FSD History Flashback: November 13, 1875—Harvard vs. Yale

David Funk@davidfunk74Correspondent INovember 13, 2008

Hello, I'm David Funk, and welcome to this edition of FSD History Flashback for November 13. Today's FSD History Flashback talks about the very first meeting between two schools that has transcended time as well as become one of the best rivalries in the history of sports. "The Game" was first played between Harvard and Yale on November 13, 1875.

The two teams played their first ever game in New Haven, Connecticut at Hamilton Park. Yale had promised Harvard $75 to play the game, and tickets were sold for 50 cents to watch the contest between the two clubs.

The rules for the game were adopted for rugby and soccer. Both Harvard and Yale played the game with 15 players instead of 11 for each on the field. Rules stated that a team scored a point if they successfully scored a touchdown and made the kick after.

Harvard won the game convincingly by scoring four goals (touchdowns) and four tries which gave them a 4-0 win.

Yale would have preferred to play with less to take advantage of their speed, but it was Harvard with their size as well as number of players on the field that helped them prevail.

In 1874, Harvard actually played a rugby-style game against McGill University in Montreal. Harvard was impressed with this style of play, and decided to adopt their rules for the game which was used in the first meeting of "The Game."

According to some sources, this was believed to be the first game in which players used their own uniforms for the first time. However, some list Harvard's first official collegiate game against Tufts University in June 1875 as the game when uniforms were first used.

After the game, seven Harvard students were arrested for what was called "hooting and singing in public streets". They were also fined $5.29 each which would have robbed them from getting a value meal at a fast food restaurant these days.

The very next year, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia organized the Intercollegiate Football Association. The rules were adopted from the Rugby Football Union which made the scoring change of a match being decided by the majority of touchdowns and not goals. The other big change then was going to an egg-shaped ball instead of a soccer ball.

The rules for the new organization constantly changed over the years, and was dissolved by 1894. By then, Yale graduate Walter Camp adopted rules for the American game of football that resemble more of what it's like today. The center to quarterback snap exchange and three downs to get a first down were a couple of the changes. The scoring was different with touchdowns being worth less points than field goals.

By 1905 after the deaths and crippling injuries that prompted then-U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt to get involved, the forerunner to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was formed. Since that time, this committee has established the rules for what is the American game of football.

Even though Harvard won the first meeting between the two schools, Yale would dominate the early history of this rivalry.

Yale would go unbeaten in the next 11 games(10-0-1 record) against Harvard. They didn't play each in 1877, 1885, and 1888. In 1885, Harvard banned the sport for the upcoming fall which caused the two not to play that year.

It was also in a game between the two in 1892 that the flying wedge was first used throughout a contest by Harvard although other variations had been used before. Yale still won 6-0.

After the 1894 game, the two schools had seven players carried off the field facing death. Because of this, the two schools didn't play for two seasons.

Since 1897, the two have played every year with the exception of two years off during World War I and World War II.

It was in 1898 that "The Game" reference was first known to be used. It was used when former Harvard captain A.F. Holden had sent a letter to coach Cam Forbes saying, "it also makes the Yale-Harvard game the game of the season."

Columnist Red Smith first capitalized the reference in the 1940s, and was first seen on game programs in 1960.

The most well-known matchup between the two took place at Harvard in 1968. After trailing 29-13 in the final 42 seconds of the game, Harvard tied Yale, who had a 16-game winning streak snapped on that day.

Yale quarterback Brian Dowling had not lost a football game since sixth grade, and the Harvard Crimson paper said, "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" after the contest. One of Harvard's star players in that game was offensive tackle Tommy Lee Jones, who went on to become one of Hollywood's best actors.

Famous pranks have also made for interesting television. In the 2004 game, Yale students handed out postcards to adult Harvard fans and alleged that when they held them up they would spell out "GO HARVARD." Instead, the signs spelled out "WE SUCK." Harvard pounded Yale 35-3 in that game.

Some have not given credit where it's due as to the importance of this rivalry. Not only has it been played since 1875, their games proved instrumental in the development of American football.

Furthermore, Ivy League teams do not participate in post-season games, and The Game has always been the last contest of the year between the two schools (except in 1919). The vast majority of players do not play at the pro level which therefore makes The Game the final contest for seniors on both sides. So with those factors, it's not hard to understand the importance of this game and rivalry.

Yale leads the all-time series 65-51-8. Harvard has won five of the last six meetings. Harvard won last year's meeting 37-6 as both teams entered the contest undefeated.

The 125th meeting between these legendary schools takes place on November 22 in Cambridge, MA at Harvard Stadium.

Thank you to both Harvard and Yale for the impact they have left on the game of American football. The rivalry between these two schools is one of best in sports as well as one of the most influential ever, too.

Photo courtesy of www.the-game.org which shows the program of the first game in 1875.

Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed today's FSD History Flashback!