Year by Year 1873

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In 1873 we see the continued expansion of American football, and the makeshift rules that had been used to this point became a point of contention with the introduction of more teams to intercollegiate play.

The game that stands out in this year was the end of season game between Yale and Eton. This game is particularly interesting as it was the first international intercollegiate football game played as well as the first American game to have 11 man teams.

This game against Eton also brings up our familiar theme of rule changes and the laws of the game... this game was played under Football Association rules - the with the Association rules being the original carnation of England's F.A. soccer code. Eton traveled from England and only traveled 11 men to New Haven to face the Elis. The move to 11 man teams in American football didn't officially happen until 1880. Until 1872 teams would simply agree on a set of rules and play ball - now with the English F.A. producing a set of uniform rules (1861) and introducing the F.A. Cup tournament (1872) the idea was put forth in America to come to a consensus on rule changes for the good of the game.

Yale, Columbia, Rutgers and Princeton met on Oct 16th and agreed on a short set of rules adapted from F.A. soccer. Their agreed upon rules can be seen at a site called

That site is complete with a further historical time line straight through the 1880's and it also lists the 1872 football code:

1. The ground shall be 400 feet long and 250 feet broad.

2. The distance between the posts of each goal shall be 25 feet.

3. The number for match games shall be 20 to a side.

4. To win a game 6 goals are necessary, but that side shall be considered victorious which, when the game is called, shall have scored the greatest number of goals, provided that number be 2 or more. To secure a goal the ball must pass between the posts.

5. No player shall throw or carry the ball. Any violation of this regulation shall constitute a foul, and the player so offending shall throw the ball perpendicularly into the air to a height of at least 12 feet and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.

6. When the ball passes out of bounds it is a foul, and the player causing it shall advance at right angles to the boundary line, 15 paces from the point where the ball went, and shall proceed as in rule 5.

7. No tripping shall be allowed, nor shall any player use his hands to hold or push an adversary.

8. The winner of the toss shall have the choice of the first goal, and the sides shall change goals after every successive inning. In starting the ball it shall be fairly kicked, not "babied", from a point 150 feet in front of the starter's goal.

9. Until the ball is kicked no player on either side shall be in advance of a line parallel to the line of his goal and distant from it 150 feet.

10. There shall be two judges, one from each of the contesting colleges, and one referee; all to be chosen by the captains.

11. No player shall wear spikes or iron plates upon his shoes.

12. In all matches a No. 6 ball shall be used, furnished by the challenging side and to become the property of the victor.

So the rules provide that by this point American football was unquestionably soccer and that teams were now affiliated through this new, uniform set of rules.

One college that didn't take part in the modified Association rules was Harvard as they had their own game which permitted handling and running with the ball. Harvard, though invited, didn't attend the soccer meeting and opted instead to seek other running teams to play their brand of football against.

Harvard agreed to play McGill, a Canadian college in 1874 and the other American schools agreed to follow the association style rules, but in the next few years we will see that even amidst all this agreement... to date very little had been settled regarding American football.

The five games in 1873 played out like this:

10/25/1873 Rutgers 1 - 3 Yale
11/1/1873 Columbia 2 - 1 Stevens Tech
11/8/1873 Columbia 4 - 5 Rutgers
11/15/1873 Princeton 3 - 0 Yale
11/15/1873 Rutgers 3 - 4 Columbia
12/6/1873 Eton 1 - 2 Yale

...producing the records:

Princeton 1-0
Yale 1-1
Columbia 1-1
Rutgers 1-2
Stevens 0-1
Eton* 0-1

Princeton again playing to an undefeated 1-0 record. As I hesitantly give accolades to Princeton for another 1-0 title season I will remind you that Harvard was also playing ball among themselves and testing themselves for their scheduled series against McGill in 1874. Next up is the 1874 Harvard/McGill game that would change the game of football in America



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