the “possibles,” in order to determine the final lineup. More than 40 men had joined up to play rugby for Yale. Among the players to stand out were Edward Dickinson, Joseph Clegg, John Godman, and R. Jenkins who like Cooper, was a graduate student. With eight days before the match with the Marines the squad practiced regularly and the coaches stated they felt the team would be “in reasonably good shape by the time the visitors from Philadelphia arrive next Saturday.”
Neither Yale nor the Marine team was expected to give a showing of rugby finesse thanks to the “newness” of this new game, its rules, and its play.
Lieutenant Albert F. Moe is captain of the Marine aggregation. He has had some practice in playing rugby in California, Buenos Aires, China, and elsewhere. Neither his team nor the Eli men led by Captain Harold Cooper are expected to produce high standards of play. The game will be more of an introduction to skilled contests in the future than an exhibition of finished technique. Allowances will be made for the infancy of the sport but after sufficient experience has been encountered by the Yale men, and after other college teams organize teams for intercollegiate competition, proficiency will result. Yale Daily News, February 28, 1930
March 29 arrived: a perfect day for a game. The weather was ideal, sunny but cool. Spectators from New York and Massachusetts. Two thousand spectators cheered the teams on. James Smith, son of Yale mascot “Pop” Smith who had attended just about every Yale game played in his lifetime, was reportedly the only spectator to have seen Yale play rugby in the previous century. The Yale Banner recorded the action of the first game:
[1930 team] Note: NYT pix for March 30, 1930 include action shots: possible to access? Too expensive
The play was mostly in Yale territory in the first half of the game, but good defensive play by Yale kept the Marines from scoring. In the second half, with the wind behind them, the Yale team was on the aggressive, and finally Jago dropkicked a field goal, and fifteen minutes later Bullock, making a fair catch dropkicked another goal. Yale pressed until the end of the game but was unable to score again. Result: Yale 7 (2 goals), Marines 0. New York Times March 30, 1930.
The fans were not disappointed and the general feeling was that rugby was back to stay… at least at Yale. Those who came to watch described rugby as far more exciting than soccer and less rough than football. Five more games, all well attended, would be played in this “first” season of 1930.
Following their win against the Marines the Yale squad traveled to New York’s Staten Island where they met the New York Rugby Club on April 12. The New York Club, formed in 1929 and originally called the New York Nomads, was comprised almost completely of former British rugby players. Yale was missing some of its key players, including Cecil Bullock who had suffered a knee injury. They gave the New York team a strong challenge but they were no match for the more experienced team and the Nomads thwarted the Elis, winning 8-3.
The New York Club forced the Yale team to assume the defensive for most of the game . . . Near the end of the game, however, Yale assumed the offensive and showed a clever passing and kicking attack, with Jago, McCrary and Cooper taking the leading roles, but the defense of the New Yorkers proved equal to the occasion . . . With only about 5 minutes remaining, the New York team started a furious onslaught . . . with little more than a minute left a pass to Milroy brought Williams over for the winning try. The New York Times, April 13, 1930
A week later Yale met the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association at Yale for the season’s second home game. Yale was outplayed by the more experienced Montreal players in the first period but rallied in the second to tie the score ten minutes before the final whistle was blown. Play was rough on the part of both teams.
Mawhinney of Montreal broke his nose in the opening minutes of play, but he continued through the game, always in the midst of the scrummages. Time was called twice to replace torn off jerseys and trousers. The New York Times, April 20, 1930
Yale and Harvard renewed their rivalry on the rugby field on April 26 at a game played in the Yale Bowl. The two colleges last played each other in rugby in the 1800’s. Like Yale, Harvard owed its new rugby team to the inspiration of an Englishman, T.L. Jarman, a graduate of New College, Oxford who, like Harold Cooper, was a Davison scholar. Most of the players on the Harvard squad were either British or Canadian. Jarman tried to downplay the notion that rugby was for Brits only. Interviewed by the Harvard Crimson he said: “We will welcome any new recruits. At present there are 20 men reporting … but as 15 are needed for a rugby team we feel rather shorthanded. Three quarters of the players have had experience in England, or Canada, but contrary to the general impression, there are ten freshman working with us.”
Jarman’s team practiced regularly, outfitted in soccer uniforms and playing with an American football. But Harvard’s new team was no match for the Yale ruggers who had gained experience working as a team. Nine thousand spectators filled the Yale Bowl to watch the game. Yale blanked Harvard 11-0.
Yale’s rugby team defeated Harvard 11 to 0 in the Yale Bowl today before a crowd estimated at about 9,000; the largest crowd that has seen Yale play the new game since its renewal this spring. The game was marked by rough and spirited play on the part of both teams, frequent misunderstanding of the rules, conferences with the referee and a few minor injuries.
Yale started scoring early and had command of the situation from the first minutes of play. “Major” Wade, captain of Yale scrub football team made the first try in real football fashion. Captain Harold Cooper converted the goal and Yale led 5-0. A few minutes later, after much scrapping, Joe Clegg, a track man, on a pass from Wilson and MacArthur, (named after his uncle, General Douglas MacArthur) crossed the Crimson line to add three more points to the Yale tally…The first 28 minutes of the second half saw the two teams battling back and forth before a score. Finally, with nine minutes to go, Dickinson, a soccer player, carried the ball over for Yale’s third try. The Boston Globe, April 27, 1930
On May 3rd Yale faced the New York Nomads in a return match. This time Yale showed its mettle, winning 27-0.
New York held the team until close to the end of the first period and on two occasions almost scored. But Yale, advancing the ball steadily into New York territory through the work of Jago and Cooper, got another five points in this period when Strange ran the ball ten yards for the try and Cooper converted the goal with another fine kick.
Yale ran away with the game in the second period, getting five tries and one
goal. Jago got the ball across the touchline after a long series of passing with Cooper during a 30-yard gain. Then Cooper converted the goal with a beautiful kick from a sharp angle. Peyton continued the scoring with two tried and Hall and Dickinson each added one. New York Times, May 3, 1930
In 1930 the Yale rugby team was not (and is not today) a Varsity sport and the team covered its own expenses. But it was also the only club sport able to cover its costs from admission fees.
Members of the Yale team will receive checks covering expenses before noon today. They may entrain for Philadelphia either tonight or tomorrow morning, but they must be at the Franklin Stadium, where the last game is to be played, by 12:30 at the latest…It has been decided to award blazers to a limited number of men, and perhaps charms to others. J. Clegg, ’30, is chairman of a special committee chosen to deal with this matter. Yale Daily News, May 9, 1930
On May 10th Yale played its final rugby game of the first season: a rematch with the Philadelphia Marines. If Yale won the game its team would be champions of 1930. But fate was not in their favor. Many of the team’s top players were not available for this end of term game, including Hall, Godman, Stewart and Noble. The Marines blanked Yale, 11-0. Both teams had come a long way since their first meeting in March. Spectators had too. Final tally for the season: 4 wins, 2 losses, one tie.
Yale’s early victory . . . does not indicate much as to the relative strength of the two teams, for that was the first contest of the season and the players as well as the onlookers had but a vague idea as to what the game was all about. Since this time both teams have gained much experience. The first season of Rugby Football, thus completed under the able leadership of Captain Cooper, was very satisfactory, and it has been shown that this sport has made a direct appeal to undergraduate athletes of every sort. Yale Banner, 1930
In 1931 Princeton, Pennsylvania, West Point, Cornell, and Dartmouth all established rugby teams. Cecil Bullock captained the 1931 Yale team. A squad of about 40 candidates met for the first Yale practice in early March and the season opened with a game against the New York Rugby Club. In 1930 the two teams met twice and each had a win and a loss. But the March 21, 1931 game was a defeat for Yale with NYRC winning 15-10, despite brilliant play by Hall and Dickinson.
Dickinson broke loose on his own 20-yard line and carried the ball to the 40-yard mark, where he passed to Hall. Hall then unleashed one of his brilliant runs, carrying the ball to his opponents’ 5-yard line, where he stumbled but recovered and downed the ball for Yale’s first try. Bullock converted the goal and Yale led for the first and only time…With only 5 minutes to play, Hall again broke loose on a long run, this time covering more than 60 yards for his second try of the game. Bullock again converted and brought Yale’s score to ten. New York Times, March 22, 1930
On April 18 the Princeton Tigers came to New Haven for the first Princeton-Yale rugby match since the previous century. Harold Cooper had left Yale to study at Princeton and coached and played on the first Princeton rugby team. The Tigers won the game 8-6 after a brilliant second half with the decisive play coming just minutes before time was called. Yale was overcome by Princeton’s four-man lateral pass attacks. In a later return match with Princeton, Yale was still unable to break its string of defeats lost 0-7. The following week Yale traveled to Cambridge to meet Harvard but they were decisively defeated 3-11. Bullock made the only try for Yale.
Finally, on May 9, Yale scored its first victory of the 1931 season with a 13-6 win over the NYRC. It was the only defeat of the year for the New York team. The Yale team ended the season with a decisive win over Harvard in the Yale Bowl. The score was 19-0. The win was largely credited to the outstanding play of football star Tommy Taylor who made three tries and scored 9 points. His finesse as a running back was the most brilliant attacking feature of the game.
Jack Winter, who had played on the Yale team since its inception in 1930, was named Captain and coach of the 1932 team. While many veteran players would be a part of the 1932 squad, the team was still looking for new rugby players.
Every one who is interested in playing should report regardless of whether or not he has had previous experience, as the fundamentals of the game and the plans for the coming season will be discussed. Yale Daily News, 1932
Thirty-five candidates appeared for the first team practice.
Four varsity games were planned for the 1932 season-one against the New York Rugby Club, two against Princeton, and one against Harvard. The team suffered major losses to both Harvard and Princeton. Yale won its first game April 16 against the NYRC 8-6, but the following week they lost to Princeton 0-3 and then Harvard blanked Yale 17-0. In a return match Princeton trumped the Yale team by a score of 10-3. The year came to a close with Yale’s record one win and three losses.
The fourth season of Yale Rugby, 1933, Alanson James Donald captained the team.
The fourth season of Yale Rugby, 1933, Alanson James Donald captained the team.
It was the first year of the now traditional Spring Break competitions. The Bermuda Tourist Board in association with the Bermuda Athletic Club conceived of the Bermuda games as a way to attract visitors. Yale was the first American college to play in Bermuda: Harvard did not play there until 1935 and Princeton did not make the trip until 1937.
On March 29, 1933 a squad of 20 Yale rugbians set sail for Bermuda. They were late to the ship, which had to hold sail for four hours. Captain Donald and his players were accompanied by about 55 friends and Yale students (including the Yale Glee Club). Three hundred friends and fans went to the New York pier to see the Eli team set sail. Yale Daily News, March 30, 1933
The Bermuda squad included nearly a dozen members of the varsity football team and several hockey players and oarsmen. Captain-elect Bob Lassiter of the football eleven played, as did Bob Wagner, Yale’s baseball manager and son of United States Senator Wagner. Yale opened its “Bermuda invasion” with a 14-3 win over the British Navy but lost its second game to an All Bermuda team, 3-14.
The highlight of the season was a trip to Bermuda during the Spring holidays. The team was cordially received and all members of the Yale party were most enthusiastic about the visit… Despite the fact that many members of the team lacked experience, Yale made a fine showing and broke even in two games played…the All-Bermuda team proved …too clever for a Yale team handicapped by inexperience and injures. The stay on the islands was made thoroughly enjoyable by the real cordiality and hospitality displayed by the people of Bermuda…the trip was quite the most delightful trip ever taken by a Yale team and bids fair to become a permanent fixture. Yale Yearbook, 1933
When the Yale returned home for the regular season, the team, led by Captain Alanson Donald, excelled after an early loss to NYRC 3-9. The following week Yale turned in an impressive game, blanking Harvard 14-0. Donald scored 6 points, to help Yale defeat Princeton by a score of 9-6. Playing a defensive game scoring came on a long drop kick by Donald and a sensational try by Morgan, who ran half the length of the field. Donald then converted. Yale proceeded to blank Harvard again in the season’s final match and the team closed the 1933 season with a record of 4-3-0
The 1934 aggregation of the Yale Rugby Team was as large as its predecessors, but not as experienced or as skillful. Yale Yearbook, 1934
Captain Bogart or “El Presidente” as he was referred by fellow Elis was hard put to pull together an experienced team in 1934. Only five players had ever graced a rugby field before. A call was put out to all idle fall athletes in the spring of 1934 and at Bogart’s urgings, members of the Yale Hockey team lent their services. Two Englishmen, Dick Preston and Frank McClenaghan were included in the lineup as playing coaches.
As in 1933, the spring trip to Bermuda was the highlight of the season. Although Yale won only one game out of four, the squad “felt satisfied that the rudiments and confusing rules of the game had finally been mastered through close contact with the good-natured Bermudians.” The Yalies clearly enjoyed themselves and were feted by an ongoing parade of dinners and parties. One observer noted that thanks to the social scene, the Yale team was somewhat the worse for wear by week’s end.
A week after their return the Yale ruggers faced a formidable adversary from England: Cambridge University. Cambridge sent a rugby team to the United States to meet with the “Big Three,” Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in a series of exhibition games. The Yale match was played at the Yale Bowl on April 10. Yale was defeated 32-5.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the mirth of the crowd. Many of the gyrations of the players about the field brought bursts of laughter from the stands. This was due for the most part to a lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of the game. An example of the ruggedness of rugger players is shown in an incident in the game when the forward lines went to scrum even while the ball was among the spectators. Yale Daily News, April 1933
The Cambridge captain was courteous in his assessment of the Yale team, blaming inexperience not lack of talent for Yale’s defeat. “The Americans show good promise, but it will take some years of practice before they will have perfected the game. Ignorance of the rules of rugger seems to be the greatest handicap.” Malcolm Farmer, Director of Athletics and his wife served the visiting Englishmen a traditional English tea.
An All-Eastern Rugby Team with two players from Yale- Reed Anthony and Larry Bogart- played a championship game against Cambridge but again Cambridge was victorious. Though plans were made for rematchs with Cambridge for 1935, the Englishmen did not return to the U.S. for another tour until 1938.
