Dick Hyland ’18 gained fame on America’s last Olympic rugby team

1928: Dick Hyland.

After returning from France, Hyland played football for Stanford, running 48 yards in the first play of the 1926 Big Game against Cal to score a touchdown in his team’s 41–6 victory that day. Photo courtesy Stanford University.

By Col. John Scharfen, USMC (Ret) ’43

In 1924, the U.S. won the rugby championship at the Paris Olympics with one of the principal team members being Richard Frank “Dick” Hyland ’18.

The U.S. had won the 1920 Olympic Gold in Antwerp by beating a good French team. In 1924, the French were still smarting over that loss. The American team was invited to compete in the games in Paris, and the American Olympic Committee accepted but didn’t provide money to fund the team.

Some veteran rugby players sponsored the effort, raising money and recruiting players from the San Francisco Bay Area, mostly football players, from Stanford, Cal and Santa Clara. It was a pickup team of some accomplished athletes who had not played rugby as a team before. One French newspaper referred to them as “street fighters and saloon brawlers.”

They had other handicaps: When they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the French immigration authorities refused to let them come ashore, so the Americans forced their way onto French soil and stayed there. Then they were denied access to the Olympic playing field to practice. So the team marched, en masse, to the stadium, scaled the fence and had their practice.

They had played four exhibition games in England and lost big in each of them. It didn’t look too promising for them to defend their title.

The Americans first defeated a Romanian team 37–0 before a crowd of 6,000. The French had also beaten the Romanians, so the championship game came down to the U.S. and France. The odds were 20-to-1 that the French would win. But when the games started, the Americans shook up the French with their athleticism, ferocious tackling, speed and punting.

William “Lefty” Rodgers of the U.S. team rocked the French star, Adolphe Juarraguy, with a hard tackle, and after Juarraguy was hit a second time, he was carried off the field not to return to the game. The Americans beat the French like a drum, 17–3, before 50,000 shocked spectators.

Some of the French in the stands couldn’t accept their loss and the hard play of the Americans and went ballistic. They refused to stand for the playing of the American National Anthem and beat up some of the few American spectators with heavy, gold knobbed canes, sending two Americans to the hospital. The officials and the Americans needed police protection during the ceremony for awarding medals and as they left the field.

Nevertheless, once the game was over, the French players, unlike the spectators, were good sports. They accepted their defeat with grace and helped the police provide protection to the American contingent as they left the playing field after the game.

Further testifying to the good will of the French rugby team, the Americans attended the big French Rugby Association banquet held the evening after the game.

As a result of the post-game dust-up, Olympic officials decided that rugby should be pulled out of the games, although it is scheduled to return for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

After the 1924 games, Hyland earned the nickname “Tricky Dicky” because of his running ability. He was one of a trio of sensational backs playing on the U.S. team along with Bob Devereaux and Charlie Doe (from Lowell High School).

Hyland, who had played rugby light at SI, went to Stanford, where he played football, baseball and track. In the 1926 Big Game against Cal, Hyland, on the first play from scrimmage, ran 48 yards to a touchdown in a Stanford 41–6 upset.

He later played in two Rose Bowl Games in 1927 and 1928 and earned entry into the Stanford Hall of Fame in 1961. Hyland became a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times and worked in the movie industry. He died on July 16, 1981, in Wawona, Calif.