Year by Year 1872

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1872 was a notable year for several reasons, football continued its steady growth with Yale playing Columbia on Nov. 16, 1872 in the first American football game between future Ivy League foes and Stevens Tech included in a late season game against Columbia. Interestingly, football's first tie occurred in the first game of the year when Columbia tied Rutgers 0-0 on Nov. 2, 1872.

The expansion of football and its popularity will be a continuing theme for these year by year entries, and soon the Ivy league teams - particularly Yale and Princeton - will begin their period of dominance, but another theme - the parity of teams and the necessity of ties is one aspect of the early game I would like to shed some light on.

1872 was the year of the first football tie, and while the game still looked less like modern football and more like the soccer/ultimate frisbee amalgamation that I tried to depict in earlier posts, these early football games, with their physical play and their ability to captivate both school partisans and regional supporters are the ancestors of football of today.

So the rules were very different and the games were presented on a much smaller scale... but the games were hard fought, physical and generally close in score. I believe this is what attracted new colleges to football as opposed to other collegiate sports. The 1865 Rutgers/Princeton 40-2 base-ball blowout has been cited as a main reason why Rutgers students sought another sport to compete in against Princeton. In 1869 the teams split that first series of college football games - which is also why I wanted to term these early winners as "national champions", the game of football will eventually become a national game and as it does it becomes harder and harder to find one team that can be called the best. I believe the nature of the sport and spirit of competition in college football in a way begs for that parity that is so evident in football's salad days.

Today, we have essentially meaningless early season exhibitions against D1-AA opponents while three and four teams finish the season undefeated and play in a bowl system that is unequipped to objectively sort out so many undefeated teams. I don't want to fill these year by year writeups with stuff that doesn't apply directly to that year, but I think the first college football tie is a notable achievement for the sport and I find it troubling that we've moved to overtime at the expense of ties while top teams are still allowed to schedule patsies through October. That institutional shift toward winning at the expense of the game routinely undermines the essence (and rules) of the game and strikes me as artificial and completely against the original nature of the sport.

With that said, 1872 gave us five games:

Rutgers 0 0 Columbia
Columbia 5 7 Rutgers
Columbia 0 3 Yale
Rutgers 1 4 Princeton
Stevens Tech 0 6 Columbia


Yale 1-0
Rutgers 1-1-1
Columbia 1-2-1
Stevens Tech 0-1

For what I can only term as another split title between Yale and Princeton... two future Ivy football rivals. This year with only one game each the titles were barely earned... in years to come these two teams will make up for their 1-0 seasons by achieving success in football that was not even fathomable at this early stage.


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