Soiled Meat and Sand
In the late 1800’s intercollegiate athletics started to take shape on college campuses in the United States. Michigan rugby and football share the same origins as the early games were a mix of both sports. The first edition of the Michigan Daily, dated Monday September 30, 1890, talks about the university’s favorite team preparing for Cornell and a trip to the east coast.
OUR RUGBY TEAM
-THE NUCLEUS OF IT PRACTICING DAILY ON THE CAMPUS.-
The Campus has taken on a home like look this past week. Every afternoon has seen some of our canvas backed Rugby players tossing the ball back and forth or trying to kick goals. It has been cold and raw, but the spectators have had many a laugh as the boys would form an invincible V and split the wind with it, but if they have had nothing but the wind to buck against, they have at least been learning to stand shoulder to shoulder. And they are doing good work, these few who are back getting in condition by tossing the ball, tackling, breaking the line, trying the V or the gridiron, and learning the twist that gave Ames of Princeton his celebrated nick-name of “Snake Ames.”
The boys are working under Malley, who has brought back a trunk full of new tricks and has already began to teach his men a few of them. Abbott, Trainer, Hatch, DePont, Rathbone, Dygert, McAllister, Stone and Chadbourne take them as naturally as any canvas-back does to water. Of course the boys are all “soft,” and short winded as yet, but if they follow the liner laid down by Captain Malley it will be soiled meat and sand that Cornell runs up against this year.
It does ones heart good to hear Captain Malley talk. If he does one half the things he wants to do, he will do double of anything that has ever been thought of here before, and there be a game at Buffalo this year that will be marked by sandy playing, and a much closer score than Cornell will look for. To begin with “Systematic Work” is to be the foundation of the Rugby eleven this year. At 4 P.M., every day, every man who wants to play on the teams must show up on the Campus. At 4:15 the players on the ground will be placed on the lines of the two teams – for it is Malley’s intention to play two teams every day – and the players will play in these positions the remainder of the day, the late comers taking any position that may be left when they get there. At 5:15 the teams will go to a bath-room to be placed probably in the basement of the Medical building. Here a douse and a rub and then to Prettyman’s where they will rest and discuss the plays of the afternoon while a supper is being prepared for them at a training table that Prettyman is to run for them. This will be run in the same way that the Eastern training tables are.
“Those who work shall play.” This comes pretty near being an Irish Bull, but Malley says that “It goes” and adds “I want at least fourteen new men this year, and I want the boys to come out and try for these positions. And when it comes to selecting the men who will go East this year, it is going to be a simple question of the twenty-two men who can and have been playing the best Rugby day by day. Twenty-two men will go East. The Harvard, Yale and Princeton players are all hard at work now, every man of them, and it is time that our boys were willing to do the same if they ever hope to down the Eastern team. And the fact is they’ve got to work if they play this year.”
Malley is very, very right, and every man who plays Rugby ought to come out, put his foot in the ball, and try for a position on the team. If you fail for the Varsity eleven there will still be the second eleven, all of whom will take the Eastern trip. Twenty-two men will go East.
In the way of material not already noticed Van Deventer, the Shermans, Haynes, VanInwagon, Glidder, Sunderland, Duffy, and Prettyman are expected to be here this year. For new material, Jewett, who played a rattling game as half-back for the High School eleven last year, enters ’94 lit. Ninety-four also gets Chadbourne, who played center on the Phillip’s Exeter Academy eleven last year, the eleven that made such a good showing against such college teams as Dartmouth, Amherst, and the Tech. Over in the law school they have Stone, a graduate of Swarthmore, ’89, who played full-back a portion of the time while there. The most that can be said of these new men now is that they bid fair with practice to be able to get onto one of the two teams.
As rugby at the university slowly transformed into football, rugby faded from campus during the early 1900’s.
The Return of Michigan Rugby
In 1959, Bert Sugar was interested in starting a rugby club at U of M after hearing of teams at Harvard and Yale. He advertised in the Michigan Daily and attracted a core group of 10 to 20 for a scrimmage at Ferry Field which included Mike Burrows, the first UMRFC captain. The scrimmage was enough of a success that the club scheduled their first game against the University of Toronto. The Men in Blue started out on the right foot with a 10-6 victory at Wines Field, now Elbel Field.
University of Michigan vs. University of Toronto – Spring 1959
2. Tom Burris
3. Bob Blair
4. Bert Sugar
5. Mike Burrows
6. Warren Sublette
7. Robbie Burnett
8. Arturo Crenovitch
9. Dave Dingman
10. Peter McKenna
11. Mich Oprea
12. Dick McClear
13. Ron Reasti
14. Baji Palkiwala
15. Brian Browne
The club continued to play Canadian teams in the first few years until more clubs in the Midwest took up the sport. In the Spring of 1964, the club took part in the Midwest Rugby Festival in Lincoln Park and the club was able to field both a Maize and a Blue squad. Rugby at Michigan was here to stay.
Rise to Prominence
From undergrads to local club athletes, Michigan Rugby grew in numbers; sometimes fielding up to five sides for a Saturday match. In the 70’s 80’s and 90’s Michigan Rugby played in over 1,300 matches and won 65% of those matches. Accomplishments included being the Southwest Ontario champions in 1965 as well as winning many Big Ten championships. Michigan won A division Big Ten titles in 1979 and 1982 while winning both the A and B titles in 1978, 1983, and 1984. Michigan also won the Michigan cup several times in the 80’s and 90’s.
From 1989 to 1994 Michigan played in Division I rugby in the United States. However, in the 1994-1995 season played in Division II where they went undefeated and won a national championship, beating San Fernando RFC by a score of 46-27 in the championship game. Michigan Rugby also made Nationals in sevens during both the summers of 1994 and 1995. After two successful seasons in Division I in the following years Michigan Rugby moved back to Division II in the 1997-1998 season where it remained until the club split into separate collegiate and men’s teams in 2000.
At the start of the year 2000, the college team was officially it’s own entity and not part of the city club. Mike Livanos was named captain and in the following fall, the team qualified for the Midwest Division 2 Playoffs with a last minute drop-goal victory over Grand Valley. The team would qualify again in 2003. In 2004, the team completed an undefeated fall season en route to the Midwest Division 2 Championship with a 15-3 victory over Bowling Green. The team would eventually lose in the national semi-finals to Humboldt State in the spring.
2005 saw the team qualify for Midwest Division 1 playoffs and in 2006, they qualified for Division 2 again. In 2007, the team won the Midwest Division 2 Championship for a second time with a 23-19 win over St. John’s of Minnesota. The team would lose in the national quarter-finals to Radford the following spring. This pushed the team up into Division 1 league play until moving back to Division 2 in 2009. In 2011, the team returned to the playoff scene at the Division 2 level.
In the fall of 2012, the club started competing in the Big Ten at the Division 1-A level.