First Harvard-Yale Game Really Rugby, With Fifteen on Side, No Rests, and Spherical Ball
Systematic Coaching, Training Table, Rigid Rules, Came in the Eighties
Today stands out in the history of Harvard and Yale football as the occasion of the fiftieth gridiron contest between the two colleges. Since the first clash of the Magenia and the Blue in November, 1875, until the end of the Haughton era, the history of the Harvard-Yale rivalry has been essentially the history of football itself. These teams are responsible for many of the fundamental developments of the game and in their ranks were a host of players who are outstanding in football's Hall of Fame.
It was in 1871 that football at Harvard, after being prohibited by a faculty decree for 11 years, was resurrected as an organized sport by a group of students who had played the game in preparatory schools. The Cambridge Common was selected by the enthusiasts for their recreation until the City Council, prompted by indignant townspeople, ordered them off. The scene of activity was then moved to Holmes Field.
The Grandfather of Football
This early game was known as the "Boston game" and differed fundamentally from the modern spectacle. A curious feature of the play was that a player could run and throw or pass the ball only if he were pursued by an opponent. When the opposing player gave up pursuit he called out to the runner who was obliged to stop and kick the ball.
The rules of the game were never codified until the Harvard University Football Club was formed on December 3, 1872. Then the "Boston game" was accepted by Harvard and not that played by other colleges who favored in those days of the game's infancy, a sport similar to modern soccer. In the fall of the following year, the Harvard Association was invited by Yale to attend a meeting of representatives from Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, and Yale at New York for the purpose of standardizing the rules as a basis of intercollegiate competition. Harvard, although eager to engage in competition with these universities, was loathe to sacrifice its old game, and accordingly declined to enter the intercollegiate Association that was thus formed. It is probable that if Harvard had accepted Yale's offer at this time "football" would have become like soccer and the present game would never have been evolved.
The First Harvard-McGill Game
The fall of 1874 witnessed the first Harvard-McGill match, the first game of intercollegiate rugby played in this country and the forerunner of the present sport. Since McGill played under rugby rules, the two teams agreed to meet twice, first playing the "Boston game" and second the McGill rugby. As was expected, Harvard won the first contest without difficulty and then on the following day proceeded to hold the Canadians to a scoreless tie at their own game. Fifty cents admission was charged spectators, and the $250 thus collected was devoted to the entertainment of the visitors in a lavish pre-Prohibition manner.
The first meeting of Harvard and Yale on the football field would hardly be recognized as the predecessor of today's contest. The game was essentially rugby and the ball used was 30 inches in circumference and less pointed at the ends than the modern football. The 15 players on each side lacked the protection of the padding used in the present uniforms. Three half-hour periods were played and time out remained an innovation for the future. Harvard won this first contest by a score of four field goals and four touchdowns to nothing. Forty students accompanied the team to New Haven.
The "Fifteen" Becomes the "Eleven"
The following year the teams were reduced to eleven men on a side and two halves of three-quarters of an hour each were played. Early in the second half when Yale booted across its field goal which turned out to be the winning score, the crowd swarmed on the field and wasted 20 minutes of valuable playing time by carrying the Yale players about on their shoulders.
In November, 1876, a conference at Springfield organized the Intercollegiate Football Association with Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton as members. Yale refused to join but assisted in compiling rules for the game.
The next meeting between the two teams was held in Boston in 1878, and thereafter the teams played at home on alternate years. It was not until the 1882 game, however, that the scene of Harvard's home contests was shifted from Boston to Cambridge. Eligibility rules had not yet been introduced and members of graduate schools were allowed to play. Six or seven years was not an unusually long time for a student at either university to be a member of the football team.
In 1880 Yale became a member of the Association and the number of players was reduced to eleven with positions about the same as on a modern team. At the same time a rule was made that the player who held the ball should put it in play by kicking or snapping it back with his foot. The player who first received the ball from the "snap-back" was called the quarter-back and was not allowed to run with the ball.
Until 1881 there had been no penalties for safeties which had been considered good defensive strategy for a team. A rule in that year, provided that in the absence of any other scoring the team making four or more safeties less than its opponent should win. This same season also saw the introduction at Cambridge of the first professional trainer Harvard had ever had.