After four straight losses to the French Rugby Club, Harvard, Princeton, and the New York Rugby Club, the Elis scored a victory over Long Island University in the last contest of the season, winning by 41-0. LIU had never had a rugby team before. Yale scored 21 of the 41 points by intermission. Bob Lassiter, member of the Yale Varsity football squad led the scoring, individually registering 17 points. He made the only drop kick of the game and converted five tries out of nine attempted. His most difficult conversion came on the 29-yard line. Captain Larry Bogart, Earl Nikkel, Waddy Crawford, and Dick Preston were also key players in the match. Despite the many losses the Yale Yearbook described the season as successful.
Thus the season ended, successful in that the game was more firmly established as a spring sport, but discouraging from the standpoint of games won and lost. However, the spirit and enthusiasm of each player in the enjoyment of the famous English game lent a great deal to the sport itself and to the creation of real “Rugger” atmosphere at Yale.
Captain Strat Morton’s 1935 Yale squad delivered the best Bermuda tour yet, winning three of four contests. The climax of the trip was the victory over Harvard whose ruggers were making their first trip to Bermuda. Yale won 3-0 and went on to win the championship for Bermuda’s first Rugby Week.
Every year a bunch of stalwarts makes a trip to Bermuda and play 3 or 4 games in this lovely spot. The stories about this particular jaunt are too many and too well known to warrant repetition here, but the Yale-Harvard meeting . . . will serve as a glistening example. Harvard had a skillful side composed mainly of English graduate students who knew the game from A to Z; Yale’s team was made up of bruisers most of whom had never seen Rugby before, let alone played it . . . How did Yale win: By putting pressure and then more pressure; by tackling so savagely and running so hard that Harvard’s Englishmen thought they had run up against a reenactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Yale Yearbook, 1935
Upon their return to New Haven, the Elis faced a tough adversary in the NYRC in their first game on April 13. The NYRC team boasted a number of recent Yale graduates, including Mac Williamson, Bert Strange, and Dave Howland. The game was played in dismal conditions on a rain-soaked field. Captain Morton downplayed the weather saying, “It makes no difference what kind of weather we have. As a matter of fact a rain-soaked field should add excitement.” Despite the excitement, Yale lost the match, 0-3.
Three more games were played in 1935. Yale defeated the French Rugby Club 21-7 and Long Island University, 27-3. Long Island had just recently formed a team and was still unfamiliar with the ins and outs of rugby. The Blues lost to Princeton 0-3. The final tally for the 1935 season: 2 wins, 2 losses.
Vic Despard took over the duties of Captain for the 1936 team. The trip to Bermuda was a successful one with two victories for the Elis. Unfortunately Yale’s joyous victory over Harvard at Bermuda in 1935 was not to be repeated; Harvard edged out Yale for a score of 8 to 5. Despite the loss Yale football star Clint Frank showed his star power on the rugby field. Playing for Harvard was Joseph Kennedy Jr. son of the then Ambassador to England, Joseph Kennedy Sr.
An outstanding feature was Clint Frank’s brilliant downfield run to score a try for the Elis . . . Starting the second half the Harvard tackles checked a series of hard Yale attacks. Keller of Harvard cracked his shoulder blade and was removed to a hospital . . . Frank then intercepted a pass and, shaking off player after player, registered his try.
Yale continued to be known for its “steam-roller techniques” coming in large part from the number of Varsity football players like Clint, who played rugby in the Bermuda games of 1936. As always fun and entertainment were an integral part of any rugby match.
Rugby football at Yale is conducted according to the best English traditions of sport, and everybody has lots of fun. Lest this statement be liable to misconstruction, the assertion is immediately made that the Blue Rugby side always plays to win, and plays its hardest; by English tradition is implied merely a splendid informality of organization and a negligible set of training rules. “Ruggah,” as it is known on the other side of the water, is not a game for sissies. Yale Yearbook, 1936
Back home, the Blues continued a good year with three wins and two losses. Perhaps the most entertaining game was one played against a new club, the semi-pro Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were at a disadvantage from the start, with a team of only 12. Yale trounced their opponent with their superior knowledge of the game, their agility, and perhaps their knowledge of how to have a good time.
The headline for the Yale Daily News April 13, 1936 read: “Rum Aids Rugbymen in Subduing Pilgrims.”
The match, scheduled for 3:30, barely managed to get going by 5. The Yale team, however, was ready promptly at 4:30, and while waiting for the visitors, amused themselves by finishing two bottles of rum-“to get into the Bermuda atmosphere of things”-throwing hats at a box on William Fell Mercer’s head, and shivering with cold. Heinie Gardner was one of the few who spent his time romping around the field, with the straps of his headgear flying.
Towards the end of the second half, after another bottle of rum had been consumed and the light began to fade, two players had to leave for other appointments before the game was finished. The final score was 25-0, Yale. The following week Yale’s agility on the field was not enough to defeat the French Rugby Club who narrowly defeated Yale, 6-5.
The French Rugby team beat the Yale fifteen, 6-5, in a spirited game at Van Cortlandt Park yesterday. It was a well-deserved victory, for while Yale played alert, fast and often brilliant rugby, the winners were more polished, passed more effectively and capitalized on superior teamwork…. There were plenty of examples of brilliance, notably on the part of Jerry Roscoe of football fame and Captain Vic Despard. New York Times, May 14, 1936
The Elis had one more win for the season, against Long Island University, but then lost to NYRC and Harvard. Heavy rain and a muddy, slippery field marred the Harvard match.
In a downpour of rain, the Cantab Rugby team clipped the Blue fifteen for a 5-0 victory in the Bowl yesterday afternoon . . . with a nondescript audience scattered from the first row up to the press box, the Elis, encouraged, showed in the second half of the contest a remarkable improvement after their week of comparatively consistent practice. In the latter part of the game they consistently outplayed their rivals. Clint Frank especially, and Al Wilson were a continuous source of annoyance to the Crimsons. Yale Daily News, May 14, 1936
Sid Towle was captain and coach for the ’37 season and under his leadership characterized in the New York Times as “the most brilliant team performance of the season.” The lineups again included athletic stars from other Yale teams, including soccer and hockey as well as football. The Yale Daily News fondly dubbed the hockey volunteers, some of whom had never played rugby, “the yearling pucksters”.
Yale played ten matches in 1937, but only two in Bermuda since neither Harvard, Princeton, nor Navy had vacations at the same time. The blues were blanked in both matches. The final match of the 1937 season was against Princeton who roundly defeated Yale 11-0.
The consensus of opinion at the coroner’s inquest seemed o be that the Elis had been severely handicapped by the fact that most of the Princeton team arrived Saturday morning, too late for the festivities of Fraternity Row the previous evening. In fact, as a further handicap, two of the Blues who formed the nucleus of the scoring punch were found to be too severely incapacitated to play and had to be substituted for by two players who weren’t in training . . . As to the game itself, the spectators were dressed in colorful costumes to fit in with the atmosphere and cheered impartially whenever a stirring run or a try was made. Yale Daily News, May 24, 1937
Yale ended the season with a 3-5-2 record. Kevin Rafferty, who had never played rugby before the Bermuda trip, quickly showed his skill for the sport and was named captain of the 1938 Yale team.
The year marked the return of the Cambridge University team to the United States for a series of exhibition games- the first since 1934. Yale’s match was the first for the British team who were sent off with the good wishes by none other than King George VI who advised his countrymen to ‘Beat Those Eli Upstarts’.
The game, held March 23, in the Yale Bowl, drew a crowd of 2,000 spectators. Spectators were charged 55 cents each for admission. True to its reputation for skill and finesse, the more experienced Cambridge team trounced the Elis by a whopping 40-0. The Englishmen’s skill in heeling the ball out of the scrums gave them a decided advantage and their lateral passing was far superior to that of the Yale team. Yale took consolation in the fact that it was beaten by Cambridge by less than Princeton and Harvard in their matches against the Englishmen. Ever the gentlemen, the Yale players offered additional spoils to the victors: a traditional English tea.
The following week the Yale team set sail for the annual Rugby Week in Bermuda. They were blanked by Princeton, 0-6, beaten by H.M.S. Orion, 6-3, and tied the Bermuda Athletic Association 3-3.
Of the five other games played that season Yale lost three, but happily outscored Harvard to beat its rivals 18-11. The Yale team practices before the Harvard game emphasized kicking and the development of faster coordination between the scrum half and the three-quarter half. The subsequent victory was particularly sweet since the Blues had not defeated Harvard since 1935.
Unforeseen schedule changes that meant cancelled games decimated the 1939 season. Yale did not play Princeton, NYRC, or Harvard that year. Captain David Boies’ team put in a win over Harvard in Bermuda but lost its other three matches. Nevertheless as had become custom, the trip was a fruitful one in “wine, women, and song” if not in victories. Hospitality was first rate. The Yale headquarters was at the Hotel Langdon where a private bar was provided for the formality of breaking training after each game.
Yale went on to lose two of the three regular season games, with a victory over Long Island University of 21 to 8.
Play Interrupted: The 1940s
James Butler was named captain for the Yale team, but the 1940 season a dismal one for the Yale ruggers who put up a record of one win and nine losses.
Bruised and brown, the informal and unofficial Yale rugby team straggled into New Haven last night after a spring vacation invasion of Nassau, which netted the Elis four straight defeats. Yale Daily News, March 28, 1940
Yale’s one victory came over Cornell whom they beat 9-8. The Blues were blanked by Long Island University, Harvard, and the St. Andrews’ Rugby Club.
By 1941 things were looking up for the Yalies. Captain Harry Wheeler noted just prior to the annual Bermuda trip: “We’ve broken a time-honored precedent. We have actually practiced for a solid week!” Despite the extra practice Yale lost all three of its Bermuda matches. However the Elis went on to score strong victories at in the regular season, starting with a decisive victory over the NYRC, 21-0.
Paced by high-scoring Tim Hoopes, the Eli ruggers handed the New York Rugby Club a 21-0 trimming on the local field Saturday, playing, according to referee Sidney Lane, one of the best games he has ever seen . . . Wheeler and Pat Westfield paid tribute to Spike Nelson’s football conditioning this spring, calling attention to the fact that the rugby team never practiced, but played only on game days. Referee Lane . . . added that the squad had the most aggressive spirit he had ever seen on the rugby field. Yale Daily News, April 14, 1941
The following week the Blues scored another win, over the St. Andrews Rugby Club, beating them 14-3.
The Blues were well in the lead throughout the game, the New Jersey club’s only score coming on a first period penalty kick. Freshman Tim Hoopes led the scoring for the second week, running up eight points, while Hayes and Howe each put n a try for three points apiece. “The team’s really starting to look good now,” Captain Wheeler stated, adding that the men were in peak condition . . . The usual Saturday night victory banquet took place in New York. Yale Daily News, April 21, 1941
The winning streak of two solid victories in a row came to an abrupt halt when Yale faced Harvard. The Crimson blanked the Blues, 0-9. The Yalies remained undeterred and closed the season with two more wins: Long Island University 21-0 and Princeton, 3-0.
Wheeler was again captain of the Yale team in 1942, until he joined the U.S. Marines when Hovey Seymour took over the Captaincy. In light of the war, no matches were played in Bermuda that year. Yale’s first opponent was Long Island University and the Elis smashed their opponent with a 17-0 win, thanks in large part to the work of Tom Hoopes, high scorer of 1941. Captain Wheeler commented that the game had been particularly tough since most of the play was in the scrum as opposed to the open field.
Yale followed with another victory over Vermont, a new opponent, so small that they only had 12 players; Yale’s Pat Logan, Freddy Hirshorn, and Innis O’Rourke played on the Vermont team to make up their numbers. Yale won 16-0. The Blues closed out the season with a 5-1 record. Their only loss was to Harvard, 8-10. Yale took the championship with its final victory over Princeton. The year 1942 would be the last for the Yale Rugby team until after World War II.
In March 17, 1943 rugby Captain Townsend (Tom) Hoopes, in conjunction with the Yale Athletic Association, announced that rugby as a competitive sport would be dropped at Yale for the duration of the war.
The brevity of the season, in which few experienced players could be developed, and the policy of the Athletic Association to limit minor varsity sports as much as possible to accommodate the war effort were given as the reasons for the curtailment of rugby this spring. Yale Daily News, March 18, 1943
Many non-Varsity sports suffered the same fate. Yale cancelled Spring Break to speed up graduation for its students. It also banned any games that involved travel, thereby curtailing costs with regard to rubber (tires), fuel, and travel by rail.
Not everyone agreed with the ban. Writing in an editorial in the Yale Daily News, Jim Dicken compared the bans at Yale to the decisions made at other Ivy League Schools and called for the Yale Athletic Association to further clarify its ban.
On paper Yale’s athletic curriculum runs as follows: Baseball, limited; track, defunct; crew, extinct; lacrosse dying; tennis and golf localized; rugby assassinated; polo, no horses. At Princeton the Tiger still has his stripes . . . At Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell we find a somewhat different situation . . . None of these institutions have taken Yale’s lead in cutting their programs although it has been rumored that Dartmouth has stopped taking its beer from cans for the duration . . .Only Harvard A.A. has taken steps similar to Yale to cuts its outside athletic schedules . . . Yale could and should be a leader in organizing war-time athletics, but unless the Y.A.A. clarifies its position, its path would be too tortuous for any athletic advisory group to follow.
Post War, Rugby Begins Again
Yale handily beat the Main Line Rugby Club, comprised of Villanova students, in the fall opener. Bert Decker and Otto Rogers were the scorers for Yale. Rogers racked up three points on a 24-yard run to touchdown less than 10 minutes into the game. Decker scored one touchdown and two conversions. The kicking ability of Bert Decker would account for over 90% of Yale’s points.
The next match, against Wesleyan, was equally successful, with Yale blanking the opposition 11-0. However, MIT dumped Yale the following week, winning 19-5.
