Will California Produce Rugby World’s Champions?
The San Francisco Call - by William Unmack, August 14, 1910.
The relationship between the United States and rugby has been a long and rocky one. Although the game took hold at the end of the 19th century, it was quickly distorted by rule changes and formed into the game of American ‘gridiron’ football. But the rugby code has always found a fitting home on the west coast, which has helped spawn the current rugby revolution, and in 1910 it looked like rugby was poised to take over.
The conversations that Americans had about football in the early 1900s mirror the ones being had today. The game of American football was too brutal and dangerous. Matters came to a head in 1905 when 18 players died on the field. Things became so bad that President Theodore Roosevelt, the consummate man’s man, threatened to ban the game for good.
The following year, a joint athletic committee between the University of California and Stanford University recommended that the schools return to the rugby code and abandon the intercollegiate game, and many California high schools followed suit. The game of rugby began to pick up steam and the sports writers at The San Francisco Call took notice.
The first installment of This is American Rugby’s look back at the history of rugby in the United States features a visually stunning piece from the height of rugby’s short-lived return to prominence.
Take the jump to read more.
In 1910, Cal coach James Schaffer set sail on a tour of Australia and New Zealand with 20 college All-Americans from California and Nevada. With just four years of experience under most players’ belts it was fully expected that the All-Americans would be crushed in the ‘antipodes.’
When the Americans returned with a 2-5-1 record it provoked sports writer William Unmack to ask, “Will California Produce Rugby Word’s Champions?” and answer with a resounding yes.
“That California will win the Rugby football championship of the world within the next five years is the prediction being made by men of foresight who are thoroughly expert on this code of football,” Unmack wrote.
Although the article may leave some readers suspecting that the “men of foresight” are actually Unmack himself, he recounts a wonderful journey to the southern hemisphere that would undoubtedly shape the future of American rugby
The article features a team photo of the All-Americans, who were led by Cal captain Cedric Cerf at fullback and Stanford captain Ken Dole at lock. It also showcases a photo of Sydney Town Hall, where 3,000 Australians, not including those that flooded the street, welcomed the Americans with cheers that “lasted for 10 minutes”
Of their play, Unmack was particularly boastful in the most patriotic of ways. He tells how the Australians in attendance, which frequently numbered 35,000, marveled at the tackling ability of the Americans.
“The tackling of the American team brought forth praise from the Australian critics,” he wrote, “and as a matter of fact tackling in this country is far ahead of anything of the kind in any part of the world. In America tackling has been brought up to a fine art, and in no other country can the men show such proficiency.”
And as American rugby dominance is still a goal being strived for 100 years later, the 1910 All-American squad left little doubt in the mind of Unmack. They were, after all, Americans.
“No matter what branch of ‘sport’ it is that the American athlete undertakes, he eventually ‘gets there,’ and this is going to be true of the Rugby game of football,” Unmack concludes.