College Football’s Sesque…Sisqua…College Football turns 150

1869 was a year of sea change in the United States. On March 4, Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant took the oath of office as the country’s 18th president, beginning the first of two terms of near-constant corruption and scandal. Two months later, workers from the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory to drive in the golden spike that created the nation’s First Transcontinental Railroad, allowing future generations of Amtrak riders to fully appreciate the twin delights of delays and derails. And on November 6th of that year, students from Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton, once the value of deemphasizing its New Jersey locale became apparent) took the field as combatants in the inaugural collegiate football contest, with Rutgers claiming a 6–4 victory. A look at some of the other highlights of the first half-century of the sport:

1874 — For the first time, the National Championship Foundation recognized a school other than Princeton or Rutgers as the nation’s top team. That would be the Yale Bulldogs, whose 3–0 record consisted of a win over Stevens Institute, and a two-game sweep over future Ivy League rival Columbia. By the end of the century, Yale would clinch titles another 13 times; including five straight from 1880–1884.

1879 — The sweep of football reaches beyond the east coast and encompasses what would later become Big Ten Conference territory, as the University of Michigan played its debut game; clinching a 1–0 victory over Racine College. True to form, Racine found Michigan fans so insufferable, that the college thereafter referred to its opponent as ‘that school east of here’.

1889 — The same year in which four future football-playing states entered the Union (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington) saw the selection of the first All-America team. The most notable name on the list was Yale end Amos Alonzo Stagg, who began a coaching career the following year that spanned 57 seasons and accumulated 314 victories at three institutions (Springfield, Chicago, Pacific).

1896 — Seven universities; Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin joined forces to compete collectively as the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives. The league rebranded itself as the more tongue-friendly Big Nine with the inclusion of Indiana and Iowa three years later and subsequently the Big Ten once Ohio State joined the ranks.

1901 — Following the conclusion of the regular season, the first edition of the clinically-monikered Tournament East-West Football Game, later known simply as the Rose Bowl, debuted at Tournament Park in Pasadena, CA. East representative Michigan faced West invitee Stanford. Wolverines coach Fielding Yost, who had left Stanford for Ann Arbor following the 1900 campaign, dealt his former school a stinging 49–0 defeat.

1906 — The forward pass became legal for the first time this season. The opening launch came courtesy of Saint Louis University’s Brad Robinson, who had competed in football as a demonstration sport at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis. Robinson’s completion to teammate Jack Schneider on 9/6 against Carroll College was immediately followed by the sport’s first jeering fan to mockingly congratulate a team for finally throwing the ball.

1912 — As the last two of the ‘Lower 48’ states, Arizona and New Mexico, joined the Union, college football took a great leap forward toward resembling the modern game. The length of the field was shortened from 110 yards to the current 100 yards, the value of a touchdown was increased from five to six points and the number of downs allowed to gain 10 yards was upped from three to four.

1915 — Following a 14-year hiatus in the aftermath of a somewhat less than competitive pigskin debut, the Rose Bowl scrapped the Roman-style chariot races staged in the interim and gave football another chance. This time, the matchup delivered a more palatable result, with Washington State outlasting Brown, 14–0. In the lead-up to the contest, Cougar players served as extras in the filming of the movie Brown of Harvard.

1916 — In a move only Barry Switzer could fully appreciate, Georgia Tech, coached by the legendary John Heisman, not only hung ‘half-a-hundred’ on its opponent, Cumberland, but did so in each of the first three quarters of the game, en route to an all-time record 222–0 victory. The Yellow Jackets took a 126–0 lead to the locker room at halftime, prompting officials to shorten the third and fourth quarters to 12 minutes.

1918 — Rutgers honored members of its inaugural 1869 squad at Homecoming ceremonies. On the field for the Scarlet Knights that year was perhaps its most famous alumnus; future recording artist, film star and College Football Hall of Famer Paul Robeson, who earned All-America honors for the second straight season, helping RU (5–2) outscore opponents 178–3 in its five victories.

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