The Big Game

I hear there’s some sort of big sporting event today. Something called…”football.”

Homer, Winslow, Holiday in Camp – Soldiers Playing “Foot-Ball,” from Harper’s Weekly, July 15, 1865, Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Allen Evarts Foster, B.A. 1906.

It looks kind of wild. I wonder how it’s played?

Football explained, 1878

Davidson, Julian Oliver. A game of foot-ball, from Harper’s Weekly, December 7, 1878, p, 969, Library of Congress.

Most sources agree that the first collegiate football game—not to be confused with rugby or what Americans call soccer—was played by teams from Rutgers and Princeton on November 9, 1869. That 1869 game was played under rules very similar to soccer. The rules began to evolve into a more recognizable American-style football around 1880, led by player, coach and writer Walter Camp, “the father of American football.” The game was still in early days in 1878, when Harper’s Magazine published this image, so the editors thought it useful to explain the scene to their readers:

… a point in the game when one side has forced the ball almost to the opposite goal, and both teams, excepting goal-keepers, close in and try to force the other back by main strength. During this struggle the opponents can not be touched with the hand, except the one holding the ball. In our illustration the lad holding the ball has succeeded (at the expense of a shirt) in wriggling out of the “scrummage,” and is handing the ball to one of his “half backs,” who will “touch it down” behind the goal for safety, thus securing a breathing-space and a new trial.

The Harper’s writer concludes with this inspiring, and reassuring, tidbit:

The game requires speed, wind, and judgment, and if properly played, according to the revised rules, it is not dangerous.

Good to know.

Not interested in the game? Enjoy the ads!

Unknown artist, Goodwin & Co., sponsor, Beecher, captain of Yale foot ball team Old Judge & Gypsy Queen Cigarettes, 1888. Library of Congress.

Football and commerce seem to have gotten along well from (almost) the beginning. One hundred and thirty-five years ago, long before “amateur” college athletes won the right to negotiate payments for use of their own Name, Image and Likeness, star quarterback Henry “Harry” Ward Beecher, captain of the Yale team, was featured on cigarette cards advertising Old Judge & Gypsy Queen Cigarettes.

It’s not known if Beecher was paid for his NIL rights. Or if he enjoyed the sponsor’s product when off the field.

Sunday fun

Jonathan M. Clark and his neighbors might have kicked around a ball—or something like one—from time to time. (For a fascinating look at how the modern leather ball with rubber bladder replaced an inflated pigs bladder in the early 1860s, see this article about the British inventor Richard Lindon.) But Jonathan Clark’s generation would not have known the game; they lived before American football developed as a sport. On the other hand, some of the children and grandchildren of the Clarks and Turcks and Bonniwells lived long enough to attend college, and perhaps saw a game or two from time to time.

Finally, and fortunately for all, by the time professional football began to dominate America’s winter Sundays, the Clarks’ friend Rev. James W. Woodworth was long gone. For as we know, Rev. Woodworth would not be pleased with today’s sporting extravaganza on the Sabbath.

That’s all for now. Back soon with some census and travel updates for our Gold Rush prospectors!

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