In 1882, it was agreed upon by the colleges, that the team having the ball should, on three downs, either advance it five yards, lose 10, or relinquish the ball to the opponents. Scoring was changed so that four touchdowns defeated a field goal and two safeties equaled a touchdown. The first numerical method of scoring was adopted the following year when it was ruled that safeties counted one point, touchdown, 2, goal from touchdown 4, goal from field 5. Later in the same year, it was changed again as follows: safety 2, touchdown 4, goal from the field 5, touchdown followed by goal 6.
Radical Changes of the Eighties
The decade of the eighties witnessed radical changes in football at Harvard. It saw the beginning of systematic coaching and organized practice: training table was established; and the game itself was subject to rigid faculty rulings. Games at first were not allowed in Cambridge until after 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and in 1885, football was abolished in Harvard and the team withdrew from the Intercollegiate Association. The ban was lifted the following winter. In the fall of 1890. Harvard broke a jinx of long standing to defeat a great Yale team in the first victory over the Elis since 1875.
Training had also been greatly improved. The spring of 1889 saw the first spring practice. Captain A. J. Cumnock '91 originated a crude, brutal machine which was the first tackling dummy used at Harvard. Dr. W. M. Conant '79 was made the team doctor and it was he who introduced the custom of the players' retiring from the field between the halves for rub-downs and medical attention.
After football had weathered the storm of protest launched against it at this time because of the alleged brutality of the game ingenious coaches and players devised even more startling mass plays and formations. The second half of the Harvard-Yale game of 1892 saw the introduction in collegiate football of the "Flying Wedge". This was followed by "Guards Back," "Tackles Back," the "Turtle Back," and other plays conceived for the purpose of utilizing momentum and brute force.
The Two-Year Break
In 1894, the same year Harvard transferred the scene of all its home games from Jarvis Field to Soldiers Field, the bitter feelings manifested between Harvard and Yale on the gridiron came to a head in a game characterized by unusual roughness and a large number of injuries. This resulted in a two-year break in football relations between the two colleges.
The year 1897 stands out for two reasons. First it marked the renewal of relations with Yale which have continued unbroken except during the war, and second, it signalized the beginning of scientific, business-like coaching with the appointment of W. Cameron Forbes '92 to the position of head coach.
The Harvard team of 1898 had in its starting lineup four men who were to direct Harvard coaching for 14 of the next 17 years. They were B. H. Dibblee '99, W. T. Reid '01, J. W. Farley '99, and P. D. Haughton '99. Dibblee took over the burden of coaching when Forbes was appointed Governor General of the Philippines. In 1900, Yale put one of its greatest teams on the field to defeat a stubborn Harvard team 28 to 0. The statistics of this game show that Yale gained a total of 555 yards for rushing against 153 for Harvard.
Beginning of Graduate Control
The position of the game of football was strengthened at Harvard in 1903, when the Harvard Graduate Football Association was formed. In 1905, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton agreed on a three-year eligibility for members of intercollegiate football teams. In this same year the new football era began. The changed rules called for a 10-yard gain in four downs and permitted the quarterback run, the forward pass and the onside kick. At the same time the game was shortened to 60 minutes, divided into four quarters.
Haughton was called to the helm of Harvard football in 1908. The following year, the last vestiges of the old mass play were abolished when the rules prohibited pushing and pulling of the runner.
The 1914 game was the first to be played in the Yale Bowl and the first in which the lateral pass attack was used against Harvard. The Crimson eleven was prepared for such an attack and in defence spread out over the field leaving only three men in the line. In the next year, Richard King '17 earned the distinction of scoring the first touchdown against Yale ever made in the Stadium which had been used since 1903. On that day, the Crimson team pushed across five more touchdowns to defeat Yale 41 to 0, the largest score by which a Harvard football team has ever beaten Yale.
After the suspension of football for two years during the war, the game was in an unsettled state. Men returning from the front could not possess the same enthusiasm for the sport that had so excited previous college generations.
In general, the outstanding development in Harvard football since 1919 has been the development of the forward pass. The high spot of this period was Harvard's 7 to 6 victory over Oregon in the Rose Bowl classic in 1919.