Yale prepared to meet the Big Green, that perennially strong Dartmouth team in their next game. According to the Yale Daily News, “Rugby for some reason or other has gained great popularity on the Big Green campus, where almost 80 men report each season.” In 1960, odds seemed to be in Yale’s favor; most of the players on the Eli team had played together for three years. But the Dartmouth team was brawnier and blanked Yale 0-13. Yale was also at a disadvantage with only 13 men on the team. Captain Dave Hall commented that the score did “not indicate the relative merits of the two teams.” Gary Van Galder, wing forward and Dave Hemphill, fullback excelled for the Blue.
Captain Dave Hall held four days of hard practice in preparation for the upcoming game against Princeton, and hoped he could play with a full squad. Hard work and a full 15-man team paid off for Yale. With Van Galder and Decker showing some of their star qualities, Yale beat Princeton 5-3. Van Galder was a former football All-American at Stanford.
The Yale Rugby Club shoved over a touchdown in the first 20 minutes and made it stand up the rest of the way to upset previously unbeaten Princeton.
Gary Van Galder dropped on a loose ball in a scrum for Yale’s score at the 20-minute mark in the first half, and Bert Decker kicked the conversion despite a bad ankle. Yale Daily News, 11/17/60
1970s: The Gentle Need Not Apply
TURN OF THE CENTURY
By the spring of 1947, rugby was back, at first with a team made up largely of football players, 19 of whom made the trip to Bermuda for the first visit to that country since the war. Bill Schuler, ’47 was team captain. Transportation was difficult as commercial air travel was still not available to civilians. Perseverance prevailed and the trip came off. A crowd of 1,200 including the governor of the Crown Colony and numerous Smith, Radcliff, and other vacationing college girls, saw Yale defeat the Second Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment by a score of 16-3. The team finished their visit with two wins, one loss and one tie. As always the entertainment, complete with calypso singers, was enjoyed to the fullest.
The squad only played one regular game in 1947, against Princeton whom they beat 17-3.
The days of travel by ocean liner were over and in 1948 the Yale ruggers made the trip to Bermuda by plane on a chartered flight from Pan Am. Advertisements were placed in the Yale Daily News regarding open seats for sale.
Life Magazine traveled to Bermuda in 1948 and reported on the collegiate rites of spring:
Rugby, like sleep, is only a slight intrusion in a furious round of formal and informal mixed social events that include dancing, picnicking, bicycling, swimming and just plain sitting in the moonlight.
This year Rugby Week was celebrated between March 30 and April 8 . . . Yale, Harvard, and Princeton sent teams. Four hundred friends and girl friends of the players came too, mostly by airplane. They watched Princeton beat Yale . . .They got terribly tangled up riding bicycles in the left-handed Bermuda traffic. They got terrible sunburns, and most of them saw little of Bermuda. Life Magazine, April 16, 1948
The 1948 Bermuda jaunt included matches against Harvard and Princeton and the Yale team eagerly looked forward to the trip.
Rough, rugged, and loaded for bear, Yale’s informal rugby squad is straining at the leash as it awaits departure time for its junket to Bermuda and a little international blood-letting on the fields of friendly strife against opposition provided by several British teams and Harvard and Princeton. Yale Daily News, 1948
Due to the interruption of play by World War II most of the team were new to the game and play was often marred by lack of finesse. Ever hopeful, Captain Lud Ashley noted, “This year the team has a better understanding of the game.”
Bermuda continued to be a high point for the start of each spring rugby season and the island’s popularity among college students for the many appealing entertainments on hand (rugby included) grew exponentially. According to Pan Am Airways, more than 500 young men and women from nineteen Eastern schools made reservations to Bermuda between March 24 and April 27. The airline noted that “Elaborate plans had been made for the entertainment of college visitors at balls, beach and bicycle parties, reading a high point in “Rugby Week,” April 4 to 10, when teams from Yale, Princeton and Harvard will play for the 1949 championships.” Yale was Bermuda champion for 1949. No regularly scheduled games were played in either 1948 or 1949.
1950-1959: New Teams, New Challenges
In 1950, intercollegiate play resumed in the States. Yale met Princeton, MIT, and Harvard. Yale, led by Captain William Barnett, played a strong home season, ending the year with a 2-1 record. The Elis beat Princeton and MIT, who they had not played since 1938, but lost the final game of the season to Harvard 3-8. Yale took the Bermuda championship 1950-1953. Rugby was played little in 1951 and 1952. In 1951 only two games were played, both in Bermuda. Yale won both, beating Harvard 11-8 and Princeton 3-0. One game was played in the fall of 1951, against Princeton who took Yale 8-3. Again in 1952 Yale came away with a 3-1 record. They won two games in Bermuda against the Bermuda Athletic Association and Dartmouth, and then blanked Harvard 6-0. The final game of the season was against Princeton who trounced Yale 3-0. Johnny Robson and Bill Cordes led the team.
With Harry Baldwin as Captain, Yale won 3 of its matches in 1953. The following year again saw play in Bermuda. Harris Ashton was captain of the 1954 team. Yale played 7 games and ended the season on a high note with four wins, two losses and one tie. The tie came in a match with the Bermuda Athletic Association who traveled to New Haven in May.
Finally in 1955 Yale again faced opponents seven times. No score is recorded for the Princeton game. Yale beat Harvard 13-6 but lost to Dartmouth twice and tied them once. Captain Bill Mercer’s 1956 team tied two games in Bermuda and lost another, to Dartmouth, 0-18.
In 1957 Yale’s rugby team made its first trip to the West Coast to play UCLA in a series of games. It was the team’s only trip to California in the 1950’s and the players might have wished they’d stayed home. The Elis were badly beaten in all four games: 24-0; 35-3; 31-12; 13-0. California traveled to New Haven and again downed the Yale team, 15-3. Yale won only two games in 1957, beating Dartmouth 5-0 and the Wall Street Rugby Club 13-0. That year, as well as in 1958 and 1959 Yale did not make the trip to Bermuda. The team redeemed itself slightly in 1958 with a season record of five wins, three losses.
In late September 1959, the Yale Rugby Club announced plans to hold its first fall practice session. The notice appeared in the Yale Daily News with the addition that “There is still a chance for others to play rugby.” The Yale ruggers could have used the help as they closed the decade with a record of only two wins, both against Montreal Irish (9-3 and 16-8). The 1960s would herald new ventures by the Yale rugby team including a first-ever trip to Jamaica.
The Traditions Continue: Yale Rugby 1960-1990
The Yale Rugby team closed out the 1950’s with a record barely over the 500-mark. Hopes ran high that the next decade would bring better records, (without too much more practicing). The 60’s would certainly broaden the team’s horizons with spring trips to places near and far and added games in the fall as well as seven-a-side winter rugby, often played in the New York Armory, either preceded or followed by a Polo match. Yale’s teams would also include some well-honed players from rugby-rich countries like Ireland, Brazil, Great Britain, and South Africa among others.
In February notice went out in the Yale Daily News of the first meeting of the 1960 Rugby Club. Up for discussion were a six-day spring trip to St. Louis in March and the Oxford-Cambridge match to be held at Yale on April 7. The Daily News expressed high hopes for the rugby squad that was “showing great improvement.” In preparation for the first match against Westchester, Harold Thakrah of the NYRC showed films on rugby to future Eli rugbians.
The Eastern Rugby Union, of which Yale was a member demonstrated the continued popularity of the game: in 1959 it had only seven teams but by 1960 there were thirteen and by the end of the decade more than 30 teams would play in the Union. Yet the basics of the rugby game continued to be something of a mystery to the average spectator and the rules were often explained in the media.
The ball is kicked, carried, not thrown, and tackling is permitted. No forward passes are allowed however, and no one can block out opponents in front of the ball carrier.
Because of the lack of blocking and thus the need for frequent passes, the ball changes hands rapidly. As a result, highly technical offensive strategy is not practiced, the emphasis being placed on speed and individual skill…Partly as a result of the emphasis on the individual and partly as a result of the almost non-existent eligibility requirements, many players participate in rugby who would not be eligible for sports with stricter codes…Time-out is rarely taken, and no padding is worn. Consequently, scrimmage is rough and injuries frequent. Yale Daily News, 3/21/60
The season opened with a bang as the Yale team swamped Westchester by a score of 12-3. The game however did not count in league standings since both coaches had agreed to allow substitutes in order to observe new players on the field. Ted Price captained the 1960 team and was a force to be met in his position in the forward wall. The hero of the game was undoubtedly Mike Lane who scored 3 goals.
Yale opened the scoring with a try by Mike Gulden. With Al Puryear, an Eli football tackle, and captain Ted Price excelling in the forward wall, Hank Truslow at scrum half, and Mike Lane at stand-off half, the Elis led 6-0 at the end of the first half.
Lane kicked a penalty goal in the third period to make the score 9-0. . . Late in the second half, Lane tallied his third penalty goal to end the scoring with the Elis on top 12-3. Yale Daily News, 3/21/60
In March Yale headed south for spring break; not as far south as Bermuda, but to St. Louis where the Elis played four games over eight days, winning two of the four matches. The first of these matches was a heartbreaking defeat as the Schumaker Rugby Club crushed the Blues 22-6. By the second game, Yale had regained some of its composure and trounced the Ramblers Primus 16-6. Ed Goodman accounted for two the three goals, and Mike Lane (a halfback from England) kicked two conversions and a penalty goal. The third game was another defeat, as the Sisler-Hummel Rugby Club blanked Yale 5-0. The Yale ruggers ended the trip on a high note though with a 22-0 win over the St. Louis University team. Brian Unwin (another Brit), Gary Van Galder, and Captain Price all excelled in the games.
April started with an unexpected and unwelcome vacation. The eagerly anticipated matches against the Oxford-Cambridge team never happened. The British were forced to cancel the trip when funding fell through.
The first conference game of the season was a match against Dartmouth, played on the Farmington Valley Polo field. The afternoon was a combination of rugby and Scottish traditions as the players and spectators were serenaded by the 3rd Stuart Highlanders, a bagpipe band from Rockville. Unfortunately for Yale two of their key players, Mike Lane and Hank Truslow, were out due to injuries. Lane had dislocated his elbow in St. Louis. The Dartmouth Indians, a strong team led by all-Easterner fullback Jake Crouthamel, had taken the 1959 championship. Yale lost the match, 5-11.
Yale lost its next game to Amherst who blanked the Elis 0-6. But at the home opener against Wesleyan reported the Yale Daily News, “The Yale rugby club will be cast in the unfamiliar role of favorite.” The Bulldogs did not disappoint: they overwhelmed Wesleyan with a 14-5 win.
Starring for the Elis was Sam Johnston, a sophomore playing his first game of rugby. Johnston broke a scoreless tie midway through the first half by scoring a touchdown out of the five-yard scrum and kicking the conversion. In the second half, after Wesleyan had closed the gap to 8-5, he scored on a 15-yard penalty kick.
Dave Hall’s touchdown in the last 15 minutes wrapped up the victory for Yale. Yale Daily News, 5/2/60
The heroes of the next game, against Princeton, were Gary Van Galder at wing forward and Dave Griffin, a freshman playing scrum half. Yet despite their valiant efforts Princeton crushed Yale by a score of 13-3. Things were looking up the following week when Yale faced the Westchester Rugby Club. The team racked up a 14-3 victory despite the absence of Sam Johnson, placekicking forward, who suffered a cracked rib in the Princeton game.
Halfback Ed Goodman sparked the Yale Rugby Club with two touchdowns. . . taking a lateral from Charlie Vachris, Goodman galloped 20 yards for one off the touchdowns midway through the first half. At about the 20-minute mark in the second half he dashed another 35 yards for his second score.
The first marker for the Elis came with only 12 minutes gone in the first half, when forward LeRoy Pendergrass pounced on a free ball in the Westchester end zone.
With only eight minutes left in the game, Dave Hall clicked for the fourth Yale score by catching a 25-yard pass. Yale Daily News, 5/9/60
Yale closed the 1960 spring rugby season with a 5.6.0 record. In September the club met to discuss fall meets. Newly elected captain Dave Hall was optimistic that with a team with numerous veterans Yale would field one of its strongest teams in years.
Among the returnees are fly half Charlie Vachris, prop LeRoy Pendergrass, and second row player Dave Ryan, all officers of the Rugby Club board. Also expected to provide strength are backs Mike Gulden, Dave Griffen, and Ed Goodman, along with Nick Sloan, who plays second row. Hall encouraged individuals new to the game to come out to an early practice. “The team will concentrate on conditioning and fundamentals of the game for the first few sessions, so previous experience is not necessary.” (Yale Daily News, 9/22/60)
A week after their return from Ireland, the Eli ruggers took on NYRC for the first game of the season. The game ended with Yale losing by 23-8…maybe it was the jet lag. At any rate they were back in the swing of things for their next match against visiting team St. Mary’s College of California. Yale had not played a California team since its disastrous trip West in 1957 when they lost all their matches. Happily this time things turned out better. . .Yale trumped the California team 12-9.
After the Ireland trip, for reasons that have yet to be fully explained, Yale’s rugby squad decided to name their teams instead of rating them.
This year, in interest of “diplomacy among teammates,” said Kehoe, team rating has been replaced with names. The first team has become the Bunratty Rangers, named after an Irish orgy. Yale Daily News, 4/15/69
The second, third, and fourth teams also changed names: the second was dubbed the Wolf Hounds; the third, Firblogs, “bellymen” who took over Ireland in the 6th century BC; and the fourth the Shamrock Rovers.
Yale’s ruggers continued to shine for the season, taking the Hartford Cup from Dartmouth with a 27-0 shellacking. The Bunratty Rangers went on to hand Amherst its first defeat of the season with a 17-0 victory. Prior to meeting Yale, Amherst had been considered the finest rugby team in New England. Next up was Harvard who proved to be no trouble at all for the Bunratty Rangers, aka Yale rugby squad. Yale delivered a solid 14-5 victory over the Crimson. The last match of the season was against Wesleyan who likely wished they had never shown up for the game. Yale overwhelmed the opposition with dynamic play leading to a 66-3 win. Yale finished the 1969 year as champions with a final record of six wins and only one loss.
