60 Years of Brown Rugby
THE BEGINNING – 1960
In 1960, four men came together at Brown to start a rugby club. Ian Tulloch ’63, a Scottish student and Jon Tower ’62, an English student, both studying here for a year, Dave Zucconi, Class of ‘55, an Administration officer who played rugby in Great Britain while serving in the US Air Force, and Bill Tingue ’62, who played the sport originally while attending secondary school at Cheltenham College, England.
In late winter, flyers on campus appeared on bulletin boards announcing the formation of a rugby club. The initial meetings were held in Sayles Hall where films were shown of past matches, and basic rules explained. Tryouts and practice sessions were held at the newly opened Aldrich-Dexter Field. Everyone had to purchase the informative pamphlet, Why the Whistle Went – Notes on the Laws of Rugby Football, written by H.F. Ellis, an Oxford Blue (1931) and former writer for Punch.
It’s important to remember two facts about the beginning: first, rugby began as a spring season club sport, and more importantly, the rugby of 1960 conformed to the old rules and old scoring. The rules then allowed kicking directly to touch from any place on the field and lifting in the line out was forbidden. A try scored three points, a conversion two. In net, rugby circa 1960 conformed to a century old tradition that emphasized kicking for territory with resulting low scores.
The first match was away at M.I.T., a side with a long rugby history who were the winners of the first New York RFC’s 7s Thanksgiving tournament held in 1959. M.I.T. featured a gigantic prop who had been an All-American football tackle at the Air Force Academy. M.I.T. won 9-3. Ian Tulloch’s three point penalty kick marked Brown’s first rugby points.
The second game was played at home against Williams on the dusty Hope High School football field, oddly, the only venue available. The Williams XV were an easy victor 21-0, and this team would go 5-0-1 to tie for the Carling Cup as 1960 co-champions with Dartmouth for best team in the Eastern Rugby Union.
The third game was played away against Westchester RFC in Yonkers, New York. Westchester arrived with only 12 players and Coutts offered up Allyn Freeman ’61 to prop for the opposition. Westchester handed Brown its third loss 5-0. (Freeman, who had set up Westchester’s only score, returned to campus proclaiming, “Brown lost…but I won.”) The last match occurred when a New York RFC “B” squad came to Providence. Brown would record its first win 21-0 against a traveling side of aging, ex-pat Brits. The game was played on a field without goal posts. Tingue, Zucconi, and Dave Remington ’61 each scored two tries. Brown’s record that first year was 1-3. It had become the seventh Ivy League school to play rugby. (The first rugby match between two North American sides occurred in 1874 when Harvard played McGill University.)
In addition to those listed in this write-up, the following played and practiced during this historic first season: Tom Dunleavy’60, Dick Young’60, Jim Mongillo’60, Ron Whitehall’60, Buzz Barnes’61, Tim Orcutt’61, Dave Remington’61, Peter Hurley’61, Dan Alper’62, Tom Wilson’62, Allen Parkman’62, John Percesepe’62, Dick Jordan’62, and Gordon Lindsey’62.
That first season, Brown RFC played without any student interest or attendance; it was hardly mentioned in the Brown Daily Herald. But from this unpromising beginning, no one could foresee that in the spring of 1961, the Brown RFC, in only its second season, would compete in the finals for the Carling Cup against perennial rugby powerhouse Dartmouth. No one could
predict then that the 1961 season would begin a long tradition of winning rugby at Brown.
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON – SPRING 1961
By the end of spring 1960, Brown had organized a rugby club, played four matches that first season, winning one. But rugby on campus and in the Brown Daily Herald was regarded as a minor or novelty sport. To the many players new-to-rugby that first year, the club did not offer much coherent and consistent coaching, particularly for neophyte forwards. Additionally, home games could not be scheduled at the newly available Aldrich-Dexter Field. And, when on the pitch in tattered freshman football jerseys, the team lacked an authentic rugby team look. Slowly, over the next twelve months, one by one, all of these diverse elements would change for the better. By the following spring of 1961, a different and improved Brown RFC would take the field.
Club Leadership: Bill Tingue’62 was elected captain and Dave Zucconi‘55 became club president. Both had played rugby in the UK and recognized that the sport enjoyed a historical international tradition that offered a unique on and off the field club culture.
