the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The First Game and the Rematch

In 1869, the first two "football" games in the U.S. were played - both between Rutgers and Princeton. Rutgers won the inaugural game 6 to 4, while Princeton won the rematch 8 to 0. Both modern day American football and U.S. soccer refer to these as their first game. So which game did it more closely resemble, and most importantly, how much kicking was involved?

From the Rutgers Athletic website, the following write-up on the first game discusses the pregame determination of the rules to be used and a general assessment of the game itself:
The game was played with two teams of 25 men each under rugby-like rules, but like modern football, it was “replete with surprise, strategy, prodigies of determination, and physical prowess,” to use the words of one of the Rutgers players. William J. Leggett, captain of the Rutgers team who later became a distinguished clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church, suggested that rules for the contest be adopted from those of the London Football Association. Leggett's proposal was accepted by Captain William Gunmere of Princeton, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.... Each score counted as a “game” and 10 games completed the contest. Following each score, the teams changed direction. The ball could be advanced only by kicking or batting it with the feet, hands, heads or sides.

Though smaller on the average, the Rutgers players, as it developed, had ample speed and fine football sense. Receiving the ball, our men formed a perfect interference around it and with short, skillful kicks and dribbles drove it down the field. Taken by surprise, the Princeton men fought valiantly, but in five minutes we had gotten the ball through to our captains on the enemy's goal and S.G. Gano, ’71 and G.R. Dixon, ’73, neatly kicked it over. None thought of it, so far as I know, but we had without previous plan or thought evolved the play that became famous a few years later as ‘the flying wedge’.
 The following account written after the first game also discusses those same two topics:
Very few were the preliminaries, and they were quickly agreed upon. The Princeton captain, for some reason or other, gave up every point to our men without contesting one. The only material points were that Princeton gave up “free kicks,” whereby a player, when he catches the ball in the air, is allowed to kick it without hindrance. On the other hand, our [Rutgers] practice of “babying” the ball on the start was discarded, and the ball was mounted, in every instance, by a vigorous “long kick.”

To sum up: Princeton had the most muscle, but didn’t kick very well, and wanted organization. They evidently don’t like to kick the ball on the ground. Our men, on the other hand, though comparatively weak, ran well, and kicked well throughout. But their great point was their organization, for which great praise is due to the Captain, Leggett ’72. The right men were always in the right place.
In those early years, the rules varied from game to game, typically using the favored style of play of the home team. The rematch was no exception:
More difficult is to try to understand just how different the game itself was from modern football. The game resembled soccer to a great degree with soccer style goal posts set up and rules allowing the use of the hands for batting the ball forward or backward. Players couldn't run with the ball but could advance the ball on the dribble as in basketball. The one element that made this game uniquely American was the fact that even at this early stage the game was a contact (and even a collision) sport. With that said, even these two early contests had diverging rules with the noted difference in the Princeton game being that players who caught a kicked ball on the fly earned a free kick.
Henry Green Duffield watched that second game as a ten year old, and recollected on the experience eighty years later:
Under the rules of 1869 you could catch the ball, but you couldn't run with it. If you did, it was a foul and the ball had to be thrown free up in the air. It could be advanced by batting it with your fist, by kicking it as in soccer or even by dribbling it as in basketball today. The ball was not an oval but was supposed to be completely round. It never was though- it was too hard to blow up right. The game was stopped several times that day while the teams called for a little key from the sidelines. They used it to unlock the small nozzle tucked into the ball and then took turns blowing it up. The last man generally got tired and they put it back into play somewhat lopsided. 

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