The Yale Rugby team ended the decade in a far better place then they had started it when their win record was barely above 500. The question was, could they hold onto this lead for another year or better yet, decade? The Yale Banner dedicated precious yearbook space to a look at the paradox of rugby at Yale.
Outside the Fieldhouse, members assemble for practice clad in motley variations of battle regalia. (A Beethoven sweatshirt over a bating suit or Bermuda shorts is currently in top fashion for drills.) Since rugby players never wear padding and are rarely in top shape, they are vulnerable to almost any kind of injury, and the less stalwart members sport an interesting assortment of homemade bandages and wrappings covering an incredible variety of wounds. Even the field itself is a menace; during the fall it serves as a parking lot for Yale Bowl revelers, and by rugby season it is still scattered with the remnants of long-forgotten merry-making. More than a few nasty gashes have been sustained on bottle tops and broken glass.
Regular practices are organized by Captain Kehoe, whose thankless task it is to cajole or coerce his ragged charges into submitting to wind sprints and other such rigors necessary to insure survival in Saturday’s game. Kehoe is supported in his duties by coach Jack Farman, an assistant professor of radiology from South Africa, whose delicately phrased exhortations (“Carry on, chaps!” “Wafted!” “Wafted!” “Let’s have it out!” “Ah beauty, chaps! Beauty”), all delivered with the most Churchillian of accents, make the drudgery almost refreshing. In cases of equipment crisis on the field, Farman is not above entering the spectator stands to make apologetic requests for safety pins or shoestrings.
When Saturday arrives, there are still other obstacles that must be overcome. If the match is out of town, cars must be procured for transportation and one must nourish the hope that all players will somehow arrive by kickoff time. Last year at the Hartford Cup match, for example, star player Kehoe did not make his appearance until 15 minutes after scheduled starting time; his ride in New Haven had forgotten to pick him up. If the match is at Yale one must hope that the opposition shows up and has managed to find enough players to field a team, that a referee is present, and that he has seen rugby played before. Last but not least there is the business of obtaining an adequate supply of beer and a site for the post-match celebration.
Nonetheless, the rewards of such hassling are plentiful. All rugby players like to talk of a “unique community spirit,” of “lasting friendship,” and of “smiling inside at the true meaning of rugby.” In fact, there is considerable truth in their remarks; all club members love the game and desire to perform with proper excellence on the playing field. But more than that, the low-key approach to the entire rugby scene emphasizes the game itself above the victory-a phenomenon disappointingly uncommon in contemporary American Athletics.
Perhaps the hallmark of the rugby experience was stamped upon it by the game’s creator himself. A marker which has stood at Rugby School since 1823 bears the following tribute: “This stone commemorates the exploits of William Webb Ellis, who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game.”
In accordance with the spirit of the original tradition, rugby at Yale provides a gentleman scholar’s release from the pressures and frustrations of the larger academic and athletic systems of the university. Variations on the theme of joyful anarchy enliven the progression of a game: during play, for instance, anyone can carry the ball and anyone can kick it, producing a spectacle not unlike the running of the bulls at Pamplona. Or, after one of the infrequent periods when the ball is stopped, it is put back in play by procedure, evocatively enough, the scrum, in which 16 grunting, groaning behemoths try to push each other off the ball. Most heart warming of all, when the savagery has subsided and the contest has produced a winner, both teams clap each other off the field and a series of jovial handshakes concludes the match.
Predictable, the effect of all this is animating for participant and spectator alike. This spring more and more members of the Yale community will succumb to the charms of rugby: hundreds of onlookers will crowd Thompson field, spread out their blankets, seat their girlfriends, open a beer, cheer, and relax. After all, what could be better than a brawl, a brew and a broad, all in the same afternoon?
The fall season came to a close with a match against archenemy Harvard. The Yale Rugby Club suffered a 13-6 defeat to Harvard, ending the fall season with a 3-3 record.
Harvard sewed up the game with a dropkick for its third goal. In American rugby circles, the dropkick is a seldom-used weapon, although it is worth three points. Yale scored on runs by Otto Rogers and Jim Magee. Yale Daily News, 11/21/60
As winter set in the Yale rugby team was entertained with a film of the previous year’s trip to St. Louis. By February 1961 play started up again indoors with a seven-a-side tournament. The Eastern Rugby Union games were played at the Armory in New York where the rugby matches shared space with indoor polo players and their mounts. In the first, Yale blanked the Westchester Rugby Club, 13-0. Gary Van Galder was the game’s high scorer with six points on two tries. Dave Ryan and LeRoy Pendergrass each turned in a conversion for two points. In the third game of the seven-a side tournament Yale overwhelmed the Manhattan Rugby Club, turning in a victory of 10-0. Charlie Vachris, Dave Ryan, and LeRoy Pendergrass were the scorers for Yale.
Thanks to a converted penalty shot by William Pendergrass, Yale defeated the Long Island Cub by a score of 3-0. Charles Vachris led Yale to a 3-0 victory over the New York Angles with a spectacular 50-yard run. The final score of the game was 3-0 Yale. Officials of the Eastern Rugby Union called Yale’s play in the game against the Angels as “one of the best we’ve seen in America.”
Opening game for the 1961 spring season was picture perfect for the Elis as they overwhelmed Wesleyan by a final score of 34-0.
The Elis could do nothing wrong as almost everyone managed to collect some points. Wesleyan was never able to mount an effective attack or to stop the Blue drives. Bill Ince and Gary Van Galder were the high scorers of the day: each scored two tries for six points. Captain Dave Hall, Roger Flannery, and Dave Rollins each netted three points. LeRoy Pendergrass kicked three conversions and Dave Ryan two. Hall and Flannery carried most of the load in the backfield. Outstanding Blue scrum play prevented the Cardinals from breaking into scoring columns. Yale Daily News, 4/12/61
Yale’s Rugby club had enough members to field two teams in 1961, a far cry from the game in 1960 against Dartmouth when Yale could only muster 13 players. Unfortunately the Blues simply didn’t have what it takes to beat Brown, losing by a score of 13-0. The Yale Daily News reported, “the team was unable to move the ball with any consistency. Brown frequently capitalized on excessive Yale mistakes to take the ball and to score with it.”
The following weekend, Yale broke even with a win against the Montreal Irish and a loss to Dartmouth. Yale went scoreless against Montreal until the second half when they jumped into action to score 13 points. Tim Hard, Jim Magee, and LeRoy Pendergrass were responsible for all the game scoring. Final score 13-6, Yale. Unfortunately Sunday brought another defeat at the hands of the Big Green who won 6-0.
Clyde Patton’s column in the Yale Daily News offered up a taste of the flavor of rugby the game and its players.
Patrons of a nearby Irish tavern were witnesses of an uproarious and delightful treat in the best sporting traditions a few weekends ago- the post-game reveling of the Yale and Montreal Irish rugby teams. The opponents of a few hours ago toasted each other, cracked jokes, and shook the rafters with traditional songs, which just goes to prove that nobody loses a rugby game. … Unlike most sports it is an unwritten rule in rugby that the home team should act as host to the visitors and extend them an invitation to join forces after the contest. Heated tempers, which the game engenders by its highly competitive nature, are quickly dispelled after the fray. Yale Daily News, 5/11/61
The Yale team traveled to Cambridge for a match against MIT a team known for its “heavy” advantage. The average MIT scrum player weighed between 215 and 225 pounds. MIT’s lead player was none other than All-American football player Brock Strom, a former Air Force Academy guard. Yale was minus some of its key players: Ted Hard, Chris Hague, and Gary Van Galder were all out with injuries. Despite the odds the Elis put up a good fight and the game ended in a tie, 3-3.
Thanks to its poor record in 1960 the 1961 Yale rugby team had been dropped to second division in the Eastern Rugby Union. But with the team playing more consistently and successfully, hopes of getting back to the first division ran high in the spring of 1961. The final game of tournament season Yale faced one of its fiercest opponents: the Princeton Tigers. “Theoretically we’re the underdogs, “said Captain Leroy Pendergrass. But Yale was again playing at full strength with the injured Ted Hard, Chris Hauge, and Gary Van Galder back in the lineup. Yale held strong and won the match 8-0. Thanks to the victory and Yale’s consistently strong play throughout the season, the team again moved to first division competition.
Varsity Captain LeRoy Pendergrass felt the victory Saturday was due to an all-around effort. . . Standout performances were contributed by Gary Van Galder, playing scrum half for the fist time this season; Jack Kickham, who led the scrum in keeping the goose egg score for Princeton; Ted Hard and Hardy Will, who turned in the two tries for six points; and LeRoy Pendergrass who kicked the extra points. Hard’s score was the image of perfection, as he twisted and stumbled 60 yards for the three points. Yale Daily News, 5/16/61
The Princeton game was the last of the official season, but the Yale ruggers traveled to Montreal to compete against three top Canadian clubs as part of an exchange program, that brought two Canadian teams to Yale for games during the regular season. The Elis were no match for their Northern brothers, dropping first to the Mount Royal Rugby Club and then the Montreal Irish, losing both matches 0-6.
Roger Flannery was elected Captain for the 61-62 season. Flannery characterized the year as a “rebuilding year:” the rugby ranks had been depleted by the loss of many veterans. Numerous forwards were lost due to graduation while many of the backfield of the spring season left to play fall football. Returning players included key members of the scrum: Bob Bienvenue, Jim MGee, Dick Strothers, Chuck Heller, and Garu Murtha. Seven games were scheduled for the 1961 informal fall season. Two games were cancelled due to scheduling issues.
If the ruggers are to field a formidable unit, they must rely on several talented newcomers. Gary Van Galder, currently enrolled in the Medical School, was an All-American at Stanford. Many of the new hands have had no previous experience with the game but seem to be picking it up quickly. Conspicuous on the list of capable new boys are Bob Schemish, John Arobach, and Tony Dunn. Yale Daily News, 10/15/61
Captain Flannery hoped that the newbies would hone their skills in the informal games of the fall and be well seasoned by spring. While they certainly gained experience, the Yale team ended the fall season with a 2-3 record beating the Boston Rugby and the Manhattan Rugby Club, but losing to Dartmouth, Princeton, and Harvard. Newcomer Tony Dunn turned in a strong offensive performance.
The final fall game was against Harvard who had been considered underdogs. The game, played in rainy weather and mud. Yale dominated for much of the game that, thanks to the heavy mud, degenerated into a kicking contest. But Harvard took full advantage of Yale’s lapses and won the game 8-3.
Ever since the first trip to the Bahamas in the 1930s, Spring break for the Eli ruggers has meant travel to warmth and sun. Preseason spring play took the Yale rugby team to the University of Virginia in April where the weather was accommodating and the parties were going.
Saturday and Sunday, when many a sunburned Yalie was sadly beginning to realize that his Florida motel room and surfside stomping grounds would soon be replaced by the four walls of a classroom and the New Haven Green, one group of Elis was blissfully enjoying the hospitality of the University of Virginia on a big fraternity weekend. But it was not all beer and southern belles for these self-styled athletes. They were also in Charlottesville to participate in the first annual Commonwealth Cup rugby tournament. The tourney was a two-day affair in which the Bulldogs finished second…Perhaps more significant than the results of this tournament were the trials and tribulations the Elis experienced in fielding a team. The Yale Rugby Club is not recognized as a varsity sport, and thus the enthusiasts of this rugged outdoor pastime must arrange everything on their own…Such a setup has not prevented campus interest in this British football game from growing in recent years, but it can lead to problems not encountered by the more highly organized sports. In the tournament at Charlottesville, for example, the Elis arrived to find that three of their starting players were unavailable. Dave Hillyard had stayed home to attend his brother’s wedding, and two players who were to drive down with him found themselves stranded…. The development just mentioned sent the Yale players combing the Charlottesville area in search or recruits to fill out their squad. Fortunately they found a back from William and Mary and picked up two volunteers on the Virginia campus, one of whom had played rugby before. Yale Daily News, 4/4/62
The official 1962 spring season opened with a match against the University of Michigan on a day that was more like fall than spring. Stoic fans, several hundred braved 50-degree temperatures and 30 mile-per-hour winds to cheer on the Blues. The beastly weather did not dampen the enthusiasm or skill of the Yale team who trounced Michigan 14-0. Yale dominated the second period thanks to the stellar play by Wally Grant, varsity-kicking specialist, John Morrison, Tony Dunn, and Gary Van Galder. One of the Brits on the Michigan team commented “the Americans pick up the game surprisingly well. It’s humiliating.”
Despite this first victory, Yale did not fare as well in the following weeks, losing 5 games in a row. Amherst bested the Yalies in the final 10 minutes of play, winning 16-8. Yale was lacking some key players: some had succumbed to injuries while others succumbed to the reality of Medical School finals. Things did not improve the following week as Brown blanked Yale 17-0. The Elis were hampered by having to replace seven first string players again out due to schedule conflicts and injuries. The following day Yale succumbed to a strong Dartmouth team.
Captain Roger Flannery brought a boost to the struggling team’s morale when he was chosen to play wing forward on the Eastern Rugby All-Star team. This was the first year such a team had been chosen.
Still, the Blues met with further defeats at the hands of both Harvard (13-5) and Princeton (6-0). Finally, after dropping five games in a row, the Elis redeemed themselves with win over the NYRC. After regular season play the Yale club traveled to Canada in June for two matches. They lost to the Montreal Barbarians 0-11 but handily beat the Mt. Royal Rugby Club 21-0, the team that, a year before, had blanked them.
The spring of 1963 would see the Yale team travel back to Nassau to play three games. The parties were still in full action and the sun shone, but for the Yale Blues, fate was cruel.
The Yale rugby team opened the season in tropical weather against Nassau last week, dropping two closely contested games, each by the margin of a penalty kick, and tying a third. The Elis’ superior speed proved little advantage on a small field, which stymied wide-open play. Nassau’s excellent kicking game kept Yale on the defensive throughout a greater part of the matches and contributed heavily to both victories…Over 3,000 fans, the largest crowd ever to witness a rugby match in Nassau, swarmed to the parade grounds for the final game of the series. Again Yale could not capitalize on its speed, and Nassau’s superior kicking made the difference. Yale Daily News, 4/2/63
Following the trip to Bermuda Yale returned to Virginia for the Commonwealth Cup. They were beaten by Virginia 3-12 and blanked by Brown, 0-23.
