The First College Football Game Ever Was Played 150 Years Ago Today

The First College Football Game Ever Was 150 Years Ago Today
A group portrait of the Rutgers College 1891 football team, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1891. (Photo by FJ Higgins/Underwood Archives/Getty)
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By Evan Bleier / November 6, 2019 8:56 am

Though it looked much more like the style of football the rest of the world plays (soccer) than the brand of pigskin most of us are familiar with, the first game of intercollegiate football was played 150 years ago today.

During that contest in 1869, Rutgers beat the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) by a margin of 6-4 in New Brunswick.

Teams of 25 men apiece opposed each other on the field and played the game using rugby-like rules which had been adopted from the London Football Association’s 1863 rules.

Points were scored by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s goal with each one counting as a game. The contest was played until 10 games were completed, hence the 6-4 score. 

“To appreciate this game to the full you must know something of its background,” John Herbert, who was one of the players for Rutgers, wrote in 1933. “The two colleges were, and still are, of course, about 20 miles apart. The rivalry between them was intense. For years each had striven for possession of an old Revolutionary cannon, making night forays and lugging it back and forth time and again. Not long before the first football game, the canny Princetonians had settled this competition in their own favor by ignominiously sinking the gun in several feet of concrete. In addition to this, I regret to report, Princeton had beaten Rutgers in baseball by the harrowing score of 40-2. Rutgers longed for a chance to square things.”

In June of 1875, Tufts and Harvard played the first college football game that looked like the variety of football we’re used to seeing today. 

Tufts won that game 1-0 (touchdowns counted for a point at the time).

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