Many people around the University of California in Berkeley have vital things to tell the world. Sometimes the messages can be transmitted orally, but generally the printed word suffices. Scrawled on a fence: "Batman is ugly." Sticker on a bicycle fender: "Stop the war machine." And on the rear bumper of a humble Volkswagen: "Happiness is Rugby."
Yes, Rugby—a game, not a hallucinatory drug. It is a game played with an inflated bladder that looks like a football in need of a low-fat diet. Yet Rugby at Cal is happiness—loose discipline, no pressure and the chance to cream somebody and later buy him a beer. The game has a 60-year tradition on the campus, and last Saturday it had one of its brighter moments, a triple-header in which 50 or so Golden Bear ruggers played, one after the other, an Oakland athletic club, Notre Dame and the University of Oregon. It was a pleasant way to end a busy week, especially pleasant because Cal, led by graduate student Jim Boyce from Australia, stomped the Fighting Irish, 37-3, beat Oregon with mostly second-stringers 26-8, lost to Athens AC with third-stringers 12-7 and proved, at least to the Notre Dame captain, "It is the finest Rugby team in the country."
This team may sound like a haughty and impersonal machine, but actually there was a charming casualness about the players and, indeed, the whole afternoon: the way the Bears straggled out one at a time while the Irish sprinted out in a group and did synchronized calisthenics, the way an Athens AC man wandered across the field at half time of his game to chat with his opponents, the way the pompous public-address announcer (a chemistry professor) second-guessed a player's field position and chuckled when the man obediently moved two steps back. That is the way Rugby is handled at Berkeley—the way it has always been run.
To investigate Rugby at California, one must begin and probably end at the campus pub, Larry Blake's Rathskeller (sign in window: "We have the bread, we have the wine, we need thou"). The beer is served in goldfish-bowl glasses, and so many pipes snake across the low ceiling that not even Blake dares to guess their purposes. A former intramural soccer player at Rutgers and a runner-up to Batman in the campus ugly contest, Blake has been hiring Cal ruggers to serve beer and sandwiches for 26 years.
April 4, 1966
"I have a particular regard for a sport that is sport for sport's sake," he said. "These kids fight their own battles. If they have to raise some money, they raise it. I've never had a bad one."
The biggest money-raising feat came last year and was led by Dr. Miles Hudson, a dentist from New Zealand who has coached Cal's Rugby teams since the late 1930s. The Bears of 1965 were undefeated and considered the school's best ever, so they received (or wangled) an invitation to tour down under. The invitation came easier than the financing.
"Our campaign began during some unrest on campus and we didn't know what to expect," said Doc, as Hudson is called by his players. But more than 460 former Rugby and football players donated money and by the time Doc and 21 of his lads boarded a plane for Brisbane in July there was $25,580 in the kitty.
Making good use of muscle and the American-style overhead pass, which the fascinated Aussie press called a "torpedo pass," Cal surprised everyone with a 5-2-2 record against men who had played the game all their lives. Most of Cal's players are from the U.S. and do not even see Rugby until they arrive in Berkeley. "The Golden Bears are the most exciting players seen in Brisbane since the Fijians in 1952," said one Rugby authority, and another raved, "A great thing for the American image."
The Rugby tradition started at Cal in 1906, when American football was under attack for being too savage. UC President Benjamin Ide Wheeler had told the Chicago Tribune in 1905, "Football must be made over or go." At Cal and Stanford it went, and in its place came Rugby. For nine years the Big Game was a Rugby match. In 1915 the schools severed relations and dropped Rugby, but there were still enough good Bay Area ruggers around in 1920 and 1924 to give the U.S. the Olympic championship.
Rugby resumed at Berkeley in 1933 and has been played ever since. Each year the Bears play the University of British Columbia—two games in Vancouver and two games in Berkeley—for the World Cup, and two games with Stanford for the Big Scrum Axe.
Doc Hudson loves to brag about his favorite old grads. Ray Willsey, the present football coach, was a Rugby ace in the early '50s, and so were Pro Football Linebackers Les Richter and Matt Hazel-tine, whose father also played Rugby at Cal. One of Hudson's finest products is his assistant, Jim (Truck) Cullom, who also coaches the freshman football team.
"He's a screamer and so am I," said Cullom. "Rugby in England is a rowdy game played by gentlemen. At California it's a gentleman's game played by ruffians. But actually we're pretty lax. It wasn't a concentration camp when I played and I don't want to make it one for anyone else. It's a nice spring day today and if I were an undergraduate I'd probably grab a girl and a six-pack of beer and go up in the hills, too."
Cullom handles the junior varsity players, who call themselves the Guanos with all the pride of LSU's old Chinese Bandits. Nobody is quite sure how the name originated, but all agree that jerseys are not washed from one end of the season to the other.