The opening of the official spring season got off on a high note for the Elis when they handily beat the Westchester Rugby Club 19-0. The win was a good ego booster for the team as it headed into tough competition in the weeks to come. A winless Army team remained winless in its game against Yale. After a sloppy start the Blues got their game together scoring two touchdowns in the last 20 minutes of the game. The final score was 11-3. The following weekend Yale chalked up its fourth victory in a row beating the NYRC 6-0.
Gary Van Galder, a fourth-year medical student, led the offensive with a touchdown and an assist. Yale allowed the opposition to penetrate its fifteen-yard line only once…Yale’s decisive victory is all the more surprising considering that Perry Wickstrom left the game with a badly cut eye, leaving the Elis to play half the match shorthanded. Yale Daily News, 4/29/63
Perry Wickstrom was back to play in the match against Dartmouth. With an 8-5 victory over the Big Green Yale clinched first place in the Middle Atlantic division of the Eastern Rugby League. Dave Griffith led off the scoring as he fell on a blocked kick in the end zone. Wickstrom sprinted 40 yards for another three-point try. Dartmouth could not score until the second half when it broke through with another blocked kick and a conversion.
The 1963 rugby season was notable for Yale’s strong technical play: 11 of the 15 first team players were seniors who had played together for three years.
The Yale rugby club has looked invincible on the “prop: and the “lock,” not to mention the “hooker,” ever since spring vacation. The Eli combatants have marched over five opponents in the last two months, scoring 62 points and yielding only 14…Captain Flannery has been a stellar performer from his scrum forward position, and his counterpoint, Gary Van Galder, has found time away from his medical school schedule to provide every important cog in the Eli’s scoring machine. Yale Daily News, 5/10/63
The final game of the ‘63 season was against Harvard. Though deemed an “unofficial” game since the two school played in two different divisions of the Eastern Rugby Union, Harvard led the New England division. Nevertheless a victory against Harvard is always sweet. And it was sweet in 1963 as Yale blanked Harvard 13-0 for its sixth consecutive win. The team closed out the year and the season with the annual trip to Canada where they turned in a seventh victory, beating the Montreal Barbarians by a score of 9-5.
As the spring season came to a close the duties of Captain were passed from Roger Flannery to Tony Dunn. Dunn learned his rugby skills at the Oundle School in Oundle, Northamptonshire, England. He joined the rugby team his first year at Yale and captained the team for two seasons, 1963-1964. (Dunn, who passed away in 2011, went on to play for the NYRC after graduating from Yale.)
The Yale rugby squad did not play fall rugby in 1963 (they had not played in 1962 either), but did participate in the seven-a-side tournament sponsored by the Eastern Rugby Union.
Yale again prepped for its spring season with a trip to Nassau. They got off to a great start when the won their first match 3-0, despite losing Fred Buell early in the second half when he suffered a broken nose.
Combining business with pleasure, the Yale Rugby Club journeyed to Nassau this spring to encounter the native team on their home field. Playing on the Nassau Parade Grounds March 26 before over 3,000 spectators, the Elis scored an impressive 3-0 victory. It was their ninth consecutive win. The only score in the contest was registered by Derek Bush, a freshman from Argentina, on a penalty kick resulting from an opponent’s off sides.
From the opening kickoff, Yale dominated the action in the first half. Crashing scrum play and breakaway running on the part of the Yale backfield kept the ball deep in Nassau territory…The Nassau players were particularly impressed with the Yale scrum. With Kip Burgweger and Carter LaPrade as props, Fred Buell as hooker, John Judson and Max Goldensohn as second rows and Peter Grant as lock, the Elis repeatedly broke through the Nassau line. Yale Daily News, 4/9/64
Captain Dunn was optimistic about the upcoming season and anticipated fielding three teams for the ‘64 official season. Nonetheless the first game was a Yale loss to the NYRC, 6-9. No matter the score, the game was a nail-biter. The tight contest had spectators claiming that it was the best rugger game they had seen in years.
The game against Westchester the next weekend did not disappoint as the Yale ruggers exploded on the field, blanking Westchester 26-0.
Led by Tony Lee, Chris Hauge, Derek Bush, Terry Moulton, and Tony Swil, the Elis took chart at the start of the second half with a flurry of scores.
Yale Daily News, 4/22/64
Next Yale took on Williams for the first time in a decade and handily beat them 8-3 leaving Williams wondering about coming back into the fray.
May 5th Yale traveled to Hartford to play Dartmouth for the Hartford Cup (an annual benefit for the scholarship program of the Dartmouth Club of Hartford.) After a scoreless first half, Yale returned to the field with “their most effective display of teamwork this season, scoring four times and adding two conversions.”
Undefeated in American competition, and well-conditioned after their spring break in Scotland and Germany, the Dartmouth Club dominated the opening half, and three times cam within ten yards of the Yale goal. The combination of Dartmouth fumbles and the punting of freshman Derek Bush, a new recruit from Argentina enabled Yale to stave them off.
Yale broke the ice on a 50-yard running play, as three quarterback Bush turned and twisted 30 yards, and then lateralled to Hand Higdon, 1962 football captain, who went over for the three-point score…. Freshman Tony Swil, Yale’s scrum half and a native of South Africa, kicked the conversion to bring the Yale margin to 8-0… The Elis capped off their scoring on a spectacular drive starting on their own goal line. Bush, Higdon, and wing Tony Lee outmaneuvered the entire Dartmouth squad, as they kicked the ball the length of the field. Medical student Chris Hauge capped his teammates fancy footwork with a 10-yard plunge for the score bringing the Yale total to 16. (Yale Daily News, 5/5/64)
Prior to the next match against the West Point Cadets, the Yale Daily News took the time to explain once again the where and whys of the game of rugby. It noted that only vaguely knowing the rules of the game, spectators were often puzzled as they watched the fast moving game. Captain Tony Dunn’s advice to these fans, “it’s always safe to cheer a good tackle or punt. . . if Yale is responsible that it is.” Fans watching the game against the Cadets would have been hard pressed to know when to cheer as the squad struggled to put forward a cohesive attack. Higdon scored the only touchdown of the game.
Yale came to the last game of the 1965 spring season with a record of four wins. Their final opponent, Brown, a team known for its power and muscle. Yale’s team had suffered a number of injuries over the previous hard fought contests. Perry Wickstrom, John Judson, Derek Bush, Bill DeRoss, and Tony Dunn were all on the disabled list. Despite standout play by Tony Swil, Brown crushed the ailing Yalies beating them by 16-6. Due to scheduling conflicts Yale did not play Harvard, Princeton, Amherst or MIT in 1964 and ended the season with a 4-2 record. (6-2 counting the Nassau games.)
The 1965 Yale Banner summed up the season with a true appreciation of the rugby lifestyle.
Rugby is not a university sport, which may be why the boys on the team have so much fun. Even going off the field on the shorter end of the score while playing Nassau in Nassau is unutterable delightful; but this joy cannot be equaled in any sportsman’s heart by traveling all the way to balmy Nassau to win 3-0 on a penalty kick by fly half Derek Bush.
Leaving the lush island Rugby fields behind them, Yale landed in New York for a match with the New York Rugby Club. At the end of the first frame the score was a tedious-looking 3-3, but after a five-minute halftime of first aid and mustard plasters, the New York Club scored again and clinched the contest.
After the loss to New York, the Yale team visited suburban Westchester, where Lee Hage and Tony Swil starred in the Westchester Club’s defeat, by an overwhelming score of 26-0.
Williams fell shortly afterward, albeit more gracefully, by a score of 8-3. Hardy with the taste of victory in their mouths and the fumes of methylate in their nostrils, the club traveled to Farmington to contend for the Hartford Club, where they trounced Dartmouth’s pale spirited Indians with four scores and two conversions.
Returning to the raging comfort of New Haven on College Weekend, the club whipped Army on a single score by Henry Higden, 3-0. The final game was a loss to Brown. With half the team crippled and the rest hobbling about from the thought of the on-coming exams, the team was in no condition to meet the Brown contingent.
No matter, the season was a winning one, four wins, two losses; it was all a lot of fun, the travel wasn’t bad, and who, in this age of carefully cured, pre-packaged foods, really needs teeth?
Again Yale did not play a fall schedule in 1965 and prepared for regular spring season play with a trip back to its familiar spring stomping grounds: Bermuda. Playing against Bermudian teams, Yale ended the trip with a record of two losses (13-0 against the Bermuda Police team, and 16-0 against the Bermuda Renegades), one win and one tie against Amherst. Despite the disappointing games, the trip was entertaining and players got to stretch their rugby muscles before regular play began. Treasurer Bill DuRoss explained that the Eli’s trip “was even more successful than the record indicates,” since new and untried players had a chance to experience the English-style play against local teams. And of course the trip was a social success.
From the air Nassau looks like any other quiet, serene Bahamian island. Soon after landing at Windsor Airport, however, you feel like you’re in Hollywood watching the shooting of “Where the Boys Are.” College kids-6, 000 of them- jammed hotels, the guest houses, the streets – and yes of course the beaches. The adults on the island who came to enjoy a supposedly restful vacation were shocked by the onslaught…one cause for the adverse adult reaction arose from the rumor that the drinking age in Nassau is 6. Whether or not this is true, the island seemed to flow with rum drinking the entire two weeks…In spite of their outward show of satisfaction with this kind of vacation, some students admitted that this two-week blast was not really so great. “This island is just one great 21-mile mixer,” said one Yale freshman. “I’ve got to get home and recuperate.””
Yale’s ruggers apparently recuperated fairly quickly. The regular season schedule called for seven matches, the first against Villanova. The Blues got off to a bang with an impressive trouncing of the Villanova Club, beating them 39-0. The team was playing together for the first time as a cohesive unit and Derek Bush, Pete Cummings, Tony Swil, Perry Wickstrom, and Max Goldensohn all contributed with outstanding individual play.
Next up was a match with Indiana, a team known for its heavy scrum, bolstered by numerous football players. Yale was at a disadvantage with some of its strong players, including Captain Tony Dunn, out with injuries. No worries though as Yale dumped Indiana 18-0.
Despite poor scrum play by the Elis, the Hoosiers were unable to mount any sort of formidable opposition . . .Derek Bush accounted for the only score in the first half with five minutes left when he tallied on a 25-yard run. Tony Swil converted to make the score 5-9 at halftime.
Ted Eliot opened the second-half scoring with 21 minutes gone when he romped 65 yards for a try with Bush converting.
Cummings rambled 50 yards, then lateraled to Jim Kovacs who scooted ten more for a try with five minutes left in the game. Bush once again converted. The Cummings-Kovacs combination accounted for the final try on a 20-yard play with Kovacs scoring. (Yale Daily News, 4/14/65)
The 1965 team boasted a number of football players as well as numerous foreigners who arrived at Yale well-versed in the finer points of rugby as played in other countries: Derek Bush was a starter on the Brazilian National Rugby team, and Tony Swil and Ian Wood were both graduates of the South African College School.
At the end of April the Yale ruggers prepared to put their unbeaten record on the line as they faced a strong Williams team. Added incentive came from the fact that a large house party weekend crowd was expected to appear and cheer on the home team. Despite a frustrating game, the Blues turned in a 12-9 victory over Williams. Both teams felt hampered by a referee who dominated play with his whistle. Bill DuRoss, rugby club vice president, stated, “It was the most frustrating, unsatisfying match we’ve played in a long time.
The annual Hartford Cup Challenge was a disaster for the Elis as they were blanked by Dartmouth, 19-0.
A beer-drinking picnic crowd of 1,500 saw the Yale Rugby Club’s maiden goal line disintegrate before the repeated attacks of a strong Dartmouth squad. The previously unbeaten Elis fell 19-0 at the Farmington Valley Polo Club…In trouncing the Elis the Indians retaliated for last season’s 16-5 drubbing at the hands of Yale ad regained possession of the Hartford Cup.
Bill DuRoss called the match a nightmare filled with endless mistakes, bad work in the scrum, and poor lineouts. “It was humiliating. We made them look good.”
The teams were hampered by the extremely warm weather and the failure of the official to call any penalties. For the fatigued Yale squad, it was the complete antithesis of the Williams match in which the official dominated the play. Yale Daily News, 5/4/65
Yale was beaten and bruised as it prepared to face Harvard a week later. Given the number of injuries to the backfield (3 key players, Brundige, Odell, and Cummings were out), the game was Harvard’s to lose, which they did, 22-6. Derek Bush wowed the crowd with an incredible 52-yard penalty kick.
The 1965 season finished with another win by Yale, against the NYRC, 17-6 and the Blues closed out the season with a 6-1 record. As always the Yale Banner reported on the rugger antics of the season with a blow-by-blow description of the season.
The sun of Bermuda, motorbiking, partying, and beaching couldn’t abate the Yale Rugby Club’s taste for victory. Last year the club returned from spring vacation with a fine tan on their brows.
Although President Tony Dunn was sidelined with a pulled hamstring muscle, the club demolished Villanova, 39-0. Astounding Derek Bush scored in every possible way during this match to rack up 16 points. . . On May 10th T.F. Hunsicker paced Yale to victory over Harvard as he scored in the first minutes of the game. The poor Crimson were left wide-eyed as Derek Bush completed a fantastic 52-yard penalty kick to make it 8-6 at halftime. Doomed to defeat, Harvard was deluged by 14 points, making the final score 22-6. . . Facing the New York Rugby Club in their final game, the Elis romped to a 17-6 victory.
It was rumored that Coach Jim Root wanted to have the club take over as Yale’s football team, but the Ruggers decided they liked Bermuda better, and remained an informal club.
In November, junior Derek Bush was elected to captain the 1966 soccer team- this in addition to being known as “one of the finest rugby players in Eli history.” Not surprisingly he was the captain of the 1966 Yale Rugby team as well.