New Coach: Denys Boshier a 31-year old New Zealand graduate student working toward a Ph.D in Biology, became coach. Affable, knowledgeable, and patient, the lanky and tall Boshier was particularly useful molding the forwards into a cohesive pack. He also answered the many questions about the arcane rules of why the whistle went.
NY RFC Sevens: In November 1960, a Brown sevens’ team (Gordon Lindsay’62, Tingue, Allen Parkman’62, Wendell “Buzz” Barnes’61, John Percesepe’63, David Merk’63, and John Phipps’61) traveled to the New York RFC’s Thanksgiving tournament, the oldest sevens event in the United States (1959). Brown beat Yale and lost to Westchester. Thirty teams participated as Brown made its official sevens’ debut. A Brown side also journeyed to New York to play indoor sevens in the old 95th Street Armory in February, 1961 on a pitch that always had to be cleared of manure before play.
Permanent Home Venue: The Athletic Department finally allowed the club to play home games at Aldrich-Dexter Field. The proximity to the campus first brought out friends and Pembrokers, and, as the spring season progressed, many more curious students came to watch the Saturday afternoon matches.
Rugby Uniform: Zucconi ordered official rugby hooped style jerseys along with matching red and white striped socks. This red stripe marked one of the first occasions where this orange/red color appeared on a Brown athletic uniform. (Red has been standard ever since.) Brown would finally take the field dressed like a rugby team.
Active Recruitment: Tingue and Zucconi became more proactive advertising for and finding new players to come out for rugby. They successfully recruited football players, including Harry Swanger’61, Gary Graham’62, John Phipps’61, Jon Meeker’63, and many others who had played fall football and were looking for a spring contact sport.
THE SPRING SEASON OF 1961
Zucconi announced that the 1961 Carling’s Cup, awarded to the spring champion of the Eastern Rugby Union (ERU), would witness its first ever playoff format. The clubs were put into three divisions; the winners of the second and third division would meet at the end of the season with that winner to play the champion of the first division. The lineup:
The spring 1961 players: The following total of 31 practiced or played: Zucconi, Boshier, B. Barnes, A. Freeman, Tim Orcutt’61, Swanger, Joe Cerutti’61, Remington, Phipps, Pete Hurley’61, Bob Gorman’61, Parkman, John Auld’62, Tingue, Tom Wilson’62, Bill Batty’63, Dan Alper’63, Dave Fournier’63, Haim “Hap” Pekelis’63, John “Doc” Noonan’63, Bob Salter’63, Merk, Leigh Buggeln’64, Graham, Meeker, John Hornyak’63, Gerry Eggert’63 and John Myles’64.
March 25 - Westchester: Win 49-0 – Westchester arrived in Providence with twelve men. It had beaten Princeton 9-6 the week prior. The newly revamped Brown XV romped 49-0 in an everyone “scores a try” festival with long runs coming from centers and wings.
April 15 – Yale: Win 13-0 - Two tries – one a 61 yard gallop by Phipps – and one conversion gave the Bruins a second triumph at home and its first, official win in Division II.
April 22 – M.I.T.: Win 6-0 – A third straight win at home, a second Division II victory and, again, no points ceded. A year prior, Brown had lost to M.I.T.
April 29 – Harvard: Win 5-0 – Four in a row! Three wins and no defeats in the Division. A hard fought home game but no score by the opponent.
May 6 – New York RFC “B” – Win 6-0 – Cornell forfeited. Brown’s four victories placed it atop Division II. The team traveled to Red Hook, Brooklyn, to play a New York RFC “B” side in a non-Division II match. (New York RFC, founded in 1929, is the oldest club in the United States.) The Brown shutout was saved when right winger Lee Buggeln dashed across the width of the field to stop a certain New York score yards from the try line. A fifth win and a perfect clean sheet, no points scored against.
May 13 – Villanova (Division III winners) – Win 6-5 – The Brown Daily Herald lauded the squad as the “Un”- Rugby team, since it was undefeated, untied, and unscored on. Zucconi commented that against Villanova, Brown “…will have to come up with our best effort of the year.” Villanova RFC had been started and coached by Professor Francis Coghlan, the “Father” of rugby in the Philadelphia area. As an unsanctioned club sport, the Wildcats had to call itself the Main Line RFC without use of the Villanova name. They were also undefeated at 5-0, having averaged 33-points per contest, scoring big wins against Manhattan RFC, Penn, Boston RFC, and Westchester RFC. To determine the champion of Division III, Villanova won a playoff 22-9 against Columbia, the last Ivy League school to start a rugby club. Villanova’s point record of 156-14 compared favorably to Brown’s 79 -0. The semi-final game was played at Van Cortland Park, New York, refereed by the legendary rugby persona, Cecil “Jacko” Jackson. The Villanova XV arrived in starched blue and white striped jerseys. The team also toted tall, portable rugby goal posts! In the first half, Villanova scored from a five yard scrum, converted, and were up 5-0. Brown’s unscored upon record was over. The Bruins put three points up after a penalty kick by Gary Graham and trailed 5-3 at halftime. The teams switched ends, which meant that Villanova was playing into a stiff wind. In the second half, an out of the ordinary play occurred; the Villanova fly half squib kicked the ball in to the air and over the rear of his advancing back line. Dave Remington, the Brown right wing, caught the airborne kick on the fly and dashed in 50-yards for a try in the corner. Conversion missed but Brown held on for the 6-5 victory and advancement into the final where it would play recurrent rugby powerhouse Dartmouth for the Eastern Rugby Union 1961 spring championship.
May 20 – Dartmouth (Division I winner) – Tie 0-0 - The Brown campus was abuzz with the news that an athletic team - albeit even rugby – would compete for a bona fide athletic championship on May 20th against "Sparta" from Hanover, Dartmouth. For ten years, the Big Green RFC had been the acknowledged rugby muscle on the eastern seaboard. It could boast a singular superior rugby history: In winter 1958/1959, it had been the first American college to tour England, winning five and losing two. It had ventured west to play rugby against UCLA (1959), and was the first ERU team to play in the Monterey Tournament (1960) against seasoned fifteens like Stanford and California. It had won or shared the ERU’s Carling’s Cup for the past three years. Rugby was so popular there that seventy students turned out every spring, and the program was able to run thee sides weekly. It had won the November 1960 New York Sevens championship against Harvard. In spring of 1961, it had gone undefeated, beating Williams, Princeton, Yale, Montreal Wanderers, New York RFC, and Amherst, scoring 67 points for with 13 against. Brown and Dartmouth, with identical records of 6-0, would clash for the championship.
The title game:
The week earlier, Aldrich-Dexter Field and been newly seeded, forcing the home venue to the baseball field behind Marvel Gym, which had not been mowed in two weeks. On Saturday morning, team members with mowers cut the tall grass, put in goal posts, and marked the field. About 1.500 people - a sizable crowd - attended. Most had never seen rugby in action. A sheet of paper listed the players of the two teams, explained the scoring, and proclaimed the basic rules, “No timeouts. No subsitiutions. No blocking. No tea breaks.” The Brown team that day was: Front Row: Swanger, Parkmen, Eggert. Second Row: Batty and Pekelis. Back Row: Graham, Myles, Salter. Backs: Wilson, Zucconi, Meeker, Phipps, Remington, Cerutti, and A. Freeman. Dartmouth arrived with ten seniors, five juniors, including two players who had made the 1958/59 England trip, four varsity football players, and Jack Kinderdine, the 1960 All-Ivy League quarterback, and the League’s leading punter. As the game began, it became evident that Dartmouth was the more experienced side, controlling possession, wheeling scrums, featuring two man lineouts, selling dummies off set plays, and kicking smartly for territory. Four times Dartmouth kicked into Brown’s end goal line, and each time, Brown players touched the ball down. Dartmouth dominated play but Brown’s constant and sure tackling prevented any movement for a try. In the waning minutes of the second half, Phipps had Brown’s only break away but was stopped by Kinderdine at midfield. The whistle blew. A 0-0 tie. Dartmouth seemed stunned by the result as Brown clapped off the visitors. Although Brown had been outplayed by a more savvy and experienced side, the Bruins had not let Dartmouth score. Both teams would share the 1961 ERU spring championship.
The first week of June, 1961, the ruggers journeyed to Manhattan to play in an impromptu seven-a-side Knickerbocker Invitational Tournament (Westchester, Columbia and Villanova). The Bears won two games and the championship without ceding a point. In only its second year of rugby, the Brown RFC had achieved the highest mark of distinction in the eastern rugby community. The result had been brought about by Tingue and Zucconi’s inspirational leadership example, the excellent coaching from Boshier, and, most importantly, the melding into a cohesive side that understood winning rugby.