Football in its youth was a strange chill. The beginnings of the great Yale-Harvard gridiron rivalry bear little resemblance to what went on in the Stadium this afternoon.
The first contest between the two colleges took place on November 13, 1875, after a good deal of discussion and argument on both sides. Yale had been accustomed to one set of rules, Harvard to another set radically different. Yale wanted a team of eleven men, Harvard insisted on fifteen. The regulations in regard to goals, touchdowns, size and shape of playing field, distinctions of "in touch" and many other matters were equally divergent. At last, however, in 1875 committees from the two colleges met and agreed upon a set of "Concessionary Rules". Among other points Yale agreed to a fifteen man team and Harvard (to quote Martin L. Cate '77 in the H Book of Harvard Athletics) "gave up the right of the side making a touchdown to bring or punt the ball out to be converted into goal". The Number Six ball agreed upon was thirty inches in circumference and less pointed at the ends than the present Rugby football.
The Great Football Day Dawns
On the great day the teams met in New Haven. The Harvard players wore crimson jersies with a white H, crimson sticking and knee breeches. Their opponents appeared in blue shirts, yellow snaps and dark civilian trousers. W. A. Whiting '77, the Harvard captain, was unable to play on account of injuries and he was therefore chosen to act as ampire. The contest resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Crimson players and the Eli spectators were far less jubilant than the next year when after the winning Yale goal the Advocate says: "At this exciting juncture the crows, which at no time during the game held its proper limits, broke in upon the field and used up twenty minutes of valuable time by carrying the Yale men around on their shoulders".
The discussions preliminary to the great contest were long and heated. The article below appeared, under the title of "Football Matches", in the Magenta of November 20, 1874:
Magenta Comments on the Match
"When reading one of the recent Yale papers lately i happened upon an article relating to football matches between Harvard and Yale, which were so much desired and talked about last spring. The writer complained of Harvard's refusal to join a convention which met in New York last fall, and thought that football matches could be arranged with out much difficulty if a meeting were held at some half-way point to draw up a set of rules by which games between the two Colleges could be governed. He then went on to state the difference between the rules of Harvard and of Yale, and to show that these differences might be done away with.
"On a careful examination, I conclude that so great is the opposition in the most important of these rules that any attempt to patch them together would be unsatisfactory to both sides. The smaller rules, indeed, relating to kicking off, choice of goals, limits of grounds, number of men, and so forth, are nearly alike; but in all the main rules there is certainly great difference, particularly in reference to players picking up the ball and being chased. Another way of settling the difficulty seems to me fairer, which is, to play the game according to the Rugby or the McGill rules. If this were thoroughly tried, it would, I believe, be most satisfactory to both parties. It should certainly be so for Harvard, since we were well skilled enough in these rules in the spring to make a game, with the McGills even, last three half-hours, nor was a goal gained by either side. Again this fall, with very few of last year's players and with very little practice in the McGill game, owing to the preparation for the Graduate match, we won a victory over the Canadians. Yale may object on the score that Harvard has already become well acquainted with the game. Very true, but Yale can practice and learn it during the fall. It is a game very easy and simple to learn, requiring, at the utmost, two weeks' practice for a club to be able to play it skillfully. I trust, then, that Yale will approve of the plan, and that in 1875 we can have a match between the rival Universities in football, as well as in other athletic sports."
Game Considered a Great Success
The game on the whole was satisfactory to both colleges. Judging by the comment in undergraduate publications it seems to have done a great deal to dispell the friction that existed between Harvard and Yale at that time. In the Harvard Advocate then a fortnightly publication) for November 19, 1875, there appeared the following editorial comment:
"We are very glad to congratulate out Fifteen after their visit to New Haven, especially since the Yale man turned toward them his social side, anxious to promote that rational variance which ought always to exist between the two Universities. Our systems of government differ not a little: and the characteristics of life at Cambridge are at radical variance with theirs. No wonder, then, that we undergraduates often take issue with them; yet all ill facilities can be put aside by the exercise of cordiality and frankness. This suggests the fact that the Harvard men who were present at the game had an opportunity of seeing the city, besides the interior of many buildings, private as well as public. All with whom we have talked are pleased with their experiences, and have learned something,--except the gentleman who inquired if that was Scroll and Bones'. For him we apologize, being convinced that he put the question in the innocence of his heart; and we remind our Yale friends, in all sincerity and good nature, that there are some of their customs which no one in this latitude understands."
"About forty students, accompanied the Harvard team on Friday, and nearly a hundred more arrived in New Haven Saturday morning, so that there was a large representation of the College at the match. Many of those who left Boston on the 9.30 train Friday night, found Providence a convenient place for getting out to stretch themselves, and took the opportunity to expand their lungs by letting off a few rounds of 'Rahs!' for Brown.
"No one supposed any members of that University were sufficiently owl-like in their habits to be up and in a railway station at that hour of the night, and great was the surprise amongst the Harvard men when their 'Rahs*' were responded to by that single-joined imitation of our cheer which the Brown men have affected of late. The two crowds coalesced, and united in a few jovial songs, and, when the time came for starting, cheers were exchanged once more, and our men left with the good wishes of their Brown friends for success.
"Saturday morning was spent in visiting the colleges, boat-house, & and at tow o'clock all started for the grounds where the match is to be played."