The ruggers were in great sprits as the newly minted champions of the Thanksgiving weekend seven-a-side tournament. Never known for letting the moss grow under their feet, the Elis planned to set out for new horizons with a spring trip to Jamaica for some first-class rugby. Yale would be the first American team to visit the island. In preparation for the trip Captain Bush scheduled practices on the cold Yale fields. The Yale Daily news noted: “Hoping to beat crew and lacrosse for the “tough” label in the spring sports lineup, the Yale Rugby Club has added mid-winter outdoor practices to the grueling, unprotected contact it already offers.” The trip was a huge success: Yale won all four of its matches.
Back stateside the Elis got down to business with the first of eight scheduled matches, against the University of Kansas Jay Hawks. As this was only the second year Kansas had fielded a rugby team, they could not match up to Yale’s more experienced players and lost to Yale 16-0. The Blues scored 13 points in the final ten minutes of play. Even so many on the Yale team felt they could have played a better game.
Next up was a match against the Harvard Business School squad that, like Yale, had the added bonus of several foreign-born, rugby-raised players. Meanwhile Yale added another Brazilian to the team captained by Brazilian born Derek Bush, Harry Scott. The Elis blanked HBS 22-0.
The talented toe of Derek Bush, the running of Bernie Beitman, and an aggressive Yale scrum carried the Eli ruggers to an easy 22-0 victory over the Harvard Business School. . . Exploiting an abundance of depth and desire, Yale dominated most of the contest and didn’t let Harvard come close to the Blue goal line more than three times. Bush provided the first Eli points midway through the opening stanza with a fine 30-yard penalty boot, kicked from a difficult angle. Another penalty kick, this from 26 yards, gave Yale a 6-0-halftime lead.
Superior Yale conditioning paid off. The Yale scrum, led by Perry Wickstrom and Dave Laidley, bottled up Harvard threats. . . and kept the commercial Cantabs to the wall most of the time. (Yale Daily News, 4/15/66)
Yale’s six-game winning streak sadly was broken by the NYRC who narrowly beat the Blues 8-3. The game was played at Downing Stadium on Randall’s island in New York in what was fondly dubbed the dustbowl. “With dust sometimes completely obscuring play, neither team settled down until the second half. Extremely close referring kept the game from gaining momentum.”
Undaunted by the blip of a losing game, the Yale ruggers regrouped and prepared to host the Army’s cadets, a team they had not met since 1964.
Coming up to the pace in the final minutes, the Yale Rugby Club pulled out an 11-8 win over previously unbeaten Army in a home game Saturday.
Behind by an 8-3 margin with less than ten minutes to go, Eli Captain Derek Bush took the ball over from twenty yards out to bring the Yale total to six points, and then kicked the two-point conversion to tie the score.
Picking up momentum, Bush then teamed with fellow backs Tony Swil and Bob Brundige to set up Ian Wood for a further score with put the hosts out in front by the final 11-8 margin. Yale Daily News, 4/25/66
With seven victories to their credit Yale headed to Hartford for the 7h annual Hartford Cup challenge against Dartmouth who had run over Yale in the 1965 match, 19-0. The Blues wowed the crowd with their speed and finesse as they marched over Dartmouth to win 23-6.
As picnics, beer, and rugby tempted 2,000 fans to play the odds against threatening storm clouds to line the polo club’s field for the afternoon, the Eli ruggers managed to redeem a 19-0 defeat by the Big Green in last year’s version of the seven-times repeated tradition.
After the win, a rather jubilant Yale Captain Derek Bush, who moved himself into the scrum from his fly-half position after a Dartmouth foot worked minor surgery on his ear, pointed to his team’s “hustle” as instrumental in the victory. Yale Daily News, 4/29/66
MIT, Yale’s next opponent was something of an unknown quantity: Yale ruggers had not played MIT since 1961. No matter, Yale’s crack squad proved no match for the MIT players, beating them 20-3. The match was the last of the season since a game with Harvard was cancelled due to a Selective Service Exam being given in Boston. Yale closed out with a 9-1 record. Later that fall Rugby star Tony Swil was named a Rhodes Scholar winner for South Africa giving Swil and friends another reason to celebrate. Swil would also go on to captain the 1967 Yale Rugby team.
Captain Swil’s team returned to Jamaica for a second year, this time playing two local Jamaican teams as well as teams from Rutgers, Notre Dame, and Cornell. Of the five games played, Yale took 4 and tied one. The tie came against Notre Dame.
Swil and his team traveled down to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. for a pair of games but, despite the gorgeous scenery and lovely weather, the trip could not have been worse. With six of the first team unable to make the trip and another three were out of action due to injury, Yale had a dismal weekend. They lost to the Baltimore Rugby Club 8-10 and were blanked by the Washington Rugby Club 24-0.
Fortunately none of the injuries were career- or season-ending. Tony Swil, Derek Bush, and Jay Flaherty were all back in shape to take on the Harvard team in Cambridge. Unfortunately despite a full lineup Yale couldn’t come up with the goods and Harvard topped them 16-0.
Yale’s home opener, against Holy Cross, was cancelled at the last minute due to transportation difficulties. The new home opener was a match against a tough Army squad. Unlike the previous year when the Blue ruggers barely eked out a win, this year they were victorious, winning the game 9-3.
Yale again took the Hartford Cup by beating Dartmouth 11-0 despite being two men short, but tied Brown the following week 8-8 in a game that has been described as a “quagmire match” due to inclement weather. The final regular season game saw NYRC trounce the Elis 14-11 leaving Yale with a final season record of 2-4-1 (6-4-2 including the Jamaica tour).
In the past five years the Elis have run up a 33-7-2 record, but this year’s team will be fundamentally lacking in experience. The party of 21 includes several well-known names on the Yale sports scene: Glenn Greenberg, Mike Bouscaren, Dan Begel, Kyle Gee, Britt Kolar, and Bruce Weinstein come over from the football team, and Terry Finn comes from basketball. However, the combination of these various skills into a rugby team remains to be seen.
President Ian Wood and Captain Britt Kolar are relying on the tempered experience of Tony Swain, Greenberg, Lenny Stokes, and Peter Kehoe to fashion into rugby strength the natural promise of Merrill Boyce, Bob Witkowski, Jim Sheppart, and the football contingent. “Yale has always been tough, “ says Captain Kolar, “and this year’s team won’t let us down on that count.” The Bulldogs have not lost a spring tour game in three years and will not give up this startling record easily whatever the competition. President Ian Wood has played on all those winning teams and now in his fourth year the Rhodes scholar would like to go out winning. “When a team has defeated most of its college rivals and many strong foreign teams, it does not like to think of anything but victory. Our material may be new, but last year’s spirit survives.’ Yale Daily News, 3/15/68
In fact the spirit may have been willing but the bodies were not in sync as Yale traveled back to New Haven with four losses and one tie from the Bermuda competition. The team’s most satisfying performance came in the final game of a round robin tournament when they managed to tie the Dartmouth Indians.
Back home Yale hosted the University of Pennsylvania and came away with an 8-0 victory in a game described as fast and open.
The Elis, playing before a home crowd for the first time this year started strongly. The heavy Yale scrum carried the ball deep into Penn territory, but an early lack of cohesion among the three quarters enabled Penn to fight back.
Yale did not have to wait long however, to go ahead. A fast three-quarter break in mid-field passed the ball out to Charles Pillsbury on the left wing, and Pillsbury sprinted thirty yards down the touch line-evading three Penn tacklers along the way-to go over for Yale’s first touchdown and three points…
The game clearly demonstrated the power of Yale’s scrum. The strength of Bruce Weinstein, the jumping of Terry Finn, the hooking of Lenny Stokes, and the murderous efficiency of wing-forwards Kolar and Wickstrom severely demoralized Penn. Yale Daily News, 4/9/68
One player who deserved some note in the Penn game was George Bush who played fullback for the Blues. Fellow teammates of the President would remember Bush as a player who, while not always the most talented, was always at practice and gave the game his best efforts.
Weather would be the biggest foe in the game against Brown the following weekend. Ian Wood attributed Yale’s 16-14 loss largely to the playing conditions, noting that when the coin was tossed at the start of the game it landed on its edge. Wood noted that while the Eli scrum completely overpowered the Brown scrum, the defense was a weak spot for Yale. Playing on the muddy field, there were too many lapses.
Luckily the weather was in everyone’s favor when Yale met its only non-college competitor the Pennsylvania National Guard. By the end of the game it appeared that the Penn team did not see the sun shine quite as well as Yale who blanked them 14-0.
When the Blues went to their next time game they were described as “the improving Yale Rugby Club.” The new and improved squad downed the Indians 24-5 at the annual Hartford Cup thus making the series total 5-4.
Several Yale players were outstanding in the triumph. Besides his high-scoring offensive play, Dan Begel made a good defensive showing. All-Ivy Tackle Per Wickstrom received an award from the Dartmouth alumni after playing his last year at Farmington.
Kehoe and Liebow were obvious offensive starts. Captain Britt Kolar, Wickstrom, Terry Finn, Glenn Greenberg, and Larry Stupski led the outstanding scrum as they made several key tackles and recoveries of loose balls. Yale Daily News, 4/30/68
Yale’s record of 3-3 for the season tipped unfavorably as they lost their fourth match to George Washington University 11-20. Eli scoring in the game was thanks to Ian Wood and George Bush. The following week the Yale ruggers closed what can be described as an uneven year with a resounding victory of Harvard who they blanked 8-0. Their record for the year was 4-5-1.
The following year, 1969, marked the team’s first transatlantic trip, to Ireland, coincidentally mother country of team captain, Peter Kehoe.
Under the leadership of President Mike Bouscaren and Captain Peter Kehoe, the Blues have planned a four or five game tourney with representatives of the Universities of Dublin, Cork, and Galway, the city of Limerick, and perhaps a return match in Dublin. … Kehoe said the main purpose of the tour is to break in the new members and let all the teams get in shape for the coming season. “It should be quite an enjoyable trip as well,” he added.
“Half the game is the party afterwards,” said Buscaren, who also starred on the Bulldog football team last fall. “The spirit of the game really transcends winning and losing,” he continued. “This is hard for the Americans to accept; but, nonetheless, it’s the European style.”
The traveling Elis expect to take part in several activities off the rugby field, especially a medieval banquet in the 11th century Bunratty Castle. Sixteen players and three advisors, including Dr. Jack Farnum of the Yale Medical School, will make the tour.
Captain Kehoe said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we went unbeaten in season play. We’ll have a lot of power from new members on the team, and we’re stronger now that we have been for the past couple of years.”
Commenting on this year’s team, Bouscaren said, “We have many experienced British players who are new additions to our squad. In fact, five of those traveling to Ireland are originally from areas outside the U.S.” (Yale Daily News, 3/16/69)
Yale put in a good show in Ireland and managed to come home with two wins and three losses. In addition to their regular players, former Rugby President Ian Wood joined up with the Yale team, where he had been studying on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford.
The Yale Rugby Club returned from a vacation tour of Ireland last week with a 2-3 record, a lot of seasoning against excellent competition, and a long list of choice anecdotes concerning their colorful experiences on and off the playing field.
The first two contests were played on surfaces mired in approximately six inches of mud, and the poor playing conditions accentuated problems caused by the Elis’ lack of practice.
“We were holding our own in the scrums,” commented Peter Kehoe, “but we were hurt a lot by fumbles and getting caught out of position. Our opponents were able to break away several times.”
The Dublin University team ran up 19 points in the first half before the Elis were able to dig in. Although they subsequently allowed no more points, the Americans scored only when Roger Simmons raced 50 yards with an interception in the second half and Kehoe converted to make the score 19-5.
Against Cork, Yale was again victimized by several early scores and was unable to come back amid playing conditions even worse than at Dublin. Tallies by Witkowski and Finn and a conversion and a penalty kick buy Ian Wood accounted for the Eli points in an eventual 28-11 defeat.
For their third contest the Eli ruggers were blessed with a dry field for the first time but were edged by Belvedere, 5-3. (Yale Daily News, 4/2/69)
The match experience was beginning to pay off, however, and the touring Americans then captured a grueling 10-5 contest from Blackrock College on the strength of scores by Simmons and Kehoe.
And the best was saved for last as the Elis fashioned an impressive 24-12 triumph over Abbyfeale in their final contest of the tour. Yale Daily News 4/2/69
As the new decade dawned Terry Finn was named President of the Yale Rugby Club and John Duggin was named Captain. For the first time in nearly a decade Yale was again playing fall rugby in 1970. They racked up the wins to finish the fall with a 4-0-1 record. Teams beaten included the New York Irish Rugby Club (19-0); Hofstra (19-0); Amherst (8-0); Harvard (14-5). The Elis tied the Boston Rugby Club.
In April Yale competed in the Ivy Tournament for the second time since the conference’s bith in 1968. The Blues trounced the Princeton Tigers 15-6 in the quarterfinals. They blanked Columbia 33-0 in the semi-final and met Princeton again, handing the Tigers a 6-3 defeat, then met Brown in the finals. The Elis turned in a stellar performance winning the tournament with a 15-6 defeat of Brown.
Yale demolished Columbia 33-0 and eked by Princeton 6-3 on Saturday to gain a berth in the finals against Brown…Yale, led by Roger Simmond’s five penalty goals defeated Brown in the Championship game, 15-6. Yale, according to Rugby Club President Terry Finn, dominated the game. “Though the number of penalties was roughly equal, the fact that Yale was able to attempt to score on more free kicks indicates the extent to which they dominated play. Most of the play was in the Brown end of the field. Yale Daily News, 4/14/70
Yale Rugby had a great year in 1970 with a final record for the spring season of 9-1-0. Their only loss was to Brown in the Commonwealth Cup. The Yale ruggers won the Ivy League Championship for that year.
Larry Stupski was elected Captain for the 1970-71 season while Ed Geehr was named President. The Blues played six games in the fall ending with a 3-2-1 record. Key scorers in the fall season included Robert Kefford, Paul Van Zyl, and Frank McGrogan. The draw came in the final match of fall play. Neither Harvard nor Yale could manage a single point and the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Captain Stupski may have had mixed feelings when Yale trounced Princeton 15-3. As a Princeton undergraduate Stupski was known for his performance in a 1966 football game.
