The 1920 and 1924 Olympic championship teams have been inducted into the International Rugby Board's hall of fame, the first Americans to claim the honor.
Additionally, USARFU has recognized six matches played from 1912 to 1924 as internationals: Australia (1912), New Zealand (1913), France (twice in 1920, once in 1924), and Romania (1924). The proto-Eagles compiled a 3-3 record, besting the French in two of three matches as well as the 'ancient Oaks'.
In forging links to America's premodern era, the move implicitly recognizes the San Francisco Bay-based California Rugby Union and its leading teams -- Cal, the Olympic Club, Santa Clara, and Stanford -- as the forefathers of the US game.
USARFU goes too far, however, in asserting that 'There is little doubt that the class of 1920 and 1924 played a significant role in the growth of rugby in a country that now boasts over 450,000 recreational and registered players'.
No one has responded to requests to validate the figure.
Perhaps more important, much of the country would only grudgingly recognize the Bay Area's influence on rugby's expansion over the past decade, if they would do so at all. For example, the heavily populated (albeit less decorated) precincts of New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and Chicago plus the upper Midwest have worked with an very different set of circumstances, particularly weather and playing season, and so developed their own management models.
Meanwhile, Californian rugby has been through ups and downs. Very soon, the CRU's successor, the Pacific Coast Rugby Union, will be replaced by a geographic union, the thinking being that it has outlived its usefulness.
In the historical profession, Whiggish history is described as the politicized connection of past events to present orthdoxies as if they were an inevitable, straight-line progression. Its primary pitfall is that in failing to consider bygone events on their own terms, the practitioner forfeits credibility in identifying what is and what is not relevant to the present.
Harvard and Montreal’s McGill played North America’s first rugby match in 1874, but a native version of football was already becoming the USA’s code of choice. In a time before the forward pass, ‘gridiron’ was dangerous: 18 players died from injuries in 1905 alone.
Even as Teddy Roosevelt prodded Eastern universities embodied by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to change the rules, Cal, Stanford, and other Western schools switched to the 15-a-side game. Accordingly, from 1906-14 the ‘Big Game’ between Cal and Stanford was a rugby match rather than a football contest, and the Olympic Club followed suit, fielding its first XV in 1908.
Australia, the 1908 gold medalist, visited the Bay Area in 1912, leaving behind one Dan Carroll, a flanker who studied geology at Stanford and subsequently become player-coach of America's 1920 squad. New Zealand toured California and also British Columbia in 1913, playing the majority of its games in the Bay Area.
Though wartime patriotism and changed rules helped football swing back into fashion, CRU officials lobbied the US Olympic Committee's predecessor to enter a team in the Antwerp Games, which they did provided it was self-funded. The Olympic Club picked up a bill for $15,000 (now worth as much as $2.6 million), much of it for ocean voyage.
In the Belgian capital, Bob 'Dink' Templeton's troops defeated a France XV -- the French did (and do) not consider the match a test -- and were promptly invited on a 4-game tour. Though only 16 of the 22-man squad went, the US posted a 3-1 mark, falling 14-5 in Paris.
Four years later French organizers sought out the defending champions. The USOC passed the invitation directly to the CRU, the Olympic Club this time leading a $25,000 ($4.3 million) fundraising effort that included San Francisco's mayor and leading lights.
The triumph of Colby 'Babe' Slater's troops is well known, as most fully recounted by Mark Ryan's Try for Gold.
In 2008, San Francisco's Olympic Club inducted the 1920 and 1924 teams into its own, multisport hall of fame.