GWU’s original Rugby Club received its initial spark from Liam J. Humphreys, a junior transfer student from the American University in Paris. Liam had played for the “Racing Club de France” that nation’s oldest rugby clubs (Est.1882), while simultaneously pulling together a first varsity rugby team at the American University of Paris (AUP), where he had begun his undergraduate studies.
As the story goes, the Irish-born American, Humphreys, who had learned his rugby growing up in England and France, met the English–born, naturalized American citizen Tony Coates, on the steps outside GW’s Bell Hall during registration, in the fall of 1967 and asked him, “how would you like to play some rugby”. Coates replied, “actually, I’d rather fancy playing cricket!”.
Nevertheless, the two ruggers, whose respective British schools, as it turned out, were rugby rivals, had difficulty recruiting other players that year and joined the local city team Washington RFC’s team and played in the historic first Cherry Blossom Festival Rugby Tournament, in April 1967. There they met the 6-time Argentine National Champions, the University of Buenos Aires (CUBA) Rugby club. In that match WRFC was soundly beaten 22-3, but won the next day’s consolation round match versus Yale U., 22-0.
The Washington RFC Secretary, David Rusk (son of the then-Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was also a keen promoter of rugby expansion in the greater DC area so he asked both Humphreys an Coates to spend the rugby off-season renewing their efforts to get a team founded at GWU. (Rusk also asked the same of WRFC standout, 6ft. 5ins. forward Michael Murphy, (a Georgetown graduate law student – and former Captain of Notre Dame Rugby) to do the same on his campus.
Humphreys took advantage of the 1966 GW Board of Trustees’ decision to do away with the Varsity (gridiron) Football Team (then considered too costly, because, in part, GWU rented the old DC Redskins RFK stadium for home games). Humphreys managed to recruit several of GW’s last gridiron stars, like Captain/MVP Tom Metz, running back Jim Isom, Kicker Bob Schulz and a few other such stand-out players who had opted to complete their scholarships at GW, rather than transfer their scholarship to another Southern Conference school and continue playing the game.
As a faculty member, Coates contacted the then-Head of the Athletic Department on H Street, De Angelis (?), and managed to get some financial support for GW rugby, (such as buff and navy rugby-striped jerseys, access to a training pitch by the Lincoln Memorial, rugby posts, and occasionally a bus rental for away games. The sport was constituted as a ‘club” rather than as the more formal NCAA ‘varsity’ status sport. This meant more flexibility in the rules which, in turn, allowed for recruitment of graduate students (e.g., at the Law and Medical schools) to play for the Club, together.
The result of this blending of U.S. football talent with the rugby playing/coaching skills of the founding fathers, resulted in a surprising unofficial Fall ’67, record of 7-1 (essentially consisting of pick-up games). This was then followed by a spectacular first full spring 1968 season record result of 16-1-0.
GW had taken on college powerhouses such as the Naval Academy and U. of Md. Terrapins (both twice), Yale (at its Homecoming), Columbia U., North Carolina State, Wheeling College, etc. beating them all.
They also took on and beat even stronger City Club teams like Washington and Baltimore RFCs, and a visiting Australian Navy ship team. (In those early days of U.S rugby promotion/expansion there were no restriction on college teams playing against City Club Teams, etc ).
GW’s lone spring season defeat was a 6-8 squeaker loss against the vaunted Philadelphia city RFC. The game was played on day-2 of the long bus trip to New Haven and back, after the Eli had been stunned 22-10 by GWU, at their own “Homecoming” game. The overly ambitious, (as it turned out) two-game week-end trip, ended the Colonials winning streak with the stop in the city of brotherly love, after a long, overnight return bus-trip from New Haven, following the bruising upset of Yale.
GWRFC eventually moved off campus when several players invested in a building up on Capitol Hill, renovated it into a club house and bar. For many years, GWRFC was the only rugby club on the east coast, with its own clubhouse (on the corner of 13th and E Streets, N.E).
Then came the 1989 merger with “Sud-Americano” resulting in the new identity, taking on the name “Potomac Athletic Club”