Last Thursday afternoon Cullom spotted a Guano lounging in the athletic office and talked him into foregoing a fit of spring fever and coming up to Memorial Stadium to work out. On the way to the stadium they passed between a group of cute coeds and some get-out-of-Vietnam types. The Guano said, "There's the contrast of the Cal campus. The beats and the babies." A "baby" in Guanese is a girl, usually an attractive one. These particular babies were on their way to the airport to shower Notre Dame's ruggers, not with kisses but oranges. The Irish responded by asking for dates. They did not get very far.
Just 15 Notre Dame players showed up, along with their "moderator," Kenneth Featherstone. A native of Manchester, England, Featherstone is mainly interested in architecture, which he teaches at South Bend, and he believes Rugby should be largely a player-organized activity. Before agreeing to make the trip (paid for by Cal's fraternities as part of Spring Week), he insisted that the game be played under international rules—no substitutions. If a man breaks an arm, he either plays with it or his team plays without him.
On the night they arrived the Irish worked out on a dark soccer field near the stadium and, to the surprise of a Cal observer, in the stadium on Friday afternoon. "They did more calisthenics today than we've done all year," he said.
The fraternities had wanted to bill the game as a national championship, but it was not quite that. Notre Dame had a 5-1 record but had lost the previous week to Indiana. And one of its victories was over the Palmer College of Chiropractic. ("Loaded with Africans who had played Rugby since childhood," explained the moderator.) This Cal team was almost as strong as last year's.
During the three games, the Saturday-night parties and the hectic preceding week, campaign-style buttons worn by several babies seemed to cut through the tension generated by a flurry of anti-and pro-Vietnam activity on campus like giggles at a prayer meeting. The buttons said simply: "I'm a rugger hugger."
Before the big match, Truck Cullom's lesser Guanos battled Athens, an Oakland club consisting of Cal alumni and friends. True to tradition, the Guanos played in tattered, unwashed football jerseys, some without numerals, two with the number 82. Also true to tradition, the Guanos huddled before kickoff but mostly mumbled. Their theory was that no one knows what is being said in such gatherings anyway. One Guano got kicked out of the game near the end for a little wrestling outside a regulation scrum, but generally the atmosphere was friendly. Cullom smiled at one familiar face on the Athens team and yelled, "You cheat. I didn't teach you to play like that."
By the end of the first game and a short intermission about 13,000 fans—students for the most part—had gathered in Memorial Stadium. Men on the sunny side took off their shirts to catch a few rays while they drank beer and razzed the Guanos. But the Notre Dame game brought on a more serious mood, because all remembered the plastering the Irish gave the Bears in football the previous fall. Rugby Captain Tom Relies and most of his teammates had played in that game.
The standout on the Bears, however, was Australian import Jim Boyce, who never played football. He was, without doubt, a Rugby man. With his twin brother, he played on the Wallabies, Australia's national team, and—further improving his credentials at Cal—served schooners of draft beer at the Rathskeller. Boyce scored two tries (a try is the equivalent of a touchdown but worth three points) in the second half and was responsible for setting up three more.
Spectator hostility toward Notre Dame soon eroded as the Bears demonstrated the game was going to be no contest. Dominating the line-outs all day, Cal scored three tries, two conversions and a penalty kick to lead 16-0 at the half. A line-out occurs when the ball goes out of bounds, as it often does in Rugby. The forwards of each team form parallel lines perpendicular to the sideline and face the man throwing in the ball. The closest thing to this is basketball's tip-off. The ball is thrown above the two lines of muscular men, and they leap up to grab it or tap it to their scrum half. Cal Breakaway Loren Hawley was superb at winning most jumps.
But it was Boyce who almost single-handedly finished off Notre Dame in the second half. He faked a lateral and dived over the goal line for a try. Moments later he faked in beautifully and passed to Wing Lloyd Reist, who raced for another score. Boyce picked up a loose ball and sprinted in again.
Notre Dame finally scored, on a penalty kick, late in the second half, but by then many students were already heading for the Phi Sig house, where eight kegs of beer awaited company. Notre Dame Scrum Half John Adams did not even bother to remove his Rugby togs or the shoe polish under his eyes for the party. A little before 6 p.m. the Phi Sigs ran out of beer, and the teams and the followers headed for the Rathskeller and a session of loud, salty songs. Moderator Featherstone got his mustache damp with a few beers, and leaping Loren Hawley walked in with a former Miss America contestant. Some other chic babies came in wearing their "I'm a rugger hugger" buttons. At the end of a perfect day Larry Blake's Rathskeller was in imminent danger of running out of beer.