Rugby’s Captain America, Dan Lyle
October 4, 2016
Dan Lyle began his rugby career at the age of 23 and earned a spot on the U.S. National Team in 1994 where he became captain in 1996. That same year, Dan joined England’s Bath Football Club, playing with them for seven seasons and served as team captain in 2001 where he was given the nickname, “Captain America.” Dan continued playing for the U.S. National Team and led the U.S. 7s team to a Hong Kong Plate victory in 1997. He retired with 45 caps for the U.S. 15s team (1993-2003) and played with the U.S. 7s team for 3 years.
Dan is the former executive vice president of United World Sports/USA Sevens, LLC and was inducted into the 2016 U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame.
You played American football as a teenager and in college. What made you decide to pursue a career in rugby instead of football?
Growing up, I played every sport I could get my hands on — swimming, track and field, soccer, basketball, baseball, and more. I think being a multi-sport athlete not only makes you well-rounded as an athlete, but as a person too. As a parent of three boys, I want every parent to encourage their children to play different sports because I believe they will have much greater success and much more fun.
I started playing football in my late teens and into college. I walked onto the Virginia Military Institute football team, gained experience and became a pretty good player. It even led me to trials with the Washington Redskins and a contract with the Minnesota Vikings. However in my time between the Redskins and the Vikings I started playing rugby to stay fit and I fell in love. Playing rugby felt like every sport I had played growing up, rolled into one – and I started my journey on the U.S. team, which took me around the world.
On that journey I was seen by a professional scout from Bath Rugby in the English Premiership (now live weekly on NBCSN) and they offered me a contract for the 1996 season. So I had two contracts (pro rugby and pro football) and chose the sport I thought would literally take me places.
In the over 25 years you have been involved with rugby, what has been the most unexpected door that the sport has opened for you?
I would never have thought that the sport of rugby, which I found late in my athletic career, would take me from a professional athlete to a national team player and then to a broad sports business career. Since my father and grandfather were in the military and I went to school at the Virginia Military Institute, I thought that I would be an officer in the military. Now I am involved with a global sport that just made its return to the Olympics and I get to make an impact on pioneering rugby as a business and for the future players and fans.
You are closely connected with the U.S. rugby community, specifically at the college level. Tell us about the growth you have seen in rugby at that level and where you see it going in the next ten years.
It is becoming more and more mainstream to be a collegiate student athlete in the sport of rugby. We are seeing the number of high quality programs increase that are recruiting, holding summer camps, building alumni networks with high performance structures. We are seeing these college programs support the new Olympic dynamic similar to swimming and track and field.
Rugby has become a vehicle for sponsors and the great brands that are getting behind the sport are now supporting wonderful new events on NBC that serve as the aspiration to the growing and equally as dynamic high school and youth markets.
Tell us about something that you have learned from rugby that you don’t think you would have learned elsewhere.
Rugby drives home the team dynamic – shared sacrifice, hard work, camaraderie and respect. These aspects of rugby serve people who play in life. You have to want to play rugby. It’s a choice, so by playing rugby, you are saying that you want to be successful and part of a team. No individual is going to solve the largest or the smallest problems we face at work or as a society. Only a team will do that.
How do you see the re-induction of rugby into the Olympics affecting the growth of the sport here in the U.S.?
I tweeted about this during my stay in Rio – mainstream, mainstream, mainstream. We grow up thinking scholastic, college, pro, or Olympics. With Penn Mutual, NBC and other partners we are building the one arm – the Olympics gives our entire population and culture the ability to see what we are all about and from the initial outtakes they like the women and the men’s competitions and the sport.
With rugby being just as much of a social sport as it is a physical sport, is there any particular social occasion with another team or club that stands out as especially memorable for you?
Rugby engenders itself because of the physicality and the shared sacrifice. It drives people together and you look at your teammates and opponents with respect. People you respect generally want to enjoy each other’s company and this spirit binds people to a common purpose and spills over to social gatherings. It is one of the great parts of both the amateur and professional game – that we tunnel up and clap each other off after – and that we seek each other out in the changing room to exchange jerseys and that we look to keep those relationships well past our playing days. Those current teammates and opponents become longtime friends or business colleagues.
What are your thoughts about the relationship between Penn Mutual, a life insurance company, and the rugby community?
Just like you have to be physically fit to play rugby, you also have to be financially fit to live your life comfortably. I think there is a natural connection with a company like Penn Mutual, who cares about the financial fitness of consumers and truly wants to be a teammate to the clients it serves.
Get to Know Dan
- Favorite pro sports team: Bath Rugby – and with my boys now we love our Denver Broncos.
- Favorite pro athlete: Jesse Owens & Jackie Robinson – I can’t imagine what they had to go through to be the champions that they were. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan as basketball was one of my first loves.
- Favorite dining experience: With my wife and friends – a great English pub or farm table… great afternoon stories, friendship, drink and fresh food.
- Favorite family activity: Hike, golf, pool, wrestling, beach, sporting events – so many activities, as long as the boys and I are hanging we are having fun!
- Finish this sentence: USA will win a Sevens Series or Rugby World Cup . . . when passion and expertise are combined into a collective and collaborative American rugby plan.