Game That Started ‘The Game’

All great traditions have to start somewhere, and the most venerated traditional gridiron rivalry of them all commenced on Hamilton Field in New Haven, on November 13, 1875, before a curious crowd of local onlookers, and including 150 Harvard fans who’d taken the overnight train from New Haven.

Of course this being Harvard and Yale, there naturally was a dispute even before the game began. Yale wanted to play under soccer rules with 11 players, but with typical graciousness they allowed the visiting Crimson to play under a set of modified rugby rules known as the “Concessionary Rules”, with 15 men to a side.

Armed with the rules advantage, Harvard gave the future Bulldogs a thorough whipping by the score of 4 to 0, the equivalent of a four touchdown whitewashing today. But more important than the score was the presence of observers from down in Princeton, who liked what they saw and within a year the three teams had joined Columbia to form what they called the Intercollegiate Rugby Association, adopting the egg-shaped rugby ball to replace the soccer ball that you see on this first program cover, with the “H.U.F.B.C.” (Harvard University Foot Ball Club) stamped on the rubber spheroid.

By 1880, the game had been modified to 11 players per side, and with the adoption of the scrimmage line and the center snap, the game was beginning to take a form that was somewhat recognizable to the modern fan. By 1912, all the components of our modern scoring system were in place (with the exception of the optional two point conversion), and with the growing popularity of the forward pass, the collegiate game was well on its way to becoming America’s favorite autumn spectacle. This year’s playing of “The Game” will be the 129th in a series that has been unbroken since 1945.

Click here to buy a poster of this program cover.

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