Sunday, September 23, 2012

Are You Ready Some Football!?!? Well 19th Century Football That Is.

Football in America is like a religion in most parts of the country. From the Pop Warner Leagues to the NFL, the sport takes on a life of its own amongst fans. But if football is to be compared to a religion where should fans make a pilgrimage to in order to pay homage to the football gods? Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and etc. all have a central place they make pilgrimages to, but what about football? Where should people go? Canton, Ohio? Lambeau Field? Solider Field? Or perhaps just maybe can it be found in New Brunswick, New Jersey? I am not referring to the High Point Solutions Stadium but this piece of History does involve Rutgers University. The first ever organized football game ever played was played on November 6, 1869 between the Rutgers Queensmen and the New Jersey Tigers, giving birth  to the modern game of football as we know it today.

online.wsj.online

So on that crisp autumn November day, fifty student took the field to create history, and yes that is right I said fifty, twenty five players a team. The games rules were a rough combination of what we would see today if we combined rugby and soccer (or futbol for my international readers). The ball could be moved around the field by hitting it with the hands, head, sides and feet. To score the ball had to kicked into the opposing side's goal. The play book and strategy was pretty simple: two players stood close to the opposing goal in hopes of scoring quickly, eleven "fielders" basically played defense and twelve "bulldogs" were the offense. The uniforms were simple, the New Jersey Tigers wore white shirts, while the Rutger's Queensmen wore red handkerchiefs on their heads to distinguish the differences between the teams.The scoring system was also much different from today. A game was made up of ten "games." Those "games" ended when a team scored a goal, after which a new game would start. In simpler terms it was 10 game series, winning record wins the game. As for the game, well it could be considered the first grid iron classic.


scarletknights.com

The Rutger's Queensmen, later to be Rutger's Scarlet Knights, faced of against The College of New Jersey Tigers, who would go on to become the Princeton Tigers. Rutger's struck first when S.G. Gano connected with G.R. Dixon for the first score in football history. Rutger's also tried to use the "flying wedge" which for anyone who has seen the Mighty Ducks, this move is better known as the "flying V." Unfortunately for Rutgers the Tigers had J.E. "Big Mike" Michael, who was best described as a human wrecking ball. He was the Incredible Hulk double in the lower right hand corner of the above photo. The game would eventually tie after four games at 2-2. Defensively, Rutgers was at an advantage thanks the quickness of their "fielders" especially  Madison Ball who scored once and set up Dixon with his second score of the game, giving Rutgers a 4-2 lead. The Tigers then used Rutgers own strategy of the "Flying Wedge" to tie the game at 4. So with eight games played it was coming down to the fourth quarter...well not really but the contest was going into the nail biting stages of a game. Under the leadership of their captain, John W. Leggett, Rutgers would go on to score two goals in quick succession thus winning the game 6-4. 


scarletknights.com


On paper, this game was to end much differently. The Tigers were the bigger and stronger team but as they say, on any given Sunday. As it turns out Rutgers used their speed and quickness to outplay the Tigers. A hundred people witnessed History that day as Rutgers won that game and began to lay the road for what we know as the most popular sport in America. In fact you can take those 100 people and say it was the first sell-out crowd at a football game.
The game ended but the celebration didn't stop as Rutgers scored that sixth goal. As the Tigers left New Brunswick, Rutger's students ran the Tigers out of town harassing and heckling them the entire 20 mile ride back to Princeton. However, on November 13, the Tigers had their revenge. The first rematch in football history was played at the College of New Jersey and it was an absolute massacre. The Tigers crushed Rutgers 8-0. A third and final game was scheduled for the following week, the first grudge match. It seemed that the game had taken on a life of its own and college officials felt it was becoming a distraction to the student body, if they could only see the game today. So there was no official champion for the 1869 season, just a tie. But it started the first rivalry in the sport and laid the ground work for the players of today. It was 4 years until football was organized played on the collegiate level and nearly 50 years until the first professional football league was formed. Many argue that the "Boston Game" was the first form of football but when reviewing the game we see it was the combination of running and kicking a ball on school yards not the organized and strategic game that was played on College Field. Today that 1869 game is less than just a memory to most fans but can be considered the Holy Grail of football, the Mecca of the game, the Graceland of the grid iron the life spark of what we know the game as today. The players of today, Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Larry Fitzgerald, Clay Matthews and so many more owe their living all to those fifty students that played the first football game that November day.

4 comments:

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