The American Game of Foot-Ball.
"Professor Johnson's article on 'The American Game of Foot-Ball' in this month's Century has been read with pleasure by the undergraduates of Princeton. Being well aware of the gentleman's thorough knowledge of the game as well as of his excellent powers of judgment in such matters, the college has looked forward to the publication of the article with eager delight and with a hearty appreciation of his staunch and able argument for a universal recognition of the game. Probably no one person has been so convinced of the injustice of many leading newspapers in this country in perverting the real nature of the game besides denouncing it as being too brutal and rough, as Professor Johnson. Newspapers have so utterly misrepresented the game as to make it appear to the general public a diminutive war, into which the contesting sides go with the avowed intention of maiming bodies, dislocating joints and other similar features such as characterize a modern rough-and-tumble prize-fight. A football game is not marked by such butchery, nor is it devoid of manly and courageous characteristics. The author opens with the question of the legitimacy of its being called the American game of foot-ball rather than the Rugby because the students of the various American colleges 'have developed it into a game differing in many of its phases from any of its English prototypes;' and the writer goes on to describe the distinguishing characteristics of the Rugby, Association and our regular college game. The leading feature of the Rughy 'was that the player might run with the ball;' of Association, 'that the player might 'charge' -that is, run against an opponent and might not run with the ball;, while our college foot-ball has developed many features of both these forms of the game, besides adding numerous plays requiring skill to execute them properly. The writer then describes the field, the disposition of the men thereon, and their separate duties. The technicalities of the team play such as 'off-side playing,' its nature and penalties; 'passing' the ball as requiring no little skill; the mode of catching the ball and of tackling men, are minutely discussed in an interesting manner. The difference between the English and American forms of scrimmage is then discussed. The great improvement of the American scrimmage over the English which 'was altogether illogical consists in the strict regulations governing the rushing line as regards 'lining-up,' etc.; also in the manner in which the ball is put in play and other features that go with it. By these improvements on the old Rugby game, by the reduction of the number of players from fifteen to eleven, and by the addition of many new features, the game is replete with points of scientific skill and "has become a miniature game of strategy.' The "rushers,' the 'quarter-back,' the 'half backs,' and the 'full-back'are described by pointing out the characteristics of the playing peculiar to each.
With a happy illustration the writer shows the great popularity of the game among college men, who watch their respective sides win or lose with the greatest excitement and emotion. Cheers, noise of trumpets and horns, waving of hand achieves, 'embracing' and 'general delirium' in all great collegiate games, show this intense excitement of the spectators. Rushline tricks and signals which are enigmatic to opposing sides are next reviewed. Professor Johnston then speaks of the advantages of the training, which 'has enabled the players to show courage, constancy, an intelligent willingness to meet and defeat physical dangers and an ability to think connectedly in the presence of physical dangers, to an extent offered by no other form of exercise.' The game that presents such an array of purely scientific and courageous features cannot fail to merit the most universal sanction and approval, and yet newspaper criticism doubtless caused the 'general disposition to consider the game one which is objectionable as a game for students who are gentlemen.' The criticisms passed upon the game as regards its innate roughness' and of its 'tendency to degenerate into brutality and personal combat' are reviewed. As regards the first point, the writer, in a very lucid style, explains its true and false sides. Its true side, he states, comes in when teams of other than leading colleges in the game, try to play as hard as possible without the least preparation. The consequence is that men are injured and the game is generally voted to be brutal. Such is not the case in the true game, in which the men, trained from day to day until their muscles are hardened, and their wind is in the finest condition, gradually lengthen the time and increase the bareness of the playing.
Convinced by a personal and critic observation of the game the author in justice upholds and defends the sport with the remark that 'with good physical condition in the players, the requisite training and suitable grounds, the game is not only one of the best of out door sports, but one of the safest.' As regards the tendency to degenerate into personal combat, 'the writer's observation has led him to believe that, in nine cases out of ten, a general tendency to indulge in striking with the fist is the result of conscious inferiority.' Any one who has watched the game will fully coincide with this statement and will perfectly agree to the validity of the remark that, 'the natural development of the game into team-playing is itself a correction to any tendency to blows. College and popular reputation compels every good foot-ball player to be the same perfect gentleman on the field as in a drawing
room. The game calls for skill and stratagem instead of brutality and unnecessary roughness, for manly pluck and perseverance, instead of tit for-tat kicks and blows. Just here the writer urges the spectator uninformed as to the game not confound running tactics such as 'warding off' with blows. 'Warding off' never hurts the player, warded off, since by the rules the runner is not allowed to strike with closed fists. Professor Johnston remarks that the chief evil of the game is betting and urges the undergraduates 'to put down betting on the purely material side of the game-partly from the fact that, if the game becomes a mere medium for betting, it will be a public nuisance and ought to be suppressed; and partly from its effects on the team and its playing.' The force and truth of this whole article can hardly be overestimated. With a clear exposition of the facts, nature and method of the game, the author has explained away all of the most important objection to it. We think that our American college football game has successfully passed the unnecessary and undeserving crisis to which it has been unnaturally forced by the misrepresentations due partly to the other unasignable causes. The game demands many manly qualities, teaches self possession, courage and manliness; and so, like the great English University boat races, may it prosper."