When Rugby football was first adopted in this country, it was against a strong feeling that it would never make progress against what had been known as the American game. This old-fashioned game was much more like the British Association in a rather demoralized state. Not only was there no such thing as.off-side, but one of the chief features consisted in batting the ball with the fist, at which many became sufficiently expert to drive the ball almost as far as the ordinary punter now kicks it. There was very little division of players by name, although they strung out along the field, and one (known as the "pea-nutter" - why, no one knows) played in the enemies' goal. Coming to players accustomed to this heterogeneous mingling, it is no great wonder that the first days of Rugby were characterized by even less system than that displayed in the old game.
The first division of players was into rushers, half-backs, and a goal-tend. The rushers had but little regard for their relative positions in the line ; and as for their duties, one can easily imagine how little they corresponded with those of the rusher of to-day when it is said that it was by no means unusual for one of them to pick up the ball and punt it.
The snap-back and quarter-back play soon defined these two positions, and shortly after the individual rush-line positions became distinct, both as regards location and duties. All this was an era of development of general play with but few particular combinations or marks of strategy. If a man made a run, he made it for the most part wherever he saw the best chance after receiving the ball, and he made it unaided to any degree by his comrades. If the ball was kicked, it was at the option of the man receiving it, and the forwards did not know whether he would kick or run.
It was at this point that the demand for signals first showed itself. The rushers began to insist upon it that they must be told in some way whether the play was to be a kick or a run. They maintained quite stoutly and correctly that there was no reason in their chasing down the field when the half-backs did not kick. As a matter of fact, the forwards even went so far as to contend that the running-game should be entirely dropped in favor of one based upon long kicks well followed up. Failing to establish this opinion, they nevertheless brought it about that they should be told by some signal what the play was to be, and so be spared useless running. This was probably the first of the present complicated system of sig-nals, although at about the same time some teams took up the play of making a rather unsatisfactory opening for a runner in the line, and made use of a signal to indicate the occasions when this was to be done. The signalling of the quarter to the centre-rush as to when the ball should be played antedated this somewhat, but can hardly be classed with signals for the direction of the play itself.
To-day the teams which meet to decide the championship are brought up to the execution of at least twenty-five different plays, each of which is called for by a certain distinct signal of its own.
The first signals given were "word signals;" that is, a word or a sentence called out so that the entire team might hear it and understand whether a kick or a run was to be made. Then, when signals became more general, "sign signals" (that is, some motion of the hand or arm to indicate the play) were brought in and became for a time more popular than the word signals, particularly upon fields where the audience pressed close upon the lines, and their enthusiastic cheering at times interfered with hearing word signals. Of late years numerical combinations have become most popular, and as the crowd is kept at such a distance from the side lines as to make it possible for teams to hear those signals, they have proven highly satisfactory. The numerical system, while it can be readily understood by the side giving the signal, because they know the key, is far more difficult for the opponents to solve than either the old word signals or signs. Still, the ingenuity of captains is generally taxed to devise systems that shall so operate as never to confuse their own men and yet completely mystify the opponents throughout the game.
Clever forwards almost always succeed in interpreting correctly one or two of the signals most frequently used, in spite of the difficulty apparent in the solution of such problems. The question as to who should give the signals is still a disputed one, although the general opinion is that the quarter-back should perform this duty. There is no question as to the propriety of the signals emanating from that point, but the discussion is as to whether the captain or the quarter should direct the play. Of course all is settled if the captain is himself a quarter-back, but even when he is not he ought to be able to so direct his quarter pre-vious to the actual conflict as to make it perfectly satisfactory to have the signals come from the same place as the ball. It is in that direction that the eyes and attention of every player are more or less turned, and hence signals there given are far more certain to be observed. Moreover, it is sometimes, and by no means infrequently, necessary to change a play even after the signal has been given.
This, if the quarter be giving the signals, is not at all difficult, but is decidedly confusing when coming from some other point in the line.
P.D. Trafford. Harvard.
