When Rutgers and Princeton, the, Crimson's opponents of this week and next, baptized the American sport of football back in 1896, the game was played a little differently than it will be tomorrow. Among other things, twenty-five players who are told to "kick the ball when you can and kick the other fellow's shins when you can't kick the ball" will provide a spectacle not quite like that of eleven disciplined 'fellows' who have been trained for months in the principles of the T and the single wing.
It was not until Walter Camp, in the early Eighties, told his men that "football is tow thirds able the neck," that the game ceased to look like a traditional Freshman-Sophomore mud fight.
In the early days there were no uniforms no organized plays, on running or passing. Slowly the disorder resolved itself into a huddle, in which the quarterback would say cryptically, "now the flying wedge," or "let's try the triangle," and by 1885 football had entered its middle, or classic period.
The early experimentation had come to a stop, and the game was becoming in every way comparatively formalized. A few old photographs will immediately show the outward signs. The football player may not have worn a helmet, but a mustache in full bloom weighed him down almost as much.
Scores Were High
Sportsmanship has not been superseded by subsidization, as it has in most American colleges and the scores, which frequently zoomed to around the hundred mark, were a result of the cultivated, and now nearly neglected, art of drop-kicking.
Harvard had taken up football three years after Rutgers, but during the Eighties old Jawn was suffering from an inferiority complex. In 1886, for example, although he spanked Tufts 82-0 and Dartmouth 70-0, there was nothing he could do with Eli, who won to the tune of 29-4. In fact, the Crimson did not take one game from Yale during the Eighties, a time when the famous, and partly fictitious, "Harvard indifference" was born. There may have been a connection.
During these days, the game was less exciting, though often more eventful, than it is today. The forward pass was strictly for bidden but a number of delicate little methods for gaining ground were looked upon with tolerance.
Since the two team lined up almost cheek-to-check, and the referee never watched too closely, gouging of eyes and pulling of whiskers were fairly common practices.
"Pa" Corbin, center of the 1887 Yale team, were flashy side whiskers, and after a few plays of the game with Harvard at the Polo Grounds, he turned to the referee and said, "Mr, referee, this man opposite me is pulling my whiskers." "Marcou probably was," chuckles old Varsity man Francis C. Woodman '88, who had a player opposite him that aimed his fingers at Woodman's eyes every time he had the ball. Any innovation might prove useful in the new game.
President Eliot, when asked why, though a crew enthusiast, he never went to football games, answered tartly, "It's too much like a circus." That probably was at once the great drawback and beauty of the game during the Eighties. There were no forward passes and no real blocking, and yet the scores were phenomenally large. Part of the reason may be that organized defense systems were unknown, and the kicking was plentiful and accurate.
A number of the Princeton players the accepted masters in the art of the drop-kick, could boot field goals from any angle or from the 47 yard line. One of the backs would lie full-length on the ground, while the kicker would take on step up and place the ball squarely between the crossbars.
Flying Wedge in Heyday
There were only a few plays for the quarterback to choose from. The flying wedge was in its heyday, there being only one way to stop it. To accomplish this the defensive teams would have to perform the highly dangerous maneuver of lying flat on the ground and trying to trip up the onrushing wedge. If they succeeded, there would be a great heap of about twenty men in the line of scrimmage, and no yards gained.