Back in 1874, the men’s rugby teams at McGill and Harvard got together for a couple of matches in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Things got a little experimental.
The rules of the sport differed widely between Canada and the U.S. The first game was played under “Boston rules,” with a soccer-like ball and limited ball carrying. The second match used “McGill rules” – British-style rules featuring an oblong ball and the free-flowing ability to carry the ball until tackled.
That second game had a huge impact. The McGill rules took root around New England and ultimately played a major role in the development of U.S.-style football.
“Canadian political commentators often lament the outsize influence that American popular culture has on Canadian cultural identity,” says former McGill rugby player Frank Fleming, BA’82. “But here we have an instance in which Canada … served as a massive influencer on American culture.”
Fleming, a New York-based businessman, chaired the McGill Rugby Alumni Covo Committee. Along with other former McGill players and current members of the team, the committee worked to attract more attention to the annual Covo Cup Classic between McGill and Harvard that pays tribute to those historic 1874 games. (The event is named after Peter Covo, BEng’43, a former engineering professor and rugby coach at McGill.)
Instead of taking place at Macdonald Campus as usual, the game was moved to Percival Molson Memorial Stadium to give it a higher profile. More effort was put into promoting the event (stories appeared in the National Post and elsewhere). Almost 1,600 spectators watched the 2019 Covo Cup Classic – a record crowd for McGill rugby. Most went home happy – McGill won the match 47-15.