A Princeton man who once beat Yale in football will be leading Yale’s rugby team against Princeton next Saturday at New Haven. He is Larry Stupski, a law student from Jacksonville, FL, who is captain of the Eli team. In 1966 Stupski, then a senior defensive end, ran 69 yards with a blocked punt to give Princeton a 13-7 football victory over Yale in the Yale Bowl. NYT 11/8/70
Pre-season play in 1971 took the Yale ruggers south to play in the Gator Cup. Yale played Clemson, the Atlanta Rugby Club, Illinois Valley, Cornell, and the Birmingham Rugby Club. Yale lost in the final rounds to Birmingham by a score of 0-11.
In the spring, Yale made it to the quarterfinals of the Ivy League Tournament but was beaten by Pennsylvania 3-8. In consolation rounds they beat Columbia 6-0 in the final game.
The annual Hartford Cup match was a disappointment as a strong Dartmouth team blanked Yale, 0-11. But in the Big Three tournament against Harvard and Princeton, Yale took the prize, beating Harvard 17-0 and Princeton 6-5. The Elis closed their spring with an admirable record, 10-6-1. In total they scored 125 points to their opponents’ 81.
Paul Van Zyl was named Captain for the 1971-72 Yale Rugby Team. He stated early on that one of his goals was to build a strong base of undergraduates. In 1970 and 1971 the majority of Yale ruggers were graduate students.
The Yale rugby club, defending Big Three champion is making plans for the upcoming spring season. The club has scheduled a 31-game season for A, B, and C teams combined, and the team hopes to schedule a trip to England over spring vacation in 1973.
In the past few years Yale rugby, consisting primarily of graduate students has been particularly strong. . . But, according to Captain Paul Van Zyl, the squad has always been plagued by a tremendous turnover from year to year and this year the team hopes to stabilize the year-to-year squad through increased undergraduate participation.
“We want to concentrate on establishing depth and experience in the club.” Van Zyl states and according to the Bulldog captain undergraduates are crucial to the success of the plan. Along with the change in the team’s makeup and concentrations, Yale rugby this year will try to alter its style of play. According to Van Zyl, “We intend to promote open rugby, running with the ball from one side of the field to the other.” Yale Daily News, 3/10/72
Captain Van Zyl’s team delivered a 3-3 record, with losses to its Big Three Rivals Princeton (3-30), and Harvard, (0-12). But the biggest upset by far was a 0-60 loss to the Providence Rugby Club.
The spring season opener was a match against Holy Cross a team Yale quickly disposed of 8-0. Admittedly Holy Cross was not a school known for its rugby. The second game against UCONN was a romp home with a 20-0 score. The B team playing against UCONN racked up an incredible 40-3 victory. The contest against Amherst was more challenging as both teams battled mud and a rain-soaked field. In spite of the rain Yale’s players displayed sharp ball handling in the backfield.
It was a close game, with Yale scoring the only try, and holding a narrow 4-3 lead for three fourths of the game. The well-matched, hard-hitting, “school boy” type of play kept the game close until penalties against Amherst enabled Yale to score nine points on three kicks. Yale was victorious, 13-3. Yale Daily News 4/19/72
Next up was the Ivy League Tournament, always a highly anticipated event for the Yale ruggers.
That Yale’s only unbeaten team is considered an underdog in an upcoming Ivy League tournament might seem surprising. However, this is the situation the Yale Rugby Club faces this weekend at Brown in the Ivy League playoff.
The Yale fifteen has won all of its three spring outings, but the wins have come over opponents who have not posed any real challenge.
The season begins in earnest at the “Ivies” this weekend, where four teams look stronger than Yale, at least on paper. Princeton, back from a tour in England, is touting itself as the best rugger team in the East. One member of Yale’s club doubts whether this claim will hold up through the season, but admits that the Tigers loom as the most formidable power now.
Brown will present its usual tough squad, Harvard will have its share of experienced players, and Dartmouth will field a club of big “crazies.”
Yale has drawn the Bruins for the first round match-up Saturday and will have to meet the winner of the Dartmouth-Harvard match in the event that Yale beats Brown.
Team member Stacy Hammill observed, “The first games will be really tough, but I think we can surprise them and win.”
He noted that Yale went into the “Big Three” tournament with Harvard and Princeton last year as underdogs and swept the title. Yale Daily News, 4/19/72
Winning was not in the cards for Yale at the1972 Ivy Tournament as the Tigers took first place, 6-0. Yale took second by blanking Harvard 14-0. Yale forward Dee Burtraw dominated the match, scoring all three tries. Bob Kefford kicked one conversion.
The 1972 fall season was not as successful for the Yale ruggers as they turned in a record of 1.-7. Happily the single win was over Harvard, 12-4.
Captain John Dore and his team opened the 1973 spring season with an 18-3 win over the Hartford Rugby Club, but fell just short when they narrowly lost to Amherst 4-3. The Blues went on to beat Fairleigh-Dickenson and St. Francis Prep before the start of the Ivy League tournament.
After suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Tigers who blanked them 15-0, Yale went on to score consecutive victories against Columbia (14-4) and Cornell (11-4). Yale placed fourth in the 5th annual Ivy League Rugby Tournament. Princeton went on to win, defeating Brown 30-6. Dartmouth trounced Harvard to take third. While Yale may have taken fourth on the field, it was first in the other key elements of rugby play.
Despite Yale’s fourth place finish, the Elis more than compensated with a matchless stamina and endurance during Saturday’s nocturnal festivities. High scorers for the Big Blue were Fred Harper, who woke up Sunday morning twenty miles away from the rugby fields, and Scott Shockley, who slept on them. Yale Daily News, 4/18/73
The Elis ended the spring ‘73 season with two losses to their biggest rivals. Princeton trounced them 3-13 and Harvard blanked the Blues, 24-0. The record for the season for Yale was three wins, nine losses.
No matter, the Bulldog ruggers claim, the game of rugby is only partly about winning.
To whom it may concern, rugby at Yale is alive and kicking. Also passing, tackling, shoving, scoring, swearing, and drinking . . . What attracts a Yale man to this the most primitive of sports?
“We just sort of fell into it, said club President Scott Shockley, explaining how he and captain John Dore, also the acting coach, were lured to the field two years ago by Fred Harper, now a junior who was recruited then “because my bio teacher was playing and I needed a good grade.”
“I was tired of baseball practice five days a week,” said sophomore Jack Ryan. “So I decided to try a new game where I could play the games, yet still have some free time. It’s a great way to get in shape and the parties are really good.
According to Dore, the team membership breaks down to about 35 undergraduates, 10 graduate and professional students, and five faculty and “miscellaneous” members.
“Rugby is a contact-plus sport,” said Ryan. “It’s like playing football in a basketball uniform . . . In a typical game I lose five to eight pounds. All you do is run . . . Rugby is a real rugged workingman’s game. For instance one of our opponents vomited on the field, turned to the crowd, yelled chicken chow mein, and continued the game.
“The Americans who play,” said Ryan, “say f___ the ball. Snap the guy in two and the ball will take care of itself.”
According to Shockley, a former football player, “several varsity football players are on the club. The linemen especially, enjoy the fact that they get ample opportunity to handle the ball, run, and score.
“Also,” continued Ryan, “it is imperative that you learn to play with a hangover.” After the games it is customary for the host team to arrange a party for the visitors. “After we change, we drink and sing with them, and just get to know them,” said Dore.
Some of the traditional rugby songs are infamous for their bawdiness. “Most of them are ballads of daring feats off the field,” said Dore.
Such feats were exemplified this fall when the Princeton team pulled down their shorts and stood on the table as a climax to one of their songs, earning the ejection from, of all places, Rudy’s.
Those who play rugby are an odd lot of solid jocks . . . Rugby adds another dimension to their life,” noted Shockley. “Whatever you feel your image is, you can be it.” Yale Daily News, 5/2/73
The Yale ruggers certainly earned their reputation when, at a Brown-Yale football game in the fall of ’73 several adventurous young men snuck onto the Brown football field the night before the game and painted a large Y on the field.
Fred Harper captained of the 73-74 team. They opened the fall season with a win the Hartford Wanderers but then lost to a strong Brown club. The next game was against Fairfield. Again Yale lost, 12-7, with the only Yale try scored by Ralph Fascitelli. Things looked up the following week when the Elis trounced Dartmouth 1-0. The game did not end as happily for captain Harper who suffered a broken cheekbone during play. Yale dumped Penn as Peter Clark scored a four-point try and Derek Mumford added a two-point conversion. In the final game of the season Yale lost to Harvard 16-0.
The Harvard Rugby club turned in one of its most impressive performances of the year Saturday as it wore down a strong team from Yale in a 16-0 victory, brightening the end of an often disappointing season.
The first half turned into a war of attrition as each team lost players in brutal scrum battles on a wet and ice turf. . . The second half was fought out in Yale territory. The Harvard scrum overpowered a smaller and weaker set of Yale forwards, but the Eli backs put up a scrappy defense that kept Harvard out of their goal for most of the period. As the Elis began to tire, however, Harvard’s offense exploded in the last five minutes of the game. (Harvard Crimson 11/25/74
Yale ended the 1974 fall season with a 3-3 record.
In February 1975, the rugby team traveled to New Orleans for the 8th annual Mardi Gras Rugby tournament. As the only team from the Northeast, Yale entered the tournament handicapped by little practice due to the Northeast winter weather. All the other teams were from the South: Tulane, Duke, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington D.C. Yale lost the first game to Tulane by a single penalty kick. Most of the game was characterized by tough play keeping both teams from each other’s goal lines. Three hours later the Elis faced South Carolina and despite playing a hard-hitting game, Carolina took a halftime lead of 9-0. Jack Nicholson briefly tied the score at 9-9 thanks to three successful penalty kicks, but Carolina edged out the Blues by a penalty kick and a final score of 12-9. The final game of the tournament was against Tulane’s B team and the Blues danced away with a 46-0 victory, finishing the tournament with a 1-2 record and high hopes for a successful spring season. (Records for the 1975 spring season are not to be found.)
In the fall an injury plagued Yale team fell to Colgate 13-3. The Elis were playing without their biggest men: Ned Cooke and Bill Spengler. “We just couldn’t get moving during the first half,” explained hooker Orville Coward. At the end of the first half Colgate led, 6-0.
In the second half, however, Yale did turn the game around in pace, if not in score. Vicious tackling by Captain Bran Trotier and strong running by scrum half Bill Yedor paced the second period Eli effort.
Midway through the period Yale got back into the game with a penalty kick. The three-point boot cut the Colgate lead in half. But another series of defensive lapses plagued the Yale squad and Colgate was able to push the ball over the goal line for a five-point try. Their successful conversion ended the game’s scoring at 13-3. (Yale Daily News, 10/7/75)
The following week Yale played its first fall rugby game against Brown. Brown was reigning champion of the Ivy League and proved too much for the Blues who lost 20-0. Defeat followed Yale to its next match against Columbia but bad weather contributed to the Elis 11-0 loss. “The major factor in the game was the weather,” commented junior captain Brian Trotier. “We had no kicking game. If you went for a running drop kick you were sure to land on your ass.” In fact Yale kicker Bill Gates had to take his shots from three-inch pools of water.
The final game of the fall season was as usual against Harvard and unlike last year, Yale won 3-0 despite horrendous weather. As the Harvard Crimson described the game, “Harvard’s A team ruggers got mired down in the New Haven muck.”
Both teams had to rely on a strong kicking game since running in the mud was not a practical option. Team captain Brian Trotier called the game “the best team effort of the year.” Yale’s victory came with a first-half penalty kick, the third in a succession of three. Trotier credits the win not just to the team play but also to the enthusiasm and support of the 200 or so fans who endured the mud and muck to cheer on the Bulldogs. (Records for the 1976 spring season are not to be found.)
Brimming smiles of optimism are at long last ringing through the practices of the Yale rugby team. After a five-year drought that inflicted loss upon loss on the hapless Bulldogs since they won the Ivy club title in 1971, the Eli ruggers rebounded with a resounding triumph in the Fairfield rugby tournament of Connecticut.
On the strength of only two practices, the Bulldogs ripped apart UCONN in the morning, 8-0, and then advanced to the finals in the afternoon. The Connecticut Yankees, a club team from the Fairfield area, presented somewhat more of a challenge in that competition, but the Elis managed to do away with them 12-8-7.
“We went into it as a fourth team to round out the tournament,” commented player-coach Brian Trotier. “No one had expected us to be much of a threat because we had lost to both teams last spring that we ended up beating. All in all, we were more than glad to give them a taste of their own medicine.” Yale Daily News, 9/21/76
Two weeks later Yale extended its winning streak to 4-0 with a resounding defeat of Amherst, 20-0. (No record exists for the remainder of the 1976 fall season).
Yale came up short in the Ivy League tournament on spring 1977. They downed Harvard 6-3 and Brown 14-0 but came up short against Dartmouth who won the tournament 18-6. Brown had held onto the title for three years.
(No record exists for the 1977 fall season or 1978 spring season.)
The 1978 Yale fall schedule called for 12 games. The biggest weekend would be the match against Princeton, who lost the Ivy League Championship to Yale the previous spring. The Eli ruggers launched with a match against the Providence Rugby Club. They lost 23-4. Dave Bateman scored the team’s only try. But despite the early loss Yale was confident that they had the goods to chalk up a hefty list of wins for the new season. As always the Blues were noted for the diverse backgrounds of the players: graduate students, foreign students, undergraduates, and faculty, all mixed it up on the field. In 1978 the rugby coach was Malcolm Cormack, whose day job was curator of the British Art Center.
When it is time for the ruggers to don their blue-striped polo shirts and thick rugby socks, contrasts in backgrounds become illegible, because as a matter of record, they do field a respectable team. Or, as captain John Marshman stressed, “A damn good team.” Moreover according to Marshman. . . participation this fall has boomed so much that the Elis will field three teams.
