Year by Year 1875

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alright, things are getting rolling with the year to year and now we're at a point where Harvard has taken up McGill's English rugby rules and to date Harvard has purposefully turned down all invitations to participate in the intercollegiate football rules summits. By 1875 Harvard had a regular athletic rivalry with Yale involving the annual Harvard/Yale Regatta rowing meet established in 1856 and the Harvard/Yale baseball rivalry which began on July 25, 1868. The Harvard/Yale athletic rivalry is notable because these two teams felt compelled to meet in 1875 despite their differing views on the laws of football.

This is a football blog and I was on the fence about even posting a link to Harvard's baseball archive since I don't even talk about West Point's other non-football sports. In this case I thought Harvard baseball was relevant enough to the football discussion.

Different partisans will list different years as the starting point of college football. 1875 is one of those years. Yale vs Harvard 1875 is not yet gridiron football, and it was not Football Association soccer, but the game does mark the first time Rugby style football was played between American colleges. The year was significant for more than just the introduction of a new style of football to the American colleges... this was the beginning of the sport as a pursuit game rather than a strictly kicking game. Instead of ball control and shots on goal teams scored by speed and strength. This important stride for American football was conceived when Harvard's captain, Nathaniel Curtis challenged Yale's captain, William Arnold to a game of Rugby. Yale accepted the challenge but demanded certain concessions in the rules of the game thus giving this version of football rules the name "concessionary rules". Among the concessionary rules agreed upon was the use of an 11 man team - suggested by Yale after fielding 11 men in their 1873 soccer game against Eton.

This first American intercollegiate Rugby game* was played at New Haven on Nov 13, 1875 with Harvard winning 4 TDs and 4 goals to 0. This was the first game where the teams wore distinct uniforms, and the common rivalry attracted some 2000 fans. Included among the spectators were a duo of Penn football partisans, and future Yale captain Walter Camp. This common attendance at such a momentous game lent to early acceptance of the rugby rules and by 1876 American football was coming into its own.

Several sources list the 1875 Tufts/Harvard football game as the first all American collegiate football contest. While that distinction is a question of semantics - as 1869 Princeton/Rutgers was clearly the first American college football game and provided the starting point for all American football - gridiron or otherwise; mention must be made as Harvard vs.Tufts took place on June 4 of 1875 and as I mentioned above the Harvard/Yale tilt took place on November 13th of the same year.

So to this point football had transitioned from the 1863 London football rules through the uniform acceptance of F.A. (soccer) rules in 1871, and now in 1875 we see Harvard introducing their closest rival, Yale, to the new Rugby game. Again, 1875 was played with more than one rule set and in 1875 Harvard finished with a record of 4-0 in the Rugby style and Princeton achieved another 2-0 record playing under the older association rules. Also notable was Columbia's 4-1-1 record in the association style of play losing only to Princeton and Tying Rutgers in that same association style of football.

That leaves only one thing to do: crown Harvard (Rugby) and Princeton (Soccer) as 1875 college football champions.

A list of the games and scores can be found at Soren Sorensen's amazing website.

As I go through these years you can always follow each year more closely from Dr. Sorensen's yearly links located on the sidebar to the left.

1876 sees another conference on rule changes, this time to adopt the Rugby Union code, but the trend of multiple sets of rules will continue as Princeton, Columbia, Harvard and Yale forge forward with the rugby style game.




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