On a November afternoon in 1869, only four years after the end of our country’s Civil War, fledgling teams from Rutgers and Princeton took the field for America’s first college football game. About 100 spectators are said to have looked on, probably a little confused at times, as Rutgers emerged with a hotly-contested 6-4 win.
“Hotly-contested” is not a term used to describe a game that took place 50 years later, when Georgia Tech ran its Cumberland College opponents off the field, 220-0, in college football’s most lopsided game. Tech racked up 32 touchdowns; Cumberland committed 15 turnovers.
Few would have foreseen, after either of those games, the nationwide popularity the sport enjoys today, as it prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary this fall.
The first game to be televised was a 34-7 win by Fordham over Waynesburg in 1939; today dozens of networks and millions of dollars are devoted to putting college football on our screens hundreds of times every season.
The hundred or so folks who took in the Rutgers-Princeton game have routinely become crowds of more than 100,000 at some of our nation’s largest college football venues.
At that first game, Rutgers and Princeton both had 25 players on the field at a time. Walter Camp, who became known as the father of American football, later proposed rules that included a line of scrimmage, a center to snap the ball to the quarterback—and 11 players a side. Today, more than 5 million players have taken the field in a college football game; 80,000 will do so this season.
The first national rankings came out in 1936, and in 1963, instant replay made its debut in the Army-Nave game, prompting announcer Lindsey Nelson to warn viewers that “Army did not score again” the first time it was used.
Teddy Roosevelt is said to have been a huge fan of college football, and may even have played a part in saving the sport. He once summoned the presidents of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale to Washington and informed them that if something wasn’t done about the level of violence in the game, the federal government might have to get involved, according to ESPN. Not long after, the NCAA was formed.
Former all-pro quarterback Archie Manning, the father of two more all-pro quarterbacks, Peyton and Eli Manning, is serving as chairman of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, a nonprofit helping oversee the 150th anniversary celebrations. “I think it’s safe to say that college football has become an integral part of our national landscape, worthy of a major celebration,” he says.
••• College Football’s 150th Official Website // CFB150.org •••
Festivities will officially get underway with Kickoff Week, featuring four games on August 24. The headline games are the Camping World Kickoff between Miami and Florida in Orlando, on ESPN; Arizona and Hawaii in Halawa, Hawaii, on the CBS Sports Network; the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff between Youngstown State and Samford in Montgomery, Alabama, on ESPN; and Villanova against Colgate in Hamilton, New York, on the CBS Sports Network.
We at C. Forbes, Inc., offer our congratulations and a salute to the athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans who have made college football an American institution. Happy 150th!