The important fact to be remembered in selecting a system of signals is that it is far more demoralizing to confuse your own team than to mystify your opponents. A captain must therefore choose such a set of signals as he can be sure of making his own team comprehend without difficulty and without mistake. When he is sure of that, he can think how far it is possible for him to disguise these from his opponents. Among the teams which contest for championship honors it is unusual to find any which are not prepared for emergencies by the possession either of two sets of signals, or of such changes in the manner of giving them as to make it amount to the same thing. Considering the way the game is played at the present time, this preparation is advisable, for one can hardly overestimate the demoralizing effect it would have upon any team to find their opponents in possession of a complete understanding of the signals which were directing the play against them.
While it is well for the captain or coach to arrange in his own mind early in the season such a basis for a code of signals as to render it adaptable to almost indefinite increase in the number of plays, it is by no means necessary to have the team at the outset understand this basis. In fact, it is just as well to start them off very modestly upon two or three signals which they should learn, and of which they should make use until the captain sees fit to advance them a peg.
R. Hodge. Princeton.
If, for instance, the captain decides to make use of a numerical system, he cannot do better to accustom his men to listening and following instructions than to give them three signals, something like this: One-two-three, to indicate that the ball is to be passed to the right half-back, who will endeavor to run around the left end; four-five-six, that the left half will try to run around the right end; and seven-eight-nine, that the back will kick. The scrub side will probably "get on" to these signals in short order, and will make it pleasant at the ends for the half-backs; but this will be the best kind of practice in team work, and will do no harm. After a day or two of this it will be time to make changes in the combination of numbers, not only with an idea of deceiving the scrub side, but also to quicken the wits of the 'Varsity team. Taking the same signals as a basis, the first, or signal for the right half-back to try on the left end, was one-two-three -the sum of these numbers is six. Take that, then, as the key to this signal, and any numbers the sum of which equals six will be a signal for this play. For instance, three-three, or four-two, two-three-one-any of these would serve to designate this play.
Similarly, as the signal for the left half at the right end was four-five-six, or a total of fifteen, any numbers which added make fifteen- as six-six-three, seven-eight, or five-four-six - would be interpreted in this way. Finally, the signal for a kick having been seven-eight-nine, or a sum of twenty-four, any numbers aggregating that total would answer equally well.
A few days of this practice will fit the men for any further developments upon the same lines, and accustom them to listening and thinking at the same time. The greatest difficulty experienced by both captains and coaches since the signals and plays became so complicated has been to teach green players not to stop playing while they listen to and think out a signal. By the end of the season players are so accustomed to the signals that all this hesitation disappears, and the signal is so familiar as to amount to a description of the play in so many words.
The other two methods of signalling by the use of words rather than numbers, and signs given by certain movements, although they have now given way in most teams to numbers, are still made use of, and have merit enough to deserve a line or two. The word-signal was usually given in the form of a sentence, the whole or any part of which would indicate the play. As, for instance, to indicate a kick, the sentence "Play up sharp, Charlie." If the quarter, or whoever gave the signals, should call out, "Play up," or "Play up sharp," or "Play," or "Charlie," he would in each instance be giving the signal for a kick. Sign-signals are more difficult to disguise, but are none the less very effective, especially where there is a great amount of noise close to the ropes. A good example of the sign-signal is the touching of some part of the body with the hand. For instance, half-back running would be denoted by placing the hand on the hip, the right hip for the left half, and the left hip for the right half. A kick would be indicated by placing the hand upon the neck.
Particular care should be exercised when sign-signals are to be used that the ones selected, while similar to the acts performed naturally by the quarter in stooping over to receive the ball, are never exactly identical with these motions, else there will likely enough be confusion.
H. H. KNAPP. Vale.
No matter what method of signalling be used, there is one important feature to be regarded, and that is, some means of altering the play after a signal has been given. This is, of course, a very simple thing, and the usual plan is to have some word which means that the signal already given is to be considered 9 void, and a new signal will be given in its place. There should also be some way of advising the team of a change from one set of signals to another, should such a move become necessary. It is very unwise not to be prepared for such an emergency, because if a captain is obliged to have time called and personally advise his team one by one of such a change, the opponents are quite sure to see it and to gain confidence from the fact that they have been clever enough to make such a move necessary.