On the field, while sidelines viewers catch glimpses of action between cups of beer, Yale’s A-team is well stocked with exuberant juniors accompanying the polished styles of experienced players. Besides Bateman, there are Dean Takahaski, Randy Ridge, and Jim Logue. Paul Friedrichs, Marshman, and John Allman who also doubles as coach of the Yale Women’s rugby team, add senior leadership. Former Eli football center Ralph Bosch, as robust as ever, is another standout. Yale Daily News, 9/15/78
Yale took its first victory a week after losing to Providence, trouncing the Manhattan Rugby Club, 36-7. Manhattan decided not to send its top-notch players to New Haven, sending them instead to New Jersey for another match. In hindsight they likely wished they had sent their A team to meet Yale.
Brown came to town the following weekend to play both football and rugby. From that weekend forward Ivy rugby matches would be played on the same day the football squads met on the gridiron. The match against Brown was a first: it was played on turf instead of grass. Turf or grass, the Elis didn’t seem to care as they beat the Bruins 7-3. The streak continued as Yale downed the newly formed Connecticut Yankee rugby club by a score of 28-4. The University of Rhode Island put an end to the 3 wins by trouncing the Blues 25-12.
Judging from the Elis’ first half play, it looked as though URI’s reputation as one of the strongest rugby teams in New England was about to be tarnished. Relying on three penalty kicks by Divinity School student Faitala Tulapusi, Yale left the field at halftime with a one-point lead. The second 40 minutes belonged entirely to Rhode Island, except for the fight that suspended play late in the game. Yale Daily News, 10/10/78
Dartmouth handed Yale its fourth loss in a game played in a steady downpour in Hanover, NH. Yale led by four points at the end of the first half, but the second half was owned by the Big Green as their ruggers repeatedly shut down Yale’s defensive efforts. The final score of the game was 12-4.
Yale began a long home stand the next weekend with ideal weather and a victory over the Hartford Wanderers, 15-6.
Despite trailing 3-0 midway through the first half, the Elis relied on what captain John Marshman described as a “scrappy team effort” to stay within striking distance of the Wanderer side. It was not until Yale Divinity student Skip Nelson tallied a penalty kick that the Elis even the score 3-3. . . Midway through the second half Yale took a 9-3 lead as Randy Edige sprinted into the right corner of the Wanderers’ try zone. Skip Nelson followed with the conversion and Yale was ahead for the first time. Protecting their six-point margin the Elis simply outplayed an aggressive Wanderer side. With little more than eight minutes remaining. . . Mark Shafir booted a long up-and-under that John Allman handled in the visitor’s try zone. Skip Nelson again added the conversion and Yale took a commanding 15-3 lead. Yale Daily News, 10/24/78
The winds of November brought the Old Green into town to play the bulldogs. The Old Green, a team made up of Dartmouth Alumnae might have wished the wind blew them right through New Haven as they stumbled and fell to a strong Yale team by a score on 19-11. Skip Nelson was undoubtedly the player of the game as he scored most of the points in the match.
Arch rival Princeton was next on the calendar and they handed the Eli ruggers a 18-15 loss. In what was described as a physical, hard-hitting game, Yale never led.
The final game of the fall season was between Harvard and Yale.
Surrounded by tailgaters ravaging daiquiris and culinary delights, the Harvard and Yale rugby squads met Saturday morning for the mythical autumn Ivy championship. Yale's ruggers, winners of last spring's Ivy tournament, carried an unblemished league slate into Saturday's match and were considered the favorites. Harvard possessed an unbeaten Ivy record of its own, and the Crimson proved that it was no fluke, overcoming a 7-6 halftime deficit to defeat the Elis, 15-7. Sabin Willet got Harvard on the board early by taking Peter Hilton's pass and scooting 20 yards for the game's first try. Walter Herbert battled a stiff wind and a difficult angle on the conversion, but his kick sailed through the uprights to make it 6-0. Yale connected on a 40-yd. penalty goal minutes later, then took the lead just before the end of the half on a Crimson turnover. Harvard dropped the ball in its own territory, a Yalie picked it up and passed it out to his wing, who galloped 30 yards to pay dirt. Willet tallied another try, and Herbert contributed a penalty goal an the try conversion as the Crimson dominated the second half to trounce their arch-rivals, marking the first time the team's seniors had quashed the Eli menace. Harvard Crimson, 11/20/78
(No record exists for the 1979 spring season.)
1980s :Yale Rugby Turns 50
(or 104, depending on how you add)
Dave Bateman wore the Captain’s hat as the Yale Rugby team prepared to celebrate its 50th year with a match against the University College of London team that was on a U.S. tour with games against Harvard and Dartmouth. The much-anticipated game was to be the first played on the new permanent rugby pitch.
(No record exists for the 1980 spring or fall season.)
Of all the foreign trips the Yale Rugby team has made since it re-started in 1930 the most controversial was certainly the 1981 trip to Zimbabwe. The trip raised eyebrows and more than a few objections until the team agreed to comply with the University’s stipulations. Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti made it clear that the trip was “recognized but not sanctioned” by the University.
The Yale Rugby Club leaves for Zimbabwe at 4 pm today, after informing the Yale Athletic Director Frank Ryan of their intent to comply with his stipulations for University approval.
Ryan insisted that the 30-member club not include stops in “problem areas,” attend a briefing with the American Embassy in Zimbabwe, keep in touch with the Embassy throughout the stay, and avoid situations which could be “politically or racially embarrassing” to the United States.
“Inasmuch as donations and gifts for the trip have been made to Yale University, the University considers this a University function,” said Ryan.
“We would highly value an official University sanction; however we are going to Zimbabwe on a goodwill tour, and we hope that people recognize the goodwill aspects of the trip,” club member Rick Steinberg said.
“We’ve been in touch with the State Department and have their assurance that any trouble is now under control,” Rugby Club President Whitney Robinson said. Yale Daily News, 3/5/81
The historic trip even warranted an article in the Harvard Crimson.
Some people go to Florida for their spring vacation. The Yale Rugby Club has gone to Zimbabwe. The club left Thursday--over the objections of A. Bartlett Giamatti, president of Yale--for a two-week, five-match trip to Salisbury, Zimbabwe, Don Sampson, the tour organizer, said the team chose Zimbabwe because rugby is its national sport. Giamatti expressed concern about the trip because of the factional fighting between supporters of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe and nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo, which escalated two weeks ago and left more than 300 dead. Giamatti said the trip was "not a good idea," because the club is entering a "volatile situation."
Robert Frasure, Desk Officer for Zimbabwe of the U.S. State Department, said the current situation in Zimbabwe is not dangerous, adding, "the insurgency is over now and it's quite peaceful." Tim Shriver, a team spokesman, said "we never thought the trip was going to come through." But the club contacted several notables, such as Benjamin Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, and Cyrus Vance, former Secretary of State, for their support. "Everyone leaped at the idea," Shriver said.
Members of the club raised more than $40,000 for the trip, soliciting funds from nearly 100 corporations. Sponsors include Xerox and the Ford Motor Company Fund.
Shriver said the tour will be to show American goodwill as well as to play rugby. The team hopes to meet Mugabe and Nkomo, he added. Harvard Crimson, 3/7/81
The Yale ruggers spent 16 days in Zimbabwe and played seven games. Trip organizer Rick Steinberg described the trip as a success both in terms of fostering good will and improving the Eli players’ rugby skills- despite the fact that it lost all of its matches. “We were like an amateur baseball team playing the Yankees,” said club Vice President Dan Samson. Still it was a thrill to play before crowds of 5,000 people. While rugby in Zimbabwe in 1981 was a white sport, the black Zimbabwians supported the tour because of the Yale rugby club’s support of the black majority government. The tour will stand out as a first and perhaps last politically charged spring break rugby tour.
(No record exists for the 1981 spring-1984 fall.)
In 1985 the Yale ruggers headed overseas again to enjoy new people and places and to start to work on their skills for the approaching 1985 spring season. This year the Blues destination: Great Britain. Rob Dial, President of the rugby club wrote about the experience for the Yale Daily News.
Following a fall season highlighted by victories over Ivy League rivals Penn, Columbia, and Princeton, the Club officers decided that competing in Great Britain would give the players valuable match experience against strong opponents, as well as an exciting vacation abroad. . . The first match took place on a Sunday afternoon, versus the Old Milhillian’s under 23 side. Yale took an early 14-3 lead, but the superior finesse of the Old Mihillians soon became apparent. . . Nevertheless, n the waning minutes the Yale 15 unleashed a driving attack and scored to ensure an 18-15 victory.
The next day we were traveling to Oxford. . . and our next opponents: St. Peter’s College and Balliol College, Oxford University. . . The Yale team trounced St. Peter’s, 30-4, and, in a tough match against Balliol played in a hailstorm, Yale once again came out victorious by a 7-3 score. Some credit must go to the members of the Yale band, who came out to cheer us on.
The weekend of March 16th-17th was spent watching an international match between England and Scotland and then making the long journey from London to Glasgow, Scotland. Monday night we faced Glasgow University under the lights and, despite some strong play late in the match, we fell short, 13-8. More important than the loss, though, was the severity of our resulting injury situation. Following the Glasgow match, we were too depleted to field a strong side. Thus, we could not mount sufficient offense or maintain tight enough defense to defeat our next two opponents, Jordanhill R.F.C. and Glasgow High/Kevinside Old Boys R.F.C., both first division clubs to whom we lost 32-0 and 24-4 respectively.
(No records exists from the 1985 spring season through 1987 spring season.)
While records are scarce, one game that caused controversy in the hallowed halls of Harvard and Yale was the rugby match played between the two teams in November, 1985. The only mention of the controversial match comes from a 1986 article in the Crimson.
The Yale rugby club is full of thieves. And they know it. They proved it to the world when they swiped last year's game from the Harvard rugby club, 17-16, with a last-minute, come-from-behind victory over the ruggers.
Last year, Yale erupted for 17 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes, including a penalty kick after time had expired, to slip by the Crimson for the first time since 1979.
"We definitely feel we were the better team last year," said Harvard Coach Martyn Kingston. "And we have to make up for it. The game will be a war."
Harvard got their revenge by beating Yale in November of 1986, 24-10.
The Harvard rugby club snuffed a late Yale rally Saturday to best the Elis, 24-10, in front of more than 600 spectators at Soldiers Field. A year ago, Yale staged a furious last-minute comeback to edge the Crimson, 17-16. The Elis reeled off 17 points in the final 20 minutes, including a penalty kick after time had expired.
Saturday, Yale was on the verge of staging another late rally. With 10 minutes remaining and Harvard leading, 24-6, Yale put together a sustained drive to reach the goal line.
"I was thinking, 'Oh no! It's going to happen again.'" Crimson Co-Captain Jon Israel said.
But after several minutes of toe-to-toe action, the ball popped loose and Harvard kicked it out to crush Yale's rally.
"It was a good, nice lift," Israel said of the goal-line stand, "At that point, they knew they would lose."
Yale eventually scored five minutes later, but had little time left for another miracle finish. Harvard Crimson, 1986
In 1987 the Elis kicked off a planned 10-game fall season with a match against MIT. The Yale team won its first match and went on to rack up 5 wins, 4 losses, and 1 tie for the fall. One of the teams played made the trip all the way from Ulster, not Ulster, NY but Ulster, Northern Ireland. While the Elis fought bravely they succumbed in the end to the more experienced Ulster team, losing 16-0. The following weekend the Yale team went on to trounce Boston University 35-3, then tie UMASS 6-6. And as if there is not enough blood-letting on the rugby field, the team members lined up to donate blood to a Red Cross blood drive. Captain David Hoffman noted: “It’s in keeping with our motto…give blood, play rugby.”
Yale closed out the season with games against two familiar foes: Princeton and Harvard.
“Squash the pumpkinheads” was the rallying cry of the Yale men’s rugby team as they prepared to face rival Princeton last Saturday. It was not a league game, but the stakes were still high.
Princeton was undefeated going into the match, and Yale had not played a game in two weeks and was missing several players who were out with injuries. Nevertheless, as Captain Dave Hoffman ’88 said, “We always beat them. It doesn’t matter how good they are-they’re still just Princeton.”
Hoffman’s words were right on the mark as Yale posted a 16-9 victory. “It was a good game because we had to play tough all the way through,” said Warren Totten Heffelfinger ’89. “Neither side was dominant.”
The tremendous intensity of the game could be seen by the condition of the players coming off the field. Billy Nichols ’88 had bandages around his head and blood on his face. A Princeton player had to be taken away by an ambulance during the game. “Ross Killian ’88 gave him a good hit,” said Jim Ryan ’88. “Ross usually knocks one person out per game.”
Over spring break the ruggers traveled south to play. They beat the William and Mary team, then were bested by the Miami rugby club as well as UNC before heading home for spring play and the Ivy League Tournament. Brown won the tournament for the fourth year in a row. The Blues struggled over the spring and were never able to keep on a winning track. They finished the season with a 4-7-0 record.
Yale played 9 games in the fall of 1988 and most notably lost their shirts literally to the Harvard ruggers in the final game of the season.
Members of the Yale rugby club gave their Harvard adversaries the shirts right off their backs Saturday.
The giving was not an act of generosity or even an early Christmas present. The two squads agreed a few weeks ago that the loser of the match Saturday would give up their uniforms. The Crimson ruggers took the uniforms home after capturing the game, 9-3. The Harvard Crimson, 11/21/88
The final accounting for the fall: 5 wins and 5 losses.
In the spring the Yale team traveled to Ulster, Northern Ireland for 4 matches again working to improve their skills on the field will soaking in local color (and rain). Yale had hosted the Irish in the fall of 1987. The team won only one match, against the University of Ulster-Jordanstown. It lost to the University of Ulster-Coleraine, the Derry rugby club, and Queen’s University at Belfast. Back home Yale won only one game at the Ivy Tournament and this was due to UPENN’s forfeiting. They lost to Dartmouth, Harvard, Columbia, and Amherst. Harvard took the Ivy championship for the year. In the fall the Elis against hosted a team from Ireland, this time University College of Dublin, to whom they lost. The record for the fall was 3-4-1.