College football has changed so much in the last 150 years, and the birthplace of the sport is evidence of that. The game has evolved since then, but there are also some similarities that continue to this day. Where did it all begin?
As much as we joke about Rutgers football, we need to give them credit for something so wonderful.
Rutgers challenges Princeton
On Nov. 6, 1869, the genesis of college football arrived. Rutgers team members wrote a letter to Princeton to challenge them in a series of football games. At the time, it was about pride. What the players didn’t realize is the phenomenon they created in the future.
The game was played at Rutgers, with no more than 100 people in attendance. It was very different than the sport we know today, with players not wearing helmets, pads, or cleats. It was also played with a soccer ball, representing that sport more than football.
Princeton’s players didn’t even have uniforms, so they just wore street clothes. Yes, the birthplace of college football was your local pickup game in your friend’s backyard. Scoring for the game was interesting. The two teams played 10 “games” against each other. A game basically meant a score. Once a team scored, that game was over. Once the 10 games concluded, the team with the most points won.
While the game didn’t resemble what we see today, there were some similarities. A wedge was used by both teams to protect the player with the ball until an opposing player broke through the wedge. Rutgers initially used this tactic to jump out to a 4-2 lead before Princeton countered with the same formation to tie the game. Rutgers adjusted to hang on for a 6-4 win.
Game 1 was played at Rutgers, while the second game was played at Princeton. The second game went in Princeton’s favor, winning 8-0. Given that the cumulative score was 12-6, Princeton was declared the national champion of 1869. So, not only did the two teams establish the birthplace of college football, but they also started claiming national championships right off the bat.
Since the game, Princeton has won 28 national championships (including 22 of the first 40), 10 conference titles, and a Heisman Trophy. Rutgers has won one national championship and one conference championship. The Tigers are currently an FCS team in the Ivy League, while the Scarlet Knights moved all the way up to the FBS level and currently compete in the Big Ten Conference.