First Season – Fall 1963

At the start of the 1963 Fall semester, many members of the classes of 1964-1967 were lamenting the lack of any contact sport at FOO U. One afternoon, after a game of flag football by the campus pond, I asked if anyone would be interested in playing a game of tackle football… yeas, OK’s and right on’s, finally something for every one of us to funnel the testosterone we all were imbued with. I mentioned the game I had in mind didn’t allow for any protective padding as in traditional football… boos and hisses… what the hell are you talking about, Fallon? Then I told them this game is not played unless you have a beer party after it… yeas, OK’s, and right on’s again. Now I had their attention. In fact, when I mentioned the parties following each game were mandatory, I heard enthusiastic hoots, hollers, and “you got to be kidding”! I further explained that if the host team didn’t throw you a party, they were left off the following year’s schedule (Brown learned thisthe hard way) as a penalty for lacking the Rugby Ethic: a good time be had by all. 

I told them about the game of English Rugby, the only game where 50% is played on the field and 50% off it. Many had heard of it but had little idea what it was like. I told them how an English exchange student in high school introduced me to it and had taught us the fundamentals on Sunday afternoons. It was fun and hard hitting using a ball larger and more ovoid than an American football. Once I described how the ball was advanced to the goal by lateral passing and kicking (that became another matter), we started to form up and run our American football forward passing off to one another that very afternoon. 

Enter the question of off sides, ball out of bounds, or stalemates of possession on the field and I described line-outs, scrums and trys. A line-out was easy to explain and demonstrate but a scrum???? Whaaaat??? Once lined up in two rows with a hooker and a lock, they started to get it …and loved it. They were hooked. The rest is history. The FOO U Rugby Club was on its way. 

There was no support from the administration except in the way of the Great Scot, Dr. John Kenyon, a psychology prof who’d played in his native Scotland. He was a wonderful buffer between us, the administration, and the athletic director who neither understood nor wanted to support us since basketball was king. Further, they couldn’t grasp any team as a “club”. This worked both ways: since the administration didn’t quite know what to do with us, it gave them the excuse to withhold any funding; on the other hand, their lack of support prevented them from having any control over our notorious after game parties held off campus! 

The Doc was a font of encouragement and coaching skills who did everything in his power to break us of our American football habit of crashing through the line instead of laterally passing and kicking the ball for yardage. We took his advice to heart but were slow to implement it! American football was still in our blood. 

Rugby’s beauty and attraction is that it’s always been a sport “out of the box”, non-traditional in form, and highly social in nature…anti-establishment, if you will. It fit right in with the 60’s. We were definitely considered mavericks by the school since we played the only contact sport there…and we had to create it ourselves. As you can imagine, the pool of talent of the original members, particularly Conn. All-State half-back Doug Ciacci, was loaded with guys who had decent football backgrounds from high school but no outlet to unleash those “hit ’em hard” hormones…and then have a wild party afterwards with the guys you just beat the crap out of an hour or two before. Unlike today’s sports, we saw VERY few fights…it was considered tacky. Besides, everyone was always getting beat up on the field!

I arranged for our first game against the Fordham “B” team. We traveled to Fordham Heights and after a nip and tuck game on their perfectly level field, we came out on top, 8-6! We certainly had the stamina after having practiced on the hilly pitch by the pond (ultimately to be known as Corbett Field) that was filled with rabbit holes, re-bars, and manhole covers but led to our extreme state of fitness, something we used to our advantage during home games. Quickly the season took off with games against the Boston Rugby Club, Harvard Business School, Manhattan, and other clubs. 
Composed of mostly well-seasoned European players, the Harvard team taught us a valuable lesson. Although we lost 17-16, we learned that the quickest and most economical way to obtain yardage is by kicking the ball forward instead of always running it through the line, getting tackled and resulting in a scrum. This was a method that came hard to us, as American football had ingrained in us the mode of crashing into the line! 
By mid-season we’d been noticed by Ed Lee, President of the now defunct Eastern Rugby Union. During the 60’s it was the leading rugby group that encompassed most all the teams on the Eastern seaboard and sanctioned the famous invitational seven-asides tournament hosted by the NY Rugby Club at Van Courtland Park in NYC. By a stroke of luck, which I can’t remember, we were invited to play the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Many of us gave up the holiday with family to be in NYC for the tournament. One of our biggest thrills was putting on our brand new red and white striped uniforms for the first time, arriving at Van Cortlandt Park looking like true ruggers. (Previous games had been played in track shorts and FOO U sweatshirts.)

With 15 minute games and a team limited to seven players, running open field was the key …the one time Doc Kenyon’s advice was cast aside. The schedule of teams we beat were: 
 Old Blues “B” 15-0
 St. Joseph’s 16-3
 First Troop 10-8
 NYC Rugby Club 10-0

The talent of Doug Ciacci’s broken field running totally wowed the cheering crowd. Doug could turn and cut on a dime. While it was a team effort, he, Al Sullivan, Bob Batch, John Swanhaus, Mike Kelly, Dan Gatti and Jeff Campbell astonished all the others we played in the 39 team tournament to end up pitted in the finals against the Old Blues “A” team. It was a long and painful day (we all had bloody knees from the frozen ground embedded with glass and bottle caps) and, although we lost to them in the finals, 11-0, FOO U had established itself as the Cinderella team, an upstart bunch coming out of nowhere to become one of the premier teams on the East coast…all in our first season! We enjoyed licking our wounds and injuries across the street at Malachy McCourt’s famous pub where he regaled us as the “new boys” on the block with many bawdy songs dedicated to the sport! The beer was incidental.

That season would never have been possible without the determination of members willing to learn a new game and finance it themselves…we were totally on our own…and off to a 50 year legacy that led to what THE FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB is today! Thanks to all of you who followed us to make the FURC so successful …and fun.

Founding members who deserve credit for making our initial season so great were:

Bob Batch ’65
John Bender ’65
Jeff “Looch” Campbell ’65
Guy Caputo ’65
Joe Card ’65
Ed Carrington ’65
Jerry Chisholm ’66
Doug Ciacci ’65
Tom Cook ’65
Bob Corbett ’66
George Donoghue ’65
Pete Fall ’66
Pete Fallon ’65 (Captain)
Cort Freeman ’64
Dan Gatti ’66 (who tried to straighten out Brown’s goal post with his nose)
Quentin Greely ’65
Carl Hagen ’65
Dick Kappenburg ’65
Mike Kelly ’65
Carl LoGalbo ’66
Jim Malley ’65
Ray “Crow” McDermott ’66
Tom McGoldrick ’65
Vincent McSherry ’65
Tom Peddicord ’66
Len Pietrafesa ’65
Jack Ploehn ’65
Frank Quinn ’66
Pat Reilly ’67
Don Reddington ’65
Bob “Gimp” Sullivan ’65
John Sullivan ’65
John Swanhaus ’67
Ken Waters ’65

My apologies to any others who I left out.

For a more detailed version of our first season, see Bob “Gimp” Sullivan’s hilarious account of events here.