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If you pass Harvard Stadium this afternoon and by chance see a group of long-haired young men playing a game that looks suspiciously like helmet-less football with vaguely suicidal rules, do not be alarmed. And if there is an air of the 19th century about them, do not worry, you are not a latter-day Rip Van Winkle.
Those young men are just celebrating what has been billed as the Real Football Centennial.
But is today the Real Football Centennial? While that question may not rank with those about who caused the 18-minute gap or the fate of the proposed Kennedy Library, enough people are excited over it to plan a "Birthday Party" today at Harvard Stadium.
Forget those ignorant New Jerseyans from Princeton and Rutgers who claim the first gridiron contest dates from 1869 when those two schools first clashed. Instead, the Harvard Athletic Department asserts that it was Harvard's 3-0 victory over McGill on May 14, 1874, that marked the Real beginning of modern football.
Parade to the Stadium
And some diehard followers will celebrate Harvard's 100th anniversary with a parade from the Yard down across the Charles and to the Stadium. The parade starts at 3:45 p.m. and features the Harvard Band.
Then, at the Stadium at 4:30 p.m., members of the Crimson football squad and the rugby club will hammer at each other in a reenactment of that "first" football game. They'll use the "Boston Game" rules just as the original players did at Jarvis Field in Cambridge 100 years ago.
Harvard's historical claim to primacy stems from the use of "Boston Game" rules. Prior to 1874, Princeton, Yale, Rutgers and Columbia played an effete "soccer-style" football that would today be disdained by any purist.
Harvard was invited to join the other colleges in the Intercollegiate Football Association formed in 1873, but the Cantabrigians rejected the offer and instead played under their own, rougher rules.
Following today's tilt, there will be a barbecue at Carey Cage replete with beer, hamburgers, soft drinks, hot dogs and a birthday cake.
Ironically, not only does Harvard claim the first collegiate football game, but it also claims the first intercollegiate rugby match to be played in this country. Harvard and its Canadian opponent battled to a scoreless tie in the contest under rugby regulations.
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