In the month of April, 1877, a little band of Princetonians invaded Cambridge to play football with Harvard.
Only a few months before in Spring-field delegates from Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale had assembled, formed the American Intercollegiate Football Association and adopted the Rugby Union Rules as their code of play. The playing field was marked off on Jarvis Field.
Wilson Alone Knew the Rules
Harvard had had three years' experience playing under the Rugby code, Princeton none. Fortunately for Princeton, however, there was among her undergraduates at the time a young Sophomore who was familiar with the Rugby game. This young Sophomore was elected a football director, "coach" we would say today, and participated in the coaching of that original Rugby team of Tigers. The name of that young Sophomore was Woodrow Wilson '79. Harvard won the initial game.
In those times fifteen players constituted a team, divided into forwards, half-back and backs. The ball was put in play in a "serum" and the whole game, in fact, was typical English Rugby. Harvard won that game.
In the autumn the two fifteens met again, this time on famous and fashionable old St. George's Cricket Ground in Hoboken, New Jersey. In this second encounter, Princeton won. In 1878, back Princeton came and met Harvard on Boston Common, Princeton again winning. The following year, 1879, Harvard again journeyed to Hoboken and again suffered defeat. During these three years the famous "fifteen" of Rugby tradition had been reduced to "eleven," and the basic line of cleavage established which in time was to produce a distinctive American game.
Notable Names in Early Line-Ups
Distinguished men were bred upon those early Harvard-Princeton football fields. Their "line-ups," as we would say today, contained the names of W. E. Russell of Massachusetts, Robert Winsor and George R. Sheldon, Lucius N. Littauer and Robert Bacon, bankers and statesmen, all in their time football men at Harvard. On the Princeton teams were Blair Lee, later a United States Senator from Maryland and John S. Harlan, later Attorney General of Porto Rico and member of the Inter-State Commerce Commission.
Tackles Once Known As "Next-to-Ends"
In 1880 began the radical and many changes that gave us our present game. An orderly possession of the ball by one side was originated thus bringing on the great feature of prearranged tactics and strategy. Numerical values were assigned to the scoring plays, 1 to a safety, 2 to a touchdown; 4 to a goal from try following touchdown; and 5 to a goal from the field. The positions were settled into seven forwards or rushers, a quarter-back, two half-backs and a full-back. The names of the line positions also began to appear, "end," "next-to-end," "next-to-center" and "center."
It quickly was noticed that the "next-to-end" made more tackles than the other linesmen and so his name was changed first to tackler and finally to tackle. Likewise it was seen that the "next-to-center" guarded the center while the latter put the ball in play and so the "next-to-center" naturally became known as the guard. Signals were invented, sentences at first in which a name or first letter of a name indicated the play. Interference, originally called "guarding," began slowly to evolve, limited in the beginning to a players running by the side of the man with the ball but never in front of him and then at last our in front as practised today.
In these years Harvard, 1880 to 1889. Harvard and Princeton were playing alternately in Cambridge and Princeton as today, Princeton winning in 1880, 1883, 1884, 1886, 1888 and 1889 and Harvard winning in 1887 with a tie game in 1881 and an undecided game in 1882 owing to the vagneness of the rules as to the comparative worth of a goal from a try in distinction from a goal from the field. Princeton having scored the former and Harvard the latter. It was this dispute, never settled, that in the following year brought on the numerical values of scoring plays. No game was played in 1885 as football in that year was suspended at Harvard by those in the seats of the mighty, the faculty.
During the closing years of this decade the zeal to win was as keen as it is today. Unfortunately the ethics of intercollegiate sport were still rudimentary. And so it came to pass that graduates were recalled to play on the teams one, two, and, in one instance, three years after graduation. "Summer baseball" then a novelty made its appearance and there were no rules or precedents to control it. Thus Harvard and Princeton quarreled in 1889 over questions of eligibility of players and ceased to play until 1895. In the latter year as well as in 1896 Harvard and Yale fell apart, over both eligibility rules and playing rules. In these two years Harvard and Princeton resumed relations upon the gridiron, Princeton winning in both years. And then again they ceased to play, the series being thus interrupted for fourteen years. During these long and barren years numerous college diplomatists, graduates and undergraduates, endeavored to reestablish the series, but in vain.
Percy Haughton Caused Reconciliation
In the spring of 1910 the writer of these lines had the good fortune to be sitting in a council room with a Harvard football man, a peerless prince of players, Percy Duncan Haughton. We were members of the Football Rules Committee and at the time were in attendance upon the sessions of the committee. Mr. Haughton said, "Harvard and Princeton were pioneers in establishing intercollegiate football. They also should be leaders in its chivalry. Harvard against Princeton is a football classic. No event could be more wholesome for the sport than the resumption of relations by these two pioneers upon the gridiron." Within the hour William W. Roper and the late Captain Howard H. Henry, of Princeton, were engaged with Mr. Haughton on the details of a schedule and the Harvard-Princeton series again was a fixture.WOODROW WILSON, PRINCETON '79