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The first game


November 6, 1869

Rutgers University and Princeton played the first game of intercollegiate 
football on Nov. 6, 1869 at 3pm in front of about 100 spectators, on a 
plot of ground where the present-day Rutgers gymnasium now stands in New 
Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers won that first game, 6-4.

The game, which bore little resemblance to its modern-day counterpart, 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, 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.
The teams lined up with two members of each team remaining more or less 
stationary near the opponent's goal in the hopes of being able to slip 
over and score from unguarded positions. Thus, the present day "sleeper" 
was conceived. The remaining 23 players were divided into groups of 11 and 
12. While the 11 "fielders" lined up in their own territory as defenders, 
the 12 "bulldogs" carried the battle.

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.

John W. Herbert of Rutgers gave this detailed account of the play in the 
first game:
"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'."

Herbert then related that his teammates failed to note a conference the 
Princeton's captain was holding with the giant of the Tiger team, J.E. 
Michael, '71, known to his mates as "Big Mike."

"Next period Rutgers bucked, or received the ball, hoping to repeat the 
flying wedge," Herbert's account continues. "But the first time we formed 
it Big Mike came charging full upon us. It was our turn for surprise. The 
Princeton battering ram made no attempt to reach the ball but, forerunner 
of the interference-breaking ends of today, threw himself into our mass 
play, bursting us apart, and bowing us over. Time and again Rutgers formed 
the wedge and charged; as often Big Mike broke it up. And finally on one 
of these incredible break-ups a Princeton bulldog with a long accurate, 
perhaps lucky kick, sent the ball between the posts for the second score.
"The flying wedge thus checkmated, Rutgers might have been in a bad spot 
had not Madison Ball, '73, come through. He had a trick of kicking the 
ball with his heel. All the game he had been a puzzle to the 
Princetonians. The ball would be rolling toward the Rutgers goal, and, 
running ahead of it instead of taking time to turn, he would heel it back. 
He made several such plays, greatly encouraging his team. Then he capped 
all this by one tremendous lucky backward drive directly to Dixon, 
standing squarely before Princeton's goal...Dixon easily scored, giving us 
a one-goal lead. Big Mike again rose, however, in a berserk endeavor, and, 
getting the ball, he called the Princeton men into a flying wedge of their 
own and straight-away they took the ball right down the field and put it 
over."

It was at this point that a Rutgers professor could stand it no longer. 
Waving his umbrella at the participants, he shrieked, "you will come to no 
Christian end!"

"The fifth and sixth goals went to Rutgers. The stars of the latter period 
of play, in the memory of the players after the lapse of many years, were 
"Big Mike" and Large (former State Senator George H. Large of Flemington, 
another Princeton player). Someone by a random kick had driven the ball to 
one side, where it rolled against the fence and stopped. Large led the 
pursuit for the ball closely followed by Michael. They reached the fence 
on which students were perched, and unable to check their momentum, in a 
tremendous impact they struck it. The fence then gave way with a crash and 
over went the band of yelling students to the ground.

"Every college probably has the humorous tradition of some player who has 
scored against his own team. This tradition at Rutgers dated from this 
first game, for one of her players, whose identity is unknown, in the 
sixth period started to kick the ball between his own goal posts. The kick 
was blocked, but Princeton took advantage of the opportunity and soon made 
the goal. This turn of the game apparently disorganized Rutgers, for 
Princeton also scored the next goal after a few minutes of play, thus 
bringing the total up to four all."

At this point Leggett introduced strategy to turn the tide in favor of 
Rutgers. Noticing that Princeton obtained a great advantage from its 
taller players, Leggett ordered his men to keep the ball close to the 
ground. Following this strategy, Rutgers kicked the ninth and tenth goals, 
thus winning the match.

An analytical account of the game appeared in the November, 1869 issue of 
the Targum, Rutgers' undergraduate newspaper:
"To describe the varying fortunes of the match, game by game, would be a 
waste of labor for every game was like the one before," wrote the student 
re-porter. "There was the same headlong running, wild shouting, and 
frantic kicking.

"In every game the cool goaltenders saved the Rutgers goal half a dozen 
times; in every game the heavy charger of the Princeton side overthrew 
everything he came in contact with; and in every game, just when the 
interest in one of those delightful rushes at the fence was culminating, 
the persecuted ball would fly for refuge into the next lot, and produce 
cessation of hostilities until, after the invariable 'foul', it was put in 
straight.

"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 the organization, 
for which great praise is due to the captain. The right men were always in